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Intimacy with God

In today’s Bible reading, we come across a word that Matthew has only used one other time previously: parable. Those of us who have been around church for very long have heard about parables. But have you thought about why Jesus used parables? And that begs the question, “What is a parable?”

A parable is an extended metaphor. It’s a story with a deeper meaning. “Parable” literally means something that’s thrown alongside. You could say that a parable is an “object lesson” or a “word picture”. Many times as Jesus came across something in life, He’d tell a story about it with a practical application to the Kingdom of God. (On a side note, it’s very interesting that Jesus is the only person in the entire New Testament who used parables.)

I remember early in my ministry, children would hand run up to our Children’s Pastor and give him an object, a toy, or something they found. He would talk about that object and spin it into a gospel message. He was a master storyteller!

Not everyone who heard a parable understood what Jesus was trying to convey. Yes, He meant to do that. Many people (most people?) just thought Jesus was telling stories. Matthew 13:11 tells us two of the reasons that Jesus used these parables: to reveal things about the Kingdom of God and to conceal things about the Kingdom of God. Matthew adds a third reason in Matthew 13:34-35 – to fulfill prophecy.

One day Jesus and His disciples may have strolled through the market when they spotted a well-dressed man arguing with a common merchant about a collection of pearls at his table. Jesus may have used that occasion to tell His disciples about the “Priceless Pearl”. (Matthew 13:44–46)

A “regular Joe” may not care much about pearls, but a collector does. A pearl collector would recognize a unique, priceless pearl in a tray of pearls. And when he finds “the one”, a wise pearl collector would give everything he has to buy it. That pearl may look like every other pearl in a tray, but to a discerning eye, that pearl would stand out from all the rest.

To a common bystander, a kingdom is a kingdom. But to a disciple of Jesus Christ (then and now), the Kingdom of God isn’t a common kingdom among lots of other kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is a priceless pearl of a Kingdom. And for anyone with a discerning eye, the Kingdom of God is worth selling everything you have in order to get it.

Application

Do you have a discerning eye? Do you recognize the Kingdom of God when you see it? It doesn’t look like any other kingdom. And yet, it doesn’t even look like what most people would expect it would look like. And look at the King: most people didn’t recognize Jesus as the King. Neither did is disciples!

A few chapters ago (Chapter 6), Jesus told His disciples to have His Kingdom at the front of their minds. He told them to prioritize His Kingdom and His righteousness above everything else. To do that takes a lot of focus. And it requires putting a lot of other things out of focus.

The Kingdom of God is worth more than anything else you could ever conceive of.
Ask God to give you eyes to see its worth today.

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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.

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 11, we read that John the baptizer is in jail. Like Jesus’ disciples, John has become a little disillusioned. He sends word to his cousin asking if He is the one they have waited for to bring the Kingdom of God. Or should they look for someone else? (Matthew 11:3)

As He often does, Jesus answered with Scripture rather than answering directly. He quotes Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Isaiah 35:5 (CSB)

The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 (CSB)

Isaiah 61:1 is the passage Jesus read when the synagogue scroll was handed to Him in Luke 4. He says that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.

Jesus is exactly Who Isaiah prophesied would come. But Jesus wasn’t exactly who everyone was expecting. They expected a victorious King who would ride in on a white horse, overthrow the Roman government and set free the nation of Israel.

But it wasn’t quite working out that way, was it?

So where did John and Jesus’ disciples go wrong? Wasn’t the Messiah going to do those things? Isn’t that what their Bible told them? Yes, their Bible said that the Messiah would be the Victorious King, but it also said he would be a suffering servant. (Isaiah 53) In order for both of these to be true (remember, the Bible never contradicts itself), the Messiah had come as the suffering servant before coming back as the Victorious King.

Application

We have more in common with the disciples and John than we think. We look back at them and scratch out heads thinking, “Why didn’t they get it?” Instead, perhaps we should ask, “What am I not getting?”

Too often we turn to our Bible and read it the way we want to. We read it the way we have heard Bible teachers and preachers have presented it to us. And too often, we don’t go back and read it for ourselves. We simply take the Bible at their word.

Whenever you see things not working out the way you think the Bible has said, don’t go back to what you have heard or read from a Bible teacher or preacher. Go back to the Source. Ask yourself if you heard it correctly. Maybe what you’re expecting isn’t what the Bible actually says. Or maybe there’s more to the story.

Bible teachers and preachers will be held accountable for what they teach. They will be rewarded for being faithful to what God has revealed. But they will also be rebuked for leading people astray.

But hearers are also accountable. We must be discerning who and what we read. We have to be careful who we listen to. Some will give you solid meat. Others will peddle cotton candy.

A few years ago, God challenged me to spend the next thirty days reading only the Bible. I was to not read any commentaries. No “Christian Living” books. I wasn’t to read from my favorite godly, solid bible-teaching authors. Nothing but the Bible. It was more difficult than I would like to admit.

Why? Because in my Bible teaching, I had been merely regurgitating what others had already chewed up for me without gaining any nourishment for myself. At the end of thirty days, I came away feeling refreshed. I came away hearing God’s voice more clearly again.

God wants you to read the Bible for yourself. You need to read and study the Bible for your own nourishment. Yes, God gives us godly teachers — which we desperately need!

But sometimes our Bible teachers get it wrong so we need to dig in and mine the treasures from God’s Word for ourselves.

Try it. You’ll find it very rewarding!

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Jesus gives us good news, bad news, and more good news in today’s Bible reading from Matthew 10. He begins by giving His apostles authority over unclean spirits, and every sickness and disease. He sends them out to preach the Gospel.

Next, Matthew records Jesus giving some “bad news”. I put that in quotes because of the following good news. But the “bad news” is that the apostles (and us) will be persecuted. Note: They/we will be persecuted. (Matthew 10:16-25)

But couched in that section, Jesus gives them/us good news: His Holy Spirit will give them/them the words to say to those who persecute them/us. (Matthew 10:19-20)

Matthew concludes Chapter 10 with even better news: God is in control!

“Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Matthew 10:26–30 (CSB)

Let me say that again. God is in control.

Application

There is a great deal of comfort to us in those four words: God is in control. He gives his Apostles authority over the enemy. There is no competition between God and the enemy where we wonder who will win. God wins! And by extension, we win!

Sure, we may be persecuted. We may encounter “storms” in our lives. In fact, Jesus promises that His followers will be persecuted. But He couches this “bad news” with good news because He is in control! Nothing will happen to His kids without His direct control. And Paul reminds us that He will work out all things to our good: that we would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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applause, recognition

Jesus tells us the right way to give, pray, and fast in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his instructions in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” (CSB)

He lists three Spiritual Disciplines — probably the most public of the Disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting. He doesn’t say, “If you give”, “If you pray” or “If you fast”. He assumes that we will do these things “when” or “whenever“.

Each of these activities is important for a growing Christian life. Jesus warns us to not do these three things like hypocrites do; they do them so that they will be recognized by other people for their religious activities.

Application

Jesus says that if we give, pray, and fast — only in public, like the hypocrites do — we will receive our reward just like they do: in public by the people we’re trying to impress. Jesus says, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. But you won’t get any recognition from God.

I’ve said many times before, it’s all about relationship. Religion looks good. “Good works” looks good. But Jesus tells us plainly in today’s reading that our focus should be on our relationship with God and His Kingdom, not ourselves and our kingdoms. (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus cautions His followers that if we want to be recognized by God for our giving, our praying, and our fasting, we need to do them in secret, where only God knows what we’re doing. And then God will give His reward.

The bottom line is, whose applause do you want? Whose recognition do you want? Whose approval do you want?

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