Jesus’ Story – Day 32

March 21, Saturday

Jesus TeachingOne day after Jesus had been praying, His disciples asked if He would teach them how to pray. He was more than willing and reiterated what He had taught at the beginning of His public ministry before many of them had joined Him.  Here is how you should pray:

“Our Heavenly Father, may Your Name be honored in my life,
may You be in charge of my life and may Your heart’s desire be accomplished here on earth the way it is in heaven.
We recognize You as our Source and ask only for what we need for this day.
We know we need Your forgiveness and we extend that forgiveness to all who wrong us.
Finally, protect us from the evil one and his temptations.”

Jesus went on to describe His Father’s heart and how they should ask Him for what they need.

“Suppose you are in a situation where someone drops in on you unexpectedly when you have no food in the house and the stores are closed. Even though it is quite late, you have a neighbor who you know would help you.  So you go to his house and arouse him. At first he calls down to explain that everyone is in bed and he can’t help you. You stand there and keep appealing to his kindness. Eventually, if not because you’re a friend, he’ll get you what you need just so he can get back to bed.

“When you pray, ask and keep asking until you receive. Seek for what you need and don’t stop until you find it. Knock and keep knocking until doors are opened.

“You, even though you’re sinful humans, don’t ignore the requests of your friends or children nor do you give them things they don’t need. If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more willingly do you think your heavenly Father will give His Holy Spirit to all who ask Him?”

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In Judea He encountered many of the same situations He’d seen in Galilee. Once for instance, He cast a demon out of a man who had been made mute by the evil spirit. Immediately the man was able to speak.  The crowd was in awe. But as usual, there were skeptics in the group who explained that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub, prince of demons, who enabled Him to cast them out.

“I know what you’re thinking, but really, think about this: if a kingdom is divided against itself, how can it keep going? What good would it do for Satan to cast out those doing his dirty work?

“And another thing, if the only way I’m able to cast out these spirits is by the power of Beelzebub, how is it that your own sons perform exorcisms? What would they say about this accusation?

“If, however, I’m empowered by God’s hand to cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you here and now.

“If a well-armed man guards his estate, everything is safe until an even stronger man overpowers him. In that case the stronger man can strip him of his weapons and take everything he owns.

“Whoever is not actively on My side is working against Me; and if you’re not helping you’re making things worse.

“And one more thing, it’s not enough just to get rid of a demon; because if nothing better replaces it and the person’s soul remains empty, it will to return with even more wicked spirits to take possession. In that case, the man’s condition is far worse than it was originally with just one demon.”

About this time a woman in the crowd, overcome with all that Jesus was doing and saying, shouted out, “How blessed and proud must Your mother be!”

Jesus heard her and said, “An even greater blessing rests upon all who hear what God is saying and live by it!”

Crowds of people pressed around Jesus, demanding that He give them more miraculous proofs of His identity.

“Evil is reigning over your lives; you keep looking for yet another sign. Do you remember Jonah? He was sent to Nineveh to rebuke them for their wicked lives. I am to this generation what Jonah was to that city.

“Do you know about the Queen of Sheba? She went to great lengths just to hear Solomon’s wisdom. I am greater than Solomon yet you won’t listen to Me. The Queen will be a witness against you on Judgment Day, as will the people of Nineveh. At least they repented when they heard what Jonah had to say.

“I’m talking about the difference between living in darkness and living in the light. I’m speaking about how you view life. If you have good vision, seeing things as they really are, life is good. If your vision is blurred or blocked, everything gets complicated.  Stumbling around affects you and those around you. That’s why you must stay in the light!”

As if to give Jesus a chance to elaborate on these things, a Pharisee invited Him to dinner. The first thing the man observed (and was critical of) was Jesus’ failure to go through the thorough cleansing ritual before sitting down. Jesus knew He had raised some eyebrows so He explained, “Talk about the wrong way of looking at life! You Pharisees are obsessed with how things appear on the outside, oblivious to what’s wrong on the inside. It would be like taking this cup and washing the outside but leaving the inside full of scum and filth. Surely you don’t think the One who made you only focuses on external rituals and performance, do you?

“You’re meticulous about measuring out one-tenth of every tiny spice and herb to show how serious you are about tithing when all the while you completely miss the justice and love of God. I’m not saying you should be careless about your giving, but put first things first.

“The problem with you Pharisees is that you’re addicted to the recognition you get everywhere you go.

“Do you want to know what you are, you scribes and Pharisees? You’re just like unmarked graves covered with grass so that those who walk over the area have no idea what’s dead and rotting underneath.”

One of the religious experts said, “You’re being pretty hard on those guys and getting close to incriminating us as well.”

Jesus continued His diatribe:

“Woe to you, too, you lawyers! You make up so many rules, which you yourselves don’t follow, that the

people live under unbearable burdens.

“Sure, you’re all about building fancy tombs for the prophets of old, but your own fathers were the ones who murdered them in the first place. That makes you accomplices in their wickedness. Do you want to know what God says? ‘I will send them prophets and apostles and some of them they will kill and persecute. Therefore I am going to hold this present generation accountable for all the innocent blood shed from Abel to Zecharaiah who was slain between the altar and the temple.’

“Yes, it’s you experts in the Law who have the key to truth, and you not only don’t use it for your own benefit but hide it so that no one else can enter in.”

As you might imagine, these comments ignited a firestorm of reaction among the scribes and Pharisees. They lit into Jesus with all kinds of questions and accusations, looking for some way to catch Him incriminating Himself.

Jesus’ Story – Day 10

February 27, Friday

Semon on the MountJesus took His disciples away from the city and began to explain to them how God’s kingdom differed from life as they’d known it.

  • “God’s blessing is on all who recognize their poverty without Him. Heaven’s kingdom is prepared for people like that.
  • All who have known deep sorrow will experience great comfort.
  • In God’s plan the earth belongs not to the power-brokers but to the humble.
  • All who long for God’s way of life will find full satisfaction in Him.
  • Those who show mercy to others will themselves be shown mercy.
  • Only those whose hearts are pure will see God.
  • Those who are truly God’s children will work peace in the world.

“Along the way, as you live like this, you will suffer persecution, slander, and false accusations; but you can rejoice anyway because God is saving up a huge reward for you in His kingdom. Know that you’re in good company with the holy prophets of old who were similarly mistreated.

“On the other hand, what troubles and heartaches await you who revel in your prosperity! What desperate hunger lies in store for all who boast of their affluence! The ones who spend their days in frivolity and pleasure will discover what mourning and grief feel like, and all who are given places of honor by the crowds will find out how worthless that praise is. For generations, people like them cheered on the false teachers and prophets.

“While you are in the world you serve as salt, preserving and enhancing; unless you lose your ‘saltiness,’ in which case you’ve lost your value. While you are in the world you are like lights, doing good things that can be seen by others to help them recognize and honor your Father in heaven. Let your life be a beacon of light in the darkness.

“I am not bringing you a new teaching that does away with the Old Testament. No, I have come to demonstrate how all that it teaches can be lived to the full. Those who minimize the importance of God’s revealed will won’t amount to much in His kingdom, while those who live it and teach it will be great. My message is this: unless and until you are living better than the scribes and Pharisees you won’t even get into the kingdom of heaven. Surely a blind person can’t provide assistance to others who are blind; they’ll both fall into the ditch. Those who truly learn from their teachers eventually become like them.

“Let me explain what I mean. The letter of the Law, to which the scribes and Pharisees proudly adhere, says, ‘You must not murder.’ They are quick to bring murderers to justice. But I’m here to tell you that if you even get angry with your brother, call him a fool, or curse him in your heart, you are in danger of the fiery judgment of hell.

“Once you understand the tremendous value God places on human souls, you’ll make reconciliation and restitution a priority, even to the point of interrupting your worship. If, while you are worshiping, you remember that you have offended someone, drop what you’re doing and go make peace with them. Only then will your offering be pleasing to the Lord.

“Here’s another example: The commandment literally says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ I’m telling you that if you even look twice at a woman to satisfy your sexual appetite, you have broken this Law. Once you recognize the sacredness of human sexuality, you’ll see why it would be better to pluck out your eyes and go through life blind or handicapped than to be led astray by your senses and end up in hell.

“The scribes and Pharisees have declared: ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce;’ but I say that whoever divorces his wife (unless she has been unfaithful to her husband) is making her an adulteress because whoever marries a divorced woman is committing adultery.

“They have also made up elaborate rules about the right way to make promises or swear oaths. Supposedly, if you swear by Heaven or earth or Jerusalem your word is more binding. My word to you is that everyone should speak forthrightly, honestly, and plainly: ‘yes’ means yes, ‘no’ means no; and if you say you’ll do something, be sure you follow through. After all, what good is it to swear by something over which you have no control? Heaven, after all, is God’s throne, the earth His footstool and Jerusalem belongs to the great King. Why, you can’t even stop your hair from turning gray, so what good is it to ‘swear by your own head?’

“The Law, as understood by the scribes and Pharisees, exacts meticulous retribution — that is, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth;’ but let me describe God’s heart in this matter: if someone hits you, don’t hit him back. If he wins a case against you and demands your shirt as payment, give him your jacket as well. And if anyone forces you to go a mile with him (as soldiers often did in those days requiring citizens to carry their packs), offer to go a second mile. In God’s Kingdom if someone has a need and asks for help, we don’t turn our backs on him.

“Your religious teachers take the command to ‘love your neighbor’ and add ‘hate your enemy.’ On the contrary, I encourage you to love your enemies and to pray for those who abuse you; do good things for those who hate you and even bless the ones who curse you. That will demonstrate that you are like your Heavenly Father who equally dispenses sunlight and rain upon those who are honest and good as well as the evildoers. Only loving those who are nice to you is no great accomplishment. Anyone can do that! Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you only greet the folks you like, you’re acting just like the pagans. No, your lives must reflect the heart of your Heavenly Father: perfectly loving.

“Earlier I explained that when you do good deeds it gives the world a chance to see what a life connected with God can look like. Having said that, you have to be careful that you don’t end up living for the attention and praise of the people around you. If you do that, you’ll miss out on getting the reward only God can give.

“Here are a few examples:

  1. Don’t broadcast when you help the poor. You’ve seen the type. They hire a trumpeter to march in front of them calling attention to their act of mercy. What a sham! Instead, if you do these acts in secret, your Father who sees everything will reward you in His time.
  2. Don’t make a show of praying to God. Again, the guys that stand and give long prayers in church may impress the people, but they don’t have God’s attention. He loves to meet with you in private and hear your heart, not a bunch of fancy words. After all, He knows what you need before you even ask Him.

He listens to simple prayers like this:

Our Heavenly Father,
may your Name be honored in my life,
may You govern our lives
and may Your heart’s desire be accomplished
here on earth the way it is in heaven.

We recognize you as our Source
and ask only for what we need for this day.

We know we need Your forgiveness
and we need You to help us
forgive others who wrong us.

Protect us from the Tempter
and when we are tempted
help us to never choose evil.

The kingdom, the power, and the glory
belong to You forever. Amen.

Only if you are willing to forgive those who have wronged you, will your Heavenly Father forgive you.  If you refuse to forgive, the Father cannot extend forgiveness to you.

  1. Finally, if you decide to fast by denying yourself some food or pleasure in order to draw near to God, don’t let others know about it. Again, your Father who looks on the heart will reward you far better than the praise you might get from friends for being ‘so spiritual.’