Be Amazed

Scripture Focus: Matthew 7.28-29
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. 

Reflection: Be Amazed
By John Tillman

Matthew and Luke (Luke 6.12-49), draw on imagery from Moses at Sinai when recording the Sermon on the Mount. Out in the wilderness, a leader goes up a mountain. A small group goes with him. Crowds follow below. From the mountain come moral teachings that define a new way to live for a new community.

The crowds following Jesus were a mix of society. Among them would be religious authorities and experts, average Jewish citizens, Roman officials, pagans, Greeks, and of course outcasts from all walks of life. Those who find beauty in Jesus’ words today are similarly diverse. Passages and principles from Matthew 5-7 are well-known and admired. Even those who reject religion, recognize that these teachings describe a beautiful way to live. Even today, the crowds are amazed at Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus’ teaching is a guide, an invitation, to live life in a way that is life-giving. These teachings are tied to Jesus’ authority and to the Law. Jesus often said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” Jesus wasn’t canceling or replacing the Law. He was correcting bad interpretations. (Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44)

The Law, as it had been taught for centuries, had cracks and corruptions. The poor, outsiders, and widows slipped through these cracks. Many provisions in the law meant to support them were given legal loopholes allowing religious exemptions to true righteousness. (Mark 7.10-13) This is just one example of the blindness and corruption of the religious leaders of the time.

We can’t disconnect Jesus from his divinity when considering his challenging words. If his divine claims are false, all his teachings are only the ideas of a madman. If Jesus is God, as we believe, then he is the ultimate fulfillment of the Law and the ultimate authority in our lives. What corruption do we need Jesus to confront today? What cracks need to be filled in? What sins do we need to escape? 

The Sermon on the Mount isn’t just fluffy ideas about being nice to one another. It describes a kind of exodus. The power structures and selfish principles of the world are overturned one by one and, for those willing, an escape from brutality and greed opens up. His teaching excited the outcasts and frustrated or shocked those in power. It still does today.

Climb the mountain. Join the crowd. Be amazed at Jesus’ teachings. Let them shock, offend, and correct you.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to the district where John had been baptizing at first and he stayed there. Many people who came to him said, “John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true”; and many of them believed in him. — John 10.40-42

Today’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen 4:47
Matthew 7 (Listen 3:31)

Read more about Killing With our Hearts
Some of the most popular sayings of Jesus are here in Matthew’s fifth chapter. So are many of the most ignored sayings of Jesus.

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

Uprooting and Replanting

Scripture Focus: Genesis 7.1, 4
1 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation… 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.” 

Matthew 7.15-20
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 

Reflection: Uprooting and Replanting
By John Tillman

I have always been annoyed by lessons that teach that people teased Noah about building the ark. 

It’s not in scripture. It’s probably the most widely believed “Bible story” with absolutely zero scriptural support. From what Scripture reveals, it is equally likely that Noah built the ark in complete secrecy. “In holy fear” as Hebrews 11.7 describes it. It is one of those things we just have to get comfortable with not knowing. There are many mysterious things in today’s passages…

“The way to life is narrow and few find it…” (Matthew 7.13-14)

Jesus asks, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” The answer, not included in his parable, is “No.” People uproot thornbushes and burn them. Then they plant fruitful vines in their place. 

In the flood, we see uprooting and replanting. The thorny brambles of Cain and Lamech filled the world with violence and bloodshed. Scripture tells us that every inclination of people’s hearts was toward violence and evil. (Genesis 6.5)

What kind of violence and evil? The example given is the story of the taking of the “daughters of humans” by the “Sons of God.” The word translated married in this verse implies “taking” in the manner of carrying off an object. It also implies that they took many of them to be their wives, going farther than Cain’s Lamech did in taking two wives. The identity of the “Sons of God” is mysterious but less important than understanding that this violent and sinful behavior was pervasive and unrepentant. 

The pattern of sin repeats…Adam and Eve took beautiful fruit from the tree in order to supplant God. The “Sons” see something beautiful and inherently good, and abuse it for evil purposes.

Matthew 7 and Genesis 7 each contain passages tinged with tragedy. The door to the ark and the gate to life are open but few find them. False prophets and false disciples are many. But we can have hope that those who have ears to hear can, and will, hear his call.

Jesus is greater than Noah. His “ark” holds more than eight people. One righteous man, Noah, was saved from dying among the unrighteous. One Righteous man, Jesus, died among the unrighteous so they might be saved. 

We the unworthy and unrighteous can be replanted into a new kingdom of peace that is cultivated in the same field from which the violent thornbushes were uprooted.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck… — Psalm 69.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 7 (Listen – 3:18) 
Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)

Read more about Prepare for the End
Christians are sometimes guilty of looking forward to the apocalypse like a private revenge fantasy.

Read more about Revelation of Love
Revelation is the story of all of the obstacles to our homecoming being systematically unlocked, opened up, or destroyed

Cultivation Is Supernatural

Matthew 7.7-8
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Reflection: Cultivation Is Supernatural
By John Tillman

On the Monday of the first full workweek of each year, the new year starts in earnest. The hustle of the holidays is over, and humdrum returns. Out of office replies are turned off and the traffic on roads, trains, and elevators returns to normalcy.

There is no question that observing the turning of the year is a godly and valuable practice for Christians. Only last week, we read of God setting the heavens, like a clock, to help us mark the passing of time. The stars and moon are fulfilling the design of their creator when we use them to find our place in the year, to know when to plant, harvest, and rest.

The beginning of the year, in modern culture, is a time of planting. Rather than planting seeds, we plant habits that we hope to grow to maturity in the new year. Whether it is a new business practice that we hope will bring an increase of dollars, or a new exercise regimen we hope will bring a reduction of pounds—we plant.

But truly abundant harvests aren’t accomplished by merely planting a seed. Harvest implies cultivation, but when it comes to faith, too many of us are hunter-gatherers. We bounce from devotional to podcast to church attendance to online streaming to small group—seeking maturity like berries in bushes or figs on trees. And sometimes the trees are barren.

A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural. We give plants a safer, healthier place to grow than exists naturally, and they give us better food in greater quantities. By this, whole communities are nourished and strengthened.

How will you cultivate faith this year? What are you planting? How are you preparing the soil? How are you clearing the old growth? How are you nourishing the new growth? How are you protecting it from climate, from pests, and from weeds and thorns?

Bear fruit this year. Cultivate your faith.

Cultivation takes community. Ask friends to join you in cultivating your faith with us this year. Send them this link to sign up for our email devotionals.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. — Psalm 19:14

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 7 (Listen – 3:18)
Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)

Additional Reading
Read More about Better Things to Do
Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine. Not a famine of profit, or water, or food. A famine of the Word of God.

Read More about Learning to Pray :: Readers’ Choice
“This is a dangerous error,” warns Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray.” The great theologian, who lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, was no stranger to unanswered prayer.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

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Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”