Jesus has some hard words for would-be disciples in today’s Bible reading. Many would say that Jesus wouldn’t turn away anyone, but He actually does! In Luke 9:23, He says, “Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.'” He implies that if someone wants to follow Him, but doesn’t deny himself, or if someone wants to follow Him and doesn’t take up his cross daily, he cannot follow Jesus. In fact, later in the chapter, Jesus says, “But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 (CSB)
A few years ago, John MacArthur wrote a controversial book, The Gospel According to Jesus. He looks at verses like these and rightly asserts that there is no such thing as salvation that doesn’t include Lordship. I remember one of my seminary professors, Dr. Roy Fish, said that you can come to Jesus as Savior and later come to understand Him as Lord, but you cannot come to Jesus as Savior and reject Him as Lord. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at here. Elsewhere, He says that a would-be disciple must count the cost. (Luke 14:28)
Instead, in an effort to count nickels and noses, preachers have softened their evangelistic invitations and offered a cheap grace that doesn’t require a commitment.
But that isn’t the Gospel Jesus preached!
Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap! If you came to Jesus as a response to a preacher’s invitation, yet have never “made Him Lord”, you need to go back and revisit your salvation experience! He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.
I know, it’s easy to “backslide”. But right now, do you have an interest in the things of God? Do you desire to know God more than anything else? Yes, all believers can and should grow in our desire for God and the things of God (not the stuff from God, but the things of God). But do you have a hunger for God? Do you desire to know Him more? Or are you content to do religious things and hope to go to heaven when you die? Let me tell you, that won’t work! Biblically speaking, you don’t have a leg to stand on if you choose to bet your eternal destiny on merely doing religious things. You cannot separate salvation from a desire to know God. (John 17:3)
Spend a little time today asking God to give you a deeper hunger for Him and the things of God. (Colossians 3:1-2) Ask Him to give you a hunger and thirst for His righteousness. (Matthew 5:6) Ask Him to help you seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33)
Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)
Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.
In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.
It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.
It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.
Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)
Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)
Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.
The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!
Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that
Every. Single. Day.
Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?
I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)
Paul continues developing his thoughts on justification by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading. He says, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” Romans 5:18 (CSB)
Each of us is responsible for our own sin, yet each of us inherited a fallen condition from our first parents (specifically the First Man, Adam) because of one act of disobedience: eating the fruit from the one tree that God had warned against eating.
But that wasn’t the end of the story! Another
As much as sin, death, and judgment followed the one act of Adam’s disobedience, how much more did the one act of Jesus’ obedience bring life, righteousness, and forgiveness. In fact, Paul uses this phrase how much more four times in this one chapter. And counting his final parting shot, “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” Romans 5:20 (CSB), Paul drives home his point a fifth time!
There is no sin you have ever committed — or ever will — that will ever be so massive, so horrendous, that God’s grace cannot overcome. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve blown it and that you’ve done something God can never forgive, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! You aren’t that bad. You haven’t surprised God. God’s plan to redeem Adam’s descendants didn’t arrive as Plan B. God planned redemption from before He spoke, “Let there be light.”
Wherever there is sin, there is even more grace. God’s grace is free for the taking from an unconditionally loving, reconciling God.
I love how Eugene Peterson translated Romans 5:20-21 in The Message Translation:
Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.
That’s good news! That’s the Gospel!
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.
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 incredibl
In today’s Bible reading, we come across a word that Matthew has only used one other time previously:
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.
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.