Good Things Coming True

Scripture Focus: Matthew 2.4-5, 15, 17, 23
4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written

15 And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet

17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled

23 So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets

Reflection: Good Things Coming True
By John Tillman

A narrator’s voice often influences how we perceive a story. The TV series, Arrested Development, featured a narrator who inserted his own opinion about what was happening. He often pointed out contradictions or lies by the main characters. In one scene, Gob (pronounced Job) is lying about having slept with someone.

     Gob: I did and it was disgusting.

     Narrator: They didn’t. But it would have been.

The narrator’s voice often inserts itself into Matthew’s Gospel, but Matthew isn’t pointing out bad things or lies. He’s telling us when good things come true.

The word “fulfill” occurs more in Matthew’s Gospel than in any other Gospel. Fifteen times, Matthew either says a prophecy has been fulfilled or records Jesus saying something must happen to fulfill the prophets.

Each Gospel author has a focus. Mark focused on Jesus being powerful, yet a servant. Matthew focuses on Jesus as the prophesied king, the Son of David, the Messiah, or Christ. He highlights prophecies concerning the messianic kingship of Jesus.

Many religions prophesy the future. This includes the non-spiritual religions of science, politics, and economics. With forecasts, polling data, and analysis, these prognosticators make promises too. But how do we uncover the truth? What prophecies can we trust?

In the mystery Knives Out, the detective Benoit Blanc describes the process of uncovering the truth using an analogy of watching the arc of a thrown ball. Once you understand the ball’s arc, finding where it will land is a simple matter of mathematics.

Matthew wants us to understand the arc of the previously fulfilled promises pertaining to Jesus to build trust. By looking at the path of past promises, we can trust the trajectory of Christ’s promises today. Every promise God has made will land—will be made “yes” in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 1.20)

If God, over millennia, can order the occurrence of events so that Jesus is born in the proper place, the proper clan, sojourn in Egypt, return to live in the correct obscure village, and fulfill the minutiae of other messianic prophecies, surely he is worthy of us trusting to him our tomorrow?

Jesus is not only called “Faithful and True,” he has proved to be so. Like Matthew, as we serve Jesus, we may need to explain to others the fulfillment of yesterday’s promises so that they can join us in trusting the promises of salvation. Good things are coming true.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seek, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen 7:30
Matthew 2 (Listen 3:18)

Read more about Previsualizations of Promises
One day we will be ultimately freed and the world we are meant to live in will be rebuilt. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises.

Read more about False Promises and Threats
Lord, we are besieged with false promises and threats…pacification instead of peace and retribution instead of righteousness.

An Accepting Father

Scripture Focus: Matthew 1.24-25
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Reflection: An Accepting Father
By John Tillman

Headings in scripture are not part of the original texts. There are no hard or fast guidelines on what sections should get a heading and which should not. Though these headings are not part of the Inspired Word of God, they are inspired by the Word. They are inserted by the scholars, editors, and publishers of the particular printings of the Bibles we choose. Their function is merely to help readers visually scan or skim for the section we are looking for.

Between verses 17 and 18 of the first chapter of Matthew, many English Bibles include a heading. The simplest heading is in The Message, which says, “The Birth of Jesus.” The NLT gets theological, saying, “The Birth of Jesus the Messiah.” The ESV inserts the Greek title for Messiah, saying, “The Birth of Jesus Christ.” The NKJV mentions Mary, saying, “Christ born of Mary.” The HCSB uses a fancier word for birth, saying, “The Nativity of the Messiah.” The NASB adds the Holy Spirit’s role, saying, “The Conception and Birth of Jesus.” The KJV and WEB leave this section of scripture unadorned, saying nothing at all.

But the NIV adds a radically different heading, with an emphasis on relationships and story: “Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son.” It’s like a mini-devotional all laid out in six words.

Most of what we know about Joseph comes from Matthew. No author recorded his words, but Matthew recorded his heart and motivations. Joseph was faithful to the law—a righteous man. Yet despite what it seemed that Mary had done, he was merciful, not demanding the law’s punishment. He was a cautious man and obedient to God’s will. 

As with his ancestor, Joseph, (Genesis 37.5-7; 40.8) God spoke to Joseph of Nazareth in dreams. (Numbers 12.6; Matthew 1.20; 2.13) Joseph understood the implications of Isaiah, of the name, “Immanuel” and the name, “Jesus.” As surely as Mary welcomed Jesus, Joseph did as well. This dreamer, Joseph, was willing to take in this mysterious son who was not his son.

The “son of David,” Joseph, accepted The Son of David, Jesus, as his son. Because of this, we can be accepted by Jesus the Son of David as sons and daughters of God. Joseph was an accepting father, and because of him, we all have an accepting Father in God. Despite what we have done, God is merciful, accepting us as his children.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. — Psalm 13.5

Today’s Readings
Genesis 40 (Listen 2:59
Matthew 1 (Listen 3:29)

Read more about Dream Like Joseph
May we pray and dream as Joseph did. For only with a spiritual connection can we do what we must as a part of our calling.

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In the Face of Grief

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.6-11
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

From John: We all need the reminder, from this 2019 post, that Jesus is not ashamed of us in our grief. He comes to us in the midst of it.

Reflection: In the Face of Grief
By John Tillman

Christ’s resurrection—an event he directly predicted over and over in the scriptures—is the miracle the disciples seemed the most unprepared for. 

They continued with the normal obligations of life. They continued in societal expectations. But inwardly they carried a deep sorrow. And it is in this sorrow that Christ visited them.

Mary’s veil of tears concealed Christ from her. He parted it by calling her name.

Peter’s experience after the tomb left him doubtful as opposed to convinced. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to Peter specifically and Peter’s experience on the shore with Jesus after returning to fishing for fish instead of men showed the raw and sensitive reality of his emotional state. Peter’s fear of failing (again) paralyzed him, but Christ re-called him, reinvigorated him, and continued transforming him from Simon to Peter, the Rock.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were described as downcast. They were headed in the wrong direction, too grief-stricken to follow Christ’s instruction to travel to Galilee. Jesus enlightened them intellectually and changed their direction and purpose.

Mark’s account gives us the unique detail that the disciples in the upper room were gathered, weeping and mourning before the women reported to them and Christ appeared.

None of Christ’s followers had to leave their sorrow behind for Jesus to come to them.
They didn’t have to defeat their crippling fear before they were worthy of Christ’s presence.
They didn’t have to know the theological answers about why Christ died or where he had been for all this time.
They didn’t have to be in the right place. (Only the encounter after fishing is in Galilee, where Christ, through the women, told the disciples to meet him.)

The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving. Why then do we seem to assume that this stopped when he ascended?

Every instance of grief in our lives will not be met with the miraculous reversal of a resurrection. But in every instance of grief, we can be assured that Christ will come to us. He will call our name as he did Mary’s. He will seek to transform us as he did Peter. He will change our direction and our purpose as he did Cleopas and his companion.

In the face of grief, seek the face of Christ. He is coming to you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; hearken, O God of Jacob. — Psalm 84.7

Today’s Readings
Genesis 39 (Listen 3:08
Mark 16 (Listen 2:34)

Read more about The Grace of Holding Space
As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally.

Read more about Undignified Weeping and Dancing
Hannah carried the weight of her grief to God’s presence and broke open her heart with shameless weeping.


Scripture Focus: Mark 13.37
37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”

Reflection: Watch
By John Tillman

Jesus follows the model of many apocalyptic prophecies from the Torah; he speaks about two things at once. Biblical prophecies often directly describe something happening soon and figuratively describe something in the future. Revelation, written by John, also follows this model.

This greatly complicates interpreting biblical prophecy. We must determine what is figurative and what is literal; at the same time, we must interpret what applies to the near future of the speaker, which is our past, and what may apply to our future today.

Jesus’ prophecy most directly refers to events that will happen in the near future. In 70 CE a crackdown by Rome would raze the Temple to the ground, just as Jesus described. The site of the Temple would be barren for centuries. Under Byzantine Christians, it was neglected and became a trash dump. Eventually, Muslims restored it as one of their holy sites. It swapped hands many times, being a fortress for Templars, a church, and today the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Jesus also spoke about his future return, which we anxiously await. Jesus says many similar things in this passage: watch, beware, keep watch, be on guard, be alert, stay awake, be ready. He never says, “predict.” Yet, somehow, “decoding” the exact time and manner of Jesus’ return became an irresistible quest for some believers.

Jesus’ return is not a flight we schedule in advance where we know the gate, the time, when to board, and when we will take off. It is an experience we should constantly be ready for. What we know, is that we will not know what time he will come. (Mark 13.32-33)

Rather than try to predict his arrival, we are to prepare for it. Jesus used the analogy of awaiting a returning master: “Do not let him find you sleeping.” How do we stay prepared? Jesus tells us that as well. Do not be alarmed, worried, or deceived. Listen to the Spirit, bear witness, stand firmly, and testify. Pray.

Let him find us at work. Let him find us crying in the wilderness, making his path straight, smoothing the rough places, so that all will see his glory when he comes.

Jesus, help us to watch and wait.
Don’t let us sleep on justice and righteousness.
Don’t let us be drowsy-headed or faint-hearted.
Come to us, as we make your paths straight.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“I will appoint a time,” says God. — Psalm 75.2a

Today’s Readings
Genesis 35-36 (Listen 9:33)
Mark 13 (Listen 4:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen 4:56Mark 14 (Listen 8:37)
Genesis 38 (Listen 4:24Mark 15 (Listen 5:16)

Read more about The Work of Faith
Actively waiting for the return of Jesus begins with the work of faith.

Read more about Breaking the Rhyme Scheme
Christ will break this rhyme scheme. The rhythms of oppression will be rewritten.

False Dilemmas

Scripture Focus: Mark 12.15-17
15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 

“Caesar’s,” they replied. 

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” 

And they were amazed at him.

Reflection: False Dilemmas
By John Tillman

A “false dilemma” or “false dichotomy” is an argument that attempts to pressure someone to agree to one of two bad answers. Despite being considered a logical fallacy, it is a commonly used rhetorical device.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were political and theological enemies who came together to pose just such an argument to Jesus.

The Pharisees stressed strict interpretation of the Law. They weren’t revolutionaries but many aspects of Roman rule were despicable to them, including using Roman currency. The denarius bore an image of Caesar, which was forbidden. (Exodus 20.4) It also was stamped, “Caesar is Lord.” To many Jews, even touching a denarius meant participating in blasphemy.

The Herodians were politically minded. Power through Rome was more important than principle. They saw Herod’s dynasty as politically expedient, despite their scandals and being descended from Esau rather than Israel. Herod the Great wanted to be seen as Israel’s messianic king. This is partly why he responded with genocidal violence in his attempt to kill Jesus after his birth.

These warring groups came together with a question intended to condemn Jesus as a political revolutionary or irreligious apostate. “Choose a side, Jesus,” they say.

Jesus refuses. 

Questions asked with an impure motive reveal much about the questioner. These questioners were concerned with power and influence, not truth. They were angry about their corruption being exposed, not concerned with moral purity. (Mark 12.12)

I used to read Jesus’ answers as “burns” and “mic drop” moments where he owned his opponents, humiliating them. In our culture, that’s how a “plain reading” sounds. But instead of intending harm, Jesus intended healing. His firm, gracious answers challenged their errors, yet offered a way forward. We may celebrate sick burns but Jesus celebrates merciful healing. 

Both the political and religious systems Jesus lived in were corrupt. Jesus chose to follow God within corrupt systems. That did not mean just going along to get along. He challenged religious and political assumptions of everyone, whether Pharisee, Roman, or Samaritan.

Many forces within and without the church pressure us to “choose a side” on many issues. We don’t have to choose from the options offered. False dilemmas are truth-avoidant.

This doesn’t mean that some mushy, non-committal-middle is the right answer. But it does mean that we don’t argue by humiliating our opponents. Like, Jesus, we can offer gracious answers that push for change without pushing people away.

From John: This devotional owes a lot to the And Campaign and their book, Compassion and Conviction. We recommend putting it at the top of your reading list.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen 4:18
Mark 12 (Listen 6:10)

Read more about Gift of Noticing
The other religious leaders lost their objectivity in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the wise teacher found a better path.

Read more about The King We Want
This humble king wasn’t what many wanted. Many rejected Jesus then. And many still reject him now.