Be Amazed — Readers’ Choice

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. 

Originally published on February 13, 2023, based on readings from Matthew 7.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Melissa, Texas — Thank you.

Reflection: Be Amazed — Readers’ Choice
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: The Request for Presence
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. — Psalm 144.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 14 (Listen 9:01)
1 John 2 (Listen 4:04)

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.

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Amazing Jesus — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Matthew 8.16-17
16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 
“He took up our infirmities 
and bore our diseases.”

Originally published on February 14, 2023, based on readings from Matthew 8.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Jon, Hong Kong/TX — I recently came across an old recording of Michael Card at some conference and he talked how about Jesus’ response to faith in others was most frequently amazement.

Reflection: Amazing Jesus — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Matthew closes this section saying that the healings prove something about Jesus.

The central feature of this section of healings is the exemplary faith of the centurion. The centurion who previously would send the servant out on his behalf, went out on behalf of his servant. Jesus is amazed. He says the centurion has greater faith than anyone in Israel. Pause for a moment and think about the people to whom Jesus is comparing the centurion…

No one Jesus has found in Israel has shown greater faith than the centurion? Not Mary, Jesus’ mother? Not the twelve disciples? Not John the Baptist? Not the devout leper in the previous scene who said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean”? None of them had greater faith than the centurion? Apparently. So, does it take “amazing” faith to be healed?

The other time in scripture where Jesus is “amazed” is visiting his hometown, where he would receive no honor and find no faith—yet he still healed. (Matthew 13.58; Mark 6.5-6) Faith is not a currency we purchase miracles with. If it was, how could those bankrupt of faith be healed? Jesus’ healings are connected to his identity and his mission, not our faith. 

Jesus’ healings validate his authority to teach and to forgive sins. (Matthew 9.6) But Jesus’ healings are more than a flex against the religious establishment. They tell us who Jesus is. Matthew records them to prove that Jesus is the one Isaiah prophesied. Jesus took weaknesses and sickness on himself to prove that he was the one who could take upon himself the sickness of death.

Healing is an emotional topic because it touches people we know. I have known people healed through medical science and people whose healing was inexplicable to medical science. I’ve also known people who prayed fervently for healing, yet died.

When someone dies, it sounds like an insensitive cop-out to say ultimate healing will come at the resurrection. I wouldn’t recommend it as a counseling strategy. However, we must remember that resurrection is the only form of healing that is not temporary. Every person you read about being healed in the Bible, died eventually. Every one of them will be ultimately healed at the resurrection.

Even today, healings tell the amazing story that Jesus’ resurrection is real and those who aren’t healed now await the full resurrection-healing that he promises.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
How great is your goodness, O Lord! Which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have done in the sight of all. — Psalm 31.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 13 (Listen 3:54)
1 John 1 (Listen 1:28)

Read more about Pain and Healing
Hosea shows how far God is willing to go to heal and restore. God is committed to our healing and restoration. Call on him.

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What We Loose On Earth — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Matthew 18.3-7, 10, 18-20
3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Originally published on February 24, 2023, based on readings from Matthew 18.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Brian, Washington DC — Thank you for this great word on what is happening in Kentucky.

Barbara, Tennessee — Excited and praying for the Lord to loose his Holy Spirit further in our country and world! We are praying for a real outpouring revival…for the Holy Spirit to fall on us!

Reflection: What We Loose On Earth — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

I grew up in churches that didn’t just pray for revival but planned them. A joke I often heard from preachers at revivals was that “Like taking a bath every day, we have a revival every year, whether we need it or not.” 

This joke acknowledges the awkwardness that an event on the calendar can be called a revival, but that doesn’t make it so. Calling these meetings “revivals” was aspirational. Revival was what we hoped for.

The term “revival” has often been tainted by unscrupulous, charlatan preachers of the past. Today politicians co-opt the term for political fundraisers which have little to do with the Spirit of God.

Though we can’t put revival on a calendar and we can’t remove the stain of past abuses of the term, it doesn’t mean the genuine article doesn’t exist. A revival movement with all the marks of being genuine sparked at Asbury University in Kentucky on February 8th. 

After that day’s chapel service, a spontaneous, round-the-clock time of prayer, singing, and testimony began. This was led and continued not by plans or schedules but by the hearts of students who were moved to do so. As I write this on Tuesday evening, the continuous service on campus is scheduled to end on Friday, the day this devotional will post. Services are currently being planned to continue in other locations and “The Outpouring,” as it was called, has inspired similar events at churches and other college campuses across the United States.

Many people hearing of this responded with hope but many responded with cynicism. Cynicism is just as lazy as naïveté. Neither requires thoughtful evaluation. 

We would be wise not to do anything to make these young followers of Christ stumble. Revival often begins among young people and Jesus has a special place in his heart for young believers. (Matthew 18.6, 10) Instead of doubting these young people and quenching their spirits, (1 Thessalonians 5.19-22) perhaps we should become like them. Instead of sniping from the sidelines, “Nothing will come of this.” We should pray fervently, “God, use this for your glory!”

Many great movements of God can be traced back to experiences such as the one at Asbury. 

We should not seek to copy-paste the Asbury experience into our communities. But we should seek God’s face, asking him to loose his Spirit on earth in our community in his own unique fashion. (Matthew 18.18)

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
In the due course John the Baptist appeared; he proclaimed this message in the desert of Judaea: “ Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” — Matthew 3.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 10 (Listen 4:34)
2 Peter 2 (Listen 3:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 11 (Listen 2:432 Peter 3 (Listen 3:21)
1 Samuel 12 (Listen 4:19Jude (Listen 3:52)

Read more about A Responsive Heart
Josiah’s revival was unlike anything seen before. No king ever repented and turned back to God like Josiah.

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What will you hear when you read the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace? What will God say to you through his Word?

An Accepting Father — Readers’ Choice

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.

Originally published on February 7, 2023, based on readings from Matthew 1.
Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:

Janice, Louisiana — This was such a relevant devotion today. We covered Matthew 1 in our Inductive Bible Study last night and spent quite a bit of time on Joseph’s actions after learning of Mary’s conception. I’ve instinctively known how that Joseph’s actions were not typical of that time and that he acted in faith but the discussion last night really drove home the significance of his actions.

Lucy, Texas — Put this down as one of my favorites this year.
Reflection: An Accepting Father — Readers’ Choice
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 his obedience, 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 Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
“I will establish your line forever, and preserve your throne for all generations.” — Psalm 89.3-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 5-6 (Listen 6:03)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen 2:21)

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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Woe, Whoa, Wow — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Matthew 11:20–24
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Originally published on February 17th, 2023, based on readings from Matthew 11.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Jason, Austin, Texas — “Clinging to my unbelief” really spoke to me. It hadn’t thought about it like that.
Brad, Texas — From woe to wow. That’s a zinger.

Reflection: Woe, Whoa, Wow — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Keanu Reeves made “whoa” famous. Owen Wilson did the same for “wow.” These words express a sense of amazement and wonder. (Or sometimes a sarcastic lack of wonder.)

Jesus repeatedly says something that sounds similar: woe. These woes are statements of judgment, not amazement. However, as Jesus reluctantly pronounced judgment on these cities he was amazed. Despite all he showed them, including miracles and healings, people didn’t believe. Jesus said to them, as God said to ancient Israel and Judah through the prophets, “What more could I have done? Why will you stubbornly refuse to believe?” (Ezekiel 33.11)

Often, our culture thinks faith is something one must cling to without a shred of surety. We want “evidence,” “proof,” or “a sign” to believe God. Even believers want signs. We want “proof” that good things will happen when we step out in faith to witness, change jobs, or give sacrificially.

Faith can be clung to, like a life raft, in a sea of doubt. (And aren’t we glad it can?) But unbelief can also be clung to in a sea of evidence. We should ask ourselves if we are clinging to doubt. Are we using a demand for certainty to fend off faith? 

The condemned towns had a special opportunity and they wasted it. They still rejected Jesus. To whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12.47-48) We might wish that we had the same opportunity they had: to see Jesus in the flesh, to see healings, etc. But Jesus also said, “To those who are faithful with a little, more will be given.”

If we are faithful with what we are given, we will see more. There are many things given to us so that we may believe. But the best two to focus on are the Bible, a miracle you can hold in your hands, and prayer, our miraculous heart-to-heart connection with God. How we steward these gifts may affect what other signs we see. Maybe the reason we don’t see evidence of the next step of faith, is because we haven’t taken the step that we have been shown?

Also, perhaps your stepping out in faith to act is the evidence someone else needs. Just prior to this chapter, Jesus sent his disciples out to the towns with miracles, messages, and peace. To whom might Jesus be sending you?

Perhaps your faithful obedience can take them from “woe” to “wow.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

Today’s Readings
Judges 21  (Listen 3:47)
Hebrews 8  (Listen 2:22)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
John the Baptist describes a Christ who stands ready with both axe and fire.

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