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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 24:1

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples came along and wanted to take him on a tour of the various Temple buildings. This seems like an odd statement at face value. Jesus and the disciples visited this location multiple times together. Everyone knew what was here. The reality is that these disciples couldn’t contain their awe at seeing such impressive buildings every time they came here. At the start of the ministry of Jesus we learned that the Temple complex had been under continual construction for 46 years. This would continue far into the future. It was constantly being expanded and built up. This was King Herod the Great’s dream of building a lasting monument to himself. He was a great builder in the style of Roman emperors. Far from being impressed is the comment made by Jesus. But he told them, all these buildings will be knocked down, with not one stone left on top of another. This was His parting comment as they left to go up the Mount of Olives before resting from that walk. As you can imagine this thought became the consuming thought of all the disciples as they walked away and when they stopped to rest it would lead to questions which they wanted the answers to. When will this happen? The disciples asked him later, as he sat on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. What events will signal your return and the end of the world? In their opinion the devastation of the Temple complex is the end of the world. They had some ideas about Jesus leaving and returning even though they didn’t like it. Of course they would like to know when something this drastic would happen to consider whether they would see it in their lifetime and how they might prepare for it. The emphasis here seems to be that anything of an earthly nature won’t last. It is only temporary. We as human beings easily put emphasis upon things of earth and we struggle to put that emphasis on things above. We always seem to be depressed when things of earth begin to deteriorate or disappear because we become so attached to them. Our attachments to what is above are not so great. The apostle Paul wrote since you became alive again, so to speak, when Christ arose from the dead, now set your sights on the rich treasures and joys of heaven where he sits beside God in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here. You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God. And when Christ who is our real life comes back again, you will shine with him and share in all his glories. We often find ourselves controlled by an earthly mindset instead of a heavenly one. During this pandemic and the loss of some of the things that we occupy ourselves with have we moaned the loss of those things? Or have we learned to separate ourselves from those things to give Jesus more of our thoughts and living? Now that we have more time to go in a different direction are we at a loss for what we can do as many during this time seem to be? God is still on His throne and we still have time to turn our attention toward Him with more interest than before. Will we do this or continue to moan the loss of what we consider important on earth? Let us learn what we can to grow more heavenly minded in our outlook upon this life! Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:37-39

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones all those God sends to her! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you are ready to welcome the one sent to you from God. The authorities that Jesus is addressing have usurped God’s authority and have led the nation to reject Jesus as the Son of God. The history of Jerusalem is not a good one in terms of human authorities rejecting God’s messengers and eliminating them. Now the ultimate rejection involves God in person. They have pushed God away and are left with nothing but an empty house or Temple as a result. According to Jesus the intention of God was always to care and to shelter His people but they have always shown resistance to Him. The sad news is that they are going down a path away from God which will lead to much pain and suffering. It won’t end until that time in the future when many of them acknowledge Jesus as Lord and welcome His return from heaven. How easy it is for any of us to think we know our lives better than God knows our lives! We are prone to make choices which we think will benefit us without asking God what He thinks is best. We often suffer from our poor choices while God simply watches with sadness over our refusal to listen. We need God’s help in everything regardless of the size of the situation facing us. May we be free from repeating what these authorities did about 2000 years ago! Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:34-36

I will send you prophets, and wise men, and inspired writers, and you will kill some by crucifixion, and rip open the backs of others with whips in your synagogues, and hound them from city to city, so that you will become guilty of all the blood of murdered godly men from righteous Abel to Zechariah (son of Barachiah), slain by you in the Temple between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, all the accumulated judgment of the centuries shall break upon the heads of this very generation. This is a terrible prediction to be fulfilled by this group that Jesus confronts. He is speaking of their treatment against His followers. This is what the next 40 years after His ascension into heaven will be like. It will be a mixture of attacks carried out by the Romans and the Jews just like His death was a combination of both. When Paul was on the road to Damascus to capture believers he learned of the association that Jesus had with His people during this intense persecution led by him. The voice from heaven cried out, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? All of these attacks against believers are taken personal by Jesus. Any attack against one of His people is an attack against Him. Why is this generation singled out as the recipient for all the judgment against righteous people reaching back into the Old Testament? They are not better than their ancestors but much worse in their rejection of the truth sent from God. They had the Son of God visiting them and His ambassadors afterward to hear the truth from but they reacted violently without any restraint. We could say it is one thing to reject the ambassadors and quite worse to reject the actual divine visitor in person. They have proven their ancestry by their evil actions in that they acted in a worse manner than those who came before them. Now they will pay a severe price for their actions in judgment. We often say in our modern times that what the parents do in moderation then the children will do in excess. It is very hard to break away from the things we have been taught and observed in those who raised us to be adults especially the evil ingrained in our minds from a very early age besides the evil we naturally are accustomed to doing. The apostle Paul gives a great confession about this topic from his own experience. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free. All of us have a similar battle inside but praise God that Jesus is stronger than our lower natures! Let us walk in the Spirit as Paul wrote at another time and we won’t fulfill the evil desires of our lower nature! Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:29-33

Yes, woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders–hypocrites! For you build monuments to the prophets killed by your fathers and lay flowers on the graves of the godly men they destroyed, and say, we certainly would never have acted as our fathers did. In saying that, you are accusing yourselves of being the sons of wicked men. And you are following in their steps, filling up the full measure of their evil. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How shall you escape the judgment of hell? Another way in which this group is cursed is their lack of ability to learn from the past. Their only view of the past is to criticize other’s mistakes or sins. They are thinking that they would never act like their ancestors because they are holier than them. They think their actions of beautifying the graves of righteous people make them righteous. But they are just as evil as their descendants. You see the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree is our modern saying that shows we often repeat the same mistakes or evil as those who gave birth to us. According to Jesus these men are following in the steps of their ancestors and increasing the evil that their ancestors displayed. It is easier to point the finger of accusation at others and ignore the three fingers pointing back at us. No one likes to admit their faults or their sins. It’s easier to shift the blame away from ourselves toward others that we view as worse than ourselves. Paul encountered men from this group during his missionary work who tried to undermine the gospel message being proclaimed to gentiles. Listen to this comment that he made about their view of themselves. Oh, don’t worry, I wouldn’t dare say that I am as wonderful as these other men who tell you how good they are! Their trouble is that they are only comparing themselves with each other and measuring themselves against their own little ideas. What stupidity! But we will not boast of authority we do not have. Our goal is to measure up to God’s plan for us, and this plan includes our working there with you. A good rule of practice is don’t judge your life based on others so that you will be led to believe you are better than what you truly are. Instead measure your life by God’s standard and you won’t be deceived about where you stand. In fact it will help humility to grow in us as we realize without God’s help we wouldn’t be any where close to where we need to be. Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:27-28

Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders! You are like beautiful mausoleums–full of dead men’s bones, and of foulness and corruption. You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin. This is the most serious woe that Jesus could pronounce upon this group. He is describing them as being spiritually dead. They have all the trappings of the grave about them. A very ornate exterior appearance but within is death with all its rotting materials. Paul gives us a very good description to support what Jesus is saying. Once you were under God’s curse, doomed forever for your sins. You went along with the crowd and were just like all the others, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air, who is at work right now in the hearts of those who are against the Lord. All of us used to be just as they are, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into. We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God’s anger just like everyone else. This is a very bad picture of the condition of sinful people living on the earth. The good news for us who have been born again is that we were like that but not any more. The group which Jesus happens to be confronting have an opportunity just like others to be changed. How? Here is Paul’s answer as to how we have been changed. But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead–only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved–and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms–all because of what Christ Jesus did. And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ. Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. The Pharisees and the others being addressed by Jesus stumble over the issue of being unable to earn God’s favor. They would like to earn it so they can boast about how good they are but no one is good in God’s eyes and can’t make themselves good enough to be acceptable with God. Luke gives us an interesting account about a previous interaction between Jesus and some Pharisee minded people to illustrate their downfall. Then Jesus told this story to some who boasted of their virtue and scorned everyone else. Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. The proud Pharisee prayed this prayer: thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn. But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored. Pride is the downfall of this group being confronted by Jesus. This is why pride is at the top of the list of sins that God hates. Is there any pride in our lives? If there is then we should not waste anytime in repenting and confessing this sin before it gets the better of us! Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:25-26

Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders–hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed. Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean. Another woe upon the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders is their improper focus in life. They are careful to make the external parts of their lives look the best. But inwardly they are lacking especially in the sins of extortion and greed. I am sure this is a reference to the earlier thought expressed by Jesus about evicting widows from their homes. They force them out and take possession of this property. This is the definition of extortion and greed. The terrible part about this scheme is that a defenseless person is the target of their efforts. God has a special care in His heart for widows, orphans, and foreigners according to the Old Testament. The actions of these groups against anyone in that category makes them the enemies of God. It is easy to be caught up in this desire to make ourselves look good while ignoring our inner attitudes and faults. If we are to be approved of God then the work of cleansing must begin on the inside not the outside. When we have the wrong attitudes then it can be easy to act improperly towards the people who are less in life instead of showing them greater care. We know about the abuse of the elderly too well in our society especially suffering at the hands of family members. Of course nursing homes are often singled out for the improper treatment of the elderly and it can happen in any facility including hospitals where all of these facilities are supposed to major in giving the proper care. It starts with the wrong attitudes that leads to bad treatment of others who are at a disadvantage physically. Let us learn from this example involving groups that look like us from the time of Jesus! We must examine our own hearts when we consider how we look and the way we treat others. If we do this careful examination then we might be surprised by what we find and it could lead to a change of heart! Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:13

Woe to you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders. Hypocrites! This begins a series of woes spoken of by Jesus against the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders for attitudes and conduct that He condemns. What makes their attitudes and conduct so bad is the influence it has upon others in leading many away from God instead of to God! Here is the example given by Jesus. For you won’t let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven and won’t go in yourselves. And you pretend to be holy, with all your long, public prayers in the streets, while you are evicting widows from their homes. Hypocrites! This group in their current condition aren’t candidates for heaven and they get in the way of those wanting to go to heaven. Their spirituality isn’t real but simply an act to attract the attention of others. Their true character is described by Luke as follows. The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, naturally scoffed at all this. They were scoffing at the teaching of Jesus pertaining to the warning that you can’t serve God and money at the same time. Their love of money led to this group scheming to swindle widows out of their financial resources. We could easily conclude that money is their god rather than the true God. Everyone won over to their way of thinking will suffer a terrible fate according to Jesus. How? Jesus said yes, woe upon you hypocrites. For you go to all lengths to make one convert, and then turn him into twice the son of hell you are yourselves. Blind guides! Their influence upon others is deadly seems to be the commentary of Jesus after watching their actions for years. They were teaching others how to be dishonest when it came to keeping promises. How? Jesus said woe upon you! For your rule is that to swear by God’s Temple means nothing–you can break that oath, but to swear by the gold in the Temple is binding! Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold, or the Temple that sanctifies the gold? And you say that to take an oath by the altar can be broken, but to swear by the gifts on the altar is binding. Blind! For which is greater, the gift on the altar, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? When you swear by the altar, you are swearing by it and everything on it, and when you swear by the Temple, you are swearing by it and by God who lives in it. And when you swear by Heavens, you are swearing by the Throne of God and by God himself. As we can see their thinking concerning promises is very corrupt. Jesus preached against this type of promises requiring oaths for a very simple reason. He said say just a simple yes, I will or no, I won’t. Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong. Breaking promises is a bad trait of character or even thinking that way before making a promise is a terrible sign. Jesus said this group was blind to their evil and it showed up in many ways. Are we blind to our own evil ways? I think we would hope we aren’t. But the reality is that all of us fail to see our own flaws until it is too late and the damage has been done. What is our best answer for uncovering our own flaws and turning away from them? David wrote search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. If we ask God to help us uncover and turn away from the evil hidden from us then He will help us to do that! Then as Jesus said in His famous sermon after getting rid of the board in our own eyes then we can see to help our brother with his sin. Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:5-10

Everything they do is done for show. They act holy by wearing on their arms little prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and by lengthening the memorial fringes of their robes. And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the reserved pews in the synagogue! How they enjoy the deference paid them on the streets and to be called Rabbi and Master! Don’t ever let anyone call you that. For only God is your Rabbi and all of you are on the same level, as brothers. And don’t address anyone here on earth as Father, for only God in heaven should be addressed like that. And don’t be called Master, for only one is your master, even the Messiah. Jesus is continuing His discussion of the failures of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. Their leadership is based on externals rather than character. They emphasize the external wrappings to demonstrate their devotion to God but lack real devotion inwardly. They crave the status of being first at any special gathering by being served first. They don’t want to be last in any social function. They love to get attention from others especially through being addressed by specific titles that recognize their superiority over others. Everything is done to inflate their pride in terms of position, status, and spirituality. Their efforts to accomplish such things reminds us of what Jesus said during His sermon on the mountain. Jesus said don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, for then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to a beggar, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do–blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you in all earnestness, they have received all the reward they will ever get. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who pretend piety by praying publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Truly, that is all the reward they will ever get. God is not interested in watching individuals seek to grow their pride. Then what is He interested in according to Jesus? The more lowly your service to others, the greater you are. To be the greatest, be a servant. But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled; and those who humble themselves shall be exalted. Everyone likes to be noticed especially when they do something good for others. If no one notices it can be a challenge to keep quiet about it. Slaves in the ancient world served others without much notice from others. They did this out of requirement rather than acting voluntary. Some showed a very noble character in how they carried out their duty. Jesus identified the work of slaves as the model for service in His Kingdom. We do what we do knowing that we are called by God to serve in a very basic manner without seeking attention for doing it just like the slaves of the ancient world. We are taught by Jesus to lead by example rather than to demand that others serve us as leaders. If God is first in our lives then others will be first too. If God isn’t first in our lives then others won’t be either. This is the failure of these leaders that confronted Jesus during His time of ministry. Is God first in our lives? The truth of this answer will be confirmed or denied due to the position we give to others in serving them. Let us learn this lesson well from our Lord! Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 23:1-4

Then Jesus said to the crowds, and to his disciples, you would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws! And of course you should obey their every whim! It may be all right to do what they say, but above anything else, don’t follow their example. For they don’t do what they tell you to do. They load you with impossible demands that that they themselves don’t even try to keep. After the last attempt by the Pharisees to to ruin Jesus and His challenge to them have ended these attempts He now turns to discussing some of their more egregious failures in living. The Pharisees are the religious conservatives of their time. We identify with them more than any other group from the time of Jesus on earth. According to the comments of Jesus we learn that they attempt to interpret the bible accurately much like we try to do today. They have a lot of knowledge of the bible which can be respected as many conservative Christians do today. But in spite of these good steps we learn that they don’t practice what they preach. They are good at making a lot of rules for others to keep that make it impossible to live by but they don’t follow the same rules that they demand others keep. Sadly they are mirroring the type of leaders that Jesus discouraged His disciples from modeling. Jesus said among the heathen, kings are tyrants and each minor official lords it over those beneath him. But among you it is quite different. Anyone wanting to be a leader among you must be your servant. And if you want to be right at the top, you must serve like a slave. Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many. It’s very common in any business practice or social practice of our time for those given any type of authority to exercise it with great force by making demands on others. Those in the highest positions make severe demands on their underlings and those underlings make even more demands on those at the bottom of the chain. It is a worsening spiral as it filters all the way to the bottom of the ladder in any secular organisation. But this secular model shouldn’t be the example for spiritual things including the work of God among the people of God. But according to Jesus it had become the model being used by the Jewish leaders and this religious conservative group known as the Pharisees. Reading this account is like looking at a mirror for every religious conservative today. What do we see when we look into this mirror as Jesus has revealed it? My hope is that I don’t make demands on others that I wouldn’t do myself or that I don’t allow others to do things simply because I don’t think they can do anything right. Jesus permitted His disciples to learn from their mistakes as we have seen on multiple occasions in the Scriptures. He gave them many opportunities to try new things even though they lacked the experience for the task assigned to them. He always led them in the direction He wanted them to go instead of driving them in that direction from behind. But I must confess as someone who fits the description of a religious conservative that I have made the same mistakes as this group known as the Pharisees. If you are like me then our only hope is to confess this to our Lord and ask for His help to become a servant like Him to those entrusted to us to lead or to guide in His direction. Amen!

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The Lord is my light and my savation

Matthew 22:33-36

The crowds were profoundly impressed by his answers–but not the Pharisees! When they heard that he had routed the Sadducees with his reply, they thought up a fresh question of their own to ask him. One of them, a lawyer, spoke up: sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses? As we can see the Pharisees won’t give up in their attempt to ruin Jesus even though they have failed before. They wouldn’t accept Him no matter what He said. The lawyer is similar to a theologian today when it comes to knowledge of the bible. Since Jesus just answered the previous group from the first five books of the bible which were written by Moses this man tries to pin Jesus down in that section of the bible. The Pharisees considered themselves to be disciples of Moses hence this was a section of the bible that they considered a personal strength in terms of their knowledge. The confusing part in this subject is that the Pharisees had added many more rules besides what is found in Scripture so the number of commands to be considered numbered more than 600. How did Jesus respond? Did it take Him any length of time to answer? Let’s find out. Jesus replied, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. He got this answer from the book of Deuteronomy which comes from that section written by Moses. The second most important is similar: love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others. These two commands quoted by Jesus sum up the 10 commandments completely. The first four deal with our relationship to God and the last 6 deal with our relationship to others. If we love God and love others then we will fulfill what all those other commands direct us to do. It’s easy to see they couldn’t argue with His response because we find no reply recorded in Scripture. Now it is His turn to put them on the spot in front of the same crowds which they sought to embarrass Him before. Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, he asked them a question: what about the Messiah? Whose son is he? The son of David, they replied. We are seeing a pattern in this chapter in the way that Jesus asked questions. It seems he asked questions that His opponents were confident in answering but each time the simple question led to one that they couldn’t answer or were unwilling to answer but they had committed themselves by answering the first time. It always proved that they weren’t as smart as they thought they were. It is no different here. Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, call him Lord? Jesus asked. For David said, God said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet. Since David called him Lord, how can he be merely his son? This dilemma is standing right before these Pharisees in flesh and blood. We know the only way to answer and understand this dilemma is to accept that Jesus is the Son of God which at the same time He is a physical descendant of David. How did this group that prided themselves on their knowledge answer? They had no answer. And after that no one dared ask him any more questions. Why did all of these groups stop asking trick questions? They didn’t want to look any more foolish then they already were. It’s easy to become proud of our knowledge and think of ourselves as an expert until we learn face to face that we aren’t as knowledgeable as we believed we were. Humility is always lacking when we begin to think of ourselves in lofty terms. This is why Jesus said unless you turn to God from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Why is this important with God? Paul wrote God has chosen a plan despised by the world, counted as nothing at all, and used to bring down to nothing those the world considers great, so that no one anywhere can ever brag in the presence of God. As it says in the Scriptures, if anyone is going to boast, let him boast only of what the Lord has done! Let us all become humble around each other and learn to boast about God instead of ourselves! Amen!