Day 95 – Matthew 20:1-19; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:31-34

A Kingdom and A Cause.

Matthew 20:1-19; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:31-34

“Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?” – Matthew 20:15 NLT

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. His time on earth is coming to a close. His mission is reaching its final conclusion. And as He journeys toward His final destination, He continues to teach His disciples, attempting to prepare them for what they will face when they reach Jerusalem, and to equip them with an understanding of His Kingdom. All of this will be needed when He returns to His Father in heaven, leaving them to continue His ministry as His ambassadors and messengers.

Chapter 20 in Matthew follows nicely after the incident with the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NLT). His view of the Kingdom of God was based on earning and effort, and he was not alone. The disciples held the same view, because it was prevalent among the people of Israel. Their religion had become performance-based and was based on a concept of earning and reward. This young man had come looking for one more thing that he must do to secure eternal life for himself. He was probably wanting assurance that he had already done all that was necessary, and was basing his belief that he was in God’s favor on the fact that he was richly blessed by God in this life with “many possessions.” Therefore, God was surely going to bless him in the next life. But Jesus broke the news to him that all his possessions were useless to him in either this life or the next. He told the young man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and follow Him instead. But the man walked away sad. The cost was too high. The commitment too great. His wealth had become his savior and security.

Now Jesus tells His disciples a parable that is designed to give them a better understanding of the Kingdom of God. He compares it to a landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Through the course of the day, at nine o’clock, Noon, three o’clock, and as late as five o’clock in the afternoon, he hired workers and promised to pay them all “whatever was right at the end of the day” (Matthew 20:4 NLT). When he came upon the group, he had asked them why they weren’t working and they replied, “Because no one hired us” (Matthew 20:7 NLT). This is an important point, because it indicates that these individuals wanted to work, but were deemed either unqualified or incapable. But this landowner was willing to put them on his payroll and invited them to join the others in the vineyard.

At the end of the day, he had his foreman call all the workers in and had him pay each of the workers their wages, starting with the ones who he hired last and working up to those who had put in a full-day’s worth of work. To the surprise of the latecomers and the consternation of those who had worked all day, each received the same amount of money. When those who had worked all day saw that the latecomers had received a full-day’s pay, they expected to get a bonus for all their hard work. But their pay was no bigger or smaller. So they complained to the landowner, making sure he understood that they had put in greater effort and therefore, deserved greater pay. The complained of injustice and demanded justice. But the landowner defended his actions and let them know that he was fully in his rights to do with his money as he saw fit. They had received a fair day’s wages for a full day of work. They had not been cheated or treated unfairly. These people had lost sight of the fact that, until that morning, they were unemployed and without any waged, but the landowner had hired them sight unseen and offered them the opportunity to work for him. And they had received the benefits of accepting the landowner’s invitation. It seems that these people thought their pay was based on their effort and the amount of work they had performed for the landowner. In the story, Jesus makes it clear that each was payed, not based on the amount of work done, but based on the grace of the landowner. Remember, this is a story about the Kingdom of God. The issue is effort and earning versus grace and the unmerited favor of God. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and religious leaders thought that their place was secure because they “worked” for God. They believed that their pious lifestyle secured them a place in God’s Kingdom. But Jesus assures the disciples that that is not how things work in God’s economy. His is a grace-based economy. God can and does invite anyone into His Kingdom that He so chooses. It is not based on their worthiness, hard work, status in life, talents, or treasures. It is not based on how gifted they are or how much they can give. It is completely based on grace. Paul reiterated this point when he wrote, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was giving His disciples an intensive crash-course in the Kingdom of God. Their views were going to have to change. But it was going to be difficult for them. They were not going to get it at first. In fact, each time Jesus tried to inform them that He was on His way to Jerusalem to be unjustly tried and killed, they didn’t understand. Luke tells us, “The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34 NLT). But in time, they would discover that things in the coming Kingdom were going to be a lot different than they ever expected. Humility would replace pride. The first would be last and the last first. The self-righteous would be left out and the repentant sinners included. God’s Kingdom would be grace-based, and made freely available to all who would simply believe.

Father, I can’t thank You enough that inclusion in Your Kingdom is based on grace and not effort. Because otherwise, I would not be included. I have done nothing to deserve Your good favor. My status as one of Your children is solely based on the work of Christ on the cross, and not on anything I have done or attempted to do for You. All of my works are as filthy rags in Your eyes. But the righteousness of Christ has been credited to my account. His work, done on my behalf, is what secures my relationship with You. And I did nothing to deserve it. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 94 – Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Everything Is Possible.

Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” – Matthew 19:26 NLT

If we keep the verse above within its context, Jesus is addressing the issue of salvation. Of course, we could easily say that it could apply to just about anything. With God, everything really is possible. But Jesus made this statement in answer to a question from His disciples. They had asked, “Then who in the world can be saved?” They were confused over an exchange between Jesus and a young man who had come asking what he must do to have eternal life. His exact question was, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NLT). In other words, he was looking for a task to perform or a deed to do. His was a performance-based mindset where actions resulted in rewards. We learn a little later that he is a wealthy young man “for he had many possession” (Matthew 19:22 NLT). His life had been a testament to earning through effort. Sure, he could have inherited all that he had, but he somehow knew that if he wanted something of even greater value – eternal life – he was going to have to DO something to earn it.

Jesus knew his heart. He knew him to be a type-A, driven individual who would take seriously any word of advice or five-step formula Jesus might give him. So Jesus simply answered, “Keep the commandments.” Being a cut-to-the-chase kind of a guy, the young man asks, “Which ones?” He didn’t want to waste time with any commandments that weren’t going to count in his quest for eternal life. So Jesus lays out a few. “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:18-19 NLT). To which the man proudly replied, “Done that! What else?” Now, let’s be honest. Do we really think this young man had kept all these commandments? I’ll spot him the first two, but I can’t believe he never stole or testified falsely, or that he always honored his father and mother and loved his neighbor selflessly. He may have thought he had kept these commandments, based on his own criteria or standard, but the chances are high that he had not. Jesus’ response to his question, “What else?” is very interesting. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). Notice the word, “perfect.” In the Greek it is the word teleios and it means “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” It is the same word used by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). The idea is to be complete, lacking nothing. God is perfect, whole, complete, and lacks nothing. This man had it all from a worldly perspective, but was lacking one thing: Eternal life. He was not perfect. And interestingly, Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Jesus challenges him to let go of all the things he had pursued in search of the perfect, complete, whole life and give it away. And He follows that up with an invitation to follow Him. Perfection, completeness and wholeness will never be found in this life short of selling out to follow Jesus. Now, this is not a universal teaching truth from Jesus that every single individual must sell all their possessions and give away their money before they can follow Him. He knew this man’s real problem. He was in love with the world and his wealth. He had spent years seeking perfection and completeness in material things. Giving all that up was not a possibility for this man, and so we’re told “he went away sad.”

Then Jesus makes a statement that shocked the disciples, because it went against all that they had been taught. It contradicted their view of life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). They believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Now Jesus was telling them that wealth was actually a deterrent to eternal life. Why? Because wealth or material things can easily become a means by which we seek perfection or completeness. Just one more thing. Just a little bit more money. Just a slightly bigger house in a slightly better neighborhood. Just a little bit newer and nicer car. Just a few more additions to the wardrobe. But back in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). Jesus was inviting this man to do this same thing. He was challenging him to stop worrying about money and stuff, and to start truly seeking God’s Kingdom, instead of his own.

But when the disciples ask who in the world can be saved, Jesus tells them the most important truth in this entire conversation: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT). Salvation is a work of God, not man. We can’t save ourselves. It is an act of God made possible through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This man couldn’t earn it or perform some take to merit it. He was going to have to give up all his self-effort and throw aside all that he put his hope in and had based his future on, and turn to Jesus as the only way to eternal life. From a human perspective, salvation is impossible. It is out of our hands and beyond our reach. But God has made it possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son.

Father, thank You that You don’t require us to earn our salvation, because none of us could pull it off. We are incapable of living sinless, perfect lives apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But Father, there are still so many things that distract us from leaning completely on You. We can still put way too much hope in the things of this world and forget that the most important objective of our lives is holiness, not happiness. Keep us focused on building Your kingdom, not our own. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 93 – Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

Child-Like Faith.

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:17 NLT

Innocence. Vulnerability. Need. Dependence. Honesty. Helplessness. Trust. Those are just a few of the characteristics of most little children. They are inherently trustworthy. They take us at our word. Some would call them gullible and naive, but there is an innocence about them that is refreshing. They are honest, sometimes painfully so. I remember the time I was standing in yet another long grocery store line. I had one of my kids with me. He was sitting contentedly in the seat in the grocery cart, when all of the sudden he blurted out, “Daddy, that lady is really fat!” I was suddenly shocked out of my fascination with the assortment of candy bars in the nearby rack, to see my son pointing at the rather large woman standing right in front of is the line. She was staring angrily back at me. While I didn’t fully appreciate my son’s timing, I had to agree with his assessment. I just wish he would have kept it to himself or shared it with me in the car later. Kids are honest. They say what they think. My son meant no harm and didn’t know he was saying something hurtful. He simply saw, assessed and spoke what was on his mind.

Children are naturally dependent. From the moment they are born, they are reliant on others for their care, feeding, support and protection. They cannot fend for themselves. Unlike most other mammals, whose offspring are up and running in a matter of days, human newborn are totally defenseless for years. They can’t walk, talk, feed themselves, or do anything to meet their own needs. They must depend on others for everything. Even as they grow older, they recognize that mom and dad are there to provide for them. They understand that, when in trouble, they are to run to their parents for help. When they’re scared, they seek out someone bigger and stronger to protect them. They seem to sense their own limitations and are not afraid to turn to others for help.

And children are trusting. At least when they are young. That’s why we have to warn them about strangers. Left to themselves, they would follow anyone just about anywhere. Those who choose to harm children know this fact and use it to their advantage. Children are susceptible to being deceived because they are prone to trust others. The sad fact is that it doesn’t take long for them to lose this attribute. Before we know it, they begin to question everything and everyone. They quickly become distrustful. Their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness can easily turn into doubt and distrust. Some of that is necessary for them to survive in the world, but it is still sad to watch children lose their innocence and trust.

In these three Gospel accounts, we are given a glimpse of Jesus as He interfaces with some little children. Their parents had brought them to Jesus to be blessed by Him. The disciples, illustrating the value that their society put on children, tried to quickly usher them away. They saw no value in them. They even scolded the parents for daring to bother Jesus with such trivial matters. After all, He was the Messiah. He didn’t have time to waste blessing children. But Jesus shocked the disciples by demanding that they let the children come to Him. He placed them on His lap and said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (Luke 18:16 NLT). There was something about those children that resonated with Jesus and represented what He was looking for in His followers. Unlike the religious leaders, the children didn’t doubt and cast dispersions on Jesus’ identity. They simply ran to Him and jumped into His lap. They embraced Him. They viewed Him as someone they could trust. Their parents brought them to Jesus, so they saw no reason NOT to trust Him. These children did not come expecting or demanding anything from Jesus. Their needs were simple. They didn’t come to be blessed, but simply enjoyed being noticed, loved, and cared for. In a society that shunned children and placed little to no value in them, to have Jesus show them love and attention was more than enough for them.

Jesus saw in these children the attitude of dependence He longed for in all His disciples. He wanted those who follow Him to truly recognize their need for Him. He wanted them to trust Him, rely on Him, turn to Him, listen to Him, and rest in Him. While the adults were busy evaluating what they might get out of a relationship with Jesus, these children simply enjoyed the attention and love He showed them. That is what Jesus is looking for in all of us. Do we enjoy spending time with Him? Do we look forward to the attention He wants to show us? The Kingdom of God will not be made up of arrogant, egotistical, self-centered, self-reliant individuals. The self-made man need not apply. But the helpless, hopeless, innocent, defenseless, weak, and willing will always be welcome. A big part of coming to faith in Christ is giving up all faith in yourself. It is recognizing your own insufficiencies and trusting in His all-sufficiency instead. I can’t help but think about the words of Paul when I read these passages. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT). The unwise, the powerless, the poor, the foolish, the despised – these are the ones that God calls and Christ redeems. These are the citizens of God’s Kingdom. Totally dependent. Completely satisfied to rely on God to meet all their needs. Trusting in Jesus to provide for them what they could have never provided for themselves. Willing to rest in the arms of God, benefiting from His grace and His goodness.

Father, thank You for including me in Your Kingdom. And thank You that it wasn’t based on my ability to impress You or accomplish great things for You. But when I was ready to stop trusting in me and start trusting in You, that’s when You included me in Your family. And I am grateful.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 91 – Luke 18:1-14

A Just Judge.

Luke 18:1-14

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” – Luke 18:6-7 NLT

Jesus taught a great deal by using comparisons. The parable of the prodigal son was really a comparison between two sons. The parable of the rich man and the poor man in chapter 16 was a comparison. And here Jesus uses the same teaching technique to drive home a message regarding God. He tells a story about a judge “who neither feared God nor cared about people” (Luke 18:2 NLT). This man was in a position of power and authority. His job was to render justice. He was to settle disputes and help determine the proper and just decision in all cases, equitably and without prejudice. There was a widow who had a dispute with her enemy. She repeatedly brought her problem before the judge, asking for him to give her justice. She was presenting the facts of her case and desiring this judge to render a just judgment. Finally, the judge decided to see that she received justice. NOT because he was just and fair, but “because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:5 NLT). While Luke prefaces this story with the qualifier, “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1 NLT), the lesson is less about persistence than it is about expectations. In other words, we should not walk away from this story thinking that we can have whatever we want as long as we badger God enough for it. We can’t get God to give us whatever we want just by persistently asking for it. This woman’s need was justice. As a widow and a woman, she had little to no power or authority in that culture. She was helpless and hopeless. Her only source of justice was the judge. So she went to him regularly and persistently because he was her only hope.

Jesus makes the lesson of this story very clear. He says, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t make the woman the point of the lesson, but the judge. Jesus says, “Even he rendered a just decision in the end.” This judge, who had no respect for God and cared little for people, rendered a just verdict in the end. Why? Because the widow persistently brought her need for justice to him. She was literally driving him crazy with her repeated requests. So, Jesus says, don’t you think God will see that justice is done for His own people who cry out to Him day and night? The comparison Jesus seems to be making is between the judge and God – between an earthly, flawed judge and a heavenly, compassionate, completely righteous and just Judge. Interestingly, Jesus says, God will grant  justice quickly. The judge in the story ignored the widow’s request for a time, and put her off. But God, the just judge, will not do that. He will respond quickly and justly. God won’t put them off. He won’t delay out of indifference. He will hear and He will act. So we are to come to Him – in faith. We are to believe that He hears us and that He will respond to us. His answer may not come in the form we expect or at the exact time we want it to come. But He will render judgment, quickly and justly. So when we need a just decision to be made, we are to pray faithfully, expectantly and persistently – until God answers.

Jesus then tells another story that seems to be addressed to the Pharisees again – to those “who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else” (Luke 18:9 NLT). Again, Jesus uses comparison, by contrasting a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men are portrayed praying in the Temple. But the Pharisee’s prayer is self-focused and self-righteous. He views himself as better than anyone else. “I thank you God that I am not a sinner like everyone else” (Luke 18:11 NLT). He then proceeds to tell God all about his character. Notice that he gives a list of all the things he doesn’t do and all the things he does do. His is a behavior-based righteousness. But the tax collector takes a different approach. He is humble, penitent, and only refers to himself as a sinner in need of mercy. Jesus makes a powerful point from this story. He says, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NLT). I believe Jesus told these two stories at the same time for a reason. Each involve prayer or petition. They include someone with a request or need and someone being addressed with that need. But notice that the Pharisee has no request. He needs nothing from God, except His admiration and respect. Ultimately, he wants God’s blessing, but only because he believes he deserves it. The tax collector needs mercy. He recognizes his sinful state and only comes to God for one thing: His mercy and forgiveness. He knows he is undeserving. So he humbly approaches God and asks Him to extend mercy. The real issue in both stories seems to involve a recognition of need. The widow needed justice. She recognized her helplessness and went to the one person who could help. The tax collector needed mercy, so he went to the only One who could give it. And Jesus said this man went home justified before God. In other words, God viewed him as righteous, because he had recognized his own sinfulness and need, and turned to God for help.

Why do you turn to God? What is it you want from Him? Are you asking Him to bless your decisions and rubber stamp your will? Or do you come to Him in need, recognizing your own helplessness and hopelessness? Do you believe God owes you something because of all you do for Him? Or do you realize that all your righteous deeds are as filthy rags in His sight and humbly rely on His mercy in spite of your undeservedness? God renders justice. He judges fairly and faithfully. He is impartial and always decides rightly and righteously. Trust Him. Turn to Him. Pray to Him. He will answer, and He will answer justly.

Father, too often my prayers are all about me. I come with all my needs, requests, and demands. I have a list of what I want and need, and I simply expect you to give me the answers I want. But Lord, You fulfill Your own will, not mine. You render just judgments, not answer unjust prayers. Show me how to bring my needs to You and then allow You to do the right and just thing, regardless of what I think is best. I can trust You to judge fairly and equitably – every time.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men