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“‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate. ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.” (Mark 15: 2)

So who is Jesus? Throughout his ministry many people asked him this question. Since these words have been spoken many more have also asked similar questions. It is fair to say that some people just don’t care what the answer is, but he just might be the single most important person in the history of the world, and if that is the case then shouldn’t we at least give a few moments to ponder the question for ourselves.

I believe the answer to this question is simply that Jesus is the way we should live, the truth about how we should live, and indeed life itself. But this statement is of absolutely no use to me if I haven’t first established his authority. Is he my king?

It is easy to ignore Jesus as a King. He certainly didn’t act like a king. Most of the time he was walking around among the poor and ill and outcast from society. He rarely, if ever, laid his head in a comfortable bed. His loyal court was the dust and sands of Israel, his courtiers were fishermen, tax collectors, and an odd assortment of other people.

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53: 2b-3)

But does this make him any less of a king? “This is what the Lord says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49: 7)

Indeed it is his very behaviour, his humility and silence toward those in authority – his gentleness and compassion towards those in need, and his fierce anger and aggression towards those who thought they knew but had got it so wrong – it is these things that help me to see he was truly King of Kings and had nothing to prove to those in authority except to say ‘You have said so’.

Jesus is not going to deny his position just to save his life, but neither is he going to shout it from the rooftops. It was not up to him to claim the title he was due, he knew his Father would do that in his own time. Jesus only compulsion was to keep the commands God have given him. And in doing that it is clear to me that he truly is the greatest of all kings.

“In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6: 13-15)

What was the command that we are instructed to keep in this verse? “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6: 11-12)

This is what it means to be a Christian. If you believe that Jesus truly is the King then, as I mentioned in the last devotional, stop analysing and looking for deeper meanings and proper interpretations. If you do that you are just as likely to completely miss the very thing you need. Accept Jesus at his word, and having taken on board his Spirit, understand what he has asked you to do and then just do it.

God Bless,

Matt.

“They all condemned him as worthy of death.” (Mark 14: 64b)

We saw in the last devotional that everyone left Jesus at his greatest hour of need. Today we see clearly that Jesus was also condemned as being worthy of death. The religious leaders of the day, those in charge of the people of God, the chief priest, had decided not just to ban him, but to kill him!

He was without sin. He only did what was right and was totally obedient and committed to his heavenly father. He had followed all of the law, and even interpreted that law correctly. In regards to his spiritual state there was nothing more he could do to be the best person he could be, yet they said he is not even worthy to stay alive.

It reminds me of a short story I read once were a time-traveller brings Shakespeare back from the past and invites him to attend a course on Shakespeare’s plays. When it came time to sit the first exams he fails miserably and is told not to come back again! It seems that Shakespeare’s ideas about his own writing didn’t agree with everyone else’s ideas about what he wrote, and he was kicked out!

God is the author of life, and he has told everyone the best way to live it, but we as humans think we know better. We take what God has written and we interpret it the way we want to. We delved deeply into the words, analyse the meaning, cross reference it with other passages, tie it back to cultural times and then re-examine it in the light of current social norms.

It is no surprise then that when the Author returns, the people who are most dedicated to know about him, and spend most of their time thinking, discussing, and analysing his words, are the very ones who end up completely rejecting him when he says things that don’t agree with the way they have interpreted them. This is what the chief priests and teachers of the law did.

God comes down to earth in human form, gives the correct interpretation of the law, and shows them the way God really wanted them to live, interpreting the scriptures using the Spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law. Then when the exam comes, as we see in this passage, he is deemed to have failed and not worthy of living!

The only person who could ever truly changed lives, told us the truth, and showed us the way, is now rejected in the worst possible way by ignorant foolish people who have made up their own minds about God. “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” When we read this we can come someway to understanding the depths of this rejection.

The amazing thing is that it was us who deserved this rejection and death. When you read through the scriptures it doesn’t take long to realise how badly astray we have gone. Even the first of the Ten Commandments challenges us not to make up any kind of idea or image to replace the true God. Yet here stands a man condemned to death who is more worthy of life than any other.

Even the Roman authorities acknowledged he had done nothing deserving death “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.’” (Luke 23: 13-16)

Sometimes the best things in life are found by those who don’t think of themselves as experts and who aren’t necessarily searching behind every nook and cranny and looking into the deepest details. Let’s not spend so much time trying to work everything out, and analyse everything in our head. This is the time when we have to go with the Spirit, accept what Jesus says, and just do it!

God Bless,

Matt.

“Then everyone deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14: 50)

There would hardly be a human being on the planet who hasn’t felt abandoned, betrayed or lonely at some point in their life. For some of us it only happens a few times, for others it seems to constantly surround us and taunt us and make us feel useless and unloved. As we saw in the last devotional, despite the fact that Jesus was the truth, the life, and the way, he also went through everything we have been through. After all how could Jesus claim to be the way if he hadn’t walked in our footsteps? How could he claim to be the life, if he hadn’t experience what life is like for us?

One of the most debilitating illnesses is in the mind. It is the illness of loneliness. Humans can suffer many amazing things, both physical and emotional, but the one torture that is the most devastating on a human being is solitary confinement. I remember understanding this vividly when I experience the isolation cells at Port Arthur historical museum in Hobart. It is well worth the visit to see how the early convicts lived, and having experienced the isolation cell they used for the worst offenders, I understood why they had built a mental hospital right next door.

We are all meant to be social creatures, this is why Jesus had twelve disciples, and 72 other followers that he sent out. It is also why he sent them out in pairs. This is why, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2: 18) He made us, and he understand we need others, especially in our time of need. This is also why he founded the church. Yet here we find in Jesus time of most need, that he is alone.

If it happened to me I know I would be asking, ‘Was it something I did?’ ‘Was it something I said?’ ‘Is it me?’ Jesus is the way the truth and the life, and people are frightened by those who are radical in the way they walk, what they say, and how they live. This is the very reason the chief priests came to arrest Jesus because they felt threatened by what he did and said, and how he lived.

When we truly live as followers of Christ and have his Spirit in us then it should not be surprising we get the same kind of response. Our enemies will attack, and our friends may abandon us. This is devastating. Having to face crucifixion would have been bad enough, but doing it without the support of those he had helped and taught and invested the last three years of his life in, well I can’t really imagine what that would feel like.

When I feel lonely and abandoned I try to remember this passage. It reminds me that Jesus has walked this path before me. He is the trailblazer and I am merely following in his footsteps. He knows what I am going through, and he is the one who can show me the way to turn all my loneliness into something great, something that will give glory to God.

Since Jesus has been through it, you know he won’t say ‘everything’s going to be okay’. Being left by yourself does hurt, it hurts big time, and that is the truth! But it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that there is a way out, and you can have a life that is worth living. Jesus will never say ‘It will be okay’ but he will say ‘we will turn this around and make it something worth going through’. His promise is not that we will not experience life, but that we will experience life at its best. The pain is simply something we have to go through, but this pain will make the final goal that much more rewarding. Nothing worth having can be gained without some kind of sacrifice.

Fortunately Jesus has already made that sacrifice for you. He has paved the way. Now he is seated at the right hand of God the father, and has a placed reserved for you, his faithful servants, in eternity. He lifted Jesus up through his loneliness and gave him all glory and honour, ask him to do the same with you.

God Bless,

Matt.

“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14: 33)

Having read a lot about who Jesus was, we might be tempted to believe that Jesus wasn’t really a man at all, just God with some kind of fleshly body. We picture Jesus in the Gospels as a man of faith, and then think that this means there was no sorrow, no pain, no trials and tests, no rejection. But this not at all true.

Jesus was called Immanuel, meaning God is with us, but this did not make him any less human. He was human, he suffered what humans suffer, he could bleed and he could die. He was tempted in every way that we are. When it comes to his humanity there was nothing special about him.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4: 15) His only advantage was that he was born of the Spirit as well as of Mary, so God’s Spirit was with him from the beginning. We have access to this same Spirit, so there is nothing that was available to Jesus that is not available to us, so none of us have any excuses.

Jesus was both fully God and fully human. This is a mystery that I find impossible to understand, but which I know is true. We know that he was God. He made that very claim himself, and if we believe he is the truth, then there is no room for doubt. But if we don’t believe because he told us so, then at least we should believe because of what we have seen and heard. No one could do the things he did without God being with him.

Yet we also know he was a man. He felt hunger “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:2). He felt thirsty “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’” (John 19:28) He cried, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). He got angry and distressed, “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts …” He was in every part human.

Now here in the garden we see Jesus deeply distressed and troubled. In fact it is more than that. “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’” (v 34). We are not told what he was distressed and troubled about. It would not be unreasonable to think he was concerned about himself, but from what we have read this isn’t consistent with who Jesus is.

He certainly did pray ‘Take this cup from me’ (v 36). But during this time he also said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14: 38). Given the prayers we see in John’s Gospel (John 17), it is possible that he was distressed on behalf of his disciples, and was concerned for their well-being when they came to face the hardship of his death.

Whatever is the case, it is comforting to know that Jesus was someone who shared our pain, who knew what it was like to suffer, and be rejected by those who he thought loved him. He knew what it was like to suffer public humiliation, and most importantly he knew deep distress and trouble. Never feel guilty about being troubled or in deep distress. Jesus felt these things too, and yet he did not sin. Instead he fell to his knees and brought all his troubles to his heavenly father.

In times of distress this is the most wonderful thing we can do. We can confide in someone who understands our grief. He can stand with us as a high priest when we bring our concerns before God. We are human as Jesus was human, and yet we can also have the power of God on our life just as he had, even in his darkest hour. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)

God Bless,

Matt.

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Imagine for a moment if you were watching the offering going around the church and looking carefully at what everyone was putting in. You see people putting in hundreds of dollars for the building fund and your heart rises. You see someone else putting in thousands, and you can’t believe it. But when someone comes in with a briefcase containing millions and lays it at the alter…

Surely God must be impressed with these kind of donations. It is the sort of contribution the church is sadly lacking, and it would go far to further the Kingdom of God and the various ministries that this church supports. Surely these kinds of gift are wonderful. Why would God not be pleased with this kind of offering?

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 7-8)

“For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you that it may go well with you.” (Jeremiah 7: 22-23)

So God is not interested in our sacrifice? That is not what these scriptures say. What they say is that sacrifices are no substitute for obedience. It doesn’t matter how much we give if we are living in disobedience. There is no price we can put on living in accordance to his commands.

It is laughable to think God needs anything from us. We offer God a lifetime supply of fish and bread, and he shows us that all he needed was five loaves and two fish. We offer God our best wine, and he shows us that all he needed was some water. We offer God five thousand worshipers, and he shows us that all he needed was twelve obedience disciples to change the world.

What God needs from us is faith and obedience. If he then asks us to donate a million dollars, then we must obey. If he asks us to donate five cents then we must do that. And when we offer that gift our attitude should be one of a servant, ‘I have only done my duty, nothing more.’ In this way we can walk in humility.

So when Jesus saw the widow put in two cents, what made him so excited? The two cents she gave wasn’t going to change anything, and left her vulnerable and without enough supplies for the rest of the week. This was true faith and obedience.

She didn’t ask ‘But what will I live on?’, nor did she say ‘But my two cents won’t make a single bit of difference to anyone’, she didn’t even make any kind of display about it ‘Look I’m giving my last cent everyone!’ In fact I get the feeling she might have been embarrassed that this was all she had to give. But whatever the case, she gave it anyway.

There was no way she would have done this if she didn’t trust God to supply all her needs. She gave not just the first fruit, the best of what she had, she gave ALL she had, every last cent. Jesus didn’t suggest to his followers that they should follow her example, but he did praise her in front of them.

Giving out of her poverty, in obedience to God, made her very rich indeed. If God is commanding you to give out of whatever you might have, even down to the very last thing, then you can be assured that Jesus will give you all due honour when he sees your obedience, and you will also be very blessed indeed.

God Bless,

Matt.

"Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’. And they were amazed at him.” (Mark 12:17)

One of the things that is so amazing about Jesus is his wisdom. The gospel clearly states that he knew the Pharisees hypocrisy. It is one thing to acknowledge that Jesus is a good teacher and speaks the truth, but it is an entirely different matter to then follow him, and change your life.

"They came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity…you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth…’" Mark 12:14. Sure there was probably a bit of flattery going on, but I think they had also realised the truth. They just couldn’t argue with what he was saying or doing.

They might have been prepared to acknowledge him but they certainly didn’t want to change their ways. They refused to obey him, but they couldn’t ignore him. The only course left open to them was to try and trap Jesus with his own words just as he had trapped them. If they could do that, then he might lose favour with the people and make themselves feel better about ignoring the truth.

To their credit they did come up with some very subtle and clever traps, but Jesus not only saw through them, he also turned them around, answering the question without falling into the traps, and using his answer as a teaching tool for others.

Let’s have a closer look at this example. Should we pay tax? If he says ‘yes’ then the people would say he is on the side of the Romans and couldn’t possibly be the Messiah. If he says ‘no’ then he will be arrested by the Romans and put to death.

But when it comes to these kind of earthly arguments it is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t take sides. He simply says ‘What is Caesar’s is Caesar’s, and what is God’s is God’s’. Give each what they are owed. So what does it mean?

Yes, we must pay taxes, but there is something much deeper here. In regards to the greed and love of money that made the people so reluctant to pay taxes: In God’s kingdom all your needs are provided for and there is no need for money. As the saying goes ‘you can’t take it with you’, so why try and hold onto it. Give it to whoever it belongs to.

When I consider Jesus words at the end of verse 15 through to the end of verse 17 I see a clear warning. Bring me a human being and let me examine them. Whose image is it? Whose inscription? If you bare the likeness of the world then you belong to the world. If you bare the likeness of God then you belong to him.

Only people of the world should be concerned with worldly matters. Instead, as people of God let’s be concerned with Godly matters. On the day of judgement Jesus will examine us to see what likeness we bare, and we will be judged accordingly. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6: 24).

What is so amazing about Jesus is that he is able to silence those who refuse to accept his word, while teaching more deeply those who are really seeking. It is up to us to consider whose image we bare. If we call ourselves Christians then we should live our life continually being transformed, bearing the likeness of Christ instead of the likeness of the world. This is the only way we can show to the world that we belong to him.

God Bless,

Matt.

“Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’” (Mark 11: 21)

This is not like the Jesus many of us think we know. Jesus curses a fig tree and it dies. I am sure that if I walked down the street and came across an apple tree that didn’t have any apples on it and I cursed it, people might think I had a problem with anger. Why take out your frustrations on the tree, it’s not the trees fault.

Here is the incident in full. “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.” (Mark 11: 13-14)

Jesus was hungry, he saw a fig tree, so he went to investigate it. It wasn’t the season for figs, so he had no right to expect any fruit. So why was Jesus so angry that he cursed the tree when he discovered it had no fruit? Like I said, it wasn’t the trees fault. Why did Jesus have such unrealistic expectations of the tree, and then curse it when it didn’t deliver? Yet again we need to better understand Jesus character to see what is happening here.

The lesson is clearly stated in verse 22, “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.” Jesus is expecting the impossible because that is what God is about. Jesus was hungry, and he knows his Father will supply all his needs. He knew this so well that he was expecting the tree to have fruit even out of season! When he discovered that it didn’t, he did not blame God, he blamed the tree.

When we are completely immersed in the name of Jesus (that is when we have taken on his nature and his purpose), then we will also expect the impossible; even such seemingly trivial things as a tree bearing fruit out of season. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 9: 22)

Like Jesus, if things don’t happen the way they should, and our needs are not met, then we should not blame God, we should blame the tree. In the end it really is the trees fault. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has always thwarted God’s plans. We think we know what is right and wrong and hence we lose faith in God. But the things we don’t expect are often the very things he wants for us. We just need to have faith.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33)

If we have set our hearts on the Kingdom, and are operating as a living sacrifice, looking after others needs and putting ourselves last in the kingdom, then we have a right to be fed and clothed. If it does not happen don’t curse God, curse the tree that didn’t bear fruit, and curse the enemy that has robbed and stolen the blessings of God. You are a child of God, you are a prince, and you have a right to be blessed, and God takes that blessing seriously.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharain to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you.”

Jesus’ way is the way of faith. Walk in expectation that as a servant doing his masters will there will be blessings of all kinds. Expect it even out of season. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11: 24)

God Bless,

Matt.

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