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THE HARD ROAD BEFORE THE DISCIPLES

Matthew 10:23 – You will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

Chapter ten of Matthew is the clearest expression of Jesus to His disciples that He would return before they had finished their mission of taking the Gospel to every city in Israel. At the time of Jesus’ statement they did not comprehend what He meant. Throughout their ministry they looked for His return. They truly desired to be with Him. Throughout history, believers hoped for Jesus’ return. They interpreted the events of their times as the certainty of His return. It is no different in our day.

Beloved, it is important to understand what Jesus was saying to His disciples before we try to understand how these Scriptures apply to our generation. In Matthew 10, we read of Jesus sending His disciples out to the towns of Israel with power to heal and cast out demons. They went with a clear word of the good news that the Messiah was present. They were sent only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). They “proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand and to prove it, they healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, and cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8).  Jesus gave them many other instructions as well. He warned them that there would be wolves among the sheep that would try to harm them.

Jesus defined the clear meaning of discipleship for His disciples. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master (Matthew 10:24). I encourage you to read the whole tenth chapter. Jesus spoke very clearly of that generation and the mission He was giving to His disciples. It was a mission to the House of Israel. In the book of Acts, we see that the Samaritans and Gentiles were brought into God’s plan as well. The first and primary mission of these disciples, who became apostles, was to the lost sheep of Israel.

Jesus was saying to them, “You will not finish the mission before I come.” They fully expected Christ’s return before the end of the century. When Jesus spoke of His return, it is obvious He was not speaking of His physical appearance. To have a better understanding of the glorious return of Christ, it is important to understand what took place in first century Christianity.

As Jesus spoke of the “Son of Man coming,” He spoke of His return to judge unbelieving Israel at the end of that generation. He is not speaking of the end of the world, but the end of an age. The age of Moses, or the age of the Law, was about to be brought to an end. It had served its purpose and now all of Israel was called to be reconstituted through and under King Jesus. The message went out to every city of Israel. All of the tribes of Israel heard the message that the kingdom of God was present among them. The message was confirmed with signs following. Tomorrow we will see the contrast of what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:23 and His return at the end of the world to receive His church and judge the nations who reject His offer of salvation.

Father, I thank You for the Scriptures that speak of Your plans and purposes. I thank You for the blessed hope of Christ’s return and pray that I will be filled with Your Holy Spirit daily in order to represent You well with whomever I come in contact.    

KEEPING YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE

Hebrews 12:2 (KJV) – Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus is the prize!

Joseph kept his eye on Mary and then Mary and Jesus after the Lord’s birth. He knew His responsibility in serving the God of Israel. While God, who is in heaven, was the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of His Holy Spirit, Joseph provided earthly fathering for Jesus. Jesus was known as “the carpenter” (Matthew 6:3), one could surmise that He worked with Joseph in the carpenter shop.

John the Baptist looked for the “Lamb of God.” His eyes were looking for the one who would take away the sins of the world. With the information we have about John, we know he was filled with the Holy Spirit while in his mother’s womb. We know he separated himself from society and spent time in the wilderness, no doubt, seeking God concerning his assignment.

All of the disciples of our Lord were engaged in the society and culture of that day. They had jobs, they were integrated with family and their immediate culture. The twelve saw Jesus and followed Him at His invitational call. Eleven kept their eyes on Christ and fulfilled their calling. One turned out to be a “traitor,” selling out to the Lord’s enemies for a few pieces of silver.

Down through history the story is told of multitudes whose spiritual eyes were drawn to Jesus and followed Him. Some followed Christ to martyrdom. Many others have stories that will not be told until eternity. All those who followed the Lord in this life found fulfillment in their obedience to His leading.

Along with these saints, we are looking for the glorious return of our Lord and Savior in bodily form. The Scriptures tell us that when He comes “His reward is with Him” (Revelation 22:12). The prize is Christ, but He is a “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We are called to keep our eyes “fixed upon Jesus” (1 John 3:3). All our hope, our absolute certainty, is rooted in the promise of His return for His own. It is important day by day to remind ourselves, He is coming again and His reward is with Him. Keep your eyes fixed upon the Savior. The things of this life will soon fade away, but He is our steadfast hope.

Father, I thank You for all those who have demonstrated that their eyes were fixed on Jesus. Help me to keep my eyes on the prize. Protect me from the distractions of the world and the challenges in life that can cause me to take my eyes off the Lord and His reward.

THE RETURN OF OUR GREAT GOD AND KING

Titus 2:13-14 – Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Isn’t our God good? He prepared the entire world for the advent of our Savior, who is King of kings and Lord of lords. As we celebrate His first advent of 2,000 years ago, let us not forget His Second Advent is before us. The Lord is even now preparing the modern world for the greatest event in all history, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in bodily form to receive His redeemed people and judge all who have rejected His gracious offer of salvation and eternal life.

Every believer should be looking for the blessed hope. The world does not have such hope. The world only possesses ideas of trying to produce utopia, peace among men, and a better world system. The problem is deeply rooted in man, mainly his heart that is filled with selfishness and pride. Even in democracies, it is observable how corrupt the heart of man has become. Political campaigns are filled with ego and pride. It is a proven fact that negative campaigning is effective.

The answer to man’s dilemma is rooted in our scripture for today. Christ Jesus gave Himself to redeem us from every lawless deed. Humans cannot help themselves when it comes to being lawless before God. We just can’t keep His laws, no matter how hard we try. We can discipline ourselves to be as good as possible, but there is no hope of attaining God-like righteousness without Christ. The Holy Spirit redeems us and imparts a right standing before God because of what Christ has done. The Holy Spirit is always at work in our lives to purify and set us apart to be zealous for every good deed. Christ’s work in us is not only for today, but that He might present us to God His Father in eternity. He is coming back for a spotless bride, not resulting from our efforts, but rather His cleansing blood.

As we leave this Christmas season and walk toward a New Year, let us move our eyes from the babe in a manger to the ascended Lord who is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. He is the one who is preparing to return for His blood-washed people and judge all those who refused His Gospel of Peace. This year, allow the Holy Spirit to work deeper in your heart. Embrace His plan and purpose of producing more of Jesus in all you do and say.

Father, I thank You for the redemption that has freed me from lawlessness unto good deeds. I pray for daily infillings of Your Holy Spirit to help me grow into Jesus’ image and likeness. I pray for Your church to be prepared for Your glorious return to take place, in Your perfect timing.

GO INTO THE LAND

Matthew 2:19-20 – When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”

Christmas Eve is a wonderful time for celebrating the new life which was about to be birthed in the earth. The exact date is not all that relevant, but the reality of this occurrence changes the perspective of eternity. Our Scripture for today is filled with hope and encouragement that the Lord’s enemies will be silenced and the land is our possession. The early church experienced how the enemies of Christ became His footstool with the death of Nero and the destruction Jerusalem and the Jewish religious system that had persecuted the early saints.  

Life is a journey. Joseph journeyed to Egypt by divine direction. After Herod’s death, the Lord led him back to the place of his heritage. The enemy does all he can to hinder the purpose of God, but our God is sovereign and quiets His enemies so His people can accomplish their purpose. Joseph once again obeyed the divine leading and entered into a new season for his life, the life of Mary and the Child Jesus.

Even though Herod was dead, his son Archelaus was reigning over Judah. This caused Joseph to be afraid. I am certain that he sought the Lord to know what he should do. Many times, the Lord gives great victories to His people, but circumstances arise that can cause us to fear. Fear is natural, but must be overcome. God did not give us fear. “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, and love, and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Timidity is translated “fear” in the KJV. The spirit of fear or timidity has caused many to stumble and not fulfill God’s intentions. When fear raises its ugly head, we need to seek God’s help immediately.

God warned Joseph in another dream and he left for the region of Galilee to live in Nazareth. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, He was known as a “Nazarene.” Nazareth was an obscure, insignificant place. Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Thus the word Nazarene was a fitting title for the One who grew up “as a root out of dry ground, despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:2-3).

Father, I thank You for how You lead each life chosen to fulfill Your will. Thank You for giving us the details of the birth of Your Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Thank You for Joseph, Mary’s husband, and the sold-out life He demonstrated. Help me, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, to also live a sold out life for You, reflecting Your will in all I do.

THE ENEMY IS ENRAGED, BUT RESTRICTED

Matthew 2:16 – When Herod saw that he was tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.

For a devotional, this Scripture is not encouraging, but it is reality. God’s enemies hate Him and all that is His. God is good and gives good gifts to His creation man. For someone to hate God, they must be evil in their core. Satan’s nature is evil in its depth. Those that are filled with pride and hate to the point of mass murder are a manifestation of Satan’s core. Herod was evil as he sought to kill Jesus through the genocide of the male children less than two years of age.

Satan tried to stop the purpose of God through mass murder of Hebrew children twice in history, when God was providing a deliverer through Moses and when Christ was born. At other times, he has tried to kill the Jewish people through genocide. During the first century, Satan tried to kill off the Lord’s church through the Roman emperor Nero.

We know the history of the twentieth century as Hitler tried to exterminate the Jewish people prior to the Lord returning them to the holy land. The enemy has used numerous nations in modern times to murder God’s people to stop the growth of Christianity. In more recent times the enemy has used radical Islam to attack God’s people. The hatred of Jews and Christians throughout the world has grown in volume and incidents of murder.

The enemy is scared because he knows his time is short. “The demons believe and shudder” (James 2:19). All is not dark and evil. The Spirit of God is being poured out in these days in preparation for a great harvest of souls. Just as in the time of Christ, terrible things happened, but God overcame terrible things with His goodness through Jesus the Lord. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, a great awakening took place and multitudes were saved and set free from the devil’s power. “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

This same Jesus is pouring out His Spirit with the same old time power around the world today. Rejoice, saints of God, for the devil is defeated and Christ is victorious! Light has come as Christ declared in the gospels and His saints are to be that light through the power of the Holy Spirit. Evil things may happen, but God is at work. “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Father, I thank You for Your overcoming life that lives in me. I rejoice in Your Son who has defeated the evil one through His cross and in the power of the resurrection. Help me, Lord, to stand strong in the battles and also to overcome by the power of Your Holy Spirit who is in me.  

HEROD’S SECRET PLAN

Matthew 2:7 – Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

The magi came first to Jerusalem in their pursuit of finding the newborn King of the Jews. Sometime had transpired since the birth of Christ; remember they had traveled from Persia, east of Israel. The first thing they did was to seek out the present king. Herod was only a pawn of Rome and had no real authority. They inquired of Herod the whereabouts of the newborn King because they saw His star. I am reminded of what the Scriptures say, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1).

God’s first Bible was in the heavens. Consider the story of the gospel told through the constellations. The constellation of “Leo the Lion” speaks of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” The constellation of “Virgo” speaks of the “virgin birth.” The constellation in the southern hemisphere known as the “southern cross” reveals the method of redemption. Adam and Abraham could see God’s story in the heavenly skies. The world and false religion distorted the meaning of God’s story in the heavens. The magi knew the stars from a distorted perspective, but God opened their minds to understand that “this star is different and speaks of the long awaited King of the Jews.”

Herod’s evil heart is revealed as the magi’s request and statement disturbed Him and he called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, inquiring of them where the Messiah was to be born. These men told Herod that it was Bethlehem, reciting the prophet, “You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel” (Micah 5:2). Herod then used the magi as his instrument to locate Jesus. As they left Herod, the star they saw in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the child was. This was not an ordinary star. They saw it in the “east” while Israel was to their west. In other words, the star led them all the way to Bethlehem and the house where the holy family lived.

When the magi found Jesus with His mother, they worshipped Him. They then presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). The Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2:12). Herod’s secret plan was not secret to the God of heaven. Again, the Lord was fulfilling His prophetic word: “Out of Egypt, I called My Son” (Hosea 11:1). It appears the gifts from the magi were used over the next couple of years to provide financially for the chosen family. The magi returned home without going back to Herod with their findings

Father, I thank You for Your great power revealed in the heavens through the star that led the magi. I thank You for Your awesome provisions for the holy family. I thank You for the protection You provided them until the evil of Herod’s heart was ended. I know Your Holy Spirit was mightily at work and continues to work with and through Your people today.