Day 92 – Guidance
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
Road signs can be interesting. One day in early September 2014 I was walking near the campus of Leeds University in Leeds, England and came across the sign shown above. Now, I realize the sign is telling drivers that the bridge up ahead has a weight limit that the driver should be aware of. It is like a sign I might see in my part of the world, a sign that says, perhaps, “Weight Limit 10 tons”. “Weak bridge” signs in England may be their way of saying the same thing, but to me, a foreign visitor, it brought a smile.
Then, I got to thinking of some other types of guidance we may receive, guidance that in essence directs us to a course of action that might be “weak”. Perhaps it is poor health advice, or dubious financial advice, or a sales pitch with wild claims for a product. Or maybe it is the moto of the rich fool of Luke 12:
16 And he [Jesus]_told them a parable,_saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 andhe thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere tostore my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear downmy barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all mygrain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you haveample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool!
Jesus said that the man was foolish because he lived a selfish life and ignored God:
Fool. This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
That man had taken a path that led to a bridge that was too weak to support his self-absorbed life – a weak bridge. He needed Jesus Christ to take his burden of sin and lighten his load.
Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the best-known verses on guidance. It tells us to trust wholly in the Lord in His word, in His commandments, in His instruction, in His care, in His provision and not lean on our own understanding – what we could rationalize as the logical choice given our limited ability to figure out the situation we are in. It repeats this straightforward advice in different words in verse 6, acknowledge (i.e., submit to) Him in all life’s decisions and He’ll lead you in the right way.
Proverbs has lots of good advice:
Let God establish your steps (16:9; 20:24)
Seek reliable counsel (11:14; 24:16)
Listen to God and you will grow in learning and wisdom (1:5)
Accept reproof when you deserve it and you will be the wiser for it (29:15)
And much more
God’s word is like a road sign pointing us in the right direction. Sometimes it says, “Wait a minute; there’s a weak bridge ahead – do you really want to go over it?” Other times it says, “Dead End/ No Thoroughfare”, telling us there is no value in that way. Other times it says “Slow” or “Children Playing” or Turns Ahead” or “Slippery When Wet” or “Bridge Ices Before Road” or “Scenic Drive” or “No Passing” or …. I’m sure you can think of spiritual applications to these common road signs.
At an earlier time in my life, I was in Newfoundland, on my way to a very scenic spot, on a narrow road with trees on both sides. A sign said, “No Dumping” and beside it was an abandoned refrigerator and other junk. Similar litter was observed all along that road. Ignoring the sign had resulted in a polluted landscape. What will happen if we ignore God’s guidance signs?
- Read Proverbs 3.
- When have you leaned on your own understanding and gotten into a jam? At that time, were you aware of God’s counsel, but ignored it? Have you confessed this sin and asked God’s forgiveness? If others were negatively impacted by your poor choice, have you asked their forgiveness?
- How is God prodding your heart about some issue right now? Will you yield to Him with all your heart?
Day 93 – Who is this?
To the people I encounter in all of life’s situations, I am known by some name or association or title. I’m my wife’s husband, my late-parents’ son, my siblings’ brother, my children’s father, my grandchildren’s grandfather, my students’ professor, my co-workers’ colleague, my parishioners’ pastor, my lawyer’s client, my doctors’ patient, etc., etc. Some people call me Mr., and others Dr., Pastor, customer, friend, Dad, Don, and so on. Some people think of me as a teacher or a senior, or a Canadian, or a nuisance, or a religious person, or (I hope) a man of faith. We could go on and on. But, regardless of relationship, what do people know of our character, of the real me inside? How does God see me?
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, at the end of the day many asked, “Who is this?” What led them to this question?
Think of the events of the day.
- He commanded His followers to go ahead and obtain a donkey and her colt. And they did as He said. (v.2)
- He knew the future. The animals and the permission of the owner were known to Him. (v. 2) (I realize He may have made these arrangements ahead of time, but previous chapters show He knew this was the week for the fulfillment of His purpose in coming.)
- He deliberately acted to fulfill prophecy. Verses 4-5 fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, a passage about the future Messiah.
- Crowds honoured Him by their actions (cloaks and branches spread out) and words (“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he_who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – vv.8-9)
All of this led to the many inhabitants of and visitors to Jerusalem question, “Who is this?” To which, the crowds who had been following the procession said, “ This is the Prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (v. 11)
He entered the Temple, drove out the sellers and buyers of animals and birds for offerings, and said, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer and you have made it a den of robbers.” (vv.12-13, quoting Isaiah 56:17; Jeremiah 7:11)
He healed the blind and the lame. (v. 14) The religious leaders saw all this and heard the children calling out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and were indignant that He would accept such Messianic adulation. To which Jesus_replied, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise?’ ” (vv. 15-16, quoting Psalm 8:2)
In answer to the question, “Who is He?”, found in the middle of these verses, we find eight claims to Messiahship, eight events or statements that show that the answer is, “This is Jesus the Christ, the one foretold to be coming as a Saviour and Deliverer in fulfillment of God’s plan.
Yes, people could have said only, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, but the actions and words of Jesus Himself suggest He was much more. Of you or me, people can say, He/She is…” and name a profession we are engaged in, or a relative we have, or an interest we follow. But of Jesus so much more must be said.
- Read Matthew 12:1-16.
- Recall a week in the drama of your own life when everything changed, when emotions were volatile, when the unexpected happened (pro or con).
- How did God look after you in that sad or triumphant time?
- How do you think about prophecy – past prophecies and ones pointing to the future? What is its place or importance?
- What authority does Jesus have over you? How is it shown or revealed?
Day 94 – It is written
He said to them, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:13
The phrase, “It is written” is found some 326 times in the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. In Matthew’s Gospel we find Jesus saying this during His temptation in the wilderness (chapter 4), when He is explaining who John the Baptist really is (chapter 11), when He is soon to be betrayed by Judas (Chapter 26), and when He predicts the scattering of the twelve (also chapter 26). And there is the account of the events of Monday of Passion Week when He says, “It is written” and the similar phrase, “Have you never read?” (chapter 21:12, 16).
The context for most if not all uses of the phrase is to appeal to the absolute authority of the written scriptures. In verse 12 the Lord enters the Temple and finds commercial activity of a disrespectful and corrupt nature. It was the time of the Passover Festival, when Jews remembered the night during the time of Moses when an angel passed over any house that had the blood of a sacrificial animal applied to the door frame. When this event that lead to their deliverance from Egyptian slavery was recalled each year, there was a need for pilgrims to Jerusalem to purchase sacrificial lambs or birds . True enough, but the Temple was not the place for the frenzied commercial activity of these sales to happen – and especially so when the merchants sold poor specimens for inflated prices, and when money changers charged usurious rates to convert foreign currency to local currency. Jesus called them “robbers”, quoting Jeremiah 7:11. This was a case of price gouging, of a corrupt and selfish practice. It had no place in society as a whole, let alone in the Temple of God.
In contrast, He healed the blind and the lame, while accepting the praise of children who called Him “Son of David” (i.e., Messiah). These were “wonderful things”, yet the religious leaders criticized Him. In effect, Jesus’ answer was that healing and praise were appropriate in the Temple; price gouging commercial activity was not: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read [Psalm 8:2], “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”?’”
Scripture can be quoted out of context and for corrupt purposes. Satan, for example, used it to tempt Jesus. See Matthew 4:5-6, “5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son ofGod, throw yourself down, for it is written,“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Misuse of scripture must be avoided. The Lord used the Word of God as was it was intended. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, He corrected popular misinterpretations and wrongful application of scriptures when He explained the nature of anger, oaths, divorce, retaliation, and love for one’s enemies (See Matthew 5:17-48).
- Read Matthew 21:12-17.
- Good things can be abused – even scripture and the Temple. What characterizes the reading and application of scripture in your personal life and public worship? How does the congregation you worship with show respect to the place in which you meet?
- Movies often depict ministers as haranguing hearers with Bible quotations on judgement. How do you handle such passages? How else might people misuse the Bible?
- The turning over of the tables of the money changers is sometimes described as “righteous indignation”. That term is meant to describe anger over injustice and mistreatment of others. When you are angry, is it because of how you have been treated or how another person (or God’s name) has suffered?
Day 95 – By what authority?
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23
It is still Tuesday and Wednesday of Passion Week when we read on in Matthew 21. In fact, the events of those busy days carry on through chapter 26.:16. A lot happens and is said on that day:
- The withered fig tree
- Questioning of His authority in the Temple
- Teaching that included the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wedding feast, plus the parables of the 10 virgins and the one on talents
- More teaching on paying taxes, the reality of resurrection, the greatest commandment, whose Son is the Christ?, the seven woes pronounced on the Pharisees and Sadducees, the lament over Jerusalem, and the Olivet Discourse
A lot of teaching! But the central theme is authority. See especially Matthew 21:23-27.
So, here is Jesus teaching in the Temple and in come the chief priests and the elders of the people. They ask (in an accusing tone, no doubt), “By what authority do You do these things?” He had been teaching and healing, and cleansing the Temple – who gave Him authority to do so? He responds that He will answer their question if they answer one of His, namely, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (21:25) Of course, they are not really interested in His authority, nor willing to submit to His authority, so they say, “We don’t know.” Their reasoning among themselves is, ‘If we say “from God”, He’ll ask us why we didn’t believe him and if we answer “from man”, the people (who thought John was a special prophet) will not be happy with us.”. Then, in verse 27, Jesus concludes that interaction, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
The fact is that the Lord had already given His answer and declared His authority, but these leaders had rejected it. He had already shown His authority over nature and disease. He had been pointing to the Old Testament scriptures and to Himself as the fulfillment of them. He had been teaching, and continued to do so in this and succeeding chapters, about His authority as Son of God, but His critics would have none of it. Consider these samples:
- “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (22:15-20). They had no respect for the governmental authority of Rome, rejecting it as well as Jesus.
- After the resurrection, they paid the guards and told them to say, ’His disciples stole the body while we were asleep.’ (28:111-15) Their only answer to the resurrection was to explain it away via a fabrication.
- A Pharisee asked, “What is the great and first commandment?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and the second is like it, love your neighbour as yourself.” (22:34-40) But these people loved self more than God or their neighbour.
- Jesus linked himself with the Messiah promised in Psalm 110:1. (Matt. 2:41-46). But they did not really want God’s Messiah. They wanted a human political or military saviour, not the Son of God. They were hypercritical, not at all ready and waiting for the Messiah, and irresponsible in their responsibility to care for the people.
So, a lot of the account of the last days of Jesus before the Cross is centred around the conflict between misguided and self-centred religiosity and the truth of who Jesus is as revealed in the Bible. What God calls each of us to do is place ourselves on one side or the other of this divide between what is false and inadequate and what is true and fulfilling.
- Read Matthew 21:23-27- (even read all the way to 26:16)
- In Matthew’s account, we are coming down the stretch to the Cross and Resurrection. When things of greatest importance were up front, Jesus challenges us to submit to His authority. How does your life show that you have submitted?
- A lot of this last teaching of Jesus is about future things (see Ch. 24-25). Do you see prophecy as directing us to submit to His authority?
- Notice in the Lord’s description of the last days that things get worse toward the end (24:3-12), but the last straw is not a war or environmental collapse, it is false religion (24:15-44). That triggers Christ’s return (24:29-31).
- Why is it helpful not to know the day or the hour? (24:36-44)
- How is the anointing in 26:6-13 another sign or His position or authority?
Day 96 – Prayer and God’s Will
53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matthew 26:53-54
Maundy Thursday brought the Passover celebration and institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:17-35), the prayer time in Gethsemane (26:36-46), and the arrest (26:47-56). In this shared time we will focus on the prayer of Jesus.
Prayer never happens in a vacuum. It arises from a life of oneness and communion with God – or, at least, a desire for such a life. It arises from circumstances, either joyous and calling for celebratory worship, or sad circumstances being experienced or anticipated and that call for a burden to be lifted. In these verses, the prayer in Gethsemane is preceded by the Passover memorial and followed by the betrayal of Judas and arrest of Jesus.
At the Passover meal, Jesus spoke of coming betrayal (as predicted in Scripture) by a compromised disciple, and coming denial by a devoted disciple. It is interesting that Judas knew he was the one, but Peter seemed to have no idea that he could ever fail his Lord (verses 25 and 33).
The last section (verses 47-56) follows the details of arrest. Judas (addressed by Jesus as “Friend”) and Peter (identified in John 18:10-11) are both there, the one betraying Jesus with a kiss, and the other trying to defend Him with a sword. Also there, a great crowd, sent by the chief priests and elders – did those leaders keep their distance so as not to get their hands dirty with this terrible business? Jesus is confident and resolute. He points out to Peter that swords have no power over Him (vv. 52-53), and to the crowd that their previous attentiveness to His teaching was insincere (v. 55).
And in between these scenes is Gethsemane (vv. 36-46). First, most of the Twelve are told to wait at a spot and pray. Then, Peter, James, and John are invited to go with Him a little farther where they should “Watch and pray”. This instruction comes after they had been let in on what was weighing on Him: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” (v. 38) He goes and prays, returns and wakes them, goes back to pray, returns and finds them sleeping, and leaves them for one more session of prayer. The going and returning seem to say that He needs to know they are standing with Him (not to mention His caution that they need also to beware of the temptation they themselves faced). He knew they wanted to stand by in support, but “the flesh is weak” (v. 41). There is a lot of description of what surrounded His prayer and only a little mention of the content of His prayer.
Here is the content:
- “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (v. 39)
- “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (v. 42)
- “…He went away and_prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” (v. 44)
There is a progression of acceptance. In the first prayer, it is “if it be possible” and in the second it is “if this cannot pass”, as if He has accepted that it is not possible. Nonetheless, He always is accepting of the Father’s will. This is seen most clearly in verse 46, “Arise, let us be going”. It was indeed the Father’s will that He partake of “this cup”, the bearing of my sin and yours, and the cross was the only way.
What do we learn of prayer from this passage?
- Sometimes prayer needs reinforcement, even if it is to simply watch and sit with someone.
- Sometimes prayer is agonizing.
- Prayer involves humility and submission – Jesus fell on His face (v. 39).
- Prayer should always be inspired by a desire to know and do what God wants done.
- Sincere prayer involves acceptance of the answer.
- Prayer is directly connected to life’s circumstances.
- Read Matthew 26:17-56.
- Are there any other statements of lessons you learn about prayer in this passage?
- Note that prayer is associated with struggle. See Romans 8:26 , “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
- Which of the lessons about prayer listed above is most needed by you right now?
- Notice who came to arrest Jesus: a great crowd and Judas. Who was most disappointing and hard for Jesus to accept? Why?
- Is your prayer infused with the desire for God’s will to be done?
Day 97 – -Mistria
59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. Matthew 26:59-60
The term “fake news” has become common place in recent years. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘fake news’ refers to “news that conveys or incorporates false, fabricated, or deliberately misleading information, or that is characterized as or accused of doing so”. It is not a new idea. A similar term, “yellow journalism”, for example, began to be used in the late-19th century of reporting that was sensational and exploitive. But misleading falsehoods have been around since the time of Satan in the Garden of Eden, so it should not be surprising that that we see that technique used against Jesus in His trials before the religious and political courts of His day and place.
The trial before the High Priest Caiaphas is found in Matthew 26:57-68. Reading it, you see false testimony, false pretense, the hypocrisy of a pre-determined verdict, and just plain cruel treatment of the accused. The trial before the Roman Procurator, Pilate, is recorded in Matthew 27:11-26 and in it you observe political undertones, mockery and other cruelty, and, in the end, a violent execution of a man whom Pilate had pronounced innocent.
The whole section of Matthew’s gospel from chapter 26:57 through 27:61 is full of darkness and disappointment. Besides the injustice of the mock trials, there is Peter’s denial of his Lord, Judas’ suicide, the release of the criminal Barabbas, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, and finally, a tomb.
But we must not look only at these somber events, and at the disappointing choices of the lead judges, the soldiers, Judas, and even Peter. But in the background of all this mistrial and mistreatment are found faith and devotion.
We see the latter in several people and several ways. Peter, despite his weakness when questioned about his loyalty to Jesus, did stay close by and grieved for his friend (26:69-75). The Temple curtain that had separated the people from the Holy of Holies was torn in two and showed that all could approach God through Christ (27:51). Many who had died were raised to life (27:52-53). A soldier at the cross testified to his belief in the Christ (27:54). Many women followed His ordeal, death and burial, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the apostles John and James (27:55-56, 61). Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to get permission to bury the body. These are enduring and endearing cases of faithfulness (27:57-60).
1. Read Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-4, 11-14.
2. How does it feel to be falsely accused? To be treated cruelly?
3. Have you ever been victimized by politics – for example, a promotion denied, a power struggle in the family or at work, some unbalanced treatment?
4. Have you risked remaining faithful in a hard time?
Day 98 – In the Tomb
59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Matthew 27:59-60
Jesus was really dead. His body was prepared for burial. He was buried and the stone closed off the entrance. And those few of His followers who had attended to the burial went away. He was really dead.
Its tough to walk away from the gravesite after the funeral and the interment. I’ve done so too many times – as a Pastor officiating for the grieving family, as a son and son-in-law there to bury beloved parents, as a brother and brother-in-law, as a friend. It seems so final.
That’s how the followers of Jesus must have felt. It was a somber time. For the enemies of Jesus, perhaps there was a certain smugness, seeing Jesus on the cross. But there was also fear. Jesus was still a threat to them dead. They went to Pilate and asked, “ ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.” 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” They feared that He would continue to have sway over the people even after He was dead. In death, it would “even worse”. So, there was a secure setting – with guards – arranged.
Through the years, critics have tried to avoid the fact of Jesus’ death (or even His historical existence), perhaps because if He really died only a resurrection could explain the transformation of His followers and the spread and endurance of Christianity afterward.
Why is the death of Jesus Christ important? Consider the teaching of the New Testament concerning the meaning of His death.
How did He die?
John 10:17-18 – Human agents and actions participated by their own choice in the events of Calvary, but ultimately Jesus controlled the moment of death, having been given that power from God the Father: 17 For this_reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I_may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down_of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my_Father.”. See also Acts 2:24. John 19:30 – Jesus finished what He came to do and yielded His spirit (life). – 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and_gave up his spirit. Psalm22:15 – The Father in heaven took the Son to the Cross of death. “…you lay me in the dust of death.”
Why did He die?
I John 3:16 – He died for us. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us… I Peter 3:18 – He died to bring us to God. 18 For Christ also suffered_once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. Hebrews 2:14 – He died to destroy the power of the devil over death. 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, hehimself likewise partook of the same things, that through death_he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the_devil… Mark 10:45 – He died as a ransom for many – i.e., buying sinners like me out of bondage to sin, and death. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and–to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So, we can say the death of Jesus was in God’s plan, that Jesus Himself had control or power over its eventuality, that it was the only way sin and death could be defeated, and that we could be forgiven and given life eternal.
Yes, the death of Christ was necessary and really happened. All we have to do is recognize our need for ransom, and receive God’s free gift through faith in Jesus Christ.
If you confess with your mouth_that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him_from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes_and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)
- Read Matthew 27:57-66.
- Do you see Jesus Christ as a disturbing threat or as the welcome Deliverer?
- If you are still unsure about whether He really walked this earth and really died on a cross, are you willing to read one or more of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) with an open mind?
- If you have accepted that what the Gospels say is true, and if you have subsequently come to place your faith in Jesus as your substitute who paid for your sins in order to bring you into a relationship with God, what now are you doing to say, ‘Thank You’?