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In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 27, we see Jesus’ last moments as He dies on a cross just outside Jerusalem. He cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Billy Foote’s song You are My King (Amazing Love) begins, “I’m forgiven because You were forsaken. I’m accepted. You were condemned.”

As I am typing this and considering the verse, Billy’s description, and the picture, tears are welling up in my eyes. Jesus voluntarily became God’s sacrificial lamb, dying on the cross and taking the wrath of God head-on, becoming the atoning sacrifice for sin that wasn’t His — it was mine and it was yours — all to bridge the chasm between our Holy Creator and us, the fallen creation.

His death accomplished what our feeble attempt at obedience to the Law wasn’t able to — and wasn’t designed to do: give God’s people eternal forgiveness and eternal life. His death reestablished a relationship between God and His people, a relationship that had been severed a long time ago in a garden (Eden). And Jesus’ battle in another garden (Gethsemane) secured the victory over sin, a victory that God’s people experience vicariously.

Application

Jesus was abandoned. Jesus was condemned. Jesus died. He endured all of these things so that you wouldn’t have to. Believer, your sin-debt has been paid. You have been adopted and you will never be abandoned by your Father. Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, power and desire to walk a life that pleases God is available to you.

Spend a few minutes worshiping God. Spend a few minutes expressing your gratitude for the incredibly selfless act that Jesus accomplished for you “on a hill far away”.

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

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Up front, I want to apologize for this long post. It is by far the longest I have ever written. But like with all of my devotionals, I hope you will find this one helpful, encouraging, and applicable.

Admittedly, I can be quite political in my Social Media posts. But I don’t like to get political in my preaching or Bible teaching. I really don’t. But the Bible continues speaks to today, even on cultural and political issues, and especially on moral issues.

As we begin today’s Bible reading in Matthew 19, we are faced with Jesus’ statements on very hot contemporary topics in the Christian Life: divorce/remarriage and sex/gender.

Under the Old Covenant, Moses permitted divorce under just a few situations. (Deuteronomy 24:1–4) Requiring that a divorce certificate to be given had a couple of purposes: it restricted the reasons why a husband could put away his wife; he couldn’t just divorce her because she burned the toast. If you remember the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph considered putting away Mary. He would have justification to do so if she had been unfaithful during their betrothal/marriage. Given that she was pregnant, it would be obvious — apart from an immaculate conception — that she had been with another man. Also, given the cultural situation of the day, giving a divorce certificate gave rights to a divorced wife that she didn’t otherwise have. Just like the command of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a way God limited His people, divorce did the same.

Note: Jesus’ statements on divorce spoke specifically to the Old Testament teachings on divorce. He was not addressing modern, American “no-fault” divorce.

Jesus’ comments on divorce were right in line with the Old Covenant. Nothing Jesus ever did, broke the Old Covenant; instead, He fulfilled it.

“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18 CSB)

The second cultural hot topic that Jesus addressed in today’s Bible reading is sex/gender.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4–5 CSB)

Going back to Genesis 1:27, Jesus points out that God created mankind with two sexes/genders. A person is born either a male or a female. Period.

One of the reasons God created two sexes/genders is for procreation. Sexuality, as God created it, was to be a part of us, but it wasn’t all of us. That’s one key area where modern culture has gone off the rails. If you remove God from the equation, you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

If you remove God from the equation,
you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

When Moses penned the Pentateuch (the First Five Books of the Old Testament), and when Jesus and Paul addressed sexuality in the New Testament, there were no categories of “sexual identity” (the sex you “identify with”) and “sexual preference” (the sex of the person/people to whom you are attracted). Neither was there a category of “gender fluidity” (the idea that someone’s sexual identity or sexual preference can change).

The Bible doesn’t address these categories, because they were unknown at the time. Similarly, the Bible doesn’t address the topic of nuclear energy. These categories of understanding and discussion didn’t exist at the time.

So what do you do with those who claim to not “identify” with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth? And what do you do with those who claim they are attracted to someone of their own sex/gender?

If one is to believe that the Bible is true because it is God-breathed it (literally “expired” in 2Timothy 3:16), that the Bible is completely authoritative, and that the Bible is relevant for all time, these questions must be answered with a Biblical answer.

And while the Bible doesn’t address the issues of “identity” and “preference”, the Bible is very clear about behavior. The Bible consistently condemns homosexual sexual behavior. Some have twisted the Biblical treatment of the subject to say that God only condemns homosexuality when it is disrespectful and otherwise “not loving”. Or they dismiss the authority of the Bible outright. Either that or try to insist that those statements are “culturally conditioned” to the Biblical times and do not apply today.

Although this has been the longest post I’ve ever written, I don’t want to write a dissertation on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality. Kevin DeYoung very clearly and quite exhaustively addressed the issue in his What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. (affiliate link) Note: I highly recommend this book to anyone, from straight to LGBTQ+ because this is an issue that every Bible-believer should be well-versed in. This is too important of a cultural issue to withdraw from the conversation.

The issues of “identity” and “preference” are not addressed by the Bible, but there are applications we can — and should — make of clear Bible verses on closely-related issues.

Take a look at Matthew 19:12.

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (CSB)

Eunuchs are mentioned several times in the Bible. In Acts 8, Dr. Luke tells us about a eunuch from Ethiopia, a man who is quite influential and is actually in charge of the nation’s treasury. We know that the king’s eunuch helped to prepare Esther and other young women to prepare for meeting the king. (Esther 2:3)

Jesus comments here that some were eunuchs from birth, some were made eunuchs by men, and some made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated. I don’t think it would not be out of line include in this label those males who had been born with disfigured and otherwise dysfunctional genitals. It would be safe to define a eunuch as a male who could not perform sexually like most other men. As such, they lived their lives accordingly — in celibacy.

Given that the Bible consistently condemns homosexual behavior, would it be out of the question to apply Jesus’ comments about eunuchs to those who are “same-sex attracted”? Could we not apply Jesus’ words to encourage same-sex attracted individuals to pursue a life of celibacy, just like unmarried heterosexuals should?

Regardless of whether they feel that they were “born that way”, everyone makes choices based on their preferences: whether it’s drinking coffee with cream and sugar vs. straight black, or whether it’s to have sexual relations outside of marriage with someone of the opposite sex … or of the same sex.

Sex outside marriage — heterosexual or homosexual — and drunkenness are condemned by the Bible, without regard to “desire” or “preference”. And even if someone were to be born an alcoholic, every alcoholic decides to take that first drink, and every drink since.

Application

I hope you have seen how the Bible applies to issues that it does not directly address. The Bible is relevant to your life and mine.

When you come to Bible passages you don’t like, you need to ask questions of the Bible text. Ask other believers what they see in the passage. Look at the passage. Ask what it says.

Only after you see what it says should you can ask how it applies. Don’t make the mistake of asking “What does it mean to you?” before you answer, “What does it say?” and “What did it mean back then?”

These are basic principles of reading, studying and understanding the Bible. It is crucial to understand these principles and to apply them every time you read and study your Bible.

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In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 17, we come across a passage that is easy to misunderstand. Admittedly, I only came to see a nuance of this about a week or so ago. I was in our Adult Bible Study class at church and a friend brought out this issue of the “faith like a mustard seed”. (Matthew 17:20 ) He pointed out that the verse doesn’t refer to faith the size of a mustard seed. The verse refers to faith like a mustard seed.

Seriously? Am I really straining at the meaning of one little word? Actually, yes! Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate that I said that I came to see a nuance of this recently. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it until recently. That’s one of the things about God’s Word that’s so interesting. I have no idea how many times I have read this passage, yet a brief comment in a Sunday School class revealed a new facet of faith that I had never seen before.

Words have meaning. But words only have meaning in relationship with other words. That’s why it can be dangerous to do “word study” Bible studies. A word in one language may be translated into ten different words in another language. It’s probably an urban legend, but I have heard that Inuit (aka “Eskimos”) have sixteen different words for “snow”. Assuming that’s true, it’s quite understandable; their knowledge of snow and their need to communicate about snow is much deeper than a simple “cold, white, powdery stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in winter”. The same can be true when translating words from the Biblical languages to English. And that’s why it is very helpful to use a couple of different modern Bible translations. It’s not just words, but how they’re used together that brings out meaning.

So what’s the difference between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and “faith like a mustard seed”? Your Bible may use either of these translations.

A mustard seed is small. It’s a little smaller than a sesame seed on your hamburger bun, but it’s larger than the poppy seed on your bagel. That tiny mustard seed — the smallest of the seeds known to First Century Palestine — grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to nest in it. (Mark 4:31-32) So, inside that small seed is a large bush. Inside an acorn is a strong towering oak.

When Jesus mentions mustard seed faith, he isn’t talking about the initial size of the seed, but rather the potential that’s in the seed. But unless that seed is buried and allowed to grow, it will never be more than a small seed. But once it’s planted, it can grow into full maturity. (John 12:24)

Perhaps the disciples weren’t exercising their faith when they were unsuccessful in trying to deliver the demonized seizure-ridden young man. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have faith, but they had small faith, (Matthew 17:20a) and it sounds like maybe they weren’t exercising and growing it.

Application

In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter how much or how little faith you have. What matters is what you’re doing with your faith. Are you letting it grow? Are you feeding it with God’s Word? Are you exercising it?

Believer, you are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Let Him empower you to strengthen your faith

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.

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