Empty

Matthew 27-28

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Sunday, May 7

 

Empty … What does that word mean to you? Is your wallet empty? Is your plate empty? Is your gas tank empty? Do you feel empty? Empty is usually a word that gives us a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of defeat. It is a word that can be almost painful to say. Emptiness can paralyze our thoughts, it can stop us in our tracks.

 

Matthew 27 tells us about Jesus being beaten, mocked, crucified, and buried. This seems like a good reason to lose hope and that is exactly what some did. We all know how painful it can be when someone close to us dies. The disciples watched the man they had been following for years die on a cross. They watched as the Messiah they had spent their lifetime waiting for hung on a tree and they saw him breathe his last mortal breath. I can only imagine the emptiness they felt that Friday and Saturday.

 

The good news is that in chapter 28 empty takes on a new meaning for all who follow Jesus. Our hearts are full of hope because the tomb is EMPTY!!! Matthew 28:6, 7 says, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen…!” (NASB) The disciples found hope in the emptiness of the grave. We find hope in the emptiness of the grave. For the believer, the empty tomb provides the fullness of our hope!

 

-Bill Dunn

Bio – I am a husband, dad, and a pastor. I am also a longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan. Our family has a dog and some fish. We spend our spare time (which there isn’t usually much of) as a family and try to show the world the love God has shown us. If I have the chance to be outside, that is probably where you will find me.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.alittleperspective.com/matthew-27-2016/)

Justice vs. Mercy

Matthew 25-26

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Saturday, May 6

Which is more important in God’s eyes, justice or mercy?  That might be a difficult question to answer, but let me give it a try.

First let’s talk about justice.  There are many examples of God’s justice in today’s reading.  In the parable of the ten virgins, those who were not ready for the return of Christ were told by Jesus that he did not know them.  They were receiving justice for the lives they lived.  In the parable of the talents, the man who did not use the talents that were given to him was sent to the place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Justice was on display again.  In Matthew 25:31-46, those that did not help the needy were sentenced to eternal punishment.  Justice served.  Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus said it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born.  That was a warning that justice was on its way.  There was no mercy shown in any of these instances, only justice.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is arrested and his death on the cross is imminent.  We know why Jesus needed to die – to pay the debt for our sins.  The wages of sin is death so we all deserve to die since we have all sinned.  But think about this for a minute.  Couldn’t there have been a different way to make it right?  Jesus even prayed that prayer three times.  He didn’t want to die and he was hoping there was a different way to handle this.  God is in charge of everything so certainly he could have come up with an alternative solution to this problem.  Maybe if we sincerely repented for our sins, God could have shown us mercy and wiped our slates clean without anyone having to die.  Or maybe if we showed Him that we loved Him he could have overlooked our sins.  There had to be a different way.  Why did someone have to die?  The reason someone had to die is because of justice.  God is such a just God that He could not ignore justice.  It is very clear to me that God believes justice must always occur.

So where does that leave mercy?  Let’s go back to the death of Jesus.  Jesus was God’s own son.  He was also without sin.  There has only been one person on this earth in the history of mankind that did not deserve death, and that was Jesus.  God watched his only son be tortured and killed on the cross for something he did not do.  I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to watch one of my children suffer and die for something they did not do.  Yet God allowed it to happen, even though He could have stepped in and rescued him at any time.  Why would He just watch and do nothing?  It was because of His immense love for each of us.  He let His own son die for our sins so that we would not have to.  I believe that is the greatest act of mercy that has ever taken place.

So the answer to justice vs. mercy is “both”.  God will make sure justice occurs 100% of the time and He is on record as committing the most merciful act in history.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit http://www.breslev.co.il/articles/breslev/rebbe_nachmans_wisdom/mercy_vs__justice.aspx?id=26842&language=english)

Are You Ready?

Matthew 23-24

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Friday, May 5

What would you do if you found out that Jesus was returning in one week?  If you would go out and buy a Corvette, finish the last 3 seasons of The Office on Netflix, and eat as much chocolate as possible, Christianity might not be for you.  I don’t have an issue with people buying cars, watching television, or eating chocolate, but you shouldn’t gorge on pleasure no matter when he is coming back.  I suspect many of you would try to make things right with God and try to convince some people that they should accept Christ as their savior.  You might take the time to talk with that family member or friend that is not saved yet.  The point is that there would probably be more urgency in sharing the gospel for most of us.

The second question to think about is, “Should I really live my life any differently now (not knowing when Christ will return) than if I knew Christ was coming back in a week?”  Should there be just as much urgency?  I think there could be some differences.  For instance, if you knew Christ was coming back now, you would probably quit your job or stop going to school, which is probably not a good idea to do now since we don’t know when he will return.  However, I think an increased sense of urgency about getting your life right with God and talking to others about the kingdom should always be present in our lives.  We don’t know when Christ is going to return, we don’t know when our friends and family are going to die, we don’t know when we are going to die, and there are more people that need to hear about the gospel than we personally have time to tell all of them.

Jesus talks about people behaving poorly if they think their master will not be returning for a long time in Matthew 24:42-51.  He mentions they will be sent to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I think you know he is talking about h… e…double hockey stick.  He tells us to always be alert since we do not know when he is going to return.  Part of being alert is to take the precautions necessary in case he is coming back this week.  Get your life right with God NOW and go talk to that family member or friend before it is too late.

-Rick McClain

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.dailylifeverse.com/posts/2015/02/matthew-24-42)

The Heart of the Matter

Matthew 21-22

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Thursday, May 4

 

Is it possible to love someone without liking them?  I have heard many people say that it is possible.  I suspect they believe that love is more of an action than a feeling, and since they are willing to act in a loving way to someone they don’t like, they believe it is possible to love someone without liking them.  That thinking never sat real well with me through the years, but I couldn’t really come up with a solid reason of why that was so.  Then one day it hit me as I was reading the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:36-40.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  Jesus listed three different ways that we are to love someone, with our heart, soul, and mind.

I believe that loving someone with our mind has to do with our thoughts and intentions.  True, an intention that is never acted on is pretty worthless, but I would say if you had the intention, you love that person more than someone who didn’t even have the intention.  If you desire to send someone a card to get them through a rough time, you are loving them with your mind even if the card is never sent.

If you love someone with your soul, I believe you are loving them with your life or your actions.  You actually send the card.  So in a way, I agree that it is possible to love someone without liking them because it would be a true act of love to send the card even if you didn’t like the person.

However, if you love someone without liking them, you would be missing the third part of love that Jesus referred to, the heart of the matter.  He said we need to love God with all of our heart.  I believe this has to do with the feelings or “liking” part of love.  Moreover, if we are to love God with our hearts, we should love people the same way if we are to love them in a complete way.  So yes, if you love someone, you should also like them.  If you don’t like them, you are missing one of the ways to love someone.

But what about the jerks out there that are soooo hard to love?  They may have wronged you and not felt any remorse.  They might hate your guts still today.  How is it possible to like these people?  Suppose a brother killed a sister.  Do you think the mother would still have feelings for her son?  I think it is very likely that the mother would still love the son dearly even though she would be distraught at what he did.  And that is the key; you don’t have to like someone’s actions to like the person.  It is possible to still like someone without liking what they did to you.

I want to go one step further with this.  If you are having trouble liking someone, I would strongly suggest that you need to forgive them.  If you have hard feelings toward someone, you are holding something against them, which means you have not forgiven them.  If you do not forgive them, God will not forgive you.  I encourage you to think about all of the relationships you have (school, work, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people you go to church with, etc.) and identify anyone that you have hard feelings about.  If you are having trouble liking them, you need to forgive them…today.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit: http://www.bibleverseimages.com/love-bible-verse-7.htm)

He’s Serious

Matthew 18-20

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Wednesday, May 3

I think most people think of Jesus as a mild-mannered, humble, loving person.  They believe he is full of mercy and mostly thinks kind thoughts about people.  I think all of these things are true about Jesus, but there is another side to Jesus that I think many overlook.  He can get really ticked off, especially when it comes to sin.  He hates sin!  In Matthew 18 alone he has this to say:

  • If anyone causes a child who believes in him to stumble, it would be better for them to have a heavy millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the sea.
  • If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, it is better to cut it off than to be cast into the eternal fire.
  • If your eye causes you to stumble, it is better to pluck it out.
  • If a brother sins, go and reprove him. If he doesn’t listen take one or two more with you to talk to him.  If he still doesn’t listen, tell the whole church.
  • He told a parable about a man who would not forgive a debt so the master was so angry that he handed him over to torturers until he would pay the debt. He then said his Father will do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother.

Millstones around necks to drown people, cutting off hands and feet, plucking out eyes, telling the whole church that someone refuses to stop sinning, and handing people over to torturers if they don’t forgive tells me one thing.  He’s serious!  He’s not messing around.  Sin really makes him upset.  So my advice to you is:  Don’t sin.

I chose to write devotions for the book of Matthew because I knew it would be easy to find something to write about.  Matthew is loaded with nuggets to help you in life, but that has become my challenge to narrow down what to write about.  I can’t pass up this little nugget in Matthew 19:9.  It is about a subject that there is much disagreement about, but I believe this verse should not be ignored.  Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  We can debate what is meant by immorality or if this applies to someone who doesn’t want a divorce, but it seems pretty clear to me that you shouldn’t divorce your spouse and get remarried, unless your spouse has committed immorality (likely sexual immorality).  I know some will say you can’t base the whole argument on a single verse and there is more to the story, but I would warn you that you better make sure this verse fits with your view on divorce and remarriage.

Another little nugget I want to mention has to do with children in the kingdom.  I have struggled to understand if children who are not baptized will be in the kingdom.  In fact, what happens to children who died at a young age, including those who were aborted?  What about the children who are young when Jesus returns?  Do they have a chance?  How will their salvation be decided?  I can’t say I have the answers to these questions, but Matthew 19:14 gives me some hope for their eternal wellbeing.  Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  It sounds to me like there will be some children making it into the kingdom.

I won’t spend a lot of time on my last nugget (I’m pretty sure I already lost Mackenzie), but it is such a key concept that it needs to be mentioned.  The last will be first, and the first will be last.  Similarly, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.  I am not going to spend a lot of time explaining this to you because it is so simple to understand.  Ditch the selfishness.  Start living for God and others.  Be honest with yourself and ask yourself this question, “Who am I living for?”

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit: http://indulgy.com/post/znFZhGDqr2/matthew)

New Favorite Verse

Matthew 15-17

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Tuesday, May 2

So…my daughter, Mackenzie, informed me that if my devotional is more than a few paragraphs long, it is likely she will not have the perseverance to read it all.  Therefore, I am going to need to jump right in to the part for my kids.  I always told my children that one of my favorite verses was Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  But now looking at that verse a little more closely, I don’t think it has the same impact as the new verse I found.  Matthew 15:4 says, “For God said, “Honor your father and mother, and, he who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.””  I think this could have been more influential in their younger years.

In Matthew 15, the Pharisees were annoying Jesus as usual.  They said to Jesus (in a high-pitched whiny complaining voice), “your disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.”  Jesus explained that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and gets pooped out (Rick’s Non-Standard Version).  Furthermore, the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile man (evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and slanders).  Therefore, you can try to control what comes out of your mouth, but a better idea is to “get your heart right” since that is where your words come from.  So how do you get your heart right?  The simple answer is to become unselfish.  I am convinced that every sin comes from selfishness.  We steal because we want something.  We lie to try to protect ourselves or get something we want.  We have sex outside of marriage because it feels good.  Go ahead; try to think of a sin that doesn’t have to do with our selfishness.

I am about to lose Mackenzie so I want to make this final point quickly.  Jesus summed this all up really well in Matthew 16:24-25.  He said that if you wish to come after him, you need to deny yourself and take up his cross and follow him.  He went on to say that whoever wishes to save their life shall lose it; but whoever loses their life for his sake shall find it.  You need to become unselfish if you want to save your life for an eternity.  You need to get your heart right and live your life for God and others, not yourself.  And to bring this full circle, if you get your heart right, good things will come out of your mouth about your parents and we won’t have to put you to death.

-Rick McClain

 

 

One Track Mind

Matthew 13-14

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Monday, May 1

I think it would have been an incredible experience to hear Jesus talk when he was here on earth.  His ministry did not last a real long time, but he did have the opportunity to talk to many people while he was here.  I think it is safe to assume that in his limited time teaching the multitudes, he focused on what was most important for them to know.  He often used parables to make the teaching more understandable.  In Matthew 13, Jesus shared 7 different parables with the people.  Let’s find out what he thought was important to share:

Parable of the Sower:  this was a parable about how different people respond when they hear the kingdom message.

Parable of Tares Among Wheat:  the kingdom of heaven was compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but the enemy also sowed tares in the same field.

Parable of the Mustard Seed:  the kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed.

Parable of the Leaven:  the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.

Parable of the Hidden Treasure:  the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.

Parable of the Costly Pearl:  the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.

Parable of a Dragnet:  the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind.

It is pretty plain to see what Jesus’ most important message was about.  He had a one track mind about the kingdom.  He would not stop talking about the kingdom.  He talked about the kingdom over and over and over and over; seven times in chapter 13 alone.  This same message is just as relevant today as it was then because the chance to live in the kingdom is still attainable today.  This has to be our number one message the same way as it was Jesus’ number one message.

A couple other incredible experiences would have been to see Jesus feeding the 5,000+ and Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.  I have questions about these events.  Did anyone actually see the bread multiply with their own eyes (that would have been cool)?  Did they cook the fish or just eat it raw?  Without television or movies, how did the disciples know about ghosts (they thought Jesus was a ghost when he was walking toward them on the water)?  Had they seen ghosts before?  Are ghosts real?  When Jesus walked on the water did he move up and down with the waves or was it more of a steady/smooth walk?  How did Jesus know that Peter lost faith when he started sinking?  Did Jesus actually know what was in Peter’s mind or did God know what was in Peter’s mind and Jesus then figured out what was happening when he saw him sinking?  Perhaps you did not have all of the same questions that I had, but thank you for reading this far.

The main lesson to learn from chapter 14 is about faith.  Peter was able to walk on water until his faith weakened and many people were healed when they had faith they would be healed when they touched Jesus’ cloak.  Another lesson to learn in chapter 14 is to not trust women who please you with their dancing, but I will let you read about that yourself.

-Rick McClain

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.alittleperspective.com/matthew-13-2016/)