Matthew chapter 28

…but some were doubtful. – Vs 17 (NASB)

Jesus has risen from the dead! The guards assigned to prevent anything from happening to the body and who worked for the High Priest are literally scared stiff. The women arrive at the tomb only to find it empty. An angel gives them orders to tell the disciples what has happened and to tell them the no-longer-dead Jesus is going to meet them in Galilee. As they run to tell the disciples the great news, Jesus Himself meets them and reminds them exactly what it is they are to do. Then when Jesus appears to His disciples – alive and well – Luke says, “some were doubtful.”

That blows my mind! How could they be doubtful? He had told them this was going to happen. They refused to believe it, but on more than one occasion Jesus had clearly said that He would be killed, but that He would rise again three days later. Now it had happened! These guys had watched Him die. Now He stood before them alive! But some doubted. Sure, Luke also says that some worshiped Him, but it’s hard to look past the fact that some were doubtful. The living Lord stood right before their eyes and they were doubtful. The Greek word for doubtful is distazo and it comes from the word dis, which means “twice.” They were literally wavering between two opinions. They wanted to believe that what they were seeing was true, but their common sense told them it was too good to be true. They were having difficulty reasoning this all out in their minds. Their senses were in conflict. It was a classic battle between faith and reason. And it is still going on today.

I have to ask myself which group I would have been in that day – the worshipers or the doubters? When Luke says that some worshiped, he uses a word that conveys the idea of falling upon your knees and touching the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. It’s exactly what the women did when they encountered Jesus along the road in verse 9: “And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.” They were overcome with fear and joy. They recognized that they were in the presence of the Son of God and reacted accordingly. The disciples did the same thing when they saw Jesus – at least some of them. The others stood by doubting, wavering, and debating in their minds what exactly it was they were witnessing. Did they think they were seeing a ghost? Was this all a dream? Had Jesus not really died? It’s interesting that Mark records in his gospel that when the women first told the disciples that they had seen Jesus alive, “they refused to believe it” (Mark 16:11). Why? Because it was unbelievable! The impossible had just happened. Now that they were standing in front of Jesus themselves, they went from disbelief to doubt. It was hard to deny that something had happened, but they just weren’t sure what it was.

And many of us are still doubting today. At one time we were disbelieving. We denied the reality of Jesus and the need for Him to be our Savior. But then we placed our faith in Him and become Christ-followers. But at some point, doubt set in. We have seen Him work in and around our lives, but we waver and doubt in our minds whether it was really Him. We face struggles and trials and know we should turn to Him, but we doubt that He can really help. We allow our minds to overwhelm our faith. We let reason convince us that He isn’t real or, at least, He isn’t reliable. So we doubt. He is standing right in front of us, alive and well, with all the resurrection power He had that day He walked out of the grave, but we stand on the edge wavering in our belief. We are His doubting disciples. And if we are doubting Him, it is impossible to truly worship Him. You can’t truly worship and waver at the same time. He is risen. He is alive. He is exactly Who He said He was. The Son of God and the Savior of the world. The cure for wavering is worship. Quit standing around doubting and debating. Get on your knees and acknowledge Him for Who He is.

Father, Your Son is alive and I want to be one of the worshipers, not the the waverers. I want to be the one who is on my knees in reverence and awe, not standing around wondering if all this is really true. Forgive me for doubting so often the reality of the resurrected Lord. I confess that there are times I reveal my doubt in my fears and apprehensions, or in my refusal to obey Your commands. I doubt and it shows up in my actions. But Your Son is alive and He has proven Himself so in my life. I have no reason to doubt.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 27

Come down from the cross. – Vs 40 (NASB)

As Jesus hung on the cross, He continued to suffer verbal abuse from His accusers and those who had gathered to watch the grisly spectacle of His death. Matthew records that they were “hurling abuse” at Him, mocking and taunting Him. They shouted, “So! You can destroy the Temple and build it again in three days, can you? Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross” (Vs 40). They were reacting to a statement Jesus had made earlier in His ministry and that had been brought up again at His trial. John records it in his gospel. When Jesus had cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, kicking out the money changers and overturning tables, the Jewish leaders had demanded a sign to confirm that He had authority to do what He had done. Jesus’ response was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 – NASB). This was the main accusation brought against Jesus in His trial by false witnesses. They claimed that Jesus had said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days” (Matthew 26:61 – NASB). But John makes it clear that Jesus had been speaking of the temple of His body. He had been predicting His bodily resurrection.

Now, here He hung on the cross and was being taunted to come down. In their minds, this would be what it would take to convince them of His claim to be the Messiah. Not that they even remotely believed He just might do it. But I find it interesting that they were asking Him to do the one thing He could not, or would not do. Come down from the cross. That is exactly what the enemy would have loved to see Him do. Come down from the cross. Stop the one thing that would bring redemption and hope to mankind. Stop God’s divine plan for man’s ultimate salvation. If Jesus had called down angels and had them rescue Him from the cross, many would have probably believed. But they would not have been saved. Their sins would not have been payed for. They would still have been required to live according to the Law, attempting to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God, in their own strength. And they would have failed, like all those before them.

“Come down from the cross!”, they shouted. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the king of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him! He trusted God––let God show his approval by delivering him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God'” (Vs 42-43, NLT). This whole event made no sense to them. If He was the Messiah, then He wouldn’t be on the cross in the first place. And if He was the Messiah, then God would avenge Him by delivering Him. If THAT was to happen, then they would believe. But it wouldn’t happen, because it couldn’t happen. Because our hope lay not in God delivering Jesus from the cross, but from death. Jesus’ victory was not going to be over the cross, but over sin and the grave. “For the power of the life–giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2 – NLT). Had Jesus come down from the cross, it would have accomplished nothing. Sure, it would have been impressive, but it would not have been redemptive. It would not have saved. He had to die in order that we might live. He had to be sacrificed in order to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God. Coming down from the cross was NOT an option. And because Jesus chose to remain where He was and suffer the full brunt of sin’s assault on His life, we have eternal life. “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24 – NASB). God delivered Jesus from death, not the cross. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Father, thank You for the victory of Jesus Christ over death and sin. Thank You Jesus for enduring the cross, for remaining where You were and enduring what You didn’t deserve – all for me. Thank You that You chose not to save Yourself, so that we might be saved. Yours was a life of selfless service right to the very end. And I am eternally grateful.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 26

Does it not seem possible to you that if I make request to my Father he will even now send me an army of angels?. – Vs 53 (BBE)

I love this verse for a number of reasons. First, it assures me of Jesus’ confidence in His identity. He is the Son of God and He has every right and the authority to end the madness that is about to take place – with just a word from His mouth. All He has to do is ask His Father, and thousands of thousands of angels would come to His aid. He could wipe out the Pharisees and all the other so-called religious rules, including the High Priest Caiaphas. And if I had been Jesus, I probably would have done it. At this point in the proceedings, I would have gotten fed up with the disciples and everyone else around me and put an end to this madness. But that’s not what Jesus did. When Peter strikes off the ear of one of the high priest’s slaves, Jesus tells him to put his sword away. Peter was not going to be able to stop what was about to happen. But Jesus could have. And He didn’t.

He could have stopped the arrest. He could have prevented the trials, the beatings, the ridicule, the verbal and physical abuse, and ultimately, His death. But Jesus was going to finish what He had begun. He asks the somewhat rhetorical question, “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Vs 54). He knew He had to follow through with the divine plan in its entirety – even if it meant pain and suffering at the “hands of sinners” (Vs 45), the hands of men He Himself had created. He knew He had to fulfill the prophesies made so many centuries before. He was the key to God’s plan of salvation for mankind. His humanity struggled with the prospects of suffering a violent death on a Roman torture device. He prayed three times in the garden, asking, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Vs 39). His humanity longed to escape this destiny of death. But His divinity was determined to obey the will of the Father. From the time that Satan first tempted Jesus in the garden, trying to get Him to take a path other than the one God the Father had prescribed, Jesus had been faithful and obedient. And it wasn’t going to change now.

It must happen this way. And it did. Jesus went willingly. He suffered silently. He died gladly. All so that we might live eternally.

“Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8, NLT

Jesus could have called down angels to rescue Himself. But He came to rescue us. “He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live” (Galatians 1:4, NLT).

Father, thank You for You divine plan of redemption. Without it I would be lost. Jesus, thank You for willingly following through with that plan. You didn’t have to do it. You didn’t have to save me. You didn’t have to die in my place, but you did. You could have called down angels, but you didn’t. And I can’t thank You enough!  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 25

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. – Vs 29 (NASB)

This is a difficult statement, smack dab in the middle of a very difficult section of teaching on the kingdom of God by Jesus. And this particular phrase has been used by Jesus before. Over in Matthew 13, He used the same exact words after explaining to His disciples why He spoke in parables. “Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted'” (Matthew 13:22, NASB). Then He followed with “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall not be taken away from him.” Jesus used this same phrase again in speaking about the lamp. “And He was saying to them, ‘A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear'” (Mark 4:21-23, NASB). Then He immediately follows this up with, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him” (Mark 4:24-25, NASB).

So what’s the point? What’s the common theme going on in these situations? It’s interesting that more often than not, I have heard this phrase of Jesus explained as a lesson on stewardship. Typically, I have heard it used to encourage faithful tithing or the faithful use of our talents. And while there may be some way in which this application can be derived from Jesus’ statement, the more I read it in the contexts in which He used it, the more I believe He was not speaking of stewardship or finances at all. It would appear to me that in all three of the cases we looked at above, recorded by three different gospel writers, the real issue is how we respond to the truth. In the Matthew 25 passage, Jesus has told the parable of the talents. Three different servants have been given money by their master before he leaves on a journey. He has entrusted them with something that belongs to him. Jesus tells what each of the three did with what they were entrusted. The one with five talents doubled what he was given to ten. We aren’t told how. The one who was entrusted with two talents gained two more. Again, we aren’t told how. Finally, the one who was given the one talent did nothing with his, but buried it, returning it to the master when he came back. The first two are recognized as being faithful and receive a reward. Their reward was increased responsibility and the recognition of their master’s joy. The third is condemned as unfaithful, wicked, and lazy. His crime? He did nothing with what he was entrusted. The issue here is not talents or abilities. It has nothing to do with our good stewardship of money or resources. But it has everything to do with how we respond to the truth of God that has been entrusted to us. To some, God entrusts more. As He did with the disciples. They were given a special measure of God’s truth as revealed through Jesus Christ. They responded to it and were rewarded accordingly. To others, they heard the words of Jesus, saw the miracles He performed, but failed to do anything with what they had been given. They did not respond to the truth.

The same is true in the Mark passage. The lamp in Jesus’ story represents light or the truth. Jesus is that light. He was the truth of God being revealed to men. In John 1:9, Jesus referred to Himself as the “true light.” In John 9:5 He said, “I am the light of the world.” In John 1:5 we are told “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Jesus was the light that came to shine in the world, but some would refuse to recognize it and respond to it. They would end up rejecting the truth. That’s why Jesus side “Take care what you listen to.” This has to do with listening to and responding to the truth. The New Living Translation says it this way, “And be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand––and even more, besides.”

This is all about listening and responding. Using what we have been given by God. Not our talents and abilities. But the truth that has been entrusted to us. We have been given insight into the kingdom of God. We have been given the ability to understand the truth of the gospel. Now what are we doing with it? “Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given” (Luke 12:48, NLT). We have been given much. God has shared the truth of new life in Jesus Christ with us. What are we doing with it? Are we allowing it to change us and transform us? Or are we doing nothing with it? Are we resting on our laurels, content to have our “ticket to heaven,” but not doing growing and maturing into Christ-likeness? We have the truth. We live in the light. And the more we understand it and respond to it, the more truth we receive and the brighter the light shines.

Father, thank You for giving me Your truth through Jesus Christ. You are the one who opened my eyes to see. You opened my ears to hear. You have given me much. Help me to continue to respond to the truth I have received by obeying it. You promise to give me more and more. Your supply is endless. Your grace and mercy are never ending. Your wisdom is without bounds. I can never exhaust your supply. Thank you.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 24

Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. – Vs 46 (NET Bible)

This is a deep and difficult passage with a lot of end time prophesy given by Jesus. The disciples asked what they thought was a fairly simple question: “Make clear to us, when will these things be? and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?” (BBE). I think they were really wondering when He was going to set up His kingdom. The Greek word they use for “coming” is parousia and it can mean “arrival.” It’s the same word commonly used for the Lord’s return, but I think the disciples were using it to signify His arrival in Jerusalem as King. In just a few days Jesus would “arrive” in Jerusalem to cheers and shouts of “Hosanna!” But in spite of the disciple’s expectations, this would not be His official “arrival.”

But their simple question would get a very complex answer. Jesus ends up telling them more than they wanted to know and more than they would ever understand. But in all the things that Jesus would share with them regarding the tribulation times and His ultimate return, the phrase that struck me hardest was “blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes.” This is part of a small parable that Jesus weaved into His lecture on the ends times. He has been talking about being ready because His return will be unexpected and unannounced. Jesus never answers the part of their questions regarding the timing of His arrival. He basically tells them that only God knows the answer to that question. So they need to be ready. But none of the disciples would live to see His second coming. And none of us will be around either, due to the nature of the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13;18). But Jesus says that those who come to know Him during the great tribulation will need to be ready for Him to return at any time. So that when He does return, He will find them doing their jobs, doing what they are supposed to be doing, That is the essence of His mini-parable.

And isn’t that how we should be living our lives? Always ready. Always living with a sense of anticipation. There is a sense in which each of us as Christ-followers should have our sights set on the return of Christ. We should live as if He will show up this afternoon. We should want Him to return. And the truth is, He could return for His church any day. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

So I need to be doing what I am supposed to be doing. I need to be about My Father’s business. That means I shouldn’t be distracted by the things of this world. I don’t want to have Him show up and find me busy doing my own thing. This is the way the disciples would end up living their lives. After Jesus was resurrected, they would each live their lives as if He was about to come back any minute. They fulfilled the Great Commission. They kept the Great Commandment. None would live to see the rapture of the church or the physical return of Christ, but they lived their entire lives in a state of perpetual readiness. That is how I want to live. I want to live a life of faithfulness. So that if Jesus should return for His church, He will find me ready. But if He delays and I experience death, I want my life to be a testimony of faithfulness. So that those who come behind me will find inspiration for their lives.

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

Father, I want to live a life of faithfulness. I want to be ready for Your Son’s return. Help me avoid the distractions of this world. Keep me on the path that You have prepared for me. May my life have a fire of devotion that lights the way for others to follow.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 23

Woe to you! – Vs 13 (NASB)

Chapter 23 is an extension of Jesus verbal blasting of the Pharisees He began in chapter 22. In fact, it is an even more personal attack than ever. But while Jesus is addressing the faults and failings of the Pharisees and scribes, His real message seems to be one of warning to His own followers. He is exposing to His disciples the characteristics of the Pharisees that He detests. He is warning them to “not do according to their deeds” (Vs 3), or better yet, not follow their example. There are some sobering warnings for us in these verses as well.

Just look at some of the terms Jesus uses for these men: hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind men. He accuses them of being glory seekers, attention grabbers, power mongers, and religious nit-pickers. He exposes their pseudo-righteousness, religious hypocrisy, legalism, abuse of power, neglect of the poor and powerless, pious externalism, and self-deception. It would be really easy to look at this chapter and just focus in on the faults of the Pharisees – to gang up on them and blast them as religious losers who are well-deserving of what is coming to them. But I think Jesus is trying to warn us that we are all prone to the same tendencies. The disciples themselves had grown up idolizing these men. They were the religious elite of their day. If there had been Pharisee baseball cards, the disciples would have tried to collect the whole set – even get their autographs to increase the card’s value. They stood in awe of what these men said and how they lived. They feared them and revered them. Now Jesus was blasting them. Why? Because He wanted to expose their hearts to His followers. Jesus had come to turn the religious world on its ear. It was not longer going to be business-as-usual. No more religious hokem-pokem and spiritual smoke and mirrors. No more self-righteous fakery and pious pretending. Jesus came to bring heart transformation, not some pathetic attempt at behavior modification.

Everything Jesus slams the Pharisees for we can be guilty of – even as Christ-followers. We can be guilty of saying things and not doing them. We can teach the Word and not live it. We can spout God’s truth and not even believe the words that are coming out of our mouth. We can demand that our kids be godly, but then fail to show them how with our own lives. We can burden down others with our own brand of legalistic rules and regulations: Don’t dance, don’t play cards, don’t go to movies, don’t … you get the picture. But we won’t come alongside those same people and help them live the life God has called them to live. We can be guilty of seeking the attention of men, the places of honor, the positions of power, the mantle of leadership, and the service of others – all within the walls of the church. We can be guilty of turning others away from Christ by the way we live our lives. Our hypocrisy becomes a turn-off to the lost. We can easily neglect the poor and powerless around us, whether its the single mom trying to raise her kids on a limited income, the widow who can’t maintain her home, the couple who’ve lost their income, or the lonely individual who comes to church every Sunday just hoping someone will give them the time of day. We can be guilty of making our own rules and silly regulations that have little or no basis in Scripture. We want everyone to follow our rules and regulations. Whether it’s our arbitrary time requirement for a proper quiet time, our expectation that everyone attend Bible study as often as we do, pray as much as we do, or dress like we do. We can be guilty of looking good on the outside when the inside is a totally different story. We can reject the words of God’s appointed teachers by sitting in sermons and classes, hearing the truth of God, but refusing to apply it to our lives.

Every one of the accusations Jesus levels at the Pharisees can be leveled at us. We can be guilty of the very same things. That is the danger. We all the spirit of the Pharisee within us. It is the spirit of religious formalism and self-righteousness. It reeks of pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency. It rejects Christ’s call for humility and death to self. It loathes the idea of serving rather than being served. It despises all that Jesus represents. It sees Him as a threat to its well-being. And the Pharisee is alive and well today – in all of us. So we have to take Jesus’ woes to heart. Woe was an expression of grief, not anger. Jesus is grieved by this kind of attitude, especially in His people. It is dangerous, deceptive, and destructive. And it is a real threat to each one of us today.

Father, open our eyes so that we can see the Pharisee within us. Don’t let us accuse others when we have those same traits within ourselves. May we be just as grieved as Jesus was over the Pharisee-like attitudes and actions that exist in our own lives. Expose them to us so that we can repent of them. Give us hearts of humility so that we might serve You.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 22

For many are called, but few are chosen. – Vs 14 (NASB)

A king holds a wedding feast for his son who is getting married.

He had sent out invitations to his guests.

When the time came, he sent his servants to inform the guests there party was starting.

But all his guests turned him down – having no desire to go to his party.

So he sent out his servants again – telling them to tell his guests just how good his party was going to be.

But those invited to the party didn’t care – and went about their affairs.

Some even took the king’s servants and beat them, even killing some.

The king, in anger, sent his army to punish these people, destroying their town and themselves.

He then sends his servants to invite new guests – to replace the first ones – who had refused his invitation.

So they hit the streets and invited anyone and everyone they met – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The wedding hall was filled, including one guest who came improperly dressed for the occasion.

The king had this man bound and thrown out of the festivities.

What a story. As usual, Jesus had an audience in mind. It was the same group His last two parables were directed at: The Pharisees. But in this case, it also included the Jews as a people. Jesus is saying that God had invited the Jews to His feast. He had called them and made them His own. They had done nothing to deserve the “invitation to his party.” They were no different than anyone else, but God had set Israel apart – making them holy and wholly His. But they had rebelled. The had ultimately refused His invitation. They had no desire to take part in what God had planned for them. They grumbled, complained, rebelled, and sought after other gods. They had refused to listen to God’s prophets – rejecting their messages and even killing some. And even as Jesus spoke, there were many who were rejecting His message or repentance and restoration. Jesus was that final invitation to celebrate with God, but “they paid no attention and went their way” (Vs 5 – NASB). Just as the Jews of the Old Testament rejected the message of God and ended up in captivity with the city of Jerusalem ransacked and destroyed, so too would the Jews of Jesus’ day find their sacred city of Jerusalem destroyed in less than 40 years from the time Jesus spoke. Their refusal was going to result in destruction.

You’re Invited

But here’s the great news. Because the Jews turned their backs on God, He opened up the doors to us. We are those who were ultimately invited to the festivities because of the rejection of the Jews. We weren’t even aware there was a party. We hadn’t received an invitation. And the, all of the sudden, we get a personal invitation from God Himself, inviting us to be His guests at His Son’s wedding feast. He even provided the wedding garments for us to wear. This was a last-minute invite and we didn’t have anything to wear to this shin-dig, so God provided the clothes for us to wear to His party. That’s why the guy who showed up dressed inappropriately was kicked out. He was not wearing the clothes the king had provided. He came dressed in his own “righteousness” and was thrown out. This “party” to which I have been invited is something I could have never dreamed of being a part of. I didn’t deserve the invitation. I didnt know the King or His Son. I didn’t have the right credentials. I didn’t even own the right kind of wedding clothes to attend a party like this. But God provided it all! My presence at His Son’s wedding feast is all His doing and not mine. That’s pretty amazing.

God’s not done!

Here’s another exciting thought. God is not done with Israel. Paul makes that perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans.

“Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! His purpose was to make his salvation available to the Gentiles, and then the Jews would be jealous and want it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the Jews turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when the Jews finally accept it. I am saying all of this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I lay great stress on this, for I want to find a way to make the Jews want what you Gentiles have, and in that way I might save some of them. For since the Jews’ rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, how much more wonderful their acceptance will be. It will be life for those who were dead!” – Romans 11:11-15

What a picture of God’s sovereign plan. He is in control. He knows exactly what He is doing. Israel’s rejection of His Son was not a set-back for Him. It was all part of His plan to restore all mankind to a right relationship to Him. God chose Israel and used Israel to show how man could not achieve righteousness on his own. They were given God’s righteous laws, but couldn’t keep them. They failed. Even the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were still trying to keep the Law and earn their way into God’s good favor. But they would ultimately kill His Messenger. They would reject God’s righteousness for their own. But God is not done with Israel. Paul goes on to say:

“Many of the Jews are now enemies of the Good News. But this has been to your benefit, for God has given his gifts to you Gentiles. Yet the Jews are still his chosen people because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the Jews refused his mercy, God was merciful to you instead. And now, in the same way, the Jews are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you. But someday they, too, will share in God’s mercy. For God has imprisoned all people in their own disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone. – Romans 11:28-32 (NLT)

Mercy on everyone!

God is an amazing God. In spite of all Israel has done, He will show mercy. He will keep His promises to them. He has not abandoned them. They too will share in His mercy, just as we have. They will receive His grace, in spite of their rebellion and rejection. That’s the kind of God we serve. He is faithful and just, gracious and merciful, holy and loving. The fact that any of us will be at the wedding feast of His Son is amazing enough. But I am grateful and humbled by the truth that I will be there – at His invitation and clothed in His righteousness and not my own.

Father, what a story of your grace and mercy. Thank You for inviting me to your feast. For providing the clothes to wear. I am amazed and awed at the significance of it all. And thank You that you are the kind of god who does not reject His own. Your faithful love for the people of Israel is a testament and a reminder of your faithfulness to me. You will never reject me, in spite of me. Your love is everlasting.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 21

When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them––that they were the farmers in his story. – Vs 45 (NLT)

There was no love lost between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. It wasn’t that Jesus hated the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and priests. But He did hate their false piety, self-righteousness, and arrogant assumption that they were pleasing God with their hypocritical rule-keeping. Jesus came to destroy those assumptions and to eliminate man’s failed attempts at satisfying God through self-effort. The Pharisees and their pious peers were symbolic of all that is wrong with religion – man’s attempt to reach God and impress Him with our works. So while Jesus walked this earth, He had some strong words for these men. And none stronger than the two parables He tells in chapter 21.

Now I’ve always had it in for the Pharisees. I grew up learning to despise their attitudes and actions. They were the bad guys, enemies of Jesus. They wore the black hats and Jesus wore a white one. I learned to view them as evil and conniving. But then there came a time in my spiritual journey when I started to see myself as a Pharisee. Or better yet, I began to see the Pharisee in me. I suddenly realized that I could be just as self-righteous and hypocritical. I could be just as much a man-pleaser as they were. I found that I could become prideful over all my good works for God. I compared myself with others and worked hard to find those who didn’t measure up to my standards, so that I could feel better about myself. I developed lists of rules and regulations that dictated how I was to live my life. I tried to keep all those rules and regulations – usually with less-than-stellar results. But when I could check off a few of them, I became prideful and arrogant. I had become the very thing I despised: A Pharisee. And so, when I read this chapter, I have to listen with ears as if Jesus is talking to me. I can’t afford to stand on the sideline as a spectator, watching the Messiah dress down the Pharisees. No, I need to hear what He may be saying the Pharisee that lives in me.

The Will of the Father

The first parable is about a man who had two sons. He asks the first son to go work out in his vineyard. This son initially says, “No,” but then later regrets that decision and goes to work in the vineyard. When the father asks his second son to work in the vineyard, he says, “OK,” but then never follows through. Jesus asks His listeners which of the sons did the will of his father, and they respond, “The first.” Then Jesus makes His point. “I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the way to life, and you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to turn from your sins and believe him” (Vs 31-32 – NLT). The real point of this parable seems to be the two kinds of people it characterizes. The first sons represents those who prove better than they promise. Their initial response is “No,” but then they act in obedience. The second son represents those who promise better than they prove. They give all appearances of being obedient, but in the end, refuse. Both of these sons had been given the same command. One refused, but ultimately obeyed. One gave the impression he would obey, but never did. In the story, it is obvious that Jesus is comparing the tax collectors, prostitutes, and more apparant sinners in his audience to the Pharisees, and those who held them in high esteem. Jesus is saying that the ones you would think would get into heaven will not. And the ones you would least think should get into heaven will. Why? Because of one word that Jesus uses in His parable. It is the Greek word metamelomai. It is translated “regretted or changed his mind.” It means “to change one’s mind about something, with the probable implication of regret.” The idea in this context involves more than just a change of mind, for the son regrets his initial response and changes his actions. Only the first son shows regret or repentance that leads to a changed response. The second son didn’t change his mind. He never intended to do what he said he was going to do. In verse 32, Jesus indicates that the Pharisees rejected the ministry of John the Baptist. They refused to believe his message. And even when they saw the tax collectors and prostitutes believing, they “did not even feel remorse (metamelomai) afterward so as to believe him” (NASB). At no point did they repent and show a change of heart.

The Rejected Son

The second parable is even harder than the first. In it, Jesus lays out exactly what has happened over the centuries and what is about to happen in the days ahead. For generations, the Jews had been rejecting the Word of God brought by the prophets of God. They had abused them and even killed them. Now God had sent His own Son, and they were rejecting Him as well. And in just a few days they would even have Him killed. Of course, Jesus’ audience doesn’t understand all this because He is speaking to them in a parable. So He asks them what the owner of the vineyard in His story will do to those who killed his servants and his son, they say, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest” (Vs 41 – NLT). Without knowing it, they condemn themselves. Jesus tells them that, as a result, “God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life.” (Vs 43 – NLT). Their refusal to accept Jesus and allow Him to direct their lives would lead to their rejection by God.

So what does all this have to do with us? We are that people. The ones who have had the kingdom of God handed over to us. And we are expected to live out a “kingdom life.” We are the ones who initially said, “No,” but then repented and said yes. We obeyed and went to work in the vineyard. But every day we face the choice of being faithful or Pharisees, of saying, “No,” then repenting and obeying, or saying “Yes,” but never intending to keep our word. Jesus is looking those who will faithfully obey and who will live out a kingdom life – producing the fruit that comes from a relationship with him. The Pharisees were sinners who were blind to their sin, thinking they were righteous and in no need for a Savior. The tax collectors and prostitutes represent us – sinners who recognize their sin and their need for a Savior. I need a Savior every day. I need to acknowledge my sin every day. I need to repent and obey every day. Because I have been given the kingdom and God wants to produce His fruit through me.

Father, forgive me for being a Pharisee so many times in my life. I sometimes live as if I don’t need You. I act as if I can save myself, change myself, and justify myself. But I can’t. Keep reminding me to repent of my own self-righteousness and turn to You for help. I want my life to produce the fruit of your kingdom. I want my life to honor You. Thank You that I can because of what Jesus Christ has done for me and in me.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 20

“So the last shall be first, and the first last. – Vs 16 (NASB)

I think that I have always misunderstood this verse. I have tended to view it as a statement regarding position or prominence. But in the context of Jesus parable of the kingdom, it is a statement regarding equality. It is interesting that Jesus bookends his parable of the kingdom, found in verses 1-16, with this same statement. You find it in the closing verse of chapter 19 and in verse 16 of chapter 20. It is also bookended by two stories of the disciples asking questions regarding position, prominence, and power. In chapter 19, verse 27, Peter asks Jesus, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?” (NLT). He is wanting to know what their reward is going to be for having sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Jesus then tells them that they will be rewarded, they will sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Judah. But then he says something else. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (NASB). Jesus seems to be saying that the disciples are not the only ones who will be required to give up a lot to follow Jesus. So they are going to be rewarded as well – just like the disciples. And their reward will be far more valuable than what they may have been required to give up. They will receive the priceless reward of eternal life. Then Jesus makes the statement: “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” The disciples and all those who come after them because of their witness, will all be equal in the kingdom. It doesn’t matter that Peter and his companions were the first to follow Jesus. Those of us who have become Christ-followers centuries later will receive the same reward. The very last person to follow Christ before the rapture of the church takes place will receive the same eternal life that Peter did. And the disciples, like the laborers in Jesus’ parable will have no room for complaint. In fact, Jesus seems to tell this parable because He knew the hearts of His disciples. They were a competitive group who had some significant aspirations for recognition and reward, and eternal life was not necessarily at the top of their list of rewards. So Jesus tells them this parable about the kingdom. And it seems blatantly directed at the disciples.

You have a landowner who owns a vineyard. He goes out early in the morning and hires a group of laborers to work that vineyard, agreeing to pay them a denarius for their efforts. Then throughout the day he hires new laborers, who go to work at different times of the day. He even hires some at the very end of the day. But every one of them receives the same reward for their work: a denarius. When the first group becomes indignant at this slight, the landowner says to them, “Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (NET Bible). Then Jesus closes this story with the statement, “So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

The point seems to be the reward: Eternal life. We shall all receive the same thing – out of God’s kindness and mercy. None of us will deserve any more than any other. In fact, the eternal life we receive will so outweigh any work we have done or anything we may have given up, that there is no comparison. We all will receive the same reward. I think Jesus is even saying that the gift of eternal life will mean more to the disciples than the thrones they will sit on ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel. Those positions and the power they represent will pale in comparison. But it’s very interesting that after having told this parable to the disciples, then after having shared with them what is about to happen to Him when He arrives in Jerusalem (arrest, trial, beating, mocking, and crucifixion), Matthew records the incident of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus. She has come to request that Jesus give her two sons positions of power and prominence in His coming kingdom. “In your Kingdom, will you let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one at your right and the other at your left?” (Vs 21 – NLT). Her request represents the hearts of the disciples. It is what they wanted. Eternal life was not enough. They wanted more. They wanted power and position. They wanted recognition. But Jesus tells them that things are different in His kingdom. It isn’t about being served, it’s about serving. He tells them, “But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave” (Vs 26-27 – NLT). Their eyes were focused on an earthly kingdom. They were expecting Jesus to establish His throne in Jerusalem and set up His kingdom there. They wanted to be sure they were considered for the highest positions of power in that kingdom. But Jesus is letting them know that His kingdom had come. It was here, but not in the form they were expecting. His kingdom was about serving and sacrifice, not power, position, and prominence. Jesus Himself had come to serve, not be served. They were to follow His example. While on this earth, they were going to learn that the position they should be seeking was that of being on their knees as servants, not sovereigns. They were going to learn to put themselves last in order that others might come to know Christ. Their greatness would come from being humble. Their reward would come for being faithful.

And so it is with us. We need to recognize that while Jesus delays His return, we are part of His kingdom here on earth. We are His ambassadors. We are His laborers. We don’t need to be worrying about recognition and power. We need to be serving. We need to be giving. We need to follow His example of selfless sacrifice and service. Not so that we will receive some great reward here, but because we already have a great reward awaiting us – eternal life. A reward that is priceless and beyond anything we could ever receive this side of heaven. So we serve here because of what we are going to receive there. We gladly give away now, because of what we will receive then. We gladly take on the position of a slave on this earth, because we know we are heirs of a heavenly kingdom.

Father, thanks for reminding me that I am going to receive a reward in heaven that is so incredibly priceless. I don’t need to worry about what I am going to get here. I don’t need to fret over getting recognition and rewards here. What I am going to receive there is worth it all. Any acts of service I do and any suffering I encounter here are well worth the reward waiting for me there. Help me to remember that daily, so that I would spend more of my time serving – gladly and humbly. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 19

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. – Vs 21 (NLT)

What’s keeping you from following Jesus? It’s amazing what can stand in the way of our sold-out commitment to the Lord. In this young man’s case, it was his wealth. He came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. When Jesus told him to “keep the commandments,” the young man asked “which ones?” Now isn’t that interesting? It reveals that this guy is looking for some specific law or rule he can keep in order to get his hands on eternal life. This is someone who was used to getting what he wanted. He had money. He could buy pleasure, comfort, companionship, entertainment, security. Now he wanted eternal life. So he’s asking Jesus about the “cost.” He is really asking, “What is it going to take for me to have this one thing I don’t yet own?

Jesus gives him a list of a few of the commandments. He includes the ones prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing, and false witness. He also includes the ones about honoring your parents and loving your neighbor. In all, Jesus lists six different commandments. And the young man claims to have kept them all. But what’s interesting is that Jesus left out four of commandments:

•  You shall have no other gods before Me

•  You shall not take the name of your Lord your God in vain

•  You shall remember the sabbath and keep it holy

The first three have to do with our worship of God. The first three are what make it possible to keep the last seven. If we do not have a right relationship with God, we will not be able to keep the rest of the commandments. The last seven all have to do with our relationships with others. If we don’t worship God properly, we will not treat others properly. I think Jesus knew that this man did not have a right relationship with God. His wealth had become his god, instead of God Almighty. He worshipped the creation rather than the Creator. Money had become his functional Messiah. It provided all he needed for life, but it couldn’t provide eternal life. This young man had probably used God’s name “in vain,” which means he used it frivolously, lightly, or for insincere purposes. He had probably called on God to protect his wealth and to continue to prosper his situation. He may have called on God to punish or remove his business competition. He may have tried to use God as a tool to gain even more wealth. All of this would have been using God’s holy name for unholy purposes. And when it came to keeping the sabbath, I am going to guess that this guy had probably failed to honor it and keep it holy as the law commanded. He had probably worked a few hours on the Lord’s day in order to make a few extra bucks. He had probably not treated this one day with the respect and honor that God had commanded. For him it could have become like any other day. I can see him sitting in his office, counting his coins and evaluating his financial worth. No, this young, wealthy man had probably violated all three of the first commandments on a regular basis and Jesus knew it. Jesus knew that this was the man’s real roadblock to salvation.

But there was one more commandment that Jesus left out of His list. This one is particularly interesting considering the man’s financial state.

•  You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

In the NET Bible, there’s this interesting note regarding the word “covet.” “The verb חָמַד (khamad) focuses not on an external act but on an internal mental activity behind the act, the motivation for it. The word can be used in a very good sense (Ps 19:10; 68:16), but it has a bad connotation in contexts where the object desired is off limits. This command is aimed at curtailing the greedy desire for something belonging to a neighbor, a desire that leads to the taking of it or the attempt to take it. It was used in the story of the Garden of Eden for the tree that was desired.”

This young man had a lot, but he wanted more. He was not satisfied. He may have wanted more wealth, but it is more likely that he wanted what someone else had that he couldn’t buy. It could have been as the commandment prohibits, his neighbor’s wife. We don’t know. But Jesus leaves out this commandment for a reason, just as He does the first three. I think He is making a point. Jesus simply tells the young, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Vs 21 – NLT). With this one statement, Jesus cuts to the core of the man’s problem. He is in love with his wealth. His money has become his god. He is not willing to part with it, even to gain eternal life. He is not willing to share it with others – even those in need. His treasure is here on earth. Maybe he thought a small donation to Jesus’ ministry would have bought him his ticket to eternal life. Maybe he thought Jesus was going to tell him he had already done enough and eternal life was already his. But at Jesus response, the young man walks away grieved.

Jesus told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again––it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Vs 24 – NLT). Obviously, Jesus is not saying rich people can’t be saved. But He is saying that their acceptance of the free gift of salvation is made more difficult by their potential love affair with wealth. Anyone can be saved, because “with God all things are possible” (Vs 26). But this man’s spiritual condition was burdened by his worship of material possessions.

But what about us? What do we have in our lives that is keeping us from selling out completely to Christ and following Him? Even as believers there are things in our lives that keep us from following Him wholeheartedly. Things we hang on to and refuse to let go of. It could be our reputations, our comfort, our careers, our need for control. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows when we have created substitutes for Him. We have things in our lives that we worship and value more than Him. And as long as we clutch on to those things we will never be able to follow Him unhampered and uninhibitedly. So what is He asking you to “sell” and give away? What are you clinging to instead of Him? Let it go and follow Him.

Father, forgive me for creating my own gods. For worshipping other things than you. I know I have things in my life that prevent me from following You like I should. I allow them to distract me and divert me from my commitment to You. They are good things that I have turned into god things and that is a bad thing. Please forgive me. And show me how to let them go, so that I might follow. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men