“According to your faith will it be done to you.” (Matthew 9:29)
This is both discomforting and liberating. It is discomforting because we don’t want so much to depend on us. We want God to intervene on our behalf regardless of how much faith we have, because we know how weak our faith is. But it can be liberating when we realize that sometimes the only hindrance to our prayers is our faith. All we must do is grow in faith, and then God will act.
The problem we face with this is the order. We say we will have greater faith when we see more of God. God says we will see more of Him when we have greater faith. The belief comes first. This causes us great trouble. We wish we could have more faith; we really want to, and we try to muster it up. But we need something to base that faith on, and when our own experience is lacking in the miraculous, our faith finds no footing. We know there is a level of the faith life that is satisfying, if only we can get there. We’ve heard others tell of it, and we believe them. We just don’t think we have the means to get there.
Our twofold solution is simple. First, we must ask God to increase our faith. This is how a father appealed to Jesus when his son was suffering (Mark 9:24), and Jesus honored his request. Second, we must base our faith in God on something other than our own experience, at least until our mind’s beliefs become our heart’s realities. The Bible is the answer. Meditate on the Psalms and praises of the Word. Worship Him for His goodness, His love, His power, His protection, and more. Saturate your life in His praise, and God will grow huge in your own eyes. And when He is huge, huge things happen— according to your faith.
Jesus first made the blind men acknowledge His ability (v. 28). Only then did He answer. Faith is nothing in itself. It’s the object of our faith that matters. You want big faith? Worship a big God. The rest comes naturally.
“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
Everyone thought the religious leaders had the keys of the Kingdom. They were the ones with authority, the ones who opened and shut doors, but mostly shut them. They were the ones who defined what was legal and what wasn’t, and their definitions were narrow. Their authority offered no life.
Jesus held the keys to the true Kingdom, and His followers must have been astonished when He shared them. Clearly Jesus had spiritual authority—His miracles and messages were evidence, and He confirmed Peter’s declaration a verse earlier. But a band of fishermen, a tax collector, and others at society’s margins? Who would entrust them with the authority of the messianic Kingdom of the living God?
Jesus did, and the people of God have carried the keys of the Kingdom ever since. The church has argued about whether the words were addressed to Peter or to all followers of Jesus, but they were echoed two chapters later for the body at large. We’re left with an unambiguous statement that some degree of divine authority has been given to human beings in relationship with Jesus—not to wield apart from Him but to exercise with Him. In other words, we are once again His appointed governors of this world, just as our first parents were first appointed to be. Whatever of our stewardship was lost in Eden has now been returned.
The difference between Eden and now is that our first parents did not govern a broken world full of evil. We do, and we have our hands full—so much so that we often assume helplessness and defer to God. But He calls us back into partnership with Him to make decisions that impact earth. We have a huge responsibility.
Whatever the keys of the Kingdom are, they imply a sacred stewardship and an invitation into more authority than we might be comfortable with. Step into it. Be a human agent of the divine will. And pray, speak, and act with awareness of His full backing.
“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29 NLT)
It hardly seems fair. Does Jesus really mean that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer? Even though He isn’t actually talking about money, isn’t the very concept disconcerting to us? Our instinct is to share with everyone involved, even just a little—something to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. But Jesus widens the gap, and seems pleased to do so. Those who knew Him well enough to freely take the consequences upon themselves were rewarded, and the one who blamed the master’s attitude for his own fearful response was rebuked and punished. And this, suggests Jesus, is the Kingdom way.
What does that mean for us? First, it means that we need to know the heart of God and feel absolute freedom to invest His gifts wherever we can, even if we risk failure. But beyond that, it means that if we want promotion—to more responsibility, more privilege, more Kingdom fruit—we need to be faithful with what He has already given. That was the master’s basis for rewarding his servants with more; they had been faithful with the amounts they had in their hands. They were proven entities. They could be trusted.
Can you imagine the God of the universe declaring His trust in our faithfulness to steward His gifts well? That’s what He offers, and if we’re honest, it’s the assessment we long to hear. Perhaps we’ve given up on the possibility; we know how fickle we are. But it’s still there. If we long for a spiritual promotion and wonder why it lingers, perhaps this is the reason. It’s time to trust the heart of the King and invest what we’ve been given.
In God’s Kingdom, the amount of our gifts is not the issue; the amount of our faithfulness is. And we can begin with what we have now. Handling it well prompts greater responsibility and greater and greater reward, on and on as far as we are willing. The heart of the King makes this a safe venture. The heart of His servants makes it a rewarding one.
“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50)
The movies often portray a calm, collected Jesus—sad and in pain, but always glassy-eyed and dignified—in their depictions of the crucifixion. And certainly we don’t doubt His confidence. He came into this world to die and rise again, and He knew that. He did not hang on that cross with doubts about His identity or God’s plan. No, He hung there only with pain.
But what pain it was! This was no dignified event; it was raw and excruciating. And the incarnate God—the One in whom infinite feelings were embodied in one frail, fleshly being—suffered. It wasn’t a calm, quiet suffering; it was loud and tortured. He screamed out the first line of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He thirsted. He refused sedatives that would have lessened the pain (but also the judgment). And then He yelled out again. The agonizing cry of Matthew 27:50 was His last shout before His resurrection, but it wasn’t His last shout forever. He will shout again (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And when He does, it will be exciting.
Do you know the emotional, joyful Jesus? He is passionate from His cross to His return. He is coming again with a loud command, a shout—a noisy, triumphant declaration of final victory. Jesus never just went through the motions—never! He is not a dispassionate Savior.
Why should that matter to us? Because we’re often given a false picture of Jesus. Our traditions imply that God created us with deep emotions but never shared them while He was in the flesh. We often envision a Lord who is robotic and matter-of-fact, not a Lord who is in excruciating pain on one end of the emotional spectrum and noisily celebrating His victory on the other. But our Jesus is enthusiastic about His plan and exuberant about those He has redeemed. His joy is unbridled. As you think about His resurrection and His Kingdom this week, it’s okay if yours is, too.
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31)
The person who does not get alone with Jesus is sure to have difficulty as a disciple. This getting away is essential; there can be no growth or genuine service without it.
It is in the quiet places that Jesus refreshes us. Burnout is a common problem in whatever field we work, and the world has no lasting solution for it. Secular advice tells us to get away for a change of pace. If we follow that advice, we can postpone burnout for a time; but we will quickly get tired again if all we’ve done is relax. Jesus did not tell His disciples to go away to relax. He told them to come with Him. His presence is the difference between a temporary rest and a lasting refreshment.
In the quiet places, Jesus does give us rest, but He also teaches us how to depend on Him more fully, how to serve Him more effectively, and how to trust Him more implicitly. The quiet places are places of growth. We deepen our relationship with Him, and instead of a temporary rest, we have a relationship that will continue to sustain us when the pressures of life are on us again. The things we learn in the calm with Him today are the things that will help us survive in the storms ahead.
Quiet times with Jesus—even extended ones—are to be frequent occurrences. Jesus often went to a solitary place to pray. The times He had alone with His Father strengthened Him and guided Him for His mission in this world. In the same way, we generally cannot experience the presence of Christ in the busyness of life unless we have first experienced His presence in the quiet moments. We cannot get to know Him better when the shrill voices of our duties compete with His gentle leading. If we want to serve Him well, we need His sane, calm voice to speak clearly to us. And the only way to cultivate our hearing is in quiet places.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31)
Once again, Jesus points us to the priority of His Word. It is what will keep us from deception (13:22-23) and it is what we can cling to when heaven and earth seem uncertain and the end of the age seems near. There is nothing transitory about Jesus’ words. If we fasten ourselves to what He says, we are bound to Jesus Himself. And if we are bound to Him, we have nothing to worry about when the heavens and the earth seem unstable.
Jesus’ hearers would have been struck with a profound reality in this statement. It echoes the words of Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (NLT). Once again, Jesus implicitly claims to be God—He has forgiven sin, He has allowed Himself to be worshiped, and now He has asserted the eternal nature of His words in a manner parallel to God’s declaration through Isaiah. These are outrageous claims if Jesus is only a good teacher. But He is so much more. No one wants to place all hope in the words of a good teacher when the very foundations of earth are being shaken. They want more. They want an eternal assurance. Jesus offers it without apology.
There is a deep sense of security that comes from knowing that the words of Jesus are a permanent reality. They are not confined to the world as we know it; even if time itself were to come to an end, His words would not. They do not fail us. The sun may grow dark, the stars may fall from the sky, and everything we see can be shaken (vv. 24-25). But those who have hung their hopes on His words cannot. We are on solid ground, regardless of the earthquakes that may rumble around us.
If you invest your whole self into Jesus’ teaching, letting it saturate your mind and sink to the depths of your heart, you will have a profound knowledge of your security in an uncertain age. Do you want that? It’s His open invitation.
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). (Mark 15:22)
God followed through on His promise of judgment, and He concentrated it all on one high place in particular—a place called Golgotha. It was a crude altar, to be sure, but the sacrifice that was lifted up there was the purest and costliest ever. Now it stands as the only legitimate place of worship on the planet.
No, our worship isn’t based on a physical place. But the hilltop called Golgotha represents a spiritual crisis that any true worshiper must come to. It’s the spiritual place where the ultimate payment for sins was made, and no one worships the true God with a true heart unless his or her sins are dealt with there. And we don’t bring the sacrificial offering with us when we come; it’s provided. The place of real devotion, of real sacrifice, and of real worship is the cross of Christ.
It isn’t coincidental that Jesus laid down His life on a hilltop. Neither is it a coincidence that God inspired a temple on another hilltop centuries before. There is something about the high places of our terrain that makes us think we can get closer to God there. From the Tower of Babel to the mountaintops of Tibet, people yearn to reach upward. The miracle is that in one place, at one point in time, God reached down. He met us on a mountaintop that stands at the centerpiece of all history. The offering on that hill is the focal point of the entire universe.
Our idolatries drive us to the high places, where we have built our altars and cultivated false worship. While we were doing that, the incarnate God walked up one high place and paid the price for all the others. His is the least attractive to our fallen nature, and not a pleasant place to worship at all—who enjoys being reminded that sinfulness requires blood? But it’s central, it’s unique, and it’s required. It’s the only right place to worship.
God’s wrath has judged idolatry on the high places. But His wrath was directed to His Son on the highest place of all. That’s where we are to bring our idolatry. That’s where we purify our hearts. That’s where real worship takes place.
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” (Luke 4:18)
Jesus the freedom fighter. The liberator. The defender of all who are oppressed. The image conjures up a khaki-clad Marxist in a third-world jungle. This Jesus has, in fact, been adopted by some freedom movements around the world, but it isn’t a portrayal the evangelical church normally embraces.
But let’s reconsider that. Take the image of this freedom fighter out of a sociopolitical context and define oppression as the spiritual enslavement that it truly is, and we may be on to something. The oppressive government of the ruler of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) reaches into suburban neighborhoods as much as slums; into downtown office suites as much as jungle outposts; into education and religion as much as politics and economics. And we need liberating. Whether we are the diseased or the doctors, beggars or barons, ignorant or educated, we are prisoners in a fallen kingdom.
This is extremely relevant for the average Christian. We know we have been freed from the penalty of sin, but how often we feel enslaved by it! We know we have eternal life, but how often we feel imprisoned in a body of death! We can easily feel trapped in mundane, uneventful lives. We are so frequently stuffed back into our shackles that the excitement of our freedom seems a distant memory.
Focus today on Christ as Deliverer. Think of what robs your joy in Christ and makes you feel imprisoned. Know that whatever it is—whether it is within your heart or some external constraint—Christ is victor over it. Consider how an imprisoned Paul and Silas sang joyful hymns to God and how a dying Stephen saw heaven opened. None were bound by their surroundings. What binds you? Circumstances? Discouragement? Sin? Ask God to reopen your eyes to Jesus the Liberator.
“Look at the lilies and how they grow. … Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Luke 12:27-28 NLT)
Maybe this is just a promise about provision. Maybe Jesus simply wanted to assure His followers of God’s ability to clothe and feed them. But the heart of God shows up in even greater depth between the lines of this passage. One of His goals in creation is to clothe His world with His own glory. He doesn’t just want to clothe us; He wants to make us shine.
It would be easy to feel helpless and hopeless about that. After all, if not even Solomon was clothed as beautifully as the flowers of the field, how can we measure up? But Jesus isn’t telling us to measure up. He’s telling us to relax. God has put glory into everything He has made, including us. Above all His creatures, we are made in His image for many reasons, one of which is to carry His splendor. We don’t have to do anything to qualify for that privilege other than allow Him to fill us and then simply be ourselves. No striving or straining is required; in fact, that only gets in the way. We are created “a little lower than God” and the angels, specifically to be vessels of glory and honor (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:6-7). The King wants the members of His Kingdom to look a lot like Him.
If we ever had the impression that God is interested only in obedience—in the compliant behavior of human servants—this passage corrects us. God loves beauty. He crowns His creation with glory not because He has a big ego but because He delights in extravagant generosity. Like an artist whose creativity and sensitivity show up in the finer details of his masterpiece, God’s artistry is devoted even to the throw-away foliage of the fields. How much more is He interested in making us beautiful in His eyes? We can relax—and fully entrust ourselves to the zeal of the Artist.
“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
The worshipful heart will have its struggles. One of its greatest is combating the natural human desire to establish our own success, status, and security. We easily become self-focused, wanting to become good in order to represent God well. Have we forgotten? God is already represented well by Jesus—especially in the company of lepers, sinners, and thieves on a cross.
The self-ward heart doesn’t get it. It can’t be transparent about its weaknesses and failures because it is too busy masking them. There is a personal reputation to maintain. The Godward heart, however, is busy with God’s reputation. It can easily confess sin and sickness, because it knows that God is glorified by His treatment of such things. The self-ward soul runs around saying, “I’m doing my best for the glory of God.” The Godward soul can relax and proclaim, “God’s doing His wonderful work in the wreck that is me.”
Both perspectives come from good intentions. But deep in the heart of man is a reluctance to enhance God’s reputation at the expense of our own. We don’t want to own up to our weaknesses, failures, brokenness, and sin. We want to demonstrate God’s grace in our respectable lives. But God’s grace shows up best in the honesty of a tax collector like Zacchaeus or a prostitute who weeps for mercy. Honest souls know what’s inside of them. They alone can showcase a Savior.
This parable isn’t just about Pharisees; it’s about all of us. Do you really want to worship God with every aspect of your being? Then let Him be your everything—your Savior, Healer, Provider, Judge, Refuge, and Strength. Acknowledging your ultimate dependence and need isn’t always easy. It will require honesty before Him and an honest testimony before the world. Will that reflect well on you? Probably not, but it will reflect incredibly well on Him. And that’s what worship is all about.
“If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
Our mission toward global worship is going to happen, whether or not we participate in it. If we don’t cry out in praise of the Savior, God will get the rocks to do it. All creation will point to Him in one way or another, and we’re usually the last ones to get in on the plan. At the centerpiece of this universe is a Savior with a cross, and yet segments of humanity reject that centerpiece while other segments don’t even know it exists. That’s what our mission is about.
But it’s going to happen. That’s a promise. Philippians says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (2:10-11). We can gather from other verses that this is far from a universal salvation; it’s only a universal acknowledgment of ultimate reality. In the end, everyone will see Jesus for who He is. And in the end, no one will be able to rationalize Him away.
But if universal worship is going to happen anyway, why should we worry about it? Why should we get bent out of shape about getting the gospel to the ends of the earth, if the ends of the earth are eventually going to worship Him regardless of what we do? First and foremost, because Jesus told us to. The mission is every Christian’s mandate.
But there’s another reason. We should be zealous for the glory of God’s name because we can’t swim against history’s tide. If the direction of the universe—even its rocks—points to Christ, it would be shameful if His most precious creatures, specifically made in the image of God, do not. It would also be active rebellion against the sovereign God who made us agents of His mission. The ultimate authority has told us: Love Him, worship Him, tell of His goodness, and sing His praises. The noisy disciples irked the Pharisees, but God had ordained their noise.
Do you have it in you to irk a Pharisee? Exuberance is ordained. Noisy praise is part of the plan. Declaring His goodness is the mission to which we’re called.
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
This statement from Jesus ought to have a dramatic impact on the way we live. Perhaps it loses impact because we assume that Jesus is in a league of His own in the forgiveness game; there’s no way we could match His grace. Or perhaps we see this as an example of how God forgives without realizing the implications it has for us. Meanwhile, we forgive those who are sorry for their sins—which does not describe these crucifiers at all; and we forgive those who haven’t hurt us too badly—which also does not describe these crucifiers. Somehow we’ve confined our mercy to definitions that Jesus never embraced. We’ve limited grace.
Think of the drama of Jesus’ statement. These aggressors were committing the ultimate crime: an unjust execution of their own holy Creator. There has never been a more evil act. And yet, Jesus forgave. Without their asking. Without their even being remotely sorry.
Do you understand what that means for us? It means that those grudges we hold are horribly illegitimate. We will have to answer for them to the Savior of unlimited grace. We will have to explain why we accepted His painful blood-purchase while hardly lifting a finger for those who have hurt us.
Or, if we’re wise, we can try to understand the gospel better. We can realize that God’s grace—which He expects us to emulate—is meant not just for insults and oversights, but for betrayers of spouses, for thieves who bankrupt victims, for traitors and rapists and killers. The infinite God has infinite grace.
That’s a hard truth to embrace. We love it when it applies to us, but we just can’t accept it when it applies to those who have offended us deeply, violated our trust, or even killed our loved ones. But if grace doesn’t go far enough to cover sins against finite humans, it can’t cover our sins against an infinite God. Thank God, it does. Thank God that He forgave us when we didn’t know what we were doing. And He enables us to do that for others.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5)
We were born into a kingdom of darkness. Sure, we’ve gotten glimpses of light, and most of us have managed not to sink as deeply into darkness as others. But the systems of this world are not set up selflessly or efficiently, and those with power rarely wield it exclusively for the benefit of others. We know that because millennia of human governments, economies, and other social systems have not solved poverty, crime, greed, or corruption. Like a civilization that can’t see beyond its own borders, we’ve never grasped pure and holy alternatives. Our world can be a very dark place.
On the other hand, this world is not a kingdom of total darkness. Though unbridled sin and corruption would make it so, God has sent light into the world to shine into dark places. Some of us have seen the light without becoming light ourselves, while others of us have seen it and begun to reflect it clearly. Meanwhile, many can hardly tell the difference. Maladjusted eyes don’t distinguish light from dark but perceive everything as some shade of gray. They benefit from the light but don’t recognize its source. The kingdom of darkness has blinded them to the light of the world.
Even so, the light has come, and we can’t afford to live in the gray. Our job is to make distinctions, to choose daily which kingdom to dwell in—not which kingdom to belong to, for our faith has already settled that, but which one to experience moment by moment. Human beings make hundreds of choices a day, and Kingdom citizens must always choose light. Darkness does us no favors.
If you want to overcome, learn to live in the light. That’s what Jesus meant when He said to seek His Kingdom above all else (Matthew 6:33) and what John later wrote to Christians who were confusing the source of their life (1 John 1:5-7). Many claim fellowship with God and then choose darkness. It won’t work. Daily decisions, even small ones, make a difference. Real life happens only in the light.
“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27 NLT)
The world has almost always been a noisy place, but now more so than ever. We have access to a multitude of voices every minute of every day—through radio and TV, Internet and social media, and more. The public discussion has grown drastically larger and louder in our time. We’re virtually bombarded with opinions and more.
Some of these voices are easily recognizable, and we instantly know whether to listen to them or not. Some are more subtle; they blend into the background, come from a distance, or bubble up from questions and confusion in our own minds. Some are nice to us, and others are downright rude. But all of them compete for our attention.
Jesus gave us a profound illustration about shepherds and their sheep. Sheep may hear other shepherds calling out, but they have learned to recognize the voice of the one who guides them. They don’t follow just any shepherd; they follow theirs. They may hear other voices, but they don’t really hear them. They are tuned in to the distinctives of their master’s call. When they hear it, they follow wherever he is leading.
Our goal is to be uniquely tuned in to a singular voice. We can do that because the Shepherd said He knows us—individually. He has taken time to communicate with us, learn our inclinations and characteristics, and appreciate us individually. We are drawn to Him because of that, and His voice resonates more deeply with us than any other. Because He cares for us, we care what He says. We know He’s watching out for us. Our interests are best served by His will.
Ask God to fine-tune your hearing to His voice alone. You’ll hear a multitude of other sounds, but they won’t resonate with you the way His voice will. They are just noise. Let Him draw you into a learning process that will connect you with His heart and open your ears to hear. Know even before you ask that this is possible. In fact, it’s promised. The Shepherd could not possibly leave you in silence. His voice is waiting to be heard.