encouragement theology

Go Make Disciples!

Thoughts from Matthew 28…

Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is a well-known and beloved passage. This conclusion of Matthew 28, known as the “Great Commission”, serves as an epilogue of the life of Jesus Christ. Matthew has followed the ministry of Jesus Christ from His birth, through His great sermons, through His ministry in Galilee, to the commissioning of His disciples, to the people’s rejection, to the training of His closest followers, to His journey to Jerusalem, and ultimately culminating in His death on the cross. But the account doesn’t end there, as three days later — much to the surprise and amazement of his followers — Jesus rose from the dead and met with them. Matthew then recorded this final scene as followers gathered on a mountain in Galilee.a They had left Jerusalem to travel north to this meeting place when Jesus came to them.b

The gathering is small and the message is simple, but Jesus was leaving them with one command: go make disciples! As you go into the world, make disciples and stay with them, baptizing and teaching them. But you are not alone. He will be with you until the end of the world!

This is the only command in this scene — make disciples! These men had learned firsthand what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. They traveled with Him, lived with Him, and absorbed His teaching for over three years. They had times of wisdom and times of foolishness, times when they were faithful and times when they ran away. But through it all, they learned what it meant to be a disciple. They listened to His instruction, and obeyed His commands. They followed Him when He was popular and when He was an outcast. They suffered with Him and endured hardship with Him, and when they didn’t understand, they learned to trust in Him.

And now Jesus sent them out to make new disciples. And as these new disciples follow the Lord Jesus Christ, so they themselves are to make new disciples of our Lord. As they learned to listen, obey and follow Him, so they are to teach others to listen, obey and follow Him.

As this command was passed to others, so it passes to us. We are to make disciples as we go into the world. We need to reflect Jesus Christ to others wherever we go, whether it be in worship or in the marketplace. Whether we are in our hometown or in a foreign land. Wherever we are, we are to make disciples.

We are to baptize and teach the new disciples. It’s not enough to look for a decision to accept Jesus Christ, but we also need to help these new followers grow. It starts with baptism. They show their faith publicly as they take the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They identify with the holy God who sent us. We also need to teach them all of Jesus’ commands. We need to follow and teach everything that Jesus taught His first disciples. We obey all of His commands — the easy as well as the difficult, and we trust Him in comfort as well as hardship. The true disciple does not concern himself with his personal comfort or safety, but rather follows the Lord with a whole heart.

And why should we make disciples? Jesus started out His instruction by showing who He is. Get a glimpse of Jesus Christ and all His glory and all His authority, and follow that vision to lead others. Jesus was more than just a great teacher or a noble healer. He was God himself! He has all authority in heaven and all authority on earth — He is in charge of everything! He is equal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit! He is nothing less than God himself! This is why you need to bring others to follow Him!

And finally, know that we are not alone. Jesus Christ, and all His authority and power as God, will be with us every step of the way. He will never leave us nor turn away from us. He will be with us to the very end!

“Christianity is a missionary faith. The very nature of God demands this, for God is love, and God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).” – Warren Wiersbe3

“The world is to be evangelized, not by men invested with ecclesiastical dignities and with parti-colored garments, but by men who have experienced the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and who are visibly endued with the divine power of wisdom, and love, and zeal.” – A.B. Bruce11

“…we are called to represent Him in this world, going to rebels against the authority of the God of heaven and earth, and pleading with them to be reconciled to Him who sent His Son in grace that all men might have life and peace through Him.” – H.A. Ironside2

“Let us embrace this truth reverently and cling to it firmly. Christ is He who has the keys of death and hell. Christ is the anointed High Priest who alone can absolve sinners. Christ is the fountain of living waters in whom alone we can be cleansed. Christ is the Prince and Savior who alone can give repentance and remission of sins. In Him all fullness dwells. He is the Way, the Door, the Light, the life, the Shepherd, and the altar of refuge. He that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son has not life.” – J.C. Ryle12

“It isn’t a question of emotion – it is a question of submission.” – John MacArthur8

Previous post: He is Risen!

encouragement theology

It Is Finished!

Thoughts from Matthew 27…

I had an opportunity to study the Death of Jesus Christ recently with the study below. Every time I read the passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, I am amazed at how much He has given us! The weight of our sin is taken away! It is finished!

I am having difficulty being able to reblog this from WordPress so I am posting a new link.

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Previous post: The First Three Hours

encouragement theology

The First Three Hours

Thoughts from Matthew 27…

This is the first part of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This has to be of the most amazing passages in Scripture, especially in light of how much He loves us!

Previous Post: Before the Governor

Sapphire Sky


In the first century A.D., The Roman empire stretched across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This was a time of peace, called the Pax Romana, where the Roman government was able to manage all of the various languages and cultures under its single rule.

However, the thought of revolution terrified the Roman government. Rome needed to control a massive empire with a much smaller force. Any revolts in the Roman provinces could cause a disaster. The Roman governors in various provinces must keep the peace at all costs!

Rome’s most effective way to keep peace in the provinces was through fear and intimidation. Any man who was caught trying to revolt against Rome would be made an example. He would be subjected to one of the most cruel, lingering, and public executions ever devised by mankind: the crucifixion.5

Crucifixion was invented by the Assyrians and the Persians…

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encouragement theology

Before the Governor

Thoughts from Matthew 27…

This is the second part of Jesus Christ’s trial. These are the series of trials before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.

The drama of the scene increases in the early morning hours as Jesus is lead in chains to the Roman governor. Pilate tried every attempt to free Him, but in the end was forced to capitulate to the demands of the priests and the Jewish people, and sent Him off to be crucified.

Previous Post: Before the High Priest

Sapphire Sky


During the Roman time of peace in the first century (the Pax Romana), Rome would allow the provinces a level of self-government. This self-government allowed vassal kings to rule over their own provinces as long as they swore allegiance to Rome.

Herod (also known as Herod the Great) ruled all of Palestine until his death in 4 BC. After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided among his three sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip. Philip ruled the regions to the East, Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea, while Archelaus ruled Judea and Samaria.

Archelaus proved to be the worst of the three sons. He was corrupt and inefficient and by 6 A.D., the Jews had begged Rome to replace him. The Romans removed Archelaus and replaced him with a series of governors (also known as procurators). These governors were Roman commanders who were responsible for governing the regions and reporting to…

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encouragement theology

Before the High Priest

Thoughts from Matthew 26…

After Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives, He was hurried to the home of the High Priest for a quick, overnight trial. The priests and leaders of the people wanted to have capital charges against Him by morning, so that they could bring Him to the Roman governor for execution.

Even re-reading these passages again, I am amazed by the drama of this entire scene. The priests and elders, the leaders of the people are railroading over justice in order to destroy their enemy. Peter has noble intentions, but he is scared out of his mind by a servant girl! And yet through this all, God is still in control!

Previous post: The Trial of Jesus Christ

Sapphire Sky


It was Thursday night before the Passover. At some time after midnight, Judas had led the temple guards and the Roman soldiers up the slopes of the Mount of Olives to where they found Jesus. There it was that the entire crowd fell down when this Rabbi called upon the name of God. There it was that one of His disciples charged into the crowd with a sword, severing a servant’s ear. There it was that Jesus healed the man’s ear and made His disciples leave (see here).

The soldiers bound Jesus and took Him back to the high priest’s palace in the city of Jerusalem. There, at the palace, were two of the most powerful men in Judea. Annas was the former high priest who had been deposed by the Romans. But Annas still directed the religious leadership in Jerusalem and he had placed in his own son-in-law…

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encouragement theology

The Kiss

Thoughts from Matthew 26…

This is the scene in the garden of Gethsemane when, after Jesus arises from prayer, He is met by by the arresting mob, being led by Judas. The groups of people in this scene are intriguing. Judas is evil. The guards and soldiers are wary. The disciples are terrified. But Jesus is calm.

May we follow His example and be rooted in the Lord during our difficult times!

Previous post: The Garden

Sapphire Sky


It is the night before Passover.

Jesus had spent the last few hours in agonizing prayer (see here). He was consumed with horror and despair as He considered what He was about to face.

Slowly and painfully, He came to terms with the Father’s will. “Not my will, but yours be done”.

Meanwhile, the disciples slept.

As Jesus woke the sleepy disciples, the lanterns and torches were visible through the trees. Nearly a thousand men were converging on their small garden!

The Chief Priests and their servants were there. They had wanted to kill Jesus Christ ever since He had raised Lazarus from the dead (see here).

The Temple Guard was there. This group of men was responsible for maintaining order in the temple. They were especially busy during Passover time. These guards were not allowed to use lethal force, but were nevertheless armed with clubs.

There were

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encouragement theology

The Garden

Thoughts from Matthew 26…

This study covered the Lord’s struggle in Gethsemane. Once again, as I read this passage, I am amazed how difficult of a time this was for Jesus Christ. It is far from the deep, serene images that we are accustomed to, and was an emotional, spiritual, and physical battle!

Previous Post: It Was Night

Sapphire Sky


The garden.


There were moments in the life of Jesus Christ whenhe suffered greatly, but this was total agony!

Here, in the garden, is the greatest struggle that Jesus will face. He will endure hardship, torture, and death at the hands of men on the way to the cross. But there was no struggle as he went to his death. The great struggle for Jesus Christ was here in the garden, in Gethsemane.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus said, “my food is to do my Father’s will” (see here). But now the horror of the cross draws near and it terrifies Him! It is not the physical pain that Jesus Christ fears, but the separation from His Father. He, the one who knew no sin, will take upon himself the guilt of all the sins of the world!

Jesus contemplated his upcoming death on Tuesday…

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encouragement theology

It Was Night

Thoughts from Matthew 26…

This study below is about the Last Supper, where the Lord identified the betrayer and allowed him to leave. Judas, who had sold his allegiance for the price of a slave, now leaves to get the soldiers to come and arrest Jesus. Jesus continues to teach His faithful eleven disciples and to prepare them for His upcoming death and resurrection.

Previous post: Dare to Waste!

Sapphire Sky


It is an awesome responsibility to teach or to lead another person. Whether you are in the role of a parent, a teacher, or a mentor, it is a great privilege to teach another.

But what do we do when things go wrong? What do we do when a student turns away from what they have learned? When they reject the teacher? We can blame ourselves, but we cannot change another person’s decisions.

You could be a perfect teacher, and yet some would still turn away. The best teacher who ever walked on the earth had a student walk away from him.

That student did more than turn away from him. He turned him in to the authorities to be arrested, tortured, and then executed.

Jesus had intensely taught his disciples for three and a half years. They all saw him teach, work miracles, and raise the dead. Each of them were able to…

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encouragement theology

Dare to Waste!

Matthew takes time in the Passion Week narrative to reflect on an earlier event. Jesus had stayed in Bethany on the way to Jerusalem, and celebrated dinner with a cleansed leper named Simon. During the dinner, Mary scandalizes the crowd by breaking a costly bottle of perfume over the Lord’s head and His feet, and then wiping them with her hair. Judas led the disciples in criticizing her until Jesus rebuked him, shutting him up.

Now, three days later, an angry and bitter Judas comes to the chief priests, offering to deliver Jesus to them, away from the crowds.

Previous post: The Final Judgment

Sapphire Sky


Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11), causing many to believe in him. But this also provoked the anger and jealousy of the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were all united in their plans to kill him (John 11:53).

Jesus had retreated to the town of Ephraim (John 11:54) and stayed there until it was time to come for the Passover. Within a couple weeks of the Passover, He had traveled north from Ephraim through the middle of Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11), and joined the bands of Galilean pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem [2].

As the crowds neared Jerusalem on Friday, Jesus had split from the group and spent the Sabbath in the nearby town of Bethany. It was there in Bethany that Simon, a healed leper, had hosted a feast for Jesus and his disciples on…

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encouragement theology

The Final Judgment

Thoughts from Matthew 25…

Are you ready for Jesus to return?

Shortly before He left the earth, Jesus told a story to His closest friends. A rich man went away on a journey, leaving part of his fortune with three of his stewards. The first steward was efficient, doubling his master’s return on his investment. The second steward was not as efficient, yet he still was able to bring his master a sizable return. But the third steward hated his master. Expecting the master to never return, he hid his share away, making plans to keep it for himself. 

But the master did return and asked for an accounting of his assets. He commended the first two stewards for their diligence and return on the investments given to them. But the final steward responded with hostility until he was stripped of all his belongings and sentenced to severe punishment.

Jesus then compared this message with the judgment on the world. After the final suffering of the world (see here), Jesus will come back to earth and divide all of the people who remain. His true followers will have demonstrated their faith by caring for the persecuted believers, including feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the destitute, and visiting the prisoners and infirmed. They will be blessed by God and welcomed into His kingdom.

By contrast, those who have refused Jesus Christ will have demonstrated their true hearts by their lack of compassion. Regardless of their words and their appearances, they never knew Jesus Christ. They will be cursed, and sent to eternal punishment.

These were Jesus’ final words about His return. How do these two scenes fit with the rest of Jesus’ words? How do they fit with the rest of Scripture?

encouragement theology

Be Ready!

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We are now past the midpoint of 2021, yet it is still good to reflect on the previous year. How many of us, in 2019, would have believed anyone who predicted what actually happened in 2020? We experienced a virus that shut down the world. Our country saw severe political and social unrest. Many of us went through job and workplace changes. None of us were prepared for 2020!

But it is hard to prepare for the unexpected. No one could have predicted these recent events, nor do we completely know what is going to happen over the next couple years. 

But if we can’t anticipate the unknown, how well do we do at preparing for events that we do know will happen? Are we ready for the future?

Jesus was talking with His disciples about their great temple when He gave them a disturbing promise: it would all be totally destroyed! But He had much more to tell them when they asked about the future. How would they know when He returned? What should they look for?

These same warnings and promises from Jesus Christ are as meaningful for us today as they were for His disciples two thousand years ago. There will be unrest and confusion. Believers will face persecutions and mistrust across the world, but don’t be led astray. Trust in the Holy Spirit (see here). There will be a time of trouble, greater than has ever happened before, but do not fear — God is still in control and He will return in power (see here). He will come and destroy those who oppose Him, and take away His own forever!

But Jesus had a specific point for teaching us about these events. He concluded by repeating the message four times — be ready! You don’t know when He is returning, but be ready! Be ready! Be ready!

encouragement theology

The Coming Trouble

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We can often become discouraged during times of crisis. Our current difficulties can weigh us down, but it is especially hard when we can’t see hope for the future. It is this discouragement and despair — when there is no hope — that can bring down even the strongest among us.

When we know Jesus Christ, we have a wonderful hope for a future with Him. But I wonder how much Jesus’ disciples could understand this hope on that Tuesday, as they were sitting with Him on the Mount of Olives. He had just finished a major confrontation with the religious leaders, and their expectations of His glorious kingdom were quickly fading away. The opposition had shown themselves to be determined to destroy him at all costs. The crowds who had been loudly praising him on Sunday were now, only two days later, strangely quiet. And finally, when they showed the Lord their great temple, He told them that it would be totally destroyed! 

But on that Tuesday, alone with his closest friends, the Lord Jesus Christ showed them what is to come. Things will not get better, instead they will get worse. As discussed in the previous study (Matthew 24:1-14), many will try to deceive them, but He warned them to not be led astray! His followers will face hatred and persecution from the world because of their belief in Jesus Christ, but do not be discouraged. The Good News of His Kingdom will reach the world and the Holy Spirit will lead them in what they should say.

But the remaining part of the Lord’s message tells of horrible events during the last days of this earth. Yet God is still in control and Jesus Christ will return with power and great glory!

encouragement theology

When Will He Return?

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We get so caught up in our personal possessions! Even in the church, we are captivated by our great buildings, our history, or our accomplishments. We spend so much time looking at our tangible assets that we often forget what is most important. We need to regularly step back and reevaluate our world based, not on what is important to us, but on what is important to God. The differences can be startling!

Jesus was passing through Jerusalem when His disciples pointed out the wonders of the great temple. They were confused by His latest statement, when he promised that Jerusalem would be left desolate. But if their city was to be deserted, what about the temple? King Herod had started the project to renovate the existing temple at about 20 B.C. It took over ten years and a vast fortune, but the end result was one of the greatest sights of the ancient world.a b For over 80 years, the Jerusalem temple stood as the center for Jewish identity and worship. Pilgrims would travel from the far reaches of the Roman Empire in order to reach this temple and offer their sacrifices to God.

It is important to remember that the temple was the epicenter for all religious activity in the Jewish culture. There were synagogues in every town for learning the Scriptures, but all sacrifices were brought to the temple in Jerusalem. There was evil and corruption at the temple, but there was also genuine worship. For example, both wicked Caiaphas and God-fearing Zechariah served in the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple twice during His ministry on earth and often used the temple grounds as the site of His teaching. The early church used the temple as a daily location for fellowship together.

But given the importance of the temple, the disciples wondered about its place in Jesus’ prediction. What will happen to this temple if the city is to be left desolate? What will happen to their center of worship when the Lord promised to leave, not to return until they were ready to receive Him as King? Didn’t God bless these wonderful buildings, with such an amazing arrangement of stone work?

The Lord’s reply was shocking — the city would indeed be desolate, and the temple would be totally destroyed!

It wasn’t until they were alone that His four closest friends voiced their questions.c When would these things happen? When would the temple be destroyed? When would He return to Jerusalem as a King?

The temple would be destroyed, and Jesus Christ would return as King. Although they asked about these two events together, they were separated by thousands of years.d In less than 40 years from their conversation (on A.D. 70), the Roman legions would conquer Jerusalem and destroy the temple. However, the primary focus of the Lord’s answer is related to His return. It has been almost two thousand years since Jesus Christ was on earth, and we are still waiting for Him. The remaining instructions in Matthew 24 and 25 are given to His disciples — and to believers throughout the centuries — for how to watch for His return.

encouragement theology

Woe to the Hypocrites!

Thoughts from Matthew 23…

It happened again this year. And last year. And many times in the past.

It breaks my heart when I hear about it — yet another Christian leader has fallen. There are great men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching God’s Word. Some have gained massive audiences, and are known worldwide as they teach about Jesus Christ. 

It is especially hurtful when one falls. An international preacher, whose secret sins were exposed, shortly after his death. A college president, who encouraged thousands of students for the Lord, all the while hiding his own secretly wanton lifestyle. I grieve for the victims that these men have left in their wake, and am horrified that they could so easily destroy others in the name of Jesus Christ!a

I also grieve for the gospel, and how these failures caused men to curse and ridicule God’s name. There are also many others who are damaged by these failures. These are the men and women who have given their lives to Jesus Christ, who work with honesty and integrity, and yet have lost some of their credibility after these public scandals.

But when I look at God’s word, I find that Jesus Himself addressed such scandals. He debated the religious leaders of His day and was well acquainted with both the honest teachers and the hypocrites. His words in Matthew are as important now as they were then.

First, He addressed the people. When you hear God’s Word, it is the message, not the messenger that is important. We are responsible to obey the word that is preached to us, even when the preacher does not obey it himself! We follow the authority of God’s Word, not the personality of the preacher!

Next, He addressed the religious leaders. The scribes and Pharisees were loved and respected by the people, but Jesus Christ called them hypocrites! Seven times He addressed them, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

They block the way of life for those who are seeking it!

They corrupt their own followers!

They are dishonest blind guides!

They pride themselves in keeping the law, but they have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness! 

They look clean and pure on the outside but are inwardly filthy!

They act like they are the path to God, but they are dead on the inside!

They think they are better than their wicked ancestors, while they plot the same atrocities!

This was the warning for the hypocrites, who acted religious and spiritual on the outside, but were nothing but corrupt and wicked leaders. Seven times The Lord denounces them. Seven times He warns them. Seven times He grieves for them!

And then the final warning is for all of us. The people of Jerusalem had the opportunity to repent, but they chose rather to reject Jesus Christ. They were happy to shout when He rode into the city on a donkey, but quickly left once He truly challenged them. They ignored Him, disregarded Him, and openly attacked Him!

As much as I like to hear about Jesus defeating the bad guys, these warnings hit too close to home for me. How many times have I been the hypocrite? How many times have I acted just like the wicked Pharisees? How many times have I disregarded or ignored Jesus Christ? 

Matthew 23 reminds me of God’s holiness. He is absolutely perfect, and we are all failures in His presence. When we are left to our own devices, we end up just as bad as the scribes and Pharisees of the first century. We all need to repent — to turn around — and to turn to Him!

Before it is too late!

Previous post: What is the Greatest Commandment?

encouragement theology

What is the Greatest Commandment?

Thoughts from Matthew 22…

“Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 
You shall love the LORD your God 
with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

During a time of great controversy, a lawyer came to Jesus Christ with this question, “What is the greatest commandment?” The Lord had just answered the leading religious thinkers of His day, silencing His critics, when the man came with this request. The Pharisees had hundreds of laws and they debated heavily regarding which laws were important to keep. How would this teacher answer this great debate? Would He weigh in on which laws were most important?

Jesus’ answer was immediate: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. But also, don’t forget the second commandment — to love your neighbor as yourself! Every other one of the laws point to these two commandments. Every other law is to instruct you to love God or love your neighbor.

The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day failed both of these commandments. They were so caught up in their rules and their power that they totally missed when God himself walked by! They showed no love for God when they refused anything other than what fit their own agendas. They showed no love for their neighbors when they refused to show forgiveness or compassion to the needy multitudes around them.

Both of these religious factions came to Jesus that day, hoping to entrap him with their difficult questions. The Pharisees put the first question to Him, whether they should pay taxes to Caesar’s Roman government. The Lord‘s answer brought them back to the greatest commandment. They showed love for their fellow man by submitting to the government and giving them their due service. They showed their love for God by likewise submitting to God and giving Him His due service.

The Sadducees approached Him with the next question, expecting to find a hole in His theology. Since they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they had created a scenario where it conflicted with the laws on marriage. Seven brothers were each married to the same widow before they each died, so who would be her husband in the resurrection?  But in this question they show their ignorance and a lack of a love for the Lord. A love for the Lord would have brought them to His Scriptures, where they would have better understood the resurrection. We will be changed, with no longer a need for marriage relationships like we currently have on earth.

The lawyer had then come to Jesus with his question regarding the greatest commandment, hoping to test Him and to push Him into controversy. If He weighed in on this religious debate, He would surely make enemies among the dissenting factions. But rather than angered, this young man was stunned by the Lord’s reply. Unlike the great religious leaders, he showed a genuine desire to understand his answers. And for that Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus started out His ministry teaching that He came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. As shown in the post on Matthew 5:17 here, the Ten Commandments are an expression of love. The first four are about love for God, and the final six are about love for each other.a 

Jesus then showed how we show love for God and for each other when we keep the commandments:

  • We show love when we show forgiveness toward those who offend us (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • We show love when we show purity in our thoughts and actions (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • We show love when we show faithfulness in our marriage (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • We show love when we show honesty in our word and our promises (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • We show love when we show humility and refuse to retaliate when we are hurt (Matthew 5:38-42)
  • We show love when we show kindness to our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48)

May we remember to love God and to love others!

Previous post: The Rejected Capstone

encouragement theology

The Rejected Capstone

Thoughts from Matthew 21…

There is an ancient story about building the first Jewish temple. King Solomon started work on the temple at about 1,000 BC and took nearly seven years to complete. The building stones were cut at the quarry, and then sent to the temple site for construction. The story tells that the builders discovered one of the early stones with no markings and an unusual shape. Unsure what to do with this unusual stone, they set it aside and forgot about it. Years later, the temple was almost finished, except that the builders could not find the capstone, which would hold together the final corner of the building. They sent to the quarry for this final stone, only to receive back word that it had been delivered long ago. No one could find it! Finally, after much searching, they located this critical stone, buried underneath the bushes and rubble nearby. It had been set aside and forgotten, yet it was the final piece of the construction.

The facts of this story may have been distorted over the years, but it had become an illustration to the ancient Israelites about forgetting what is most important. This lesson even made it into Scripture, as part of the Messianic Psalm 118: “the stone which the builders rejected, has become the head of the corner.”a This entire Psalm was a celebration of the Messiah, who was the rejected stone, yet will be their coming king!

Jesus had come to Jerusalem on Sunday, amidst the shouts and praise of the people. He drove the moneychangers from the temple on Monday, and now, on Tuesday, the city leaders finally have the courage to confront Him. How dare He come into town the way He did! How dare He drive away their merchants from the temple! Who does He think He is?

And so they came to Jesus, demanding to see His credentials. What authority does he have to teach the people, to drive out to merchants, and to accept their praise! The reply from Jesus Christ was stunning and abrupt. Was John the Baptist’s ministry from heaven or from earth? These men were now in a dilemma: they didn’t believe John, yet they were afraid of the crowds if they publicly denounced him. They didn’t dare own up to their own unbelief, yet they feared a riot if they said anything. Yet that is the point from The Lord. The same authority that enabled John to teach and to baptize is the same authority that led Jesus to Jerusalem. This is the authority that drove out the money changers and taught the people.

The leading priests and elders of the city were left with nothing else to say but, “We don’t know!”

But what about these priests and religious leaders? Jesus then used a parable to reveal their true hearts. Two sons were asked by their father to work in the field. One made a show of refusal but then worked for his father, while the other made a show of acceptance but then refused to work. Which one was the obedient son? The obvious answer was that the obedient son was the one who worked, despite his initial refusal. He was the one who ultimately did what his father asked. 

But these priests and religious leaders were like the disobedient son who, though he made a show of listening to his father, refused to obey. Therefore, the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other dregs of society would be better off than them because they repented at John’s teaching while these religious men refused.

They were like the evil farmers, who thought they could steal the vineyard by killing the master’s servants and his only son. Therefore, they would be killed and excluded from His kingdom because they rejected His prophets and chose to kill the Messiah, God‘s only son!

They were like the invited guests to the wedding feast who refused the king’s summons. Some replied with apathy while others replied with hostility. Even worse, some answered the call but only on their own terms. As a result they will meet judgment and death, and their city will be destroyed.

What can we learn from this passage? First, it reminds us of God‘s sovereignty. He is in charge, even when everything looks like it is against Him. Even when all of the world leaders seem to be moving against Him, He is still in control, waiting for His time. The Jewish leaders had not yet killed the Son of God, yet He knew that it would happen. But He also knew that He would ultimately emerge triumphant!

Secondly, it reminds us of God’s patience. God calls us repeatedly, urging us to come to him. Just because we don’t see a visible response or hear audible words, it does not mean that He has forgotten. God is only waiting His time for His ultimate response. 

If you are disobeying God, don’t mistake His silence for ignoring you. God is waiting his time, giving you one more opportunity to repent and come to him. But judgment is coming for those who will not repent! I urge you to turn to him before it is too late!

If you follow God, remember that it is on His terms, not yours. Like the wedding guest who refused to take up the king’s clothing, judgment awaits those who think they can force their way into God’s presence.

But finally, when you are obeying God and it seems like He is silent, don’t give up! God may be waiting for His timing but He is always watching and will never forget. He will come back to judge those who have refused Him and to save those who are truly His own. Don’t give up!

Previous study: The Barren Tree

encouragement theology

The Barren Tree

Thoughts from Matthew 21…

This is a very simple story. Jesus was returning to Jerusalem on Monday morning when He saw a fig tree full of leaves. It was early in the season, but the leaves indicated that the tree must have figs (the fruit forms before the leaves).2 5 He went to the tree in hunger, only to find that there was no fruit. He then responded by cursing the tree, saying, “May no fruit ever come from you again!

The next morning, the disciples noticed that the tree had withered completely. Jesus then used the dead tree as a teaching point to demonstrate the power of prayer. You can move a mountain into the sea if you have faith without doubting.

Some have seen this passage as an example of Jesus reacting in anger, cursing out at the fruitless tree that failed to feed Him, and killing it for its failure. But if this is the case, was this the tree’s fault? Did the fig tree make a conscious decision to not bear fruit?

But Jesus’ response regarding the dead tree shows that this was not a reaction of anger but a lesson for His disciples. There were only two recorded events in the life of Christ where he destroyed nature: this scene with the fig tree, and the earlier scene in Gadara, where He healed the demon-possessed men and allowed the demons to drown the herd of pigs.

This scene with the fig tree shows three teaching points: The first point is the illustration of the fig tree itself. It was full of leaves and looked very healthy, but it was fruitless. It had more leaves than would be expected for that time of the year, yet it didn’t have any fruit. Many Bible scholars understand the fig tree to be an illustration of Israel, with the fruitless tree representing the fruitless nation.1 a The people of Israel had a great show of good deeds and religious fervor, but without any real fruit of repentance. Like the fig tree, they were all green and healthy looking, but without any substance. And just like the fig tree, they were doomed to destruction because of their fruitlessness. The nation of Israel would ultimately die, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The second point is that Jesus used the fig tree to teach the power of prayer. He repeated the earlier promise that only a small amount of faith can cause great things to happen. It is important to note that the prayer is for judgement this time. God hears our prayers for a blessing, but He also honors our prayers when we ask judgment for those who are rebelling against Him. This is the same prayer that Elijah prayed for his unbelieving nation, when He prayed for drought (see here). This is not a prayer for vengeance, but that the people would be moved to repentance. God promises to hear us when we seek to advance His agenda — even when it is against those who oppose him.

The final point is an application that each of us needs to consider. We may not be as wicked as the Jews of that day, when they were conspiring to kill the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can all fall into the same trap of becoming leafy without any fruit. We show all forms of good deeds on the outside, but there is no Godly fruit from our actions. There is no repentance from our disobedience, nor is there any work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When you see this happening, it is an immediate time to check yourself with God. Have you really received Him into your life? If not, all of your good deeds are worthless to Him (Isaiah 64:6). But even when you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, we can still lapse into times of fruitlessness. We need to continually repent, turn away from our disobedience, and come back to Him. Only then will our lives be fruitful, and only then will we not be like the barren fig tree.

Previous post: Don’t Ignore Him!

encouragement theology

Don’t Ignore Him!

Model of the Temple in Jerusalem, from Wikimedia Commons

Thoughts from Matthew 21…

This is a popular scene in art and literature. Jesus came to the temple, turned over the merchant tables, spilled the money boxes, and chased away the animals! People love to see how He reacted violently against the hypocrites of His day!

There are actually two parts to this passage in Matthew. The scene opens with the familiar scene of Jesus cleansing the temple. He threw out the corrupt money-changers and animal sellers and took possession of the temple. For two days, He stopped commerce through the temple property and restored it to its place of worship, prayer, and teaching. 

Jesus had cleansed the temple one time before. Exactly three years earlier, He had also entered the temple during Passover and drove out the animals and the money-changers. As shown in the study here, Jesus had dramatically entered the temple at the start of His ministry, showing that He was the coming Messiah by coming suddenly and purifying the temple (see Malachi 3:1-2). But now, three years have passed, and Jesus is at the conclusion of His earthly ministry. He cleansed the temple one final time to show what temple worship will be like under the rule of the Messiah.a b 

The second part of this passage is a contrast among those who heard Him. The blind and the lame came to Him to be healed and the children sang His praises. But the religious leaders — those who should have known the most about Him — were indignant! How dare the people praise this man! Instead of listening to Him, they started plotting His destruction. 

The priests should have been leading the worship of their coming King. The scribes had spent their lives studying God’s word, and should have been the first to identify their Promised Messiah. The city leaders should have been directing the people in recognizing their coming Lord. But instead, they were too caught up in their own agendas. Instead of coming to the One God as He walked on the earth, they chose to be His enemy and made plans to destroy Him.

The Bible talks often about the danger of “hardening your hearts” (see here). Every time we refuse God, or say “No” to Him, we lose some of our sensitivity toward Him. Like a slowly drying glue, each step away from Him makes us less able hear Him and to listen for His voice. We no longer care about what God wants as we fixate on our own agendas.

The priests and scribes had hardened themselves to the point that they had drawn clear battle lines against Jesus Christ. As their actions unfold across the next few days, they show the absolute worst of cruelty, ignorance, and bottomless wickedness. These are the ones who will ultimately contrive to betray, arrest, torture, and execute the Lord Jesus Christ. 

But the failure for these men happened long before this scene. As they learned about Jesus Christ and heard His claims, they were confronted with the truth. Every single one of them had a choice — would they believe Him, or would they hold on to their sin and reject Him? There were a few who chose to believe (see here), but most of them refused. They never doubted His signs and miracles, but they would never accept Him as their Lord.

It is easy to despise these wicked men from the Bible, but we must be careful that we don’t have the same hardness in our own hearts. Each one of us is given the same choice — will we believe His words and obey Him as our Lord, or will we stubbornly shake our heads and explain Him away? God will not continue to call us when we refuse Him, and each rejection brings us down the same path as these priests and scribes of Jesus’ day. These men knew their Bibles, were deeply religious, but were planning to kill the Son of God! May we listen to Him and obey Him when He calls!

Hebrews 3:12-13
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Previous post:  The King Has Come!

encouragement theology Uncategorized

The King has Come!

This post regarding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was from 6 years ago, but it is as much a part of Matthew’s account as it was in the study on John’s gospel account.

Previous post in Matthew: The King Came to Serve

Sapphire Sky


The East Gate of Jerusalem today

The first man and the first woman had a perfect life. They were free from any problems and would never die. They had a perfect relationship with God, and would personally walk with him in the garden.

Yet they destroyed all of that in their rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Now they faced hard labor, sickness, and death. Their relationship with God was permanently damaged, and they would be forever separated from God.

Their disobedience — their rebellion against God — was their sin. This sin would infect the entire human race through Adam’s descendants, leaving every person separated from God. Humans were no longer capable of having any relationship with God.

But God made a promise to this man and this woman. They would have a descendant who would save the human race from their sin. He would restore their relationship…

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encouragement theology

The King Came to Serve

Thoughts from Matthew 20…

What makes a person great? As I look back at the great men and women in history, there doesn’t seem to be any single answer. Some had extraordinary talent, such as military leaders like Julius Caesar or Napoleon, or as scientists, such as Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell. Some were gifted storytellers, such as William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. Some were great statesmen, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill. 

I love the stories such as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, where ordinary, insignificant people rise to greatness when faced with overwhelming challenges. 

But what is God’s definition of greatness? As I read through his Word, I am overwhelmed by the fact that the Lord’s definition of greatness is completely different from my own thinking. He doesn’t identify major talents, abilities, personalities, or even the amount of work that makes a man or woman great. Greatness in His eyes is built on one single factor.

The great person is the one who serves. It is not the authoritative leader but the willing servant who is great in God’s eyes.

Matthew 20:26-28
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There are three scenes Matthew 20 related to greatness. In the first scene, the subject is about Jesus Christ himself. He has already told his disciples that He will die but now it is much more immediate and specific. As He is speaking, they are headed to Jerusalem where He will be betrayed, persecuted, tortured, and crucified. He will die the most humiliating and degrading death on a Roman cross. That is what is in store for the Lord Jesus Christ. But that’s not all, because after three days he will rise again.

The second scene, shortly after his announcement, happens when James and John bring their mother for a special request to Jesus Christ. They would like a special position in His Kingdom, to be able to sit at his right and left when He reigns as King Supreme. They are prepared to do whatever it takes, believing that they have the strength to suffer through the worst torture for this admirable goal. But they’ve missed the point of greatness in His kingdom. The great one isn’t the one who sits beside the King, the great one is the one who is willing to be a servant. Not just a day laborer, but one who totally lays aside his rights, and is a worthless slave to others. Jesus himself was their example because He did not come to be served but to serve had to give his life as a ransom for mankind. He gave his life for the very people who hated him!

And finally, we see the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ in action. He was walking through the city of Jericho when he was accosted by two blind men, screaming for his attention. They knew who he was, that He could heal them, and so they begged for his mercy. He is a coming king, and won’t He help them? “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. “We want to see!” was their reply. Not only did the Lord heal them, but He held them up as an example of great faith. Jesus demonstrated His own service as He went through this town. He was ready to go and give His life to die, yet He stopped to minister to the needs of these two outcasts.

How many times do we shut down messages from the Lord because it seems like bad news? When we close our ears to anything but good news, we are missing His point. We cut out our ability to hear him and our ability to serve because we are no longer listening to the Master.

How many times do we look for an honored or a lofty place, when He would rather have us serve? We may never receive honor from other people, but the true definition of greatness is the one who willingly becomes a servant.

And finally, how many times do I focus on myself when a person with real needs walks directly by me? We need to be willing to stop what we are doing and be interrupted by real needs God‘s kingdom.

May we grow in true greatness as we find opportunities to serve our Lord and to serve others!

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