Click here for the reading: Matthew 4:1-11.

Jesus hungered after fasting forty days and nights. The devil comes to our Lord when he thought He was weakest. He tempts Him with food, security, and power. The Lord never succumbs to temptation.

Jesus answers the devil with something very powerful, the very Word of God. The devil too knows his Bible and sought to trick Jesus using God’s own Word. Just as he did in the Garden, the devil would distort the Word in order to lead men into sin. Jesus does not fall for such trickery. Where our father Adam failed, Jesus Christ is victorious, and the devil flees.

As we are buffeted by sin and temptation, the devil whispers in our ears, sometimes using Scripture, but often appealing to our own reason or base appetites. Where Jesus found comfort and protection in the Word, the devil will often tempt you to find remedies elsewhere. Are you struggling with stress? The devil would lead you away from prayer and the Psalms and turn you toward drugs and drink. Are you a glutton? The devil will sing siren songs of freedom and glorify you as you gorge yourself. Are you fearing you won’t be saved? The devil turns your own eyes toward you and directs you to find salvation outside the finished work of Christ.

But the promises of Scripture are more powerful than any demon. The promises of Scripture are sure and true. Jesus says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Jesus delivers what He promises. He gives you rest from this weary world and cleanses you from all sin. In times of great trial, we must remember the Words of Christ.

As we are led into the wilderness, we often forget to bring that which is necessary, and find ourselves with the very thing that will guard us in moments of temptation. We must keep the Word in our hearts and minds. If we do this, we will never be without a two-edged sword.

Do not give ear to the devil. Instead turn to God’s Word. Turn to Christ. Pray to Him for deliverance. Our Lord is victorious over the devil. Our victory is His victory. Fear not the evil one. Cling to the Word. It is a mighty arm for battle.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 6:16-21.

In the sixth chapter of  Matthew, Jesus begins by explaining the three basic forms of Christian living: charity, prayer, and fasting. These three are part and parcel of the Christian life and serve as a perfect text for Ash Wednesday and the entrance to Lent.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  Matthew 6:1-2

The Christian is expected to give alms (vv. 3-4), to pray (vv. 5-15), and to fast (vv. 16-18). Yet these must never be done in a way so as to boast or draw attention to oneself. Those who do so are described by our Lord as hypocrites. They are like play-actors who seek only the applause of men.

You are to perform these spiritual acts in secret, making no provision for man’s acclaim. God sees these acts and will reward you, according to the words of Christ. However, we do not do these things for earthly rewards. The crown gained by a life of faith is found in heaven, not in temporal things. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

To be after heavenly things is to be after God. It is to follow Him in a life of faith. Your desire is for Him alone. What do almsgiving, prayer, and fasting have in common? Nothing less than self-denial. We give away some of what we have to those who need it, demonstrating that all we have is God’s. We demonstrate the mercy we have received from God in the mercy we show to others. We pray, a sacrifice of time meant to bring us closer to God. We fast because man does not live by bread alone.

We need the season of Lent and its texts, because we need discipline. We must consider our ways. We consider our ways and amend them according to the Word of God and with great humility. Beware those who would diminish or demean these disciplines. Beware those who boast in themselves, be it for their righteousness or unrighteousness, from their rooftops, pulpits, or digital street corners.

Let the Word of God have its way with you this Lent. Do not be afraid to give, to pray, to fast. Let these disciplines continue with and in you throughout all seasons. Consecrate a fast that will lead to feasting.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 20:1-16.

This parable is an expansion of the assertions Jesus has just made in Mt. 19:28-30 about the apostles who have given up all things and followed him. The forsaking of what was familiar and comfortable will result in the attainment of hundredfold gifts and the inheritance of eternal (19:29). This will turn upside down what was everyone’s expectation, so that the rewards given to the apostles and the wages rendered to the laborers are both instances of the first being last and the last being first (19:30, 20:16).

Turning things upside down happens according to the Master’s pleasure. He has lordly freedom to do what He desires with what is His (19:15). The existence of the vineyard, the fact that there is work to do, and the calling into that work are all His doing. Anyone’s being in the vineyard, whether from sunrise or from much later in the day, is at His good pleasure. He keeps His freedom in all things. He does not submit to His workers’ expectations.

Submission is the laborers’ business. He is clear about this, “whatever is right I will give you” (20:4). He will be the Judge of right and wrong, not the laborers. They have work to do, and as the day passes, He will find others and bring them into the labor as well. The laborer is one among others, called among others, awaiting a reward among others in a labor not his own.

So the objection the laborers have – their Massah and their Meribah – is that the Master of the vineyard is unjust in rendering to a man according to His choice. Their basic issue is that He is free and does not reckon the situation according to their expectation and sense of fairness. “You have made them equal to us” (20:12) is not about a modern legal equality of opportunity but about an unjust equality of outcome despite the smaller efforts of the later hires. What’s wrong with that accusation?

They agree on a denarius (cf. 20:2 and 20:13) as the wage. In His generosity (20:15) the Master has chosen to render to everyone who labored the same denarius. He is giving more than He needed to give. His gift is far beyond expectation. This enrages the laborers who want to dispose as they see fit with what is not theirs. They want to say to the King how the kingdom should be. They want Him not to be free with His grace.

The overturning of expectation and the shock it occasions will happen again when the Son of Man is delivered over to His enemies, crucified, and raised on the third day (20:19). The unready disciples will have been told all these things and yet will flee in fear when they occur. His kingdom comes always as a surprise even when He has explained or shown in a story how He is and what His ways are with His grace and mercy. On the third day and on the Last Day the first shall prove last, and the last shall prove first – to the surprise of many!

Click here for the reading: Matthew 17:1-9.

Jesus’ transfiguration is unbearable – at first. At first what the disciples see is terrifying to them. Jesus is near to being cut off from the company of His chosen brothers and companions. Israel could not look at Moses and bear what they saw. Yet at the Lord’s comfort, “Rise, and have no fear,” the disciples can look at God and yet live. They can see their Brother’s face and listen to His voice and walk with Him. His Word is stronger than their fear.

His Word is strong because He is the Prophet whom Moses prophesied. Like Moses He prophesies, and behold, a greater than Moses is now here. Like Elijah He does mighty miracles and speaks the Lord’s Word against near-universal opposition, and behold, a greater than Elijah is here. Moses and Elijah delight to speak with Him on the holy mountain because now all their prophecy has come to fruition. What was long expected is now coming to pass.

Peter’s desire to build tents as at the harvest festival of tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-36) therefore is understandable and natural. He believes things have come to an end and all is now complete. His misunderstanding is that all that the prophets prophesied must come to pass. Jesus cannot remain on the mountain in celebration of the light and glory He has already obtained and displayed to His disciples. He must go elsewhere.

So the vision must be the servant of the Crucifixion. The vision cannot be spoken of on its own – perhaps the world would not believe what Peter, James, and John saw. Perhaps the world would not understand what the Son of Man had come to do. Perhaps they would think that He could be who He is without the Crucifixion.

But the Father’s benediction is upon the Son Who does all God’s holy will, and God’s will is that His Son should give His life as a ransom for many. The glory of the Transfiguration is not unreal, but it is incomplete without the Cross. The light of Transfiguration must be matched with the darkness of Good Friday. The light sustains hope in the three disciples who saw the glory of Jesus, and the darkness fulfills the prophecies concerning the day of the Lord spoken so long before. All things must come to pass so that the Lord’s Word proves true, so that the Scriptures are fulfilled, so that the Son of Man should die as is written of Him.

And so that the Son of Man should rise from the dead, just as He said. Every Word of God proves true, and every Word of the beloved Son proves true because His words and His deeds are in perfect accord. His Yes is Yes, and His No is No, and He will do what He promises to do. Listen to Him!

Click here for the reading: Matthew 3:13-17.

John’s confusion is understandable. What is a righteous man like Jesus doing in waters meant for sinners? John confesses that his baptism is inadequate in view of Jesus’s presence. The distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus (cf. Acts 19:1-7) cannot be too clearly stated. John administers something that looks forward to the coming of Jesus and prepares the people for One stronger than John. He does not understand why Jesus would be at all involved.

The fulfillment of righteousness – a theme throughout Matthew’s gospel – is the purpose of Jesus’s baptism. If this is so, righteousness must be something more than the carrying out of explicit commands like a checking of boxes on a form. Jesus does not have to be in the waters of Jordan. He has no need of repentance or forgiveness. So why is He there? The event is sufficiently important to be in all four gospels along with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’s death and resurrection. In His baptism, Jesus shows Himself where sinners are but where He does not have to be – in the waters of the Jordan and in the grip of death.

The opening of the heavens is a seal of the righteousness expressed in His baptism. Divine approbation follows divine righteousness. Heaven will be silent, and at the crucifixion of Jesus heaven will become dark. A man will have to find the knowledge of God from the words and works of God’s Son, and the knowledge of God’s Son will be revealed to whomever the Son chooses to reveal His Father.

Thus the baptism of Jesus is a rare glimpse into the divine life that brought Jesus to the Jordan and that will push Him to the cross. Here the Father blesses the Son, and the Spirit rests upon Jesus, not for a short time like the judges or prophets of old but remaining there to be with Him wherever He goes.

The benediction of the Father and the blessing of the Spirit are given Jesus in His baptism. Through Jesus’s baptism, they are also given us in our baptisms. Jesus’s baptism appears utterly unique, linking the preparatory baptism of John to the final baptism He commands His disciples to perform (28:19-20). Jesus ended the baptism of John in being baptized with sinners and coming in accordance with John’s preaching. Jesus began Christian baptism in giving sinners the Name that has been His own from all eternity. In Christian baptism sinners are identified with the Righteous One, forgiven for the sake of His righteousness and named in accordance with His Name.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 2:1-12.

The world of Matthew 2 is like the womb of Rebecca with two struggling against each other. The Christ Child has come according to God’s promise through the prophet Micah, and like the town of His birth, His reign will not be according to appearances. Throughout His life, ministry, and death, His reign will be known through attending to prophets and through receiving the little ones sent in His name. Like His father, David the king (Mt. 1:6), Jesus’s reign begins inauspiciously in an obscure town of Judah. David began to reign in Hebron and came at last to Jerusalem. Jesus begins His reign in Bethlehem and will come at last to Jerusalem.

His kingship is divine, far surpassing Herod’s. Jesus’s kingship depends on God’s Word, Herod’s on the good pleasure of the Romans. The Magi recognize the firm foundation of Jesus’s kingdom and come to worship Him, knowing His divine office as King but not knowing His divinely given name as Savior of His people from their sins. The conviction drawn likely at least in part from Holy Scripture pushed the Magi from an undescribed eastern location to follow the divine light to the vicinity of Jerusalem. From there the star takes them directly to the Child.

Their gifts are according to a tradition dating back to Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD symbolic of Jesus’s offices as a God, a man who must die, and a king. This is quaint but unsure. The gifts denote neither specifically the number of the Magi nor their intuitions or beliefs about who Jesus truly is. Rather, all three gifts and the bringing of gifts from a foreign land to the King of the Jews are evidence of things unseen in Israel since the glory of Solomon. Now again the nations will come to worship the King of Israel. Now again the glory of the nations will be brought to Jerusalem. Now again Israel has a divinely ordained Son of David reigning over the nation unsullied by idolatry or illegitimacy of any kind.

Herod’s convictions are discovered for him by scribes who consult the Bible he does not know. They discover what the Scriptures have always said about the birth of the Messiah. His convictions drive him to deception because though he knows the Scripture, he does not know its power. Like so many to follow in Matthew’s gospel, Herod’s religion is dependent upon the scribes, not upon the Scriptures and the Messiah Whom they proclaim.

Thus the two kings have two ways. The way of the true King of the Jews is known through Scripture and creates great boldness and conviction and sacrifice in His followers. The way of the false King of the Jews is known through political consultations and creates fear and deceit in him and in his hangers-on. Epiphany is a time of clear revelation and a time of clear division between belief and unbelief, between the true King and all false ones.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 1:18-25.

Matthew opens his Gospel with a list from Abraham to Jesus, but it includes a notable problem. Biblical descent is reckoned by the father, and Joseph is not the father of Jesus. Yet before we have an opportunity to protest, Matthew resolves this issue in the second half of this chapter. Why should the question of whose son Jesus is matter to us? How should Christians approach things which appear problematic in the Bible? How does Peter approach difficult passages in Paul’s writings at the end of 2 Peter 3?

Joseph assumes, quite naturally, that Mary is pregnant by adultery. According to the Law, he would be perfectly within his rights to not only divorce Mary, but also to have her put to death. Yet Joseph is a just man and chooses to simply divorce her quietly, so as not to shame her. What does Joseph teach us about mercy? What does Joseph teach us about the purpose of God’s Law, especially since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law? What does Jesus teach us about mercy in John 8:1-11?

In the crucial moment, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him to not be afraid, because the child is from the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of Isaiah, the angel commands him to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus. Where else do divine dreams appear in Scripture? How significant are they in the history of God’s salvation? How do Joseph’s struggles with Mary’s pregnancy mirror our own occasional doubts about God’s work and promises? Where can we find answers to these doubts? Contrast Joseph’s doubt regarding Mary with Abraham’s faith regarding Isaac in Genesis 22.

As Matthew emphasizes over and over again in his Gospel, all of these things happened in fulfillment of Scripture. The prophecy of Isaiah 7 given to Ahaz points toward this moment, because she who knew no man has become the mother of God. Why does Matthew tell us repeatedly that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament? In what way is that important for us Gentiles, since these promises were not first made to us? How should we approach the fulfillment of prophecy in our dismissive age? What does Paul mean that Jesus is the “Yes” and “Amen” of God’s promises in 2 Corinthians 1?

Few passages of Scripture are as well known or beloved as this one. From hearing it read aloud to listening to it proclaimed at Christmas programs, we often assume that we have learned everything we need to know about it. What other passages suffer similar misuse? How should Christians approach these passages which they know very well so that they do not miss its message? What portions of this passage would you highlight in order to make it seem less familiar so that we can hear it rightly? Compare seeing the familiar in a new light with Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 and the veil of 2 Corinthians 3.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 11:2-10.

John the Baptist, even while in prison, hears people talking about the miracles of Jesus. Though Jesus taught with authority and not like the scribes, yet it is what he does that attracts the most attention. Jesus even answers John’s question sent through his disciples with miracles rather than simply words. Why are miracles so important to the message of the Gospel? What is their purpose, even for us who only hear about them thousands of years later? Since Revelation 13 shows us that false miracles are possible, how do we know which are genuine? Compare the words of Jesus in John 10:37-38 regarding the purpose of true miracles.

Jesus finishes his answer to John by saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In what ways are people offended by Jesus? Do we try to soften Jesus’ words and actions in order to make him more palatable? What are some common examples of this? How does Jesus respond to grumbling in John 6? How should that inform our own response to those offended by Him?

After the disciples leave, Jesus questions those following Him about John. Who is he? What was his purpose? John, after all, is in prison now, and his time has come to an end. What does Jesus mean by “a reed shaken by the wind”? Do we see examples of this in our lives? How do we avoid that behavior? What does he mean by “a man dressed in soft clothing”? How do we avoid that problem as well? Why do these not describe John the Baptist, and why is that important when considering his message? Consider the example of the sons of Josiah in Jeremiah 22 and what it means to be righteous in God’s eyes.

John is a prophet, and indeed he is more than a prophet. He exceeds the prophets of old, because he prepares the way of the Lord directly. The other prophets only spoke of His coming and longed for His day, but John pointed to Him with his own hand. Why is it important to understand who John is? Why is it important to rightly understand the mission of any of the prophets, apostles, or even pastors of the Church? What is at risk if it is misunderstood? How does Ephesians 4:1-16 help us understand the work of those whom God has sent?

Among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John, but the least in the kingdom is greater than he. The old has given way to the new, and the new is greater by far. In what ways do we who live in the time of the New Testament exceed those who lived in the time of the Old? What does that mean for how we approach the Old Testament? How does Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 clarify the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit?

Click here for the reading: Matthew 21:1-9.

Jesus riding into Jerusalem is a high point in salvation history. He who was born king now claims His kingdom. The promised Son of David enters into the City of David as the fulfillment of God’s promises long ago. Though David had many sons, in what ways did they fall short of the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7? How did even the good kings, such as Hezekiah or Josiah, fail? How can we find comfort in Jesus coming to claim His father David’s throne? Consider Psalm 2 and the promise of a King who would rule over the nations.

Before He enters the city, however, Jesus gives explicit instructions to His disciples. “Go and find a donkey tied with her colt and bring them to me.” While Jesus did this to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, it also showed them a glimpse of His divinity. He knew what they would find and exactly how everything would happen, down to seemingly insignificant details. How else does Jesus show His divine nature even before His ascension? Why are these signs of His divinity important for us? What do they say about the kingdom He has come to claim? Compare the signs Samuel predicted for Saul in 1 Samuel 10 as proof that God had anointed him king over Israel. Why are they so specific? What does that say about Jesus making specific predictions?

Matthew states that Jesus fulfills Zechariah 9:9 as He rides into the city. In that chapter of Zechariah, the Lord declares that the enemies of Israel will be brought down. Damascus, Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Greece—all of them would be defeated when the Lord saved His people. Jerusalem would no longer be at war, because the Lord’s victory would be complete. How does Jesus riding into Jerusalem fulfill these promises of peace? How does He give us hope in political and worldly terms, especially in the midst of our enemies? Consider passages like Psalm 46 or Psalm 18 which describe the Lord as a warrior defending His people.

The crowds which greet Jesus spread their cloaks, just as the followers of Jehu greeted him as king in 2 Kings 9:13. They even recognized that Jesus was the fulfillment of Psalm 118, since they quoted it in their joy. Yet they failed to understand who Jesus is. “Who is this?” they ask. “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” A prophet, not a king. How could they get so much right and still be so wrong? In what ways do we run the risk of misunderstanding who Jesus is? How does John 1 help us to understand this?

Between this passage and the beginning of Christ’s passion in Matthew 26, Jesus becomes increasingly confrontational. The parables speak about casting out. Jesus openly argues with the Jews who plot to kill Him. He proclaims woes against them and speaks about the end of the temple and the end of all things. How is Jesus entering Jerusalem the tipping point? Why does rejecting Jesus now carry so high a price? Why does Advent carry a sense of urgency different from the rest of the year? Consider John 19:15 and its consequences for us.

What is the mission of the Church? What does it mean to be sent to proclaim the Gospel? Rev. Grills and Rev. Heide, both domestic missionaries, discuss the mission of the Church by looking at Matthew 28:16-20. While there is a difference between being a witness and being an evangelist, the Lord comforts His Church by reminding her that it is His work and the fruit of His gracious election.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 3

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