March 26, Thursday
Some Pharisees came again with another test question to see if Jesus upheld their Law. “Teacher,” they inquired, “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”
Jesus, in turn, asked them a question, “What did Moses say about this?”
They said, “He permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and let her go.”
Jesus, knowing that once again they were twisting the clear intent of God’s Law to make it fit their lifestyle, said, “Yes, that provision was made but only because of your hard hearts. You do know, don’t you, that divorce was not God’s desire from the beginning when He ‘made them male and female?’ He made it quite clear right from the start that ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ What has once been joined into oneness by God, man should never attempt to tear apart.”
“If that’s the case,” the Pharisees replied, “then why did Moses give this instruction about a certificate of divorce?”
Jesus answered, “As I said, Moses did this because of the hardness of your hearts even though it was not as God originally intended. I can assure you that anyone who does divorce his wife for any reason other than her unfaithfulness and then marries another is guilty of adultery. Likewise, anyone who marries the divorced woman is committing adultery.”
Later, when they were away from the crowds, Jesus’ disciples asked Him about this issue. So He reiterated, saying, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
His disciples were amazed at these stringent demands and said, “In that case it would be better not to marry at all.”
Jesus responded to them, saying, “Not marrying isn’t necessarily the answer. The celibate life is an exception to the rule. Yes, there are a few born with the capacity to remain single, others have celibacy imposed on them, while some may be called to give up marriage in their service to the Kingdom. If you’re among that select group, then, yes, it is better not to marry.”
Once, when they were out and about, the people were bringing their little ones to Jesus and asking Him to lay hands on them and bless them. Jesus’ disciples saw what was happening and were upset with this seeming waste of Jesus’ time.
Jesus, on the other hand, was displeased with the disciples for their attitude and said, “Let the little children come to Me. Don’t prevent them because the Kingdom of God is open to them. In fact, no one can receive the Kingdom unless they come into it with childlike trust.” He loved holding the youngsters and blessing them.
They continued on their way and a local official came running up to Jesus. Kneeling in front of Him, he asked, “Good Teacher, what exactly do I need to do to get this special God-kind of life You’re describing?”
“What do you mean by calling me good?” Jesus asked. “God alone is good. Are you approaching Me on those terms? You know the commandments, all you have to do is keep them.”
“Which ones in particular?” the man asked.
Jesus said, “You shall not commit adultery, you must not murder, steal, lie or cheat. Honor your father and your mother and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man, feeling relieved, said, “Teacher, I have kept all of those since I was a child. Is that all I need to do?”
Jesus looked at the man with compassion and said, “Just one more thing. Go sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then your treasure will be in heaven. Once you’ve done that and are willing to stop living for yourself, come, follow Me.”
The man’s countenance fell. He was heart-sick at this last instruction because he was very wealthy and couldn’t bring himself to let go of his possessions.
As Jesus saw the man walk away, He, too, became heavy-hearted. With sadness in His voice, He said to His disciples, “It is so hard for wealthy people to enter the Kingdom of God.”
The disciples were stunned, having assumed that prosperity was a sure sign of God’s approval.
Jesus addressed them, saying, “Do you want to know how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom? It would be easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
This blew the disciples away. They looked at each other in astonishment and wondered aloud, “Then how can anyone ever be saved?”
Jesus heard them and replied, “With men this is impossible, but not with God. With God all things are possible.”
Peter, trying to grasp this concept, asked, “So if that’s the way it works and we’ve left everything to follow You, what will be our reward?”
Smiling, Jesus told him, “I promise you that in the new creation when I am on the throne in glory, you who have followed Me will sit on twelve thrones ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact,” Jesus went on to explain, “Anyone who has sacrificed the comforts and conveniences of this life in order to serve Me and advance the Kingdom of God can be confident that they will be rewarded a hundred-fold in this life and enjoy God’s life with Him forever! Things are not always as they appear. Those who seem to be missing out, always in last place, will one day have it all and find themselves in first place, while those who are enjoying ‘the good life’ now may find themselves in a world of hurt in the long run.
“Let me explain rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven. A landowner needed to hire some laborers to work his vineyard. First thing in the morning he went to the labor pool and employed a handful of men. A few hours later he decided that he needed additional workers and went back to hire some more. This happened twice more during the day with the last group getting hired with just an hour’s worth of work left in the day.
“At closing time the men came through the line to receive their pay, the last hired being paid first. To their surprise, they received a full-day’s wage even though they had only worked for an hour. By the time the first crew came through, they were certain that they would get a bonus for having worked all day; but to their chagrin they, too, received a day’s wage.
“These workers complained to the landowner that he’d been unfair since they weren’t given more than the latecomers. He dismissed them with the comment, ‘Friends, I have not wronged you. Didn’t you agree to work for the amount you were paid? Take it and be satisfied. If I, with my own money, choose to be generous with these others, have I broken some law? Perhaps my kindness exposes some evil in your hearts.’”
Jesus concluded by reminding His disciples again that in the Kingdom, the last will be first and the first last. Then He added, “For many are called but few are chosen.”
After this, Jesus led His disciples toward Jerusalem, but they were growing anxious about the trouble that may be awaiting them. Along the way He took them aside and told them plainly, “Yes, we are on our way up to Jerusalem, and everything the prophets wrote about the Messiah will be fulfilled. I am going to be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes; they will condemn Me and hand Me over to the Gentile magistrates who will, in turn, mock Me, insult and whip Me, and finally, crucify Me. But on the third day I will rise again.”
This was such a foreign idea for the disciples that they couldn’t process it, and they dismissed it from their minds.
Further along, James and John, along with their mother, came to Jesus and knelt down with a request, “Teacher, will You promise to do what we ask?”
Not ready to make any promises, Jesus asked them, “What is it that you want Me to do for you?”
Their mother answered for them, “I’d like my boys to have positions of honor on either side of You when You reign over Your Kingdom.” Apparently her sons had put her up to this.
Turning to James and John, Jesus said, “I don’t think you realize what you’re asking. Are you prepared to go through the kind of trouble I’m facing?”
In blissful ignorance, they replied, “Oh, yes, we can do that!”
Jesus said, “Yes, you will experience much the same abuse and difficulty; but when it comes to awarding thrones, that is My Father’s business. We’ll have to leave that with Him.”
As you might imagine, once the other disciples caught wind of this, they were really upset with James and John. But Jesus used the situation to further explain the nature of His Kingdom. “You are used to thinking of authority and leadership the way this world exercises it, where the one in charge makes everyone serve him. That is not My idea of authority nor will it be yours. As I see it, if you want to be considered great in My Kingdom, you must be the lowest servant. I am your example of how this is done. I did not come to be served but to serve and to let My life pay the price so others can go free.”