1:1-17 – This may be the beginning of the New Testament, but it is not the beginning of God’s revelation. It is not the beginning of His redemption. The birth of Christ is the continuation of the history of salvation, recorded in the Old Testament. Matthew takes us back to Abraham (1-2; Genesis 12:1-3). Recalling the great events of the Old Testament, he takes us through forty-two generations. This history is the story of God’s grace. We may illustrate this with two striking examples. Rahab (5) was a ‘prostitute’, yet, by the grace of God, through faith, she also takes her place with the people of God (Hebrews 11:31; Ephesians 2:8). The story of David and Uriah’s wife (6) is a story of deceit (2 Samuel 11) – ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Romans 5:20)!
1:18-25 – The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ (23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is ‘God with us’. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (18,20). He is still ‘God with us’, when we are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a ‘virgin birth’. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, ‘This is the way it happened’ (18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing – sending His Son to be the Saviour of the World – why should we doubt that God took things out of man’s hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: ‘He will save His people from their sins’ (21).
2:1-6 – We think of this chapter as ‘the story of the wise men’. It is not so much about the wise men. It is about Jesus. He is the central character. We are not told how many wise men there were. The word, ‘three’ does not appear (1). We are not told their names. We are not told exactly where they came from – just, they came ‘from the East’ (1). The important thing is that they made their journey. They came, seeking Jesus: ‘Where is he…?’ They came ‘to worship Him’ (2). The wise men were led to Jesus not only by ‘His star’ (2) but also by the Scriptures. When asked where the child was to be born, they answered by quoting from the Scriptures (5-6; Micah 5:2). Wise men are still led to Christ through the Scriptures. Reading the Scriptures, we become wise for salvation as we find Christ who is our Wisdom (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
2:7-12 – Bethlehem was a ‘little town’. Humanly speaking, it did not have any great importance. Its importance is derived from the fact that it was the birth-place of our Saviour. When we think of Bethlehem, we do not think so much of the place as the Saviour who was born there. Herod says that he wants to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus (8). Satan was speaking through Herod. Satan has no intention of worshipping God, and neither had Herod. Satan ‘comes only to steal and kill and destroy’. Christ comes to give ‘life… to the full’ (John 10:10). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Herod was not a worshipper of Christ but a servant of Satan. The wise men worship Jesus, then they return to their own country. We know nothing about their return journey, their destination or their life in their own country. Their whole purpose was to point away from themselves to Jesus.
2:13-23 – The story unfolds according to God’s saving purpose and not Herod’s Satanic schemes. Herod dies. Jesus lives. The purpose of man is defeated. The purpose of God prevails. Jesus’ time in Egypt is full of prophetic significance (15; Hosea 11:1). Egypt was the place of bondage. God turns everything around, making it the place of protection (Exodus 1:11; 13-15). The emphasis is not on the place. It is on what God is doing, as He fulfils His purpose. From Bethlehem to Egypt and then to Nazareth – the young Jesus is being taken from place to place – all in the perfect plan of God. Again, the emphasis is not on the place but on God’s purpose. Nazareth was a humble place, dignified by the fact that God chose it to be the home of His Son. Our concern is not with wise men or famous places. ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’. ‘Stand amazed in the presence of Jesus’.
3:1-12 – This chapter begins with ‘John the Baptist’ (1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’ (17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is ‘more powerful’ than ourselves (11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, ‘Christ must increase, I must decrease’ (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in verse 11 – ‘ I baptize with water… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour – We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8).
3:13-17 – Considering the contrast between Jesus and John – John is not fit to carry Christ’s sandals (11) – , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 15: ‘it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness’. When Jesus uses the word ‘proper’ (or fitting), does He use it to mean ‘according to convention’? No – He means that ‘it is fitting’ into God’s perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as ‘the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus’ baptism directs us to Pentecost – the descent of the Spirit (16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus ‘fits’ our need perfectly!
4:1-11 – God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (3:17). Now, the devil challenges God’s Word: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ (3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the ‘if you are…’ approach is just the same as his ‘Did God really say?’ method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is ‘crafty’ (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in verse 9 – he wants Jesus to ‘bow down and worship’ him. In Jesus’ victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture – ‘It is written’ (4, 7, 10). We learn that true life comes from God (4), true safety is found in God (7); and true worship is given to God (10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God’s Word: ‘every Word that comes from… God’ ( 4).
4:12-17 – Having overcome His enemy, Jesus begins His ministry. Satan will be back – Luke ends his account of Jesus’ temptations with these ominous words, ‘When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left until an opportune time’ (4:12). Satan will try again, but – for now – he has failed to stop Jesus setting out on His ministry, a ministry which brings light into the darkness. The light is shining brightly – ‘the Kingdom of heaven is near’ (17). Jesus’ ministry is viewed as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophecy had been given: Death will be overcome, men and women will be delivered from ‘the shadow of death’. Now, in Christ, the prophecy has been fulfilled: by His death, Christ has destroyed ‘him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil’ and He has set ‘free’ those who live in ‘fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).
4:18-25 – Christ’s victory over the world was won for us (1 John 3:8: 5:4-5). Jesus was not a loner. He was a team leader: ‘From victory to victory His army He will lead’ (Church Hymnary, 481). At the very outset of His ministry, He set about putting together His ministry team. Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples. He called them to follow Him. His call was both gracious and demanding. It is gracious because it is the Saviour who calls us: ‘Follow Me’. It is demanding because He calls us to follow, to submit to His Lordship: ‘Follow Me’. These men were called to a new kind of ‘fishing’ (19). Jesus’ ministry reached ‘great crowds’ through His ‘teaching… preaching… and healing’ (23-25). This chapter sets the scene for Jesus’ ministry. We see the Word of the Lord triumphant over Satan, fulfilled in Christ, and effective in the lives of the disciples and the crowds.
5:1-2 – Here, we have the introduction to ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (chs 5-7). Reference is made to both ‘the disciples’ and ‘the crowds’. The disciples are taught with a view to becoming teachers of the crowds. Peter learned from Christ and later he taught the crowds (Acts 2:14-42). The Sermon on the Mount was heard by the crowds as well as the disciples. Jesus spoke to the crowds. His ministry to the disciples had a dual purpose. It was for their own spiritual strengthening. It was training for the time when they would be entrusted with the Lord’s commission: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28: 19-20). Do you read God’s Word solely for your own benefit? Or, do we have an eye for ways in which we can learn to share His Word with others?
5:3-12 – ‘The Beatitudes’ show us God’s way of blessing. We might also describe them as the Be Attitudes, since they show us what we are to be. Jesus teaches us that the way to happiness is the way of holiness. The only alternative to the way of holiness is the way of hypocrisy. There can be no true happiness when we are walking in the way of hypocrisy. Holiness is to take shape in our lives – the shape of Jesus Christ living in us. This is the truly happy life: the Christ-centered life. We are not to live according to present appearances. We are to live in the light of the future Reality of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Some of Jesus’ later statements can be viewed as an exploration of the meaning of the Beatitudes. The general principles (3-10) are to be applied personally: ‘Blessed are you…’ (11-12). We are not only to read the Beatitudes. We are to live them.
5:13-16 – Holiness is to be seen. Happiness is to be shared. We are not to be secret disciples. It will not be easy to live the life of Christ’s disciples. In a world of much corruption, we are to be ‘the salt of the earth’ (13). In a world of much darkness we are to be ‘the light of the world’ (14). If we are to bring the refreshing light of Christ into our world, we ourselves must receive spiritual refreshment as we let the light of God’s Word shine on our lives. Reading God’s Word can never be a purely personal thing. Being ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ – this is what Jesus says we are – , we read Scripture with a view to learning how we are to live in the world. Don’t lose your saltiness. Be salty enough to create a thirst for God in other people. Don’t let your light grow dim. Let it shine brightly. Remember – all the glory belongs to God (16; Psalm 115:1).
5:17-20 – In verse 20, Jesus refers to ‘the scribes and Pharisees’. Jesus warned against the shallow superficiality of these men who were more concerned with outward appearances than inner reality. This conflict with the Jewish religious leaders lies close to the surface in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says, ‘This is their way. This is My way’, He is not calling in question the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures: ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (17). He is in conflict with ‘the hypocrites’ (6:2 5,16). He is warning against the ‘false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (7:15). What a difference there was between Jesus’ teaching and those who ‘preach, but do not practise’ (23:3) – He spoke with ‘authority’, they did not (7:29). May we be like Jesus!
5:21-37 – The teaching of Jesus here may be summed up thus: The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Jesus’ teaching was much more penetrating than the pronouncements made by the scribes and Pharisees. Not content to scratch the surface, Jesus asked the deeper question, ‘What’s going on in your heart?’. Jesus’ teaching has real spiritual depth. He takes seriously the biblical teaching that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that we need a ‘new heart’ (Ezekiel 36:26). The Pharisees were bogged down in intricate details – Do this. Do that. Do the other. All the emphasis was on what we do. Christ was much more direct – Get the heart right. Ask God for a heart of love (21-26), purity (27-32), and truthfulness (33-37). Do not say, ‘Look what I’ve done’ (7:22). Let Christ live in your heart; let Him change you.
5:38-48 – The Pharisees lived by law. Jesus lived by love. The law of God – ‘holy and just and good’ (Romans 7:12) – had been distorted by the religious hypocrites. They were saying, ‘love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ (43). ‘Love your neighbour’ is found in Leviticus 19:18. ‘Hate your enemy’ is not found in the Old Testament. For the Jews, ‘neighbour’ meant their own kind. They wrongly concluded that Gentiles were to be hated. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that we are to love our enemies as well as our friends (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ disagreement is not with the law of God. It is with man’s misuse of it. Jesus’ teaching is simple – Love is not to be limited. It is demanding – love is all-embracing. We dare not bring love within our reach. We always fall short. We can only come to Christ. Confessing our lack of love and trusting in His perfect love, we learn to love.
6:1-18 – Jesus says that we are not to be like ‘the hypocrites’ (2,5,16). The word ‘hypocrite’ means ‘play actor’. It refers to ‘putting on a performance’. This performance may be extremely religious, but God is not in it. The hypocrites live according to ‘the letter’ of the law, but they know nothing of the power of ‘the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:6). The hypocrites’ religious performance gets along very well without God. His presence is not sought, welcomed or treasured. The hypocrites draw attention to themselves. They do not direct attention away from themselves to God. There is a better way than the way of hypocrisy. It is the way of holiness. Our lives are to be centred on Christ – ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). We must not forget: apart from Him we can do nothing. We are to abide in Him (John 15:5) – in true holiness.
6:19-34 – On the one side of Christ’s disciples, there are the hypocrites. On the other side, there are ‘the Gentiles’ (32). The hypocrites represent religion without reality. The Gentiles represent the world, living for material things only, refusing to take spiritual realities seriously. We are to be different from both the hypocrites and the Gentiles. Our top priority is pleasing God, not impressing men. We are to live for God’s eternal Kingdom rather than living for a world which is passing away. Living for Christ is very different from worldly living. Our life is to be governed by heavenly, and not earthly, priorities (19-21). We are to walk in the light, refusing to be overcome by the darkness (22-23). We are to trust the Lord, refusing to let unbelieving anxiety rule our lives ( 25-34).
7:1-14 – Jesus’ teaching regarding Christian living can be related to His teaching in ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ (6:9-13). We are not to pray one thing and do another. We are to live the Lord’s Prayer. We receive forgiveness from God. We are to show His forgiveness to others. We receive good things from God. We are to be generous in our giving to others. Before you can live the Christian Life, you must receive the Christian Life – Christ living in your heart (Revelation 3.20). Before you can walk in ‘the way’, you must enter by ‘the gate’ (13-14). Jesus speaks of two gates, two ways and two destinations. He tells us that some will be saved and many will be lost. What we must remember is this – Christ is ‘the Door’ (John 10:7), ‘the Way’ (John 14:6) and ‘our Hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). The gate may be narrow, the way hard, but never forget this – Christ is ‘the Gate’ and ‘the Way’ that leads to life.
7:15-29 – Whenever we are seeking to follow Christ, there will be dangers – false prophets (15-20), empty profession (21-23). Clearly, our faith must be grounded in the Son of God and the Word of God. This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the two builders and the two houses (24-27). We must build upon Christ. We must build on the Word of God. Jesus’ ‘sermon’ ends in verse 27, and is followed – in verses 28-29 – by a statement of its effect upon His hearers. Down through the centuries, Jesus’ teaching continues to make this impression on people. His words come to us with authority, addressing us with remarkable relevance. We imagine that our time is very different from Jesus’ time, yet Jesus’ words make it very clear – things are not so different after all. Still, we hear Him speaking as One who has authority. His Word is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable.
8:1-22 – In verses 1-17, we read of three people who received the Lord’s blessing – the leper was cleansed (1-4), the centurion’s servant was healed (5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law was healed (14-17). Reading verses 18-22 together with Luke 9:57-62, we learn of three people who did not receive the Lord’s blessing (Matthew mentions two, while Luke adds a third). Christ calls us to decision. Some say ‘Yes’ to Him and they are blessed. Some say ‘No’, and they miss out on the blessing. Christ touches our lives, and we are made clean (3; 1 John 1.7) – ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives’ (13; Church Hymnary, 374). Through the entrance of His Word, we receive a new Spirit (16; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Cleansed and healed, we are to live as Christ’s disciples. There is to be no half-heartedness: ‘I will follow you, Lord, but…’ (Luke 9:61). Yes, Lord!
8:23-9:17 – In 8:23-9:8, we read of three great miracles, in which Christ demonstrates His power over nature (23), demons (28-34) and sickness (1-8). Following such mighty works of power, the next verse seems so ordinary – Jesus said, ‘Follow me’. Matthew ‘rose and followed Him’ (9). Matthew’s conversion may seem so unspectacular, but it is no less a mighty work of God than the great miracles which preceded it. Where does the desire to follow Christ come from? Does it come from our own sinful hearts? No! It comes from the Word of Christ, spoken in power and love – ‘He drew me and I followed on, charmed to confess the Voice Divine’ (Mission Praise, 499). In the human heart there is resistance – we say, ‘I am “righteous”. “I have no need” of a Saviour’ (12-13). This resistance is broken down by Christ when ‘new wine is put into fresh wineskins’ (17).
9:18-38 – In Jesus’ miracles, we see Him triumph over sin, death and hell. As well as healing, there is forgiveness (9:5-6), the raising of the dead (18,24-25) and the casting out of demons (33). The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) did not like what was happening, and they came up with their own explanation – ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons’ (34). Jesus gives us another, better, explanation: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…’ (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel. We are to bring the Gospel to other people. Jesus was ‘teaching… preaching… and healing’ (35). What opportunities there are to bring the healing power of Christ into many hearts and homes! These opportunities will be missed if ‘the labourers’ remain ‘few’ (37). Many are ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (v.36). We must not fail them!
10:1-20 – Jesus gave authority to His disciples (1). He gives authority to us. It is the authority of the Word and the Spirit – ‘you will be given what to say’ by ‘the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’ (20). Christ’s disciples were being trained for a great work to be done in the Name and the Power of the Lord (28:18-20). If we are to communicate the Word in the power of the Spirit, we need to see our life as life in the Spirit and life under the Word. Scripture calls us to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18) and to ‘let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly’ (Colossians 3:16). To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. To let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is to be filled with the Spirit. We are to live in the power of the Spirit. We are to live in accordance with the Scriptures.
10:21-42 – Jesus tells us that ‘a student is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master’ (24). Our Teacher is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Master. Jesus emphasizes that ‘it is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant like his master’ (25). This is the goal of the Christian life – we are to be like Jesus. This will not be an easy life. There will be persecution (22; 2 Timothy 3:12). In this situation – going the way of the Cross with Jesus (38) – we need to hear and heed the Word of the Lord: Do not fear man. Fear God (28). The fear of men is to be avoided. The fear of God is to be treasured greatly. There will be conflict with those who do not honour God (34-37). We must remember: pleasing God is more important than pleasing people. Our prayer is that our hearers will receive Christ as well as ourselves (40).
11:1-19 – Much is said about John the Baptist here, yet the whole purpose is to draw attention to Jesus the Saviour. Jesus is superior to John. He is the One to whom John pointed. There are two responses to Jesus. We can take offence at Him: ‘Blessed is he who takes no offence at Me’ (6). We can hear what He says, receiving Him with faith: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ (15). In His time, Jesus asked the question, ‘To whom shall I compare this generation?’, giving the answer, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’ (16-17). The promise of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not rejoice. The warning of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not repent. This is the story of our generation. May God help us to lead people of this generation to Christ, the ‘Friend of sinners’ (19).
11:20-30 – In John 16:8-11, Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit, convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Before there can be conversion, there needs to be conviction of sin. None of us can come to the Saviour of sinners without first seeing ourselves as sinners who need the Saviour. God uses the warning of judgment to send us to the Saviour – there ‘will be…judgment’, so make sure that you ‘come’ to Christ for salvation (24,28; Luke 3:7-8; Hebrews 2:3; 3:7-15). Before there can be growth in grace, there needs to be conversion. Before we can live a righteous life, learning from Christ (29; 1 Peter 1:15-16), we must come to Christ for rest, being declared righteous by Him (28; Romans 4:5-8). In Christ, we have salvation, set free from judgment – ‘no condemnation’ – and set free for righteousness – ‘living according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:1).
12:1-21 – Much of Jesus’ ministry was carried out under the watchful eye of the Pharisees. The controversy with the Pharisees was intensifying (2, 14). The Pharisees were out to get Jesus. For all their religion, they had no time for Jesus. Still, there are the critics, those who try to undermine our faith in Christ, those who attempt to draw us away from serving Christ. We must remain resolute in our faith, believing what God says concerning His Son: ‘Here is my Servant whom I have chosen, the One I love, in whom I delight’ (18; 3:17; 17:5). As we read of Jesus, the chosen Servant of God, loved by the Father and bringing delight to the Father’s heart, we should give thanks for all that God has done for us in Christ (Ephesians 1: 4-6), and we should commit ourselves afresh to the service of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:58).
12:22-37 – Opposition from the Pharisees was growing all the time (24). Jesus had to rebuke them in very strong words (30, 32,34,36-37). This was not exactly a ‘How to win friends and influence people’ approach! Nevertheless, this was a time for strong words. Jesus’ ministry illustrates the principle: ‘a time to tear down and a time to build’ (Ecclesiastes 3:3). There was a time for ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40). This was the time for ‘he who is not with me is against me’ (30). There was a time for speaking of the Spirit as ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:16,26). This was the time for the warning about the ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ (31). The opposition was severe, but Jesus was victorious – He ‘drove out demons by the Spirit of God’, in Him ‘the Kingdom of God had come’ (28). In Him, we are victorious (Romans 8:37; Revelation 12:11).
12:38-50 – Jesus did not ‘mince His words’ with the Pharisees. He described them as ‘a wicked and adulterous generation’ (39,45). They were men who, by their stubborn refusal to listen to Jesus, had placed themselves under the judgment of God. The Pharisees may have had no time for Jesus, but there were those who were eager to learn from Him. Out of ‘the crowd’ (46), Jesus was calling to Himself those who were learning what it really means to be related to Him (50). Jesus directed attention away from His human connections to His divine authority. Sometimes, people make too much of the wrong things – ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you…’ (Luke 11:27). They need to be reminded of the things that really matter: ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it’ (Luke 11:28). As God’s children we are to do His will (50; John 14:21).
13:1-23 – Jesus spoke in parables. He spoke of everyday things, teaching lessons concerning the Kingdom of God. He was a story-teller, and yet He was more than that. His stories had a message, a life-changing message, a message designed to lead His hearers into new life, the life of God’s Kingdom. The parable of the sower may be described more fully as the parable of ‘the sower, the seed and the soil’. Some respond to God’s Word in a shallow way. In others, there is greater depth of response. Some ‘enjoy’ the preaching without really responding, in faith, to Christ. Jesus says, ‘He who has ears, let him hear’ (10). Receive God’s Word in obedient faith, and your knowledge of God will increase (12). This is the way of childlike faith and spiritual growth. Beware of proud unbelief and spiritual decline (12; 11:25)!
13:24-43 – Jesus’ parables are so rich in spiritual content. They speak with an indirectness which is very direct! They may be parabolic in form, but they do go right to the heart of the matter in a way that is very challenging. The parable of the ‘wheat and the weeds’ (24-30, with explanation given in 36-43) contrasts a real believing response to Christ with an empty profession of faith in Him. There is also something else – leave judgment to God. He knows those who are His and those who are not. The parable of the mustard seed (31-32) is a word of encouragement – Do not give up hope that the seed of God’s Word is growing, slowly and surely, in the hearts of those who do not appear to be bearing much fruit. The parable of the yeast is also encouraging – What a difference even a few believers can make to a whole community!
13:44-58 – Be patient. Do not doubt the power of God’s Word. Once God’s Word has begun to exert its influence among the people, great things will happen. The beginnings may seem small. Remember: nothing is insignificant when God is in it! Some may be on the verge of the kind of joyful discovery of Christ, described in 44-46! The parable of the net (47-50) is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares (24-30). The separation of ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’ comes ‘at the end of the age’ (48-49). The Gospel is ‘old’ and ‘new’ (52) – we’ve known its teaching for years, yet there are always some ‘new treasures’ for us to discover. It’s sadly possible to hear the Word of God without believing it and enjoying its blessing. Don’t let Christ be ‘a prophet without honour’ (57). Honour Him in your heart and life.
14:1-14 – John the Baptist was ‘arrested’ and ‘put in prison’ (3). Shortly after this, he was ‘beheaded’ (10). John was a faithful man. He was ‘faithful unto death’ (Revelation 2:10). His death arose directly from his faithfulness to God. He died as a ‘martyr’. Following the death of John, news came to Jesus, who was to die as our Saviour. How did Jesus react to this news?- First, ‘he withdrew… privately to a solitary place (13). Then, having renewed His strength in the presence of His Father (Isaiah 40:31), He stepped out again into the sphere of public ministry. He continued on His way – the way that would lead Him to the Cross. What are we to learn from John, the faithful martyr, and Jesus, the faithful Saviour, who gave Himself in death for us? We are to be faithful to God. If suffering lies ahead of us, He will make us strong.
14:15-36 – We read of the feeding of the five thousand (15-21) and the walking on water (25-33), and our thoughts go to Calvary. From the feeding with bread and fish, we move to the bread and wine, symbols of Jesus’ body broken for us and His blood shed for us (26:26-28). From the confession of faith – ‘Truly You are the Son of God’ (33), we move to the Cross to hear the centurion’s words of faith; ‘Surely He was the Son of God!’ (27:54). We see Jesus, the Man of prayer (23), the Healer (35-36), and we look to the Cross, where we experience the healing influence of His prayer for us; ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). ‘Thank You for the Cross, The price you paid for us, How You gave Yourself, So completely, Precious Lord, Now our sins are gone, All forgiven, Covered by your blood, All forgotten, Thank You, Lord’ (Mission Praise, 632).
15:1-20 – The Pharisees were preoccupied with washing the hands (2), yet they missed out on the most important thing – the cleansing of the heart. They were obsessed with ‘correct’ religious ritual, yet they sent Christ to the Cross. They honoured God with their words, yet in their hearts they were far from Him (8). We must pray for the cleansing of the heart: ‘Purify my heart, Cleanse me from within And make me holy. Purify my heart, Cleanse me from my sin, Deep within’ (Songs of Fellowship, 475). When Jesus was buried, He was wrapped in a ‘clean linen cloth’ (27:59). This was followed by His mighty resurrection. Without lapsing into hypocritical obsession with outward appearances, we make this simple comment: the ‘resurrection’ of God’s work among us will come as we pray earnestly for the cleansing of our hearts.
15:21-16:4 – Above all Jesus’ miracles, we celebrate His mighty resurrection from the dead (28:5-7). This miracle is referred to in 16:4 – ‘the sign of Jonah’: Jonah was raised from ‘the belly of a huge fish’, Jesus has been raised from ‘the heart of the earth’ (12:40). We are to ‘remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead’ (2 Timothy 2:8). In the girl’s healing (21-28), we see the risen Lord’s great triumph over evil – evil men tried to put Him down, but He did not stay down (Acts 2: 23-24). In the feeding of the crowd (36-37), we see the risen Lord’s ongoing ministry of feeding His people. Here, we compare verses 36-37 with the Lord’s Supper: (a) He took bread; (b) He gave thanks; (c) He broke it; (d) He gave it to the disciples; (e) The bread is shared with the people; (f) All are satisfied. All glory to the risen Lord !
16:5-23 – What a contrast there is between Jesus Christ and the religious leaders of His day. Three times, we are told to ‘guard against… the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (6,11-12). These men had religion without salvation. They claimed to have faith in God, yet they despised Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of sinners. We are to guard against the ‘Pharisees and Sadducees’. We are to glory in Christ, God’s Son, our Saviour. In Christ, ‘the Son of the living God’ (16), we have a Saviour against whom ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail’ (18). Our faith is like Peter’s – sometimes strong (16-17), often weak (22-23). Our Saviour is always strong. We ‘are weak, but He is strong’ – may we never ‘outgrow’ this simple testimony, as we confess our sin and glory in our Saviour who forgives sin.
16:24-17:13 – There will come a time when the glory of God will be fully revealed – ‘the Son of man is going to come in His Father’s glory’ (27). Here on earth, there are ‘foretastes of glory divine’: verse 28 may be understood in connection with the transfiguration (2) – the divine glory of heaven breaking through into our human life on earth. Revelations of glory prepared these men for discipleship. They turned their eyes upon Jesus (8). They looked full in His wonderful face (2). The things of earth grew strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace (Mission Praise, 59,712) – ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here’ (4). The ‘mountain top’ experience could not be preserved – no ‘three shelters’ (4)! We can continue to worship, hear Jesus’ words and look to Him (6-8), rejoicing in His suffering for us (12) and awaiting His return to ‘restore all things’ (11).
17:14-27 – Epilepsy is an illness. In this case, there was something more – demonic involvement (18). The disciples failed and were called to greater faith (16, 20). They were ‘greatly distressed’. Troubled by talk of His death, they failed to hear this: ‘He will be raised on the third day’ (23). Jesus paid the annual temple ‘tax’ (24-27). His first allegiance was to God, yet He did not ignore His other responsibilities. There is a lesson for today’s Church here. We are to be one body of Christ – not two groups, ‘spiritual’ and ‘social’, each looking down on the other: ‘too earthly-minded to be any heavenly good’, ‘too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good’. We need the high spiritual principles: ‘we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4), but we must not forget the ordinary things that need to be done!
18:1-14 – From Jesus’ reply to the question: ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ (1), we learn much about the valued place children are to have among us. Our attitude to children is to be marked by humility, respect, responsibility and – above all – love. (a) humility: We teach the children. We can learn from them (2-4). (b) respect: Physically, we may look down on them. Spiritually, we must ‘not look down’ on them (10). They are to be highly valued. (c) responsibility: What kind of influence do we have on the children? – This is a question of the greatest importance (6). (d) love: Our ‘Father in heaven’ loves the children (14). The kind of welcome we give to children shows the kind of welcome we give to ‘Jesus’ who ‘loves the little children’ (5). May God help us not to fail the rising generation.
18:15-19:2 – Discipline and forgiveness are not opposites. They belong together. Discipline is to be part of our caring. If it is not carried out in a caring way, it is not the discipline of the Lord. It is the expression of human arrogance. Where there is a genuine desire to honour God and do His will, we have more than some human beings imposing their own will upon others. We have God at work, purifying His Church. The link between discipline (15-17) and forgiveness (21-35) is prayer (18-20). Without prayer, we will never achieve a true balance between discipline and forgiveness. We must avoid a harsh legalism which knows nothing of God’s love. We dare not soft-pedal the moral demands of discipleship. God is holy. God is love. We need both holiness and love – for the sake of the ‘large crowds’ who need the Saviour (2).
19:3-30 – Even though ‘large crowds followed Him’, still ‘the Pharisees’ opposed Jesus (2-3). Jesus’ teaching regarding marriage has perfect balance. Marriage is God’s purpose for ‘male and female’ (4-5). ‘Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven’ (12). There is no compulsion in these matters. Each one must seek God’s will. Celibacy should not be viewed with suspicion. This way can also be chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. It must not be suggested that celibacy is the only truly ‘spiritual’ way. Jesus calls for humility (14,30). What we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us (23-26). The Gospel humbles us and exalts God. Before we can be exalted by God and with Him, we must be humbled by God and before Him. ‘Eternal life’ (16) begins when, conscious of our sin – ‘Who then can be saved?’ (25) – we look to Christ alone for salvation.
20:1-28 – The workers served for different lengths of time (1-7). They received equal payment (8-16). This is a parable of grace. Some have served the Lord a long time. Some have served Him a short time. The length of time is not the most important thing. More important is this: each one of us has been saved by grace. We owe it all to the Lord, the Giver of salvation. In verses 17-19, Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection. These are the great events upon which our salvation rests (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). If we are to follow Christ, we must walk the way of the Cross (22). He suffered for us. We must be ready to suffer for Him. His glory did not come without suffering. Our glory will not come without suffering. Do not seek ‘greatness’. Go the way of the Cross (26-28).
20:29-21:17 – Four times, Jesus is called ‘the Son of David’ (30-31, 9,15). Christ is greater than David. He is David’s ‘Lord’ (22:41-46). Christ is not only ‘the Son of David’. He is also the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4). We rejoice with the Psalms of David. We rejoice even more in the Gospel of Christ. Our response to Christ is to be marked by discipleship, depth and devotion. Discipleship – The blind men ‘received their sight and followed Him’ (34). They did not receive their sight and then forget about Him. Grace is to be followed by gratitude. Those who have received grace are to give themselves to the Lord in gratitude. Depth – The crowds were enthusiastic (8-9) but superficial (27:20-23). Pray for depth, a true and lasting response to Christ. Devotion – Pray that the spirit of praise will overcome the spirit of pride (15).
21:18-46 – Jesus entered the city (10). He entered the temple (12). He went ‘back to the city’ (18). He entered the temple (23). Here, we have the pattern for Christian living – in the place of worship, out into the world, back to the place of worship… Worship, witness, worship… The two go hand in hand throughout the Christian life. We will encounter unbelief – even in the place of worship (23). God’s servants – the prophets – were rejected (35-36). God’s Son – Jesus – was rejected (37-39). We live in a situation where the threat of judgment is very real (19). Nevertheless, there is hope. Christ is ‘the Church’s one Foundation’ (Church Hymnary, 420). Through Him, we will bear fruit which will bring glory to God (42-43). We have been slow to believe, but God is ‘swift to bless’. No more ‘I will not’ – let there be repentance, entering God’s Kingdom and doing His will (29- 31).
22:1-14 – Jesus speaks in parables. Some hear, understand and believe. Others miss the point altogether. One man was ‘not wearing wedding clothes’ (11). He was dressed in the ‘filthy rags’ of his own ‘righteous acts’ (Isaiah 64:6). He was not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 21:1-2, 7:9-14). Without Christ’s righteousness we are naked and ashamed. Sin brings shame. Before sin, there was nakedness without shame (Genesis 2:25). After sin, ‘they realized they were naked… and made coverings for themselves’ (Genesis 3:7). Spiritually, we are naked before the all-seeing eye of God (Hebrews 4:13). Christ says, ‘buy from me… white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness’ (Revelation 3:18). God says, ‘Come, buy… without money… Seek the Lord… call on Him… He will have mercy… He will freely pardon…’ (Isaiah 55: 1, 6-8). Do you want to enter God’s Kingdom? Make sure you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
22:15-33 – The Pharisees were subtle – just like the ‘ancient serpent who is the devil’ (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 20:2). They tried ‘to entangle Jesus in His talk’ (15). They wanted to trap Him and bring a charge against Him. They asked Jesus about payment of taxes to Caesar (17). Jesus moved beyond this question to our greatest responsibility: ‘Render … to God the things that are God’s’ (21). If we must speak words of political significance – ‘Render.. to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (21) – , let them arise out of this: Giving God His rightful place in His Church, the nation and the wider world. Jesus’ words to the Sadducees, in verse 29, were not simply a protest against the religion of the Sadducees. They were a protest for the Scriptures and the power of God. A positive faith is much more helpful than a purely negative reaction!
22:34-46 – The Pharisees had failed. The Sadducees had failed. Now, ‘they come together’ (34). There were differences between them, yet they were prepared to lay aside their differences and join forces in their common opposition to Jesus. They were trying to get Him to set one commandment above all the others. They would then say that He had insufficient respect for the other commandments. Jesus answered them wisely: Love – for God and our neighbour – embraces all the commandments. They have fired questions at Jesus. Now, He puts a question to them (42). He seeks to raise their thinking beyond the human level – Jesus is not merely ‘the son of David’ (42). He is the Son of God. Greater than all of the great men, He is ‘our Lord and our God’ (John 20:28). No more trick questions. Give the answer of faith: ‘You are… the Son of the living God’ (16: 16).
23:1-39 – As you read Jesus’ stinging words, remember this: there is a ‘Pharisee’’ in every one of us! Jesus disturbs the ‘peace’ of ‘those who sit at ease in Zion’ (Amos 6:1). He invites us to see ourselves as God sees us: ‘before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). Why does Christ speak such disturbing words? – He loves us. He longs for us to return to Him and be forgiven. Many times He comes to us – ‘How often would I have gathered you’. Many times we refuse His appeal of love: ‘you would not’ (37). You may have refused Him often, yet still He waits. Still, He perseveres in love. Still, He seeks to show you the emptiness of your life without Him – ‘forsaken and desolate’ (38). Still, He waits for you to say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’ (39).
24:1-31 – After the first two verses, concerned with the destruction of the temple, Jesus speaks of ‘the sign of His coming and of the end of the age’ (3). There will be times of testing (9,21). We must take care not to be drawn away from Him (4,23-24). Beyond the time of testing, there will be the return of the Lord (29-30). The events of our day are not without significance. They are signs of His coming. We are to prepare ourselves for His return. We must live as servants of the Gospel (14). This will not be easy. There will always be opposition. Current affairs may be confusing, but we must look beyond all this to ‘the momentous event’: ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (30). Awaiting the Lord’s return, we say, ‘If no-one joins me, still I will follow’ (Mission Praise, 272).
24:32-25:13 – ‘The times they are-a-changing’. There is, however, one thing that remains constant. Jesus says, ‘My words will not pass away’ (35). In an age of unbelief, our faith is often under threat. We must stand upon this solid Rock: ‘The Word of the Lord stands forever’ (1 Peter 1:25). The scoffers will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’ (2 Peter 3:3-4). We are to believe that ‘He is near’ (33). Christ has risen. He will return (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). When He returns need not concern us: ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ (44). We are to be ready at all times (13) – doing the Lord’s will (46). We are to be ‘faithful and wise’ (45). As ‘the bride of Christ’ (Revelation 19:7; 21:2), we await the Return of Christ our Bridegroom: ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him’ (6).
25:14-46 – We are to be faithful to God (21). There is a reward for faithfulness (29; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Our ‘reward’ is not to get more glory for ourselves: ‘what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord’ (2 Corinthians 4:5). Bringing glory to God – this is to be our greatest joy. We are not to be thinking, ‘What am I going to get out of this?’. We are to be asking, ‘What can I give to others?’. The ‘righteous’ are not full of boasting about their ‘righteous’ actions (37-38). The Lord’s true servants do not draw attention to themselves. Do you have ‘talents’? Yes – you do! Use them! ‘Serve the Lord with gladness’ (Psalm 100:2). Let this be your ‘reward’: the joyful privilege of bringing blessing to others and glory to God. On earth, we begin to ‘enter the joy of our Lord’ (21). In heaven, there will be ‘fullness of joy’ and ‘pleasure for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
26:1-13 – Jesus was on His way to the Cross (2). His death was the direct result of the hatred of men (3-4). It was also the supreme demonstration of the love of God (Romans 5:8). In verses 6-13, we read of a woman who loved Jesus very much. Jesus was deeply moved by her great love for Him. He wanted everyone to know about her deep devotion to Him: ‘Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (13). We read in Acts of the advance of the Gospel (1: 8). Great crowds became believers (2:41; 4:4; 6:7). In all of this, Jesus says to us, ‘Don’t forget the woman. Don’t forget her love’. Love for Jesus – simple, sincere, childlike love – this is the most important thing of all: ‘O for grace to love Him more’ (Church Hymnary, 676).
26:14-35 – Peter and Judas Iscariot had something in common. They both failed their Lord (14-16,34). Things turned out very differently for them (27:3-5; Acts 2:38-42). When we fail the Lord , we find ourselves at a cross-roads. We can turn to Him. We can turn away from Him. In view of His great love for us – His ‘blood’ has been ‘poured out for the forgiveness of sins’ (28) – how can we turn our backs on Him? How can you and I say ‘No’ to such love? There is no reason why we should say ‘No’ to Him – yet we do! Do we doubt that He is there for us? Do we wonder if He really loves us? What about you? Do you think that He cannot or will not forgive your sins? He can and He will. That’s why He died – ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (28).
26:36-56 – Jesus’ suffering is increasing. What pain His disciples caused Him. Three times, He ‘found them sleeping’ (40-45), ‘My betrayer is at hand’ (46), ‘all the disciples forsook Him and fled’ (56)! Was this the end of the road for His disciples? No! With one exception – Judas Iscariot, whom Jesus still called ‘friend’ (50), the others became men of prayer (Acts 1:13-14). They stood with Peter as he preached the Gospel, as he led many sinners to the Saviour (Acts 2:14,37-38). Jesus loved His disciples. He died for them. Then – after Jesus was ‘glorified’ – the Spirit was ‘given’ to them (John 7:39). The fleeing disciples became men ‘on fire’ (Acts 2:3). No more ‘fleeing’. Now it was ‘flowing’ – ‘rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). ‘Blaze, Spirit blaze. Set our hearts on fire. Flow, river, flow. Flood the nations with grace and mercy’ (Mission Praise, 445).
26:57-75 – ‘Peter followed Him at a distance’ (58). He didn’t want to get too close! Keeping your distance from Jesus leads to trouble! Trouble was not the end of Peter’s story. Three times Peter denied the Lord (69-75). Three times Jesus asked him, ‘Do you love Me?’, three times Peter answered Jesus, ‘I love You’ (John 21:15-17) – For each denial, an opportunity to re-affirm his love for Jesus. Three thousand souls won for Christ (Acts 2:41) – For each denial, one ‘thousand souls’ brought to Christ. The contrast between the ‘Peter’ of the Gospels and the ‘Peter’ of Acts is striking. When Jesus first met Peter, He said, ‘You are Simon… You shall be called Peter’ (John 1:42). ‘Peter’ means ‘rock’. Peter’s confession of faith – ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (16:16) – is the Rock on which our faith is built. With Peter, let us confess Christ.
27:1-26 – Jesus went to the Cross for us. Refusing to protest His own innocence, He took our guilt upon Himself. Observing this, ‘the governor wondered greatly’ (14). We also should wonder greatly at this – Christ took our place, receiving the punishment that should have been ours. Barabbas was released, Christ was crucified (26). This is the great exchange – the sinless Saviour takes the place of the guilty sinner (2 Corinthians 5:21). As well as its divine aspect – ‘God so loved…’ (John 3:16) – the Cross has a human dimension – the people, Jews and Gentiles (the whole sinful world), sent Jesus to the Cross. For Jews and Gentiles (‘the whole world’), Christ has provided salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 John 2:2). In the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Christ, we are invited to ask ourselves, ‘What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (22).
27:27-54 – The ‘King of the Jews’ wore ‘a crown of thorns’ (29). In the Cross, we see the King. The way of crucifixion – this is the way of the Kingdom. The prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come’ (6:10), could only be answered by way of the Cross. From the Cross, we hear the call for decision. It is the call of love. The love of Christ calls for our answer: ‘What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (22). Here, we see different responses to Christ – derision, mocking, reviling (39-44); misunderstanding (47-49); believing worship (54). How are we brought out of unbelief and into faith, out of derision and into rejoicing? By the mighty working of God in our hearts, we are brought out of darkness and into light (2 Corinthians 4:6). Salvation comes from above, from God – ‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom’ (51).
27:55-66 – ‘Mary the mother of James and Joseph’ was also the mother of Jesus (56; 13:55). She began by receiving Jesus, not only as her son but also as her Saviour (Luke 1:38). She was still following Jesus – ‘kept by the power of God’ (1 Peter 1:5). None of us – not even the mother of Jesus – can walk with the Lord without His grace keeping us in the way of faith. The unbelieving world still denies Christ – ‘that imposter’ (63) – and His resurrection – ‘fraud’ (64). As believers, we must maintain our testimony: ‘He has risen from the dead’ (64). The unbelievers expected a ‘fraud’. They did not expect a resurrection! For them, a resurrection was out of the question. God had a surprise in store for them! Unbelief says, ‘Resurrection? – Impossible!’. Faith says, ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him’ (Acts 2:24). He has risen (28:6) – Hallelujah!
28:1-10 – The resurrection declares Christ’s victory over evil, the triumph of His love. There is no need for fear: ‘He has risen’ – His ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (5-6; 1 John 4:18). There has to be a new beginning in faith. First, there was a new beginning ‘in fact – Christ has been raised from the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christ has won the victory over the grave. Christ has taken the sting out of death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Between the new beginning in faith – making disciples (19) – and the new beginning in fact – Christ’s resurrection – , there is worship (9). The fact is not dependent on our feelings. ‘He has risen’ (6-7) – the fact stands, even when many doubt and few worship (17). As we worship, we are strengthened in faith, strengthened for our task. We are to invite people to come to the place where ‘they will see’ Jesus (10). We are to ‘make disciples’ (19). Run and tell – with great joy (8)!
28:11-20 – Why is it so important that we ‘make disciples’ (19)? There is a devil, and he is doing his utmost to hinder the progress of God’s truth. He spreads lies about Christ – ‘to this day’ he is still sowing seeds of unbelief (11-15). We must combat the enemy of Christ – with words of truth, with the believing declaration, ‘He has risen’ (6-7). Satan failed to halt the progress of the Gospel. Christ’s disciples rose to the challenge, and so must we: ‘Rise up, you champions of God… We’ll reach this generation… Go forth! Jesus loves them. Go forth! Take the Gospel. Go forth! The time is now. The harvest is ripening; Go forth! Feel now the burden of the Lord. Feel how He longs to save them. Feel now for those who never heard… Now is the time’ (Songs of Fellowship, 486). ‘All authority… has been given to Me… I am with you always’ (18-20).
1:1-20 – This is a new ‘beginning’. The prophets had spoken. Now, the Saviour has come. This is ‘Good News.’ John has prepared the way. Now, he stands aside to make way for ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (1,11). Following Jesus’ baptism, there was temptation. This was Kingdom against kingdom. Satan’s kingdom was under threat. The Kingdom of God had come. Christ triumphed over Satan. In Him, we triumph when, hearing the Gospel declaration – ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ – , we obey the Gospel command – ‘repent and believe the gospel’ (15). With the command, ‘Follow Me’, there is the promise, ‘I will make you…’ (17). Christ’s call is ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). It is truth – a call to discipleship. It is grace – a call from Jesus. In Christ, we become ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We become ‘fishers of men’ (17).
1:21-2:12 – Great things were happening. God was moving in power. In all this, we could easily overlook something very important: Jesus prayed (35). He made time for prayer. This was not wasted time. This was time well spent. Jesus was mighty before men – the power of God was flowing freely. Jesus knew where the power comes from – He was humble before God. We long for this – ‘they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”’ (12). We must pray in faith, bringing people before the Lord, convinced that such prayer ‘is powerful and effective’ (2:5; James 5:16). “If my people… pray…, I will… forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14). “O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee. Send a revival. Start the work in me. Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need. For blessing now, O Lord, I humbly plead’ (Mission Praise, 587).
2:13-3:12 – Jesus changes people. Levi became Matthew (14). He became ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The change of name marked his new birth (John 3:6). To be changed by Jesus you must recognize yourself as a sinner (17). There is a world of difference between legal obedience – ‘old wine’ – and Gospel obedience – ‘new wine’ (21-22). There is an eternity of difference between belonging to God’s Kingdom and remaining outside of His Kingdom (John 3:3,5,7). The religion of the Pharisees was legalistic. The obedience of Jesus was spiritual. Will we follow Jesus, or will we be like these ‘religious’ men who planned ‘to destroy Him’ (6)? It is sadly possible to participate in ‘religion’, professing faith in ‘the Son of God’, in an ‘unclean spirit’ (11). Prompted by the Holy Spirit, let us truly confess that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3).
3:13-35 – The conflict intensifies. The ‘twelve’ are ‘sent… to cast out demons’ (14-15). Jesus is accused of being demon-possessed (22). Jesus warns against ‘an eternal sin’ – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (28-30). With the offer of forgiveness – ‘the blood of Jesus… cleanses us from all sin’ – , there is the call to ‘confess our sins’ (1 John 1:7,9). ‘If we say we have no sin’ (1 John 1:8,10) and no need of Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we resist the Holy Spirit who seeks to convict us of our sin and lead us to the Saviour (John 16:8-9,14). Are you anxious about ‘an unpardonable sin’ ? Let the Holy Spirit lead you to the Saviour. Take your sin to Jesus, and let His ‘perfect love cast out your fear’ (1 John 4:18). Do you think you cannot be forgiven ? God’s thoughts are ‘higher’: ‘Return to the Lord… He will abundantly pardon’ (Isaiah 55:6-9).
4:1-34 – God’s Word carries this message: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says…’ (9; Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). We must listen for the voice of the Spirit. Grace has been ‘given’ to us (11). It is God’s gift. To God be the glory! Sadly, some refuse to listen. Think about your response to God’s Word (15-20). Let your light shine (21-23; Matthew 5:16). Use your gifts, or lose them (24-25). We preach the Word. God gives the growth (26-29; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). A small child can count the seeds in an apple. Only God knows how many apples there are in a single seed! God’s Word is a ‘seed’ which bears much fruit (30-32; 1 Peter 1:23-25). Parables whet the appetite – for more! They were given to people ‘as they were able to hear it’ – ‘a starter’ (33-34)! May we be ‘visual aids’ to whet people’s appetite – for God!
4:35-5:20 – Jesus was sleeping because He was tired – not because He didn’t care (38)! He does care. Everything was under control. Faith was being tested. Fear and faith are opposites (40). ‘Awe’ (41) is very different from unbelieving fear. Awe leads to worship. Fear destroys faith. The man was filled with ‘unclean spirits’ (13). He was a ‘demoniac’ (15-16). No one could do anything for him (3) – except Jesus! They tried to ‘subdue’ him (4). Jesus saved him! He is able to lift from the guttermost… and ‘save to the uttermost’ (Hebrews 7:25). The human situation is hopeless (Ephesians 4:18-19; 2 Corinthians 4:4) – without Christ! With Him, everything changes (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 4:22-24). ‘’The gates of hell prevail against’ us. They do not prevail against Christ (Matthew 16:18). Tell others what the ‘Lord has done for you’ – God will use your words to bring blessing (19-20).
5:21-6:13 – The story begins with Jairus (21-24). Then, there is an ‘interruption’ – which brought healing to a woman (25-34). The woman had nowhere else to go (25-26). She came to Jesus (27). She was healed – not because she touched His garment (many others were brushing against Him), but because she had ‘faith’ (28,31,34). Jesus brought her out into the open – so that she might confess Him (30,32-33). The new birth can take place in very quiet circumstances – by faith in Christ. Jesus wants us to ‘come out’ – to confess Him. Back to Jairus’ daughter – People thought there was no hope. Jesus said, ‘Do not fear, only believe’ (35-36). Not everyone believes. We can limit the power of Christ among us – by our unbelief (5-6)! We can, however, be called, sent and given authority… (7) – Never forget: The power and glory belongs to God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
6:14-44 – They were great men of God – ‘John the baptiser… Elijah… the prophets of old’ (14-15). None of them can compare with the Lord Jesus Christ. These men directed attention to the Lord (1 Kings 18:36-39; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Of Christ alone, we say, ‘There is salvation in no one else…’ (Acts 4:12). Christ saves – and satisfies: We feed on Him and we are ‘satisfied’ (42). Apart from Him, the human search ends in this: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’. In Him, there is satisfaction – He is the Saviour. Saved, satisfied and sharing – this is what we are to be. To His disciples, He still says, ‘You give them something…’ (37). We say, ‘We don’t have enough’. He says, ‘I am more than enough’ (2 Corinthians 3:5). Many are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. We must not fail them. We must ‘teach them many things’ (34).
6:45-7:23 – The storm is raging: ‘they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them’ (48). Jesus draws near, and there is peace: ‘the wind ceased’ (51). Another ‘storm’ continues to rage: ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders…?’ (5). How did Jesus respond to this ‘storm’ of criticism? – He exposed the hypocrisy of those who made the tradition of men more important than the Word of God (7-9,13). He invited ‘the people’ to come ‘to Him’, to ‘hear’, to ‘understand’. His Word was addressed to ‘all’ of them (14). Jesus emphasizes this point: ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Which will it be? – ‘Their hearts were hardened’ (52) or ‘Loving the Lord your God with all your heart’ (12:30).
7:24-8:26 – Verse 27: The Gospel is for all – Jews and Gentiles (John 3:16). It seems like a ‘refusal’. It is not. In love, Jesus says, ‘Show me that your faith is real’. First things ‘first’: Do you really want to be blessed by the Lord ? Or, are you content with ‘going through the motions’ of religious ritual? Is God’s Word going in one ear and out the other (deaf)? Are you ashamed of the Lord (dumb)? Jesus ‘makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’ (37). Jesus feeds those who are hungry – for Him. To those who say, “‘Yes, Lord, even the crumbs’, so long as it comes from You”, Jesus gives much – and we are ‘satisfied’ (28;8). Don’t settle for ‘the leaven of the Pharisees’ (15) – second best (by a long way!) – when you can have Jesus, the very best! ‘Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus’ (22-26; Mission Praise, 545).
8:27-9:13 – ‘Who do you say that I am ?’: Jesus puts this question to all of us. Some believe He is the Christ. Others do not. Some try to ‘sit on the fence’. Everyone makes their response to Him. God is not deceived by outward observance of religion, when it masks an inward refusal to receive Christ as Saviour, to submit to Him as Lord. On the day of judgment, God will not be looking for respectability. He will be looking for faith (Luke 18:8). Peter confessed Christ (29). Then, he was overcome by Satan (33). He became ‘puffed up’ with pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). He forgot that faith comes from divine revelation (Matthew 16:17). We are not ‘to rebuke’ the Lord (32). Looking to ‘Jesus only’ (8; Romans 4:5), we are to live as His disciples (34) – not of this world, as He is not of this world (John 17:14,16; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
9:14-50 – ‘Our God is able’ (Daniel 3:17). Do we believe this? There is no doubt about God’s power. What about our faith? We come to Jesus, saying, ‘If you can’. Jesus turns things around: ‘If you can! All things are possible to him who believes’ (22-23). This is not so much an appeal for positive thinking. It is a call to prayer (29). Less self-confidence and more confidence in God – This is what we need. God’s greatness is more important than our ‘greatness’ (33-35). Are there things that you don’t understand? Don’t be afraid to ask (32). You may even learn from those who ‘don’t belong to our group’ (38-40). They don’t belong to our group? So what? Do they belong to Christ? That’s what matters. ‘It is better’ (43,45,47) to be Christ’s – than anything else! May our faith, though ‘tested by fire’, grow strong – to God’s glory (49-50; 1 Peter 1: 6-7).
10:1-31 – The Pharisees came to Jesus – ‘to test Him’ (2). They asked Him about divorce (2). He spoke to them about marriage (6-9). We need to be positive, well grounded in the basic principles of God’s Word. When the thorny problems come – as they surely will – we will face them with maturity, and not as ‘children, tossed to fro and and carried about with every wind of doctrine’ (Ephesians 4:14). Jesus loved the little children (13-16). Do we? Some say ‘No’ to the love of Jesus (21-22). Say ‘Yes’ to Him. We cannot save ourselves. Salvation is God’s doing, not ours (26-27). Don’t let ‘self’ take the place of Christ: ‘we have left everything…’ (28). Don’t say, ‘I have given so much to God, done so much for Him, given up so much for Him’. God has given you more! God has done more for you! God has given up more for you! John 3:16.
10:32-52 – Jesus was ‘going up to Jerusalem’ – to the Cross (32). He came to die, ‘to give His life as a ransom for many’ (45). The death of Christ lies at the very heart of the Gospel (1 Peter 1:10-12; 1 Corinthians 1:23 & 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 John 1:7, 2:2; Hebrews 2:9). Don’t think, ‘Glory for me’ (37). Think, ‘Glory to God’ (43-44): ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14). Bartimaeus cried out to the Lord for mercy (47). ‘How embarrassing’, some people thought – ‘how undignified’ (48). When God is at work, some people don’t like it! They like everything to be dignified – dull and dead! When God is at work, people get converted. This may not please the ‘critics’, but it pleases God – and that’s what matters. Cry to God for mercy. Your prayer will be heard – and answered.
11:1-33 – Here we learn of the authority of Christ. Calling the ‘colt’ into His service, He says, with authority, ‘The Lord has need of it’ (3). With authority, He speaks to the fig tree (14) – a ‘visual aid’ of His teaching: ‘Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit, He takes away’ (John 15:2). In the temple, He speaks with authority, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer…’ (17). He speaks of authority in prayer: ‘whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (24). The religious leaders did not understand Jesus (27-33). Why? – They didn’t love Him. We can experience His authority: His Word spoken to us ‘in power…’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5). We can exercise His authority: Through prayer, setting His Word free to do His mighty work (Ephesians 6: 18-20) – if we are learning to love Him!
12:1-44 – Jesus – God’s ‘beloved Son’ (6): Rejected by men, raised by God (10-11). Jesus’ enemies tried ‘to trap Him in His talk’ (13). He spoke with wisdom – and so can we. Anointed by the Holy One, we have the mind of Christ (1 John 2:19-20; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Christ’s enemies knew ‘neither the Scripture nor the power of God’ (24). We are to speak as those who know the living God (27). Our ‘first’ priority is love for God (29-30). Jesus says, ‘Love your neighbour’ (31). This is not, however, ‘the be-all and end-all’ of our life. There is more. We must not forget God. Jesus is ‘Lord’ (35-37). Let it be: Jesus is my Lord. The scribes had all the external trappings of religion – and nothing else (38-40)! The ‘poor widow’ had very little, yet she had everything that really matters: she loved the Lord (41-44)!
13:1-37 – We are not to be a people whose ‘faith’ is locked in the past! We are to be a people of hope. We look to the future. We ‘see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory’ (26). There may be ‘wars and rumours of wars’ (7). When Christ returns, only one thing will matter: ‘he who endures to the end will be saved’ (13). ‘This day – the noise of battle’: Look beyond all that to ‘the victor’s song’ (Church Hymnary, 481). In human conflict, there is so much of self – ‘We are the people’. When Christ returns, nothing will matter but this: ‘When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there’ (Mission Praise, 759). We hear of ‘wars and rumours of wars’. Do we say, ‘This is part of our history. It’s always been this way’?. We must remember: Preaching Christ’s Gospel is far more important than ‘defending’ our ways (10)!
14:1-25 – Jesus was surrounded by enemies, ‘seeking to kill Him’ (1). There was also a hypocrite, preparing ‘to betray Him’ (10-11). What a joy it was to find a woman with such heartfelt love for Him (3-9). Her love for Christ must never be forgotten (9). There is something else which must never be forgotten – His love for us. Our love for Him can never begin to compare with His love for us. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (22-24; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26), we rejoice in His love. Think little of your love for Him. Think much of His love for you. ‘Who His love will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise? He can never be forgotten throughout heaven’s eternal days’ (Songs of Fellowship, 168). Remember Christ, and let your remembering be filled with worship (25; Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17).
14:26-52 – After ‘they had sung a hymn’ (26), Peter showed that there was a great deal of ‘self’ in him (29). All of us can be like this – ‘they all said the same’ (31). We attend Communion (22-24), we sing hymns (26) – yet still the wrong attitudes persist! We ‘enjoy’ praise, prayer, and preaching – Remember: God is concerned with the whole of life, not just the ‘spiritual’ activities! Christ looked ahead to the Cross – ‘the hour’, ‘this cup’ (35-36). He was far removed from an ‘enjoyable atmosphere’ within which prayer is ‘easy’. Sorely tempted, He prayed, ‘not what I will but what You will’ (36). This was no easy road – the ‘betrayer’ was waiting for Him (42). It was a lonely road – ‘they all forsook Him, and fled’ (50). ‘The gate is narrow, the way is hard’ (Matthew 7:14). May God help us to follow Jesus.
14:53-15:5 – Jesus is ‘the Christ, the Son of the Blessed’. He is ‘seated at the right hand of Power’. He is ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ (61-62). He is ‘the King of the Jews’: His Kingdom is greater than Herod imagined – it is ‘not of this world’ (2; John 18:36). Why, then, did He remain silent when false charges were brought against Him? He was bearing our sin – That is why ‘He did not open His mouth’ (Isaiah 53:4-7; 1 Peter 2:22-24; 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He knew that He was going to the Cross – for us (John 10:11,15,17-18). Jesus did not deny us: His silence was a godly silence – ‘He bore the sin of many’, making ‘Himself an offering for sin’ (Isaiah 53:12,10). Will we deny Him? Our silence is a guilty silence (66-71). May Christ’s Word, and His look of love, cause us to weep – and repent (72; Luke 22:61-62; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
15:6-41 – Jesus did not ‘save Himself’. ‘He saved others’ (31). He sacrificed Himself for our salvation. His was the sacrifice. Ours is the salvation. He ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26). Barabbas was ‘released’. Jesus was ‘crucified’ (15). This is the Gospel – He took my place, He died for me. He was ‘forsaken’ by God (34). We are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:19,21). We rejoice that Christ ignored the mocking call from ‘the chief priests’ and ‘scribes’: ‘come down now from the Cross’ (32). He paid the full price of our salvation. For us now, there is full salvation. His suffering was complete: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) was not a whimper of defeat. It was the declaration of victory. All that was needed – He has done for us. Now, He invites us to receive salvation: ‘Come; for all is now ready’ (Luke 14:17).
15:42-16:20 – Dead and buried (44-46) – ‘The End’? No! There is more. An ‘Appendix’? No! A whole new beginning – For Jesus, for us! He is ‘the first fruits’ (1 Corinthians 15:20,23). The full glory is still to come (1 Corinthians 15:24). He has risen (6). ‘At His coming, those who belong to Christ’ will be raised – with Him and by Him – to everlasting life (1 Corinthians 15:23). This is the glory of the resurrection. It is not simply a thing of the past. It is our glorious future – we ‘will be raised imperishable’ (1 Corinthians 15:52). There is a Gospel to be preached – the Gospel of salvation (15-16). May God help us to preach the Gospel ‘everywhere’ – This will involve all of us, not just a few of us! May He give us the joy of seeing Him at work, confirming the message by the signs that attend it (20).
1:1-38 – God was about to do ‘a new thing’ (Isaiah 43:19). It was centred on Christ, though John also played his part (31-33,16-17). There were obstacles – Zechariah and Elizabeth were ‘old’ (18), and Mary had ‘no man’ (34). What were these obstacles to God? – Nothing: ‘with God nothing will be impossible’ (37). How are we to respond to God’s ‘new thing’? – ‘let it be to me according to Your Word’ (38). How will God’s ‘new thing’ make progress among us? – Through the power of the Holy Spirit: ‘he will be filled with the Holy Spirit’ (15), ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you…’ (34). ‘Holy Spirit, we welcome you… Move among us with holy fire… Let the breeze of your presence flow… Please accomplish in me today, some new work of loving grace, I pray; Unreservedly have Your way…’ (Mission Praise, 241).
1:39-80 – There are two great ‘songs of praise’ here (46-55,67-79). God was doing ‘a new thing’. His people were rejoicing in Him. Great things were happening. Greater things were going to happen. Soon, the Saviour would be born. The birth of John the Baptist (57-66) – This was great. The birth of our Saviour – This would be even greater. Mary and Zechariah felt the touch of God upon their lives, and their hearts were filled with praise to God: ‘When I feel the touch of Your hand upon my life, it causes me to sing a song that I love You, Lord. So from deep within my spirit singeth unto Thee, You are my King, You are my God, and I love You Lord’ (Mission Praise, 753). John was ‘in the wilderness’. He ‘became strong in spirit’ (80). May God help us to grow spiritually, even when life is not very easy!
2:1-20 – God is in control! Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Long before it happened, God had it planned (1-7; Micah 5:2-3). As we approach Christ’s Return, God still has His plan. He is still in control. The birth of Christ is not merely an event from the past. It is also a message for the future. We look back so that we can move forward. We are fearful about many things. ‘What’s the world coming to?’, we ask. God turns our question on its head: ‘Christ is coming to the world’. From His first coming, we look on to His Second Coming – He ‘will come to all the people’ (10): ‘every eye will see Him’ (Revelation 1:7). His Return invites us to ask another question: ‘when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?’ (18:8). For you, is it still ‘before Christ’? Let the ‘new age’ begin: Let Christ be ‘born this day’ (11) – in your heart!
2:21-52 – Jesus ‘fulfilled all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:15). His circumcision and presentation to the Lord was ‘according to the law of Moses’ (21-24; Leviticus 12:1-8). Jesus’ obedience was always more than mere conformity to ‘the written code’. He was walking ‘in the Spirit’. He was filled with ‘the Spirit of the living God’ (2 Corinthians 3:3,6). His obedience came ‘from the heart’ and His ‘praise’ came ‘not from men but from God’ (Romans 6:17; 2:29). What joy there was for Simeon and Anna! This was ‘salvation’, ‘redemption’ (30,38). As you journey through life, don’t ‘lose Jesus’ (43-45). Keep close to Him! If you do ‘lose Him’, where will you find Him again? – ‘In the temple’ (46). Have you lost your way? Find your way back to ‘the sanctuary of God’ – and things will start to fall into place again (Psalm 73:16-17)!
3:1-38 – John’s message came from ‘God’ (2). He did not begin with love. He preached about sin and divine judgment, warning his hearers to ‘flee from the wrath to come’ (7). He called for ‘repentance’ (3,8). This was not what people wanted to hear. Before we can rejoice in the Good News concerning salvation, we must recognize our sin and our need of salvation. John prepared the way for Jesus. ‘All have sinned’, ‘The wages of sin is death’ – This is the ‘bad news; which prepares us to receive, with joyful thanksgiving, ‘the Good News’: ‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Like John, we are to point to Jesus, God’s ‘beloved Son’ : Before ‘Adam’ was, He is. Pray that the ‘Holy Spirit’ will bring people to Christ (22,38; 8:58).
4:1-30 – Jesus was ‘tempted by the devil’ (2). He was rejected by His enemies (28-29). When we look around us, we see nothing but temptations and rejection – What a negative way of looking at things! There is something more positive here – the presence of the Holy Spirit (1,14,18). Do not be afraid. There is no need to be discouraged. We need not be defeated. The temptations may be many. The opposition may be fierce. We can ‘pass through the midst of them’ (30): ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control’ (2 Timothy 1:7). Satan is persistent – They did not rest until they had crucified Him. Faced with such opposition, we – like Jesus – must walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:12,17-18).
4:31-5:11 – ‘His Word was with power’ (32). Where there are hindrances, obstructing the flow of God’s Word, we must pray that God’s Word will be heard for ‘what it really is’ – ‘not the word of men but the Word of God’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Our hearing of God’s Word is not to be a superficial thing – Here, the people of Capernaum ‘tried to keep Him from leaving them’ (42). Later, Jesus said, ‘You, Capernaum… shall be thrust down to hell’ (10:15). We must hear the Word of God and act on it (1,3). We may feel, ‘it’s a waste of time’. We must be obedient to God: ‘at Your Word I will let down the nets’ (5). We are to be ‘partners’ in the Lord’s work (7): ‘workers together with God’ (2 Corinthians 6:1). All the glory belongs to the Lord: We are ‘sinful’ – Through His grace, we can win others for Him (8,10).
5:12-32 – ‘You can make me clean… I will; be clean’ (12-13). Look at Christ’s death for you – Can you doubt His desire to save you? Look at His resurrection – Can you doubt His power to save you? The Lord ‘desires all people to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4). We are saved through ‘the Gospel’ which ‘is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’ (Romans 1:16). Jesus can save. Jesus will save. ‘The power of the Lord’ (17) is available to all: ‘Whoever wishes’ may ‘come’ and receive ‘the free gift’ of salvation (Revelation 22:17). To each one, Jesus says, ‘Follow Me’ (27). We must not think of ourselves as ‘righteous’. Each one must come as a ‘sinner’ to Jesus, the Saviour of sinners (32). Through prayer, the Lord’s saving power can be released among us (16-17; John 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14-15).
5:33-6:16 – There is such a difference between the ‘old’ legalism and the ‘new’ life in the Spirit (36-39; Romans 8:2-4). The question, asked in verse 2, springs from the dead hardness of strict legalistic religion. Christ is Lord (5) – not the ‘Pharisees’. They try to control people’s lives. With their kill-joy attitude, they only succeed in making everybody miserable – like themselves! The ‘old’ needs to be ‘crucified’, so that the ‘new’ can be born in us (Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Some say, ‘I don’t need to be born again’. Jesus disagrees (John 3:3). Disciples, Apostles (13): We learn everything from Jesus – nothing from the ‘Pharisees’! We are sent out by Christ for Christ – not by the Pharisees to spread Pharisaiam! God is interested in names (14-16): ‘rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (10:21).
6:17-49 – Four thoughts from Jesus’ ‘sermon’: (a) Hunger for God (21; Matthew 5:6): Laziness leads to superficial Christianity. Do not hunger and you will not be ‘filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). Do not seek and you will not find (Matthew 7:7). Seek the Lord with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). God has so much for us (1 Corinthians 2:12). Don’t miss out (2 Corinthians 9:6). (b) Love for God: Love is the greatest thing in the world. Our love for God is to be seen in our love for others (27; 1 John 3:16-17). (c) Vision of God: The blind cannot lead the blind (39-42). Make sure you are not ‘blind and short-sighted’ (2 Peter 1:9). Run with the vision – Others will be blessed (Habakkuk 2:2). (d) Foundations in God: Make sure you are ‘rooted’ in Christ, our sure ‘Foundation’ (43-49; Ephesians 3:17; 2:19-22).
7:1-35 – ‘When he heard of Jesus…’ (3): ‘Faith comes from hearing…’. Tell people of Jesus: ‘How can they believe in Him if they have not heard His message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News?’ (Romans 10:17,14). ‘God has visited His people!’ (16): ‘Raised from the dead’ – Pray for a real ‘quickening’ as the ‘God, who is rich in mercy’, pours out ‘His great love’ upon us (Ephesians 2:4-6). John was looking for the One who was ‘to come’ (19). What a great thing it is when Christ comes among us. Do we take His presence for granted? Do not presume on God’s blessing: ‘Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!… many… desired to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it’ (10:23-24). Do we care about God’s blessing? – If we don’t, we may lose it!
7:36-8:21 – Jesus does not come to us because we are good. He comes to us because He forgives sins. The woman came to Jesus and received forgiveness. The Pharisee, though steeped in religion, remained unforgiven (47-50). Don’t be like the Pharisee. Don’t look down your nose at the ordinary people who mean so much to the Lord. ‘Some women…’: Much of God’s work is being upheld by faithful women who, by their praying, giving and working, are ‘ministering to Him’ (1-3). We read Jesus’ parables (4-18), and we learn. Let us read ‘the book of everyday life’, and learn what the Lord is saying to us concerning Himself. Let us learn from everyday life, always with this goal: Hearing the Word of God and doing it (21).
8:22-56 – ‘Where is your faith?’ (25). The Lord is not looking for lip-service. He is looking for real faith. Some beg Jesus ‘to depart from them’ (37). They don’t want to know! Others long to ‘be with Him’ (38). They don’t want to go! Some have no interest in worship. They don’t really want to get to know Jesus. Others love to ‘worship’, but they are so slow to witness. They need to hear Jesus’ words – ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’ (39). Real faith worships. Real faith witnesses. We need both – Worship and Witness. Some – ‘the multitudes’ (45) – touch Jesus superficially. They are interested – when everything seems exciting! They touch Jesus religiously. They do not touch Him by faith. Where is the ‘power’, the resurrection power (46,54)? Without faith, there is no power!
9:1-27 – It was a short mission (1-6) – short but important! They were being trained for future work. There and then, people were hearing the Gospel, believing in Christ and being saved. There was opposition (7-9): There’s always plenty of that – ‘We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37). There is physical need. There is also spiritual need – ‘Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’ (10-17; John 6:27). In verses 18-27, we learn (a) Who Jesus is: ‘the Christ of God’ (20). (b) What Jesus has done for us: His death and resurrection (22). (c) What Jesus calls us to be: His followers (23). May God give us grace to follow ‘the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us’ (Galatians 2:20). We follow Christ, looking for ‘the Kingdom of God’ (27).
9:28-62 – The ‘glory’ of Christ (32) – ‘Before the world was made’, He shared the Father’s glory. Through the Cross – ‘His departure…’(31) – , Christ, ‘the Lamb that was slain’ for sinners, has fulfilled God’s eternal purpose of salvation (John 17:4-5; Revelation 13:8). We are to ‘look’ to the Lamb of God. We are to ‘listen’ to God’s beloved Son. If we do not look and listen, we will not learn. To those who refuse to look, listen and learn, God issues His Word of warning: ‘See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking’ (Hebrews 12:25). We must confess our spiritual poverty, our lack of power (37-42), understanding (43-45), humility (46-48), unity (49-50) and love (51-56). Looking to Christ who ‘set His face to go to Jerusalem’ and refusing to ‘look back’, we must choose to be ‘good soldiers of Jesus Christ’ (51,62: 2 Timothy 2:3-4).
10:1-37 – Christ’s message – ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (9) – calls for our response – hearing with faith or rejecting in unbelief (16). Where does this response of faith come from? – From God: He reveals Himself to us (21). Questions: Why do we ask them? – ‘to put Jesus to the test’ (25), ‘to justify ourselves’ (29)? You cannot come to Christ until you stop trying to justify yourself – Are you trying to test Him or learning to trust Him? (a) What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ (25): The law cannot save. It can only show us our need of the One who does save – Jesus (Romans 8:3-4). (b) ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (29): ‘Passing by on the other side’ (31-32) – This is not love. It’s nothing like the love of God for ‘sinners’ (Romans 5:8). Jesus loves you. Let Him save you. Let His love change you.
10:38-11:28 – Mary was ‘listening to the Lord’ (39). Martha was ‘distracted’ (40). ‘One thing is needful’ (42): Don’t let anything distract you from this – Getting alone with God. More than anything else, Jesus wants to ‘teach us to pray’ (1). The greatest gift that God gives – in answer to prayer – is the Holy Spirit (13). We are to ‘pray at all times in the Spirit’, relying completely on the Spirit to teach us to pray (Ephesians 6:18). Pray that you will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 4:31). As you pray, let the Spirit be your Helper (Romans 8:26). ‘Some’ are so critical: Negative thinkers, they ‘point the finger’ at everything (15). ‘Others’ are never satisfied: They’ve made complaining a way of life (16). Let’s rise above all this: ‘Blessed… are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!’ (28).
11:29-54 – Christ is ‘greater than Jonah’ (32). Jonah was preserved alive (Jonah 1:17-2:10). Christ ‘died… was buried’ and ‘was raised’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Through His resurrection, He has been ‘declared with power to be the Son of God’ (Romans 1:4). We are not to be secret disciples (33): ‘Believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9). Guard against ‘the lust of the eyes’ (34; 1 John 2:16; Genesis 3:6; 13:10-11; 19:26; Joshua 7:20-21; 2 Samuel 11:2-5). The Pharisees were ‘fools’ (40). Clean on the outside but not in their hearts, they ‘loved the best seat in the synagogues’ but they were spiritually dead – ‘like graves’ (39,43-44). Their true nature is seen in their reaction to Christ (53-54): Don’t be a ‘fool’! Don’t be a ‘Pharisee’!
12:1-34 – ‘Do not fear…’ (4): ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31). Acknowledge Christ or deny Him (8-9): Let your choice be clear – ‘Christ means everything to me’ (Philippians 1:21). Do you want to confess Christ? – Here’s a great promise for you: ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say’ (12). In our generation, there is a ‘gold rush’. Many are preoccupied with ‘having a lot of material possessions’ (15). What does God say about this? – ‘Fool!’ (20). We hear it said, ‘He’s too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good’. You can be ‘too earthly-minded to be any heavenly good’! It is better to be ‘spiritually minded’ than ‘carnally minded’ (Romans 8:6). ‘Seek His Kingdom… it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’ (31-32).
12:35-59 – ‘Be ready’ for Christ’s Return (40): Wait on the Lord (36; Isaiah 40:31). Stay ‘awake’ (37), ‘your loins girded with truth’ (35; Ephesians 6:14) – be real; be true to the Word of God. Keep ‘your lamps burning’ (35). Our ‘lamp’ is Christ, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Revelation 21:23; John 1:29). Be faithful (41-48): There can be no fruitfulness without faithfulness. God’s blessing is given to those who are faithful (42-43). With the promise of blessing, there is also the warning of judgment. Knowing the will of God and not doing it leads to judgment (47). Going Christ’s way will not be easy (49-53): We must avoid the way of the ‘hypocrites’ who have no real knowledge of God (54-56), the legalists who know nothing of the Spirit of grace (57-59). Keep close to Christ: He will keep you – faithful and ready.
13:1-35 – Jesus stresses the need for both repentance (1-5) and the fruits of repentance (6-9). God’s Word, planted in our hearts at conversion, is to bear fruit. This requires continual repentance and faith (Colossians 2:6; Galatians 3:1-5). Don’t put it off till tomorrow! Today is ‘the day of salvation’. Don’t ‘neglect’ God’s ‘great salvation’ (15-16; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 2:3). Let there be spiritual growth, affecting the whole of your life (18-21). Jesus was ‘journeying toward Jerusalem’ – to ‘finish His course’ at the Cross (22, 32-33). He came from the Lord (35). Through Him, we come to the Lord (24; John 10:9). There is no salvation in ourselves (25-27). Apart from Him, there is ‘no peace’ (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). Jesus loves you (34). Make ‘sure’ that your trust is in Him. He will never fail you (2 Peter 1:10-11).
14:1-35 – Let God’s love flow freely in your own heart. Let it flow, from there, into the lives of others. Receive Christ and share Him with others. When the Gospel says, ‘Come; for all is ready’, there must be no excuses (17-20). When you share Christ, let there be no barriers (1-6, 12-14, 21-24). Let God’s love flow freely – Make it your firm resolve to live as Christ’s ‘disciple’ (27,33). Some will be critical of you – preoccupied with finding fault, they will miss the love of God(1-6). This is part of the ‘cost’ of being a disciple – the ‘cross’ (27-28). Others will respond positively: Keep your ‘saltiness’ – Be salty enough to make others thirsty, and be ready to lead them to Christ when they are thirsty ‘for the living God’ (34-35; Psalm 42:2). Remember to give all the glory to God (11).
15:1-32 – People were coming to Christ (1). Still, the critics were murmuring among themselves (2). What did Jesus do ? – He kept on preaching the Gospel (3-32). The lost sheep (3-7) the lost coin (8-10), the lost son (11-32) – These are the parables of the Gospel. They teach us two lessons – By ourselves we are lost; In Christ, there is salvation. Read about the prodigal son, and think of the perfect Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, we see God’s perfect love. Through Him, we receive God’s perfect salvation – (a) ‘the best robe’ – forgiveness (Revelation 7:13-14); (b) the ‘ring’ – membership of God’s family (John 1:12); (c) the ‘shoes’ – empowered to bring ‘the Gospel’ to others (Ephesians 6:15). ‘God… has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing’ (Ephesians 1:3). Don’t be like the ‘elder son’ (28-30)!
16:1-31 – How do we use our money? This is an important question for all who want to live a practical Christian life. The worldly person is quick to see ways of making a profit. For the Christian, there is a higher priority. Beyond personal profit, there is eternal profit. Look for opportunities to support the work of the Gospel. By our giving, we help the Church to be Christ’s prophet in today’s world. ‘Make friends’: Win others for Christ so that, together with them, we may be welcomed to our eternal home (9). Jesus said, ‘You cannot serve God and money’. The ‘lovers of money’ did not like His teaching (13-14)! Don’t let money squeeze Christ out of your life. Life without Christ leads to eternity without Christ (19-31).
17:1-37 – In verses 1-10, Jesus speaks about temptation, forgiveness, faith and service. (a) Temptation – ‘watch yourselves’, always remembering that we can only win victory through the strength of the Lord (3; 1 Corinthians 10:13). (b) Forgiveness – This is practical teaching. We not only receive forgiveness for ourselves. We are to forgive others (3-4; 1 John 1:9; Ephesians 4:32). (c) Faith – There will never come a time when we no longer need to pray, ‘Increase our faith’. What great things can be achieved for God, when our faith in Him is strong (5-6; 1 John 5:4-5, 14-15). (d) Service – We are always ‘unworthy servants’. We never outgrow our need of ‘God’s mercy’ (10; Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 4:1). We need ‘the attitude of gratitude’ (17-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Jesus is coming again (24). Be ready for Him!
18:1-43 – Here, we learn some important lessons about faith. (a) Our faith is precious. We must not lose it! The question is asked, ‘When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?’ (8). ‘Don’t lose heart’ (1). (b) We are to have a humble faith (14). Pray, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (13). ‘Receive the Kingdom of God like a child’ (17). (c) We are to have a committed faith (22), always remembering that salvation comes from the Lord and not from ourselves (26-27). Our commitment can never be a way of earning God’s salvation. He always gives us so much more than we could ever give to Him (29-30). (d) We are to have a Christ-centred faith, centred on His death and resurrection (31-33). (e) Our faith is to be full of worship. Our eyes opened by Christ and to Him, we are to glorify God and give praise to Him (43).
19:1-48 – Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem (9:51; 13:22; 17:11), the place where He would be crucified for the world’s salvation. ‘Passing through’ Jericho, He brought ‘salvation’ to Zacchaeus (1, 9). ‘Near to Jerusalem’, He spoke about service (11-27). Jesus is our Saviour – He came ‘to save us’ (10). He is also our Lord – He wants to ‘reign over’ us (27). ‘Salvation has come to us (9). As ‘good servants’, let us be ‘faithful’ to our Lord (17). Jesus was ‘going up to Jerusalem’ (28). The Cross was the high point, the place of His triumph (Colossians 2:15). Seeing ‘the city’, Jesus ‘wept over it’ (41). He taught the Word of God in the House of God. Some were ‘eager to hear Him’. Others were ‘seeking to destroy Him’ (47-48). What about you ? Does Jesus weep over you? He wants to rejoice over you (15:7,10).
20:1-47 – Think before you speak. Jesus’ critics had plenty to say for themselves. Jesus challenged them. They needed to say less and think more – about Jesus (8,17-18,41-44). Jesus’ words reduced them to silence (26,40). They didn’t know what to say next. Perhaps, some were beginning to ask the right questions and find the right answers (39). There were others who didn’t want to know. They weren’t interested in listening to Jesus. All that mattered to them was themselves: ‘Beware of the scribes…’ (46-47). ‘The scribes’ were so taken up with themselves that they failed to take the slightest notice of what the Lord was saying to them. The way of ‘the scribes’ ended in ‘condemnation’. There is a warning for us here: Make sure you don’t miss the most important thing – ‘Jesus Christ is in you’ (2 Corinthians 13:5).
21:1-38 – The ‘poor widow’ gave her ‘all’ to the Lord (1-4). True giving is a response to ‘the grace of God’. Learning to appreciate ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’, we will learn to give with ‘abundance of joy’ and ‘wealth of liberality’ (2 Corinthians 8:1-2, 9). Let us give ourselves to our Lord. True Christian living will not be easy (12; 2 Timothy 3:12). The Lord will be with us in all our difficulties (15, 18-19). Christ will return ‘with power and great glory’ (27). For some this will be a time of ‘distress… perplexity… fear… foreboding’ (25-26). For others, it will be the Day of ‘redemption’ (28). To all, there is the warning: ‘Take heed to yourselves… watch at all times’ (34-36). Let us restore Him to His rightful place in our lives – ‘…all the people came to Him…’ (38).
22:1-38 – Jesus’ enemies were ‘religious’ men but they were not God’s men (2). Behind the scenes, there was the activity of ‘Satan’ (3). He ‘disguises himself as an angel of light’ – Judas Iscariot was ‘one of the twelve’! (3; 2 Corinthians 11:14). In reality, Satan is ‘a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus was in complete control of the situation. He allowed Satan to carry out the plot which would lead to his own defeat – at the Cross. As the whole situation gets darker, never forget the purpose of Christ’s death (19-20). Jesus was suffering – the pain inflicted by His enemies (2) and the agony brought on by his ‘friends’ (21,31-34). His suffering was for us: ‘Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us’ (7; 1 Corinthians 5:7). In His suffering is our salvation.
22:39-71 – Jesus was ‘greatly distressed… troubled… very sorrowful… ’ (Mark 14:33-34). ‘Nevertheless, in obedience to His Father’s will, He chose the way of the Cross (42; John 10:17-18). Satan – ‘the power of darkness’ – would have his ‘hour’, but Jesus was to be ‘seated at the right hand of the power of God’ (53,69). Jesus suffered much persecution (63-71). He endured it ‘for the joy that was set before Him’, the joy of ‘bringing many son to glory’ (Hebrews 12:2; 2:10). The way of the Cross is never easy. It involves death to self (2 Corinthians 4:10-12). Do not ‘sleep’. Pray (45-46). Don’t ‘follow at a distance’ and deny your Lord (54, 57-58, 60). Keep close to Jesus. Let the ‘rivers of living water flow’ (John 7:37-39; Acts 1:8). When you sin, let His ‘Word’ lead you to repentance (61-62; Psalm 119:11).
23:1-25 – In Jesus’ trial, we see unity in evil (12). Politically, Pilate and Herod were at odds with each other. Spiritually, they were united in their opposition to Christ. Jesus was found guilty by neither Pilate nor Herod (13-16). They were Very Important People. Jesus was a threat to them. They held positions of great power. They could not allow Jesus to ‘upset the apple cart’. Three times, Pilate declared Jesus’ innocence (4,14,22). ‘Public opinion’ said, ‘Crucify Him!’ (21). Pilate had a problem. He would be ‘crucifying’ himself – politically – if he ignored public opinion. Pilate made his choice. Jesus had to go. Jesus went – but He came back again! There is real human drama here, but there is much more than that: There is God! Crucified by men, Raised by God (Acts 2:23-24): This is divine drama, the drama of redemption!
23:26-24:12 – ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’ (1 Corinthians 1:27). In his weakness, the thief on the cross trusted Christ for salvation (42-43). Pilate, a man of power, rejected Christ, sending Him off to be crucified (23:23-25). Jesus was ‘delivered into the hands of sinful men’. Jesus was ‘crucified’. This was not, for Him, the end. He rose from the dead (7). At the Cross, ‘the centurion’ described Jesus as ‘a righteous man’ (47). In the resurrection, God declared Him to be much more than a righteous man – He is ‘the Son of God’ (Romans 1:4). Don’t be like those who do ‘not believe’, those who consider Christ’s resurrection to be ‘an idle tale’ (11). Something has ‘happened’, something very wonderful – Jesus has risen from the dead:… ‘believe… be saved’ (12; Romans 10:9).
24:13-53 – ‘In all the Scriptures’, Jesus teaches ‘the things concerning Himself’ (27). Do ‘our hearts burn within us… while He opens to us the Scriptures?’ (32). He calls us to be His ‘witnesses’, to preach His message of salvation ‘to all nations’ (47-48). Before we can preach, we must listen to Him. Before we can proclaim His resurrection, we must consider His suffering for us: ‘See my hands and my feet’ (39) – even after His resurrection, they still bear ‘the mark of the nails’ (John 20:25). Listen to Christ. Consider His suffering for you. Be ‘clothed with power from on high. Let the Lord ‘bless’ you, strengthening your worship and filling you ‘with great joy’. With all this going on in your lives, we will consider it not only our responsibility but our joyful privilege to be His ‘witnesses’ (48-53)!
1:1-34 – Jesus Christ is the Word of God. He is the Beginning. He is also the End (1-3; Revelation 21:6). He is ‘the Word… made flesh’. ‘We have seen His glory’ (14). This is only the beginning. When He returns, we shall see His glory – ‘we shall see Him as He is’ (1 John 3:2). From Him, there is creation (1-3). From Him, there is salvation (12-13). In Him, we receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (29,32-34). He is the Word of God, the Lamb of God and the Son of God (1,29,34). When we look at Jesus Christ, we see God – ‘the ‘Word was God’ (1), ‘No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known’ (18). Do you want to know what God is like? – Look at Jesus (14:9). What do we see when we look at Him? – ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (29).
1:35-2:25 – Andrew brought his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus (40-42). ‘You are… You shall be…’ (42). Jesus looks beyond what we are now. He sees what we will become through the transforming power of His grace. The ‘water’ became ‘wine’ (9). This was the Lord’s doing. In Christ, we have been ‘made alive’. This is the work of God. He is ‘rich in mercy’. He loves us with a ‘great love’ (Ephesians 2:4-5). At a wedding, Jesus rejoices with those who rejoice (1-11). In the temple, He rebukes those who are proud (13-17). There was ‘death’ in the temple. Those who were spiritually ‘dead’ acted in complete disregard for the true purpose of God’s House – ‘My House shall be called a house of prayer’ (Matthew 21:13). ‘Raised from the dead’, we receive ‘new life’ (22; Romans 6:4). Be real with Jesus. He will bless you (23-25).
3:1-36 – We say, ‘I’ll turn over a new leaf’. Christ says, ‘You must be born again’ (3,7). Our way of thinking begins with ‘I’. Christ’s way of salvation begins with ‘God’: ‘God so loved the world…’ (16). Begin with ‘I’ and you have sin, guilt and condemnation (Romans 3:10-11). Begin with God and you have Good News for sinners: ‘God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Through faith in Christ, we are ‘born of the Spirit’ (6-8; 1:12). The Spirit of God is the Spirit of holiness, love and truth. Those who are ‘born of the Spirit’ are to live a life of holiness, love and truth (1 John 4:2-3,6-7,12-13; 5:2-3). ‘Come to the light’. ‘Do what is true’. ‘Obey the Son’. Let Christ increase. This is the work of the Spirit in us (20-21,36,29,34).
4:1-42 – Here, we see Jesus’ ministry of love. He brings the Samaritan woman out of her bondage to sin and into the joy of His salvation. Jesus comes to the woman in love. His love overcomes cultural divisions. His love breaks down cultural barriers (9). This is not simply the story of one woman. It is the story of ‘many Samaritans’ coming to faith in Christ (39). There are two ‘stages’ in their coming to faith. First, they ’believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony’ (39). Second, ‘they believed because of His Word’ (41). The Samaritans came to trust Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’ (42). The woman said that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (22). It is also ‘to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is for all. Pray that the human word will be empowered by the divine Word (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13).
4:43-5:29 – In Jesus’ healings, we see the love of God. He ‘went about doing good’. In His healings, we see the Source of His spiritual strength: ‘God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (Acts 10:38). We look beyond Jesus to God the Father: ‘mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through Him’ (Acts 2:22). Jesus speaks of His unique relationship with the Father (19,26). Jesus is no mere servant. He is ‘the Son’. We are to ‘honour the Son’ as well as the Father (23). Through Christ, we receive ‘eternal life’ (24). The gift of eternal life is the gift of God’s love. In love, God ‘gave His only Son’. ‘In His Son’, there is eternal life. ‘This life’ is given to everyone who ‘believes in the Son of God’ (3:16; 1 John 5:10-12). Listen to ‘the voice of the Son of God’, believe and ‘live’ (25).
5:30-6:21 – ‘Search the Scriptures’ – and make sure you ‘come to Christ and receive life’ (39-40). From Jesus’ miracles – the feeding of the five thousand (1-13) and His walking on water (16-21) – we learn about faith in Christ. Jesus is more than a ‘prophet’. He is ‘the Bread of God… which comes down from heaven’ (14,33). He is not merely a human ‘king’. He is the divine King – ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’ (15; Revelation 17:14). When the storms of life are raging, Jesus says, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’ (20). He assures us of His final victory – ‘they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them’ (Revelation 17:14). ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?… We have an anchor that keeps the soul… Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love’ (Church Hymnary, 412).
6:22-59 – Jesus said, ‘I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’ (35). Jesus had enemies – ‘The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, “I am the bread which comes down from heaven”’ (41). Christ’s enemies are still with us. They ‘murmur among themselves’ (43). How are we to respond to this situation? We must feed on Jesus Christ, ‘the Living Bread’ (51). Whatever difficulties we may face, the Lord provides for us: ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies’ (Psalm 23:5). We have His invitation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’ (Psalm 34:8). With His provision and invitation, let us make our response: ‘We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread, and long to feast upon Thee still’ (Church Hymnary, 571).
6:60-7:36 – Jesus’ words are ‘spirit and life’. They are ‘the words of eternal life’ (63,68). While others – including Judas Iscariot – were drawing back from following Jesus, Peter confessed his faith in Jesus: ‘You are the Holy One of God’ (66-71). It was only a matter of time before Judas Iscariot (71) and ‘the Jews’(1) formed an unholy alliance. The ‘time’ was ‘not yet’ (6,8). Even the plans of evil men could only be fully developed in the Lord’s time. When God permitted their evil plans to proceed, then it would be His time for Jesus’ crucifixion and our salvation (Acts 2:2). ‘The Jews’ were amazed at Jesus’ teaching – ‘How is it that this man has learning when he has never studied?’ (15). They did not understand that God’s wisdom is different from man’s wisdom. Obey God. Receive wisdom (17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
7:37-8:20 – ‘Rivers of living water’ were flowing out of Jesus’ heart. ‘No man ever spoke like this man’! ‘The Spirit’ was speaking through Him with power. Still, there were those who ‘wanted to arrest Him’ (37-39,44,46). Stop ‘throwing stones’ (1-11)! Only Jesus had the right to point the finger at this woman. He refused to do so. He bore her sins and our sins on the Cross (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus spoke to the woman of both forgiveness and holiness (11). Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’ (12). This brought an immediate reaction from the ‘Pharisees’: ‘Your testimony is not true’ (13). They were ‘disguised as angels of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). They ‘loved darkness rather than light’ (3:19). Their ‘darkness’ was exposed by ‘the Light of the world’. These evil men could do nothing until God’s time (19-20).
8:21-59 – In the face of evil unbelief and persistent opposition, Jesus spoke with tremendous assurance: ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world… you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am He’ (23-24). ‘As He spoke thus, many believed in Him (30) – Jesus spoke with power and love. Responding to Him in faith, we are set ‘free’ (32,36; Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1). To receive His freedom, we must recognize our need: ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’ (34). To grow in His freedom, we must ‘continue in His Word’ (31). To religion without Christ (39,41), Jesus’ answer is emphatic: ‘You are of your father the devil… you do not hear God’s words because you are not of God’ (44,47). ‘I am’ (58; Exodus 3:14). God is in control – not men (59,20).
9:1-41 – Empowered by God, Jesus gives sight to the blind man (3,6-7). ‘The Pharisees’ hear the man’s testimony (15). ‘Some of’ them reject the Lord (16,24). There will always be those who refuse to believe in the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will pour scorn on those who have come to know the Lord. The man gives his testimony: ‘One thing I know… I was blind, now I see’ (25). The Pharisees continue to fire questions at him (26). He puts the most challenging question to them: ‘Do you too want to become His disciples?’ (27). They hurl insults at him (28). Fools attack what they don’t understand. The more they rage, the more they show their folly. We say, ‘Lord, I believe’, and our spiritual ‘eyes’ are opened (38; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Don’t be ‘blind’, despising the believer and the Saviour (39-40; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
10:1-42 – The Christian life is not easy. The devil ‘comes only to steal and kill and destroy’ (10). Satan was working through the religious leaders. They were trying ‘to stone’ Jesus (31). ‘Again’, they failed (39). They could not take Jesus’ life. ‘His hour had not yet come’ (18; 7:30; 8:20). When Satan attacks us, we must remember this: God is in control. God has given us great promises (28-29). Jesus saves. Jesus keeps. His salvation is eternal: ‘He didn’t bring us this far to leave us. He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown. He didn’t build His home in us to move away. He didn’t lift us up to let us down’. Satan will cause us plenty of trouble. Be on the alert (1 Peter 5:8). Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Looking to Jesus, we are assured of this: Satan will be defeated (Revelation 12:9).
11:1-44 – Everything is moving on towards Christ’s death and resurrection. On His way to the Cross, Jesus performs a mighty miracle – the raising of Lazarus (43-44) – which points unmistakably to an even greater miracle – His own resurrection (Acts 2:24). Accompanying this miracle – the raising of Lazarus – , we have Jesus’ great declaration concerning Himself: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die’ (25). His words are immediately followed by the question: ‘Do you believe this?’ (26). This question is put to each of us. Jesus waits for the answer of faith: ‘Yes, Lord I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God…’(27). This is ‘for the glory of God’ – receiving new life from ‘the Son of God…’ (4).
11:45-12:36 – The Pharisees are developing their wicked plan. God is fulfilling His saving purpose (49-53). The voice of ‘common sense’ is not always the voice of the Lord (4-6). There is a higher wisdom than ‘common sense’. We are to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. He leads us to put Jesus at the centre of our lives. Jesus is not suggesting that the poor are unimportant. He is emphasising that we must not lose sight of Him. If our concern for the poor is not truly grounded in devotion to Christ, it is not the obedience of faith (8). The Pharisees are lying in wait for Jesus. They say, ‘The world has gone after Him’ (19). They are going after Him too – in a different way! The crucifixion draws near. God is to be ‘glorified’ in the defeat of Satan and the salvation of sinners (28,31-32). Jesus had ‘come’ for this ‘hour’ (27).
12:37-13:20 – The Pharisees continue to exert their evil influence. ‘For fear of the Pharisees’, many remained silent, ‘loving the praise of men more than the praise of God’ (42-43). Whatever the opposition, Jesus calls us to believe in Him and confess Him (Romans 10:9). He calls us out of darkness into light (46). If you are a believer, come out into the open. Make it known that you belong to Christ. Do not only read God’s Word for yourself. Speak His Word to others (50). The ‘hour’ of Jesus’ suffering draws near. Satan is busy. Jesus is in control (1-3). It is the ‘hour’ of His love. We are ‘washed’ in His precious blood (8; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 7:14). What God has done for us comes before what we ‘ought to ‘do for others. Jesus is our Saviour before He is our ‘Example’ (14-15). Knowing Him, let us do His will (17).
13:21-14:14 – Difficult times lay ahead for Jesus. He would be betrayed by Judas Iscariot (21-30). He would be denied by Peter (36-38). For Jesus, there was His departure (31-33). It would be a difficult time for His followers. He tells them to ‘love one another’: ‘By this all men shall know that they are His disciples’ (34-35). Jesus points them beyond the difficult times. He speaks of His glorious future. He assures them that the best is yet to be. He is preparing a place in His ‘Father’s House’ for us. He will come again to take us to Himself (1-3). He is the Way to this place, the true and living way (6). Now, He reveals the Father to us (9). Now, He is working in and through us (12-14). He is preparing us for His place: ‘Lord Jesus… fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there’ (Church Hymnary, 195).
14:15-15:17 – Those who love the Lord are called to a life of obedience – keeping His ‘commandments’, keeping His ‘Word’ (21,23). We cannot live this life in our own strength. Christ must make His home in us (23). Once He has come to live in us, we are to abide in Him (4). Jesus says to us, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (5). You cannot live the Christian life until Christ comes to live in you. ‘The Holy Spirit teaches us all things’ (26). Christ’s ‘words’ abide in us (7). We are called to a life of fruitfulness (15:5,15) – ‘the fruit of the Spirit’: ‘love, joy, peace…’ (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus loves us (21). He gives us His peace (27). He gives us His joy (11). Love, Joy, Peace: Let this ‘fruit’ be seen in us. Let it be shared with others. ‘Love one another… Go and bear fruit… love one another’ (15:12,16-17).
15:18-16:33 – Jesus was ‘persecuted’. We will be ‘persecuted’ – ‘all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted’ (15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12). We have no guarantee that life will be easy. In all our difficulties, ‘the Spirit of truth’ directs our attention to Jesus our Saviour (15:26; 16:13-15). Whatever our problems, we draw encouragement from Jesus’ words: ‘In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (16:33). Here, we have realism and faith. The world is trying to squeeze us into its own mould (Romans 12:2). Sometimes, we feel like faith is slipping away. Sometimes, we feel like giving up. What are we to say to all this? ‘Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ – This is our faith’ (1 John 5:4-5).
17:1-26 – Jesus prays for you. Jesus prays for me. We have come to faith in Him through the written Word of His apostles (20). The story of the Cross (1-5), the story of the first disciples (6-19) is an ongoing story. It continues in us. The saving effects of Christ’s death are still being felt today. The written Word of His apostles is still exerting its powerful influence on today’s world. Jesus is still praying for us (Hebrews 7:25). He prayed for His first disciples – ‘that they may be one’ (11). He prays the same prayer for us (20-23). Among His first disciples, there was Judas Iscariot, ‘the one who chose to be lost’ (12). If we are to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit’, we must take account of ‘the Judas factor’ – ‘take notice of those who create dissensions… avoid them’ (Ephesians 4:3; Jude 4; 1 John 2:18-19; Romans 16:17-18).
18:1-27 – The story continues. Jesus is betrayed. Jesus is arrested (1-11). He stands before the Jewish authorities (12-14,19-24). Jesus is ‘drinking from the cup which the Father has given Him’ – He drinks from the cup of our condemnation that we might drink from the cup of His salvation (11; Matthew 26:38-39; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Jesus’ death was not only ‘expedient’. It was ‘necessary’ – for our salvation (14; Luke 24:26). Alongside the story of Jesus was the story of Peter (15-18,25-27). Jesus’ death was not the end of His story – He rose from the dead (Luke 24:5-6; Acts 2:23-24). Peter denied the Lord three times. This was not the end of his story. For each denial, there was a new commitment (21:15-17). For each denial, there were, on the Day of Pentecost, 1,000 people brought to Christ (Acts 2:38,41).
18:28-19:16 – ‘Barabbas was a robber’. He was released (39-40). There was ‘no crime’ in Jesus. He was ‘crucified’ (38,4,6,16). Was Jesus no more than the innocent victim of a shameful and tragic miscarriage of justice? No! Jesus, the King of kings, chose to die. Looking ahead to the Cross, He said, ‘For this I was born…’ (36-37). In love, He chose death on the Cross. As truly as Barabbas, each of us can say, ‘He took my place and died for me’. In His death, Jesus did not only take the place of one sinner, Barabbas – ‘He took the place of many sinners’. He did not simply bear the punishment deserved by one sinner, Barabbas – ‘The Lord made the punishment fall on Him, the punishment all of us deserved’ (Isaiah 53:12,6).
19:17-20:10 – ‘It is finished’ (30). These are not words of despair. They are words of triumph. At an early stage in His public ministry, Jesus said, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me to finish His work’ (4:34). Even then, He was looking ahead to the Cross, to the completion of the work of redemption. In one sense, ‘it is finished’ – on the Cross. In another sense, there is more to be done – by the Father. The Cross is followed by the resurrection – ‘God raised Him from the dead’ (Acts 2:24; Romans 10:9). To come to the words, ‘It is finished’ is not to reach the end of the story. Jesus was laid in the tomb (42). Still, this was not the end of the story. Something else had to happen – ‘Jesus had to rise from the dead’ (9). For our salvation, Jesus died ‘and was raised to life’ (Romans 4:25).
20:11-31 – Christ is ‘the Lord’ (2,18,20,25). Christ is ‘my Lord’ (13,28). Faith becomes real when Jesus comes to us. Here, we see Jesus coming to Mary, the disciples and Thomas. Here, we see Mary, the disciples and Thomas – changed by the power of the risen Christ. In love, He comes to them, and they are changed. (a) Mary was ‘weeping’ (13,15). Jesus came to her, and she became a confident believer – ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (18). (b) The disciples were filled with ‘fear’. Jesus came to them. He gave them His ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ (19-20). (c) Thomas found faith hard to come by (25). Jesus came to him, and he believed – ‘My Lord and my God!’ (28). Through the Gospel, we find faith: ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name’ (31).
21:1-25 – ‘Fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19) – Set your goals lower than this, and you will take others with you. Together, you will discover the emptiness of life without Christ at its centre – ‘they caught nothing’ (3). Note the contrast between the self-centered life (5) and the Christ-centered life (6,8,11). Loving, serving and following Jesus – These are the most important things in life (15-17,22). Don’t look over your shoulder at someone else – ‘Lord, what about this man?’ (21). Let it be personal – Jesus says, ‘Do you love Me?’ (15-17). He asked Peter, ‘Do you love me more than these?’ (15) – more than you love these other disciples, more than these other disciples love Me, more than your boats, nets and fishes? Look back and ask yourself, ‘Do I love Jesus more than I did a year ago?’
1:1-26 – We read, in John 7:39, that ‘the Spirit’ would not be ‘given’ until Jesus was ‘glorified’. Now, as Jesus was about to be ‘taken up… into heaven’, He tells His apostles, ‘the Holy Spirit’ will ‘come upon you’ (11,8). He gives them His Word of promise: ‘I send the promise of my Father upon you’. He gives them His Word of command: ‘stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). They wait upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. They cannot fill themselves with the Spirit. They can only ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). Waiting for the Spirit, the apostles ‘devote themselves to prayer’ (14). They do not earn the Holy Spirit as a reward for spending much time in prayer. Waiting on God, their strength is renewed as they receive God’s gift (Isaiah 40:31; Luke 11:13).
2:1-47 – ‘No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12:3). ‘In Jerusalem’, on ‘the day of Pentecost’ there are ‘Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven’ (1,5). They are ‘amazed’ at what they hear – ‘we hear them telling in our own tongue the mighty works of God’ (7-11). The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus Christ (John 16:14). ‘To God be the glory! Great things He hath done!’ (Church Hymnary, 374). Speaking ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance’, the apostles pave the way for Peter’s bold proclamation: ‘God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified’ (36). Empowered ‘by the Holy Spirit’, this message – ‘Jesus is Lord’ – is still God’s way of bringing people to Himself. Preach Christ. Pray for the Spirit’s power. Look to God for His blessing (41-47).
3:1-26 – ‘Laid daily at the gate of the temple’, the ‘man lame from birth’ had seen plenty of ‘ordinary’ days (2). This was no ‘ordinary’ day. This was a day for ‘walking, and leaping, and praising God’ (9). Jesus Christ can do for us what ‘silver and gold’ cannot do (6). He is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’ (Romans 1:16). From the healing of the lame man came a great opportunity for Peter to preach the Gospel to ‘the people’ (10-12). Peter gave all the glory to God. Peter and John had not performed this miracle by their ‘own power or piety’ (12). This was the work of God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, the God who raised Jesus from the dead (13-16). This is the God who calls us to return to Him. ‘Turn’ to Him. He will forgive your sins. He will send ‘times of refreshing’ (19).
4:1-5:11 – Peter preached Christ with great boldness: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (12). This boldness came from the Holy Spirit. Peter was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (4:8). Don’t say, ‘I‘m no Peter’. Peter failed his Lord and had to be restored (Matthew 26:69-75; John 21:15-17). Peter drew great strength from ‘the company of those who believed’. They ‘gathered together’ for prayer. They ‘were of one heart and soul’…’ (31-33). Why did God deal so severely with Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)? This was the start of something great. God refused to let His work be spoiled! There is a warning for us: Don’t pretend to be more holy than you really are. God sees what you’re really like. ‘Search me, O God…’ (Psalm 139:23-24).
5:12-6:7 – There was great blessing: ‘More than ever believers were added to the Lord’ (14). There was persecution (17-18). This did not hinder the advance of the Gospel (42). Satan was not going to give up easily. He came right back at the apostles (1). Satan was defeated. Through the Spirit of God and the Word of God, the victory was won. The apostles ‘devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word’. They were supported by ‘seven men… known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (3-4). Armed with ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’, let us be ‘be strong in the Lord’ – ‘filled with the Spirit’ – as we ‘let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly’ (Ephesians 6:17,10; 5:18; Colossians 3:16). Filled with His Spirit and obedient to His Word, let us look to God for His blessing (7).
6:8-8:3 – In life and death, Stephen was Christlike. In life and death, he made a great impact. In life, we see him, ‘full of grace and power’, doing ‘great wonders and signs among the people’. People noticed that ‘his face was like the face of an angel’. Even his enemies took notice of him. Unable to ‘withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke’, they decided that he needed to be silenced. (6:8,15,10-11). In death, we hear him praying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (7:59-60). In Stephen’s words, we hear an echo of Christ’s words from the Cross (Luke 23:34,46). Stephen was dying. Stephen was praying. Saul was watching. Saul was listening (8). God was working. The seeds were being sown. Saul would be born again as the Apostle Paul (9:4-6)!
8:4-40 – Make sure that it’s real! Simon the magician was impressed by the ‘signs and great miracles’, but his ‘heart’ was ‘not right before God’ (13,19). The Ethiopian’s conversion was real. Searching the Scriptures, he found the Saviour (30-35). From the Ethiopian’s conversion, we learn of Jesus’ promise: ‘Seek and you will find’. From Simon’s tragedy, we hear Jesus’ warning: ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord”, shall enter the kingdom of heaven…’ (Matthew 7:7,21-23). What is God saying to us from these two very different stories? – ‘Be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10). ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart today; Try me, O Lord, and know my thoughts I pray; See if there be some wicked way in me, Cleanse me from every sin and set me free’ (Mission Praise. 587).
9:1-43 – Saul the persecutor become Paul the Apostle (13:9). What a great turning-point this was in the life of the early Church! When we read of Paul’s missionary journeys (13:1-28:31), we may be tempted to think, ‘What a great man Paul must have been’. In his letters, Paul insists that we must not think like this. He tells us that ‘nothing good dwells within’ him. Paul never forgot his ‘past’: ‘I cursed Him, persecuted Him, and acted arrogantly toward Him’. Paul describes himself as ‘the worst of sinners’. Paul gives his testimony: ‘The grace of God was poured on me abundantly’ (Romans 7:18; 1 Timothy 1:13-15). God’s true servants direct our attention to Christ. Ananias said, ‘The Lord Jesus… has sent me…’(17). Saul ‘preached boldly in the Name of Jesus’ (27). Peter said, ‘Jesus Christ heals you…’ (34).
10:1-11:18 – ‘When the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be My witnesses… to the ends of the earth’ (1:8). This great advance of the Gospel – Salvation reaches ‘the Gentiles’ (10:45; 11:1,18) – is a movement of ‘the Spirit’ (11:12). The Spirit speaks through the Word (10:44; 11:15). In God’s Word, we read of (a) God’s love for the whole world (John 3:16); (b) God’s Son who died for ‘the sins of the whole world’ (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2); (c) God’s command that ‘the Good News’ should be preached to ‘everyone’ (Mark 16:15); (d) God’s purpose that there should be disciples of Christ in every nation (Matthew 28:19). ‘Every person in every nation, in each succeeding generation, has the right to hear the News that Christ can save… Here am I, send me’ (Youth Praise, 128). ‘Go forth and tell!’ (Mission Praise, 178).
11:19-12:25 – Barnabas ‘was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord’ (11:24). Let’s be like Barnabas, giving ourselves to the Lord and asking Him to make us more useful in His service. Great things can happen when ‘earnest prayer’ is ‘made to God by the church’ – God ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think’ (5-7; Ephesians 3:20). Give all the glory to the Lord. Herod ‘did not give God the glory’. He accepted the praise of the people – ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man’. Herod’s sudden death – ‘an angel of the Lord struck him down’ – is a warning (12:22-23; Proverbs 29:1). ‘Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows that he will also reap’. ‘Walk humbly with your God’ (Galatians 6:7; Micah 6:8).
13:1-43 – ‘Set apart’ by ‘the Holy Spirit’, ‘sent out by the Holy Spirit’, ‘filled by the Holy Spirit’ (2,4,9): In the ministry of Paul and Barnabus, we see the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In their teaching, we have ‘the teaching of the Lord’ (12). This is what Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 – ‘When you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers’. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. What is God saying to us as we listen to His Word? – ‘Continue in the grace of God’ (43). How are we to continue in the grace of God? – Keep looking away from the human servant to the divine Saviour: ‘After me One is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am unworthy to untie’ (25).
13:44-14:28 – When God is working powerfully through His servants, there is always the tendency to attach too much importance to the servants. We must resist this temptation. The glory belongs to God alone. We must never forget: ‘We too are only men, human like you’. God has called us to ‘bring Good News’ to sinners, the Good News of salvation. As we proclaim this Good News – ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – , we must never forget this: We are ‘unworthy servants’, ‘the worst of sinners’ (14:28; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; Luke 17:10). Look beyond the preacher, the evangelist, the teacher of God’s Word. Look to the Saviour. Give all the glory to Him. He is the Gospel. He is our salvation. He is the living Word. The Gospel is preached. There is blessing. We say, ‘God has done this!’ (52,8,27).
15:1-35 – The Gospel is for all nations. In the Old Testament, we catch a glimpse of this (Genesis 12:1-3; Psalms 96:1-3;100:1; Isaiah 45:22). Here, we have the Gospel made clear. Peter says, ‘We shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus’ (11). Paul says, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (16:31). This is the Gospel: ‘By grace you have been saved through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8). Together with the Good News concerning salvation, there is also an ‘exhortation’ to go on with the Saviour (31). In this call to submit to the Lord, we hear the word, ‘abstain’ (20,29). Does this sound negative? It is a positive call to be set apart for God – ‘saved… for good works…’ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Christ is our Saviour. He is also our Lord. In salvation and surrender, we find our true joy (31).
15:36-16:40 – Notice the importance of prayer in the advance of the Gospel. They were looking for a prayer meeting when Lydia was saved (13-14). They were going to a prayer meeting when the girl was saved (16-18). They were having a prayer meeting when the jailer was saved (25-34). They had gone to Philippi ‘to preach the Gospel to them’ (10). Even when they were ‘in chains’, the Gospel proved itself to be ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’ (Ephesians 6:20; Romans 1:16). ‘The Word of God is not bound’. It is ‘living and active’. ‘Sharper than any two-edged sword’, it is ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (2 Timothy 2:9; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17). Do you want people to ask the Salvation question and heed the Gospel answer (30-31)? ‘Pray at all times in the Spirit… with all perseverance’ (Ephesians 6:18).
17:1-34 – Notice the importance of the Scriptures for both public ministry – ‘reasoning with them from the Scriptures’ and private devotion – ‘examining the Scriptures every day’ (2,11). We need the Word of the Lord on the Lord’s Day. We need the Word of the Lord every day. God is not the ‘unknown God’. He has made himself known to us. For many, He seems to be the ‘unknown God’. We must seek to lead them beyond a vague awareness of ‘the God who made the world’ to a real knowledge of Jesus Christ who died and rose again for our salvation (24,3). When our faith is grounded in the Scriptures, we will not think of God as the ‘unknown God’ about whom we can know very little. We will make it our ambition ‘to know Christ and the power of His resurrection’ (Philippians 3:10). ‘Let us press on to know the Lord’ (Hosea 6:3).
18:1-21 – It was not an easy situation at Corinth. There were some who ‘opposed Paul and became abusive’ (6). There was great pressure on Paul. He could have given up very easily. It was God’s Word which kept Paul going (10). Paul did not collapse under thee pressure – ‘he stayed a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them’ (11). At Ephesus, there were people who asked Paul ‘to stay for a longer period’. He ‘declined’. Paul was moving on. He refused to be shackled by the expectations of other people. The important thing was ‘God’s will’. For us, there can be no standing still. We must move on with God. We must not get ‘stuck in a rut’. Some say, ‘Everything must remain the same. Nothing must change’. Paul had to ‘set sail from Ephesus’. We must ‘launch out into the deep’ – at Jesus’ Word (20-21; Luke 5:4-5).
18:22-19:22 – Apollos ‘taught accurately the things concerning Jesus’. He needed to have ‘the way of God expounded to him more accurately’ (24-26). There is always more to learn. We should never adopt a ‘know-it-all’ attitude. In ‘two years’ of ministry, ‘God did’ great things through Paul (10-11). Paul was moving on. His road led to ‘Rome’. It was a road, full of blessing – ‘The Word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily’ (20-21). Paul was on the move. God was on the move. Wherever Paul went, there were opportunities to make Christ known. Wherever he went, people were trusting Christ. Paul was moving from place to place, bringing Christ to so many different people. People were moving ‘from death to life’ (John 5:24). This is what drove Paul on – Bringing more and more sinners to his Saviour!
19:23-20:16 – Read verse 28: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’. Remember Exodus 20:3 – ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’. Remove all pretenders from God’s throne. Rededicate yourself to the Lord – ‘King of my life, I crown Thee now, Thine shall the glory be’ (Redemption Hymnal, 165). People could not get enough of God’s Word. Be hungry and thirsty for God, for His righteousness, for His Word, for His blessing (7; Matthew 5:6). Paul wanted to be ‘at Jerusalem… on the day of Pentecost’ (16). This had been a place and time of blessing (2:1-4,41). Paul was eager for the blessing of God in his own life. He was eager to bring God’s blessing to others. How much does the blessing of God mean to you? Do you want His blessing? Do you want to be a blessing? ‘Lord bless me and make me a blessing’.
20:17-21:14 – From Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders, there are some lessons for all of us. (a) ‘Repentance to God’ and ‘faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (21) – This is not only a call for conversion. It is for every believer – all the time. (b) ‘Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock of God… Care for the Church of God’ (28). Taking our own spiritual growth seriously will always involve caring for others. (c) ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (35). Jesus Others Yourself – This is JOY. Let it be Thanksgiving (‘I want to’) rather than Duty Giving (‘I ought to’) or Grudge Giving (‘I have to’). For Jesus and Paul, Jerusalem meant suffering. For both, the important thing was doing ‘the Lord’s will’ (10-14; Matthew 16:21-23). ‘Let us go forth to Him… and bear the abuse He endured’ (Hebrews 13:13).
21:15-22:16 – Here, we focus on two brief phrases – ‘the things that God had done’ (19) and you will be a witness for Him’ (22:15). In the work of God we must learn to hold these two things together – divine power and human witness. Without the power of God, no one will come to faith in Christ: ‘It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. How does God work? – He works through human witnesses: ‘we preach… Jesus Christ as Lord’. How are divine power and human witness related to each other? – ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent, superior, all-surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (Corinthians 4:5-7). Let God speak – through you!
22:17-23:35 – A Jew, ‘praying in the temple’ at ‘Jerusalem’, Paul was obedient to God’s call – ‘I will send you far away to the Gentiles’ (22:17,21).The racists would not hear of this – ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he ought not to live’ (22:22). This was not simply dislike for Paul. This was hatred directed against the God who, in Jesus Christ, offers salvation to all nations. Paul was a ‘Roman citizen’ (22:25-29). God was protecting Paul for his future ministry – ‘you must bear witness also at Rome’ (23:11). Paul was giving his own testimony when he wrote the words, ‘All things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8:28). Serving the Lord is never easy. Sometimes, it can be very difficult. When we face violent opposition, we draw our strength from God’s Word – ‘Take courage’ (23:10-11).
24:1-27 – Paul did not abandon the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures – ‘I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets (14). He read the Old Testament. It led him to Christ. Paul’s great theme was ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ (24). Paul speaks. Jesus is speaking through him. Jesus did ‘not come to abolish the law and the prophets’. He came ‘to fulfil them’. ‘Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself’ (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27). God has spoken ‘through the prophets’. God has spoken through His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2). We read the Old Testament. We learn from ‘Moses’ and ‘Elijah’. They step back. We see ‘Jesus, only’. He is God’s ‘beloved Son’. We ‘listen to Him’ (Matthew 17:3,8,5).
25:1-27 – Paul stood before Festus as an accused man. Festus listened. Recognizing his own shortcomings and respecting the accused wishes, he gave Paul a fair hearing (20-21,25). Festus made no decision – ‘I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him’ (26). Jesus was ‘dead’. Now, He is ‘alive’ (19). This is not just ‘something to think about’. We must make our decision. There can be no ‘sitting on the fence’. Some are indecisive – ‘I have nothing definite to say about Jesus’. It’s ‘make up your mind’ time – ‘How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?’ (Hebrews 2:3). Festus had to make a decision about Paul. There is a more important question: ‘What do you think of the Christ?’ Each of us must answer the question: ‘What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (Matthew 22:42; 27:22).
26:1-32 – Paul answers three questions concerning himself. He puts a most important question to his hearers. (a) What was I before my conversion? Here, he speaks of his religion – ‘According to the strictest party of my religion I have lived as a Pharisee’ (5). This brought him ‘to the ground’ (14). (b) How did my conversion come about? Here, he speaks of his Saviour – ‘I am Jesus… Stand up!’ (15). (c) What happened after my conversion? Here, he describes how he became a ‘servant’ and a ‘witness’ (16). (d) The final question concerns our response – What about you? Will you become a Christian? (27-29). Do you have a story to tell? – Tell your story: the ‘before’, the ‘after’, the fact that it was Jesus who made the difference. Don’t forget the challenge: To ‘all who are listening to me today’ – Come to Christ (29).
27:1-44 – There is, in this story, a great picture of God’s way of salvation. (a) Our human situation is hopeless: ‘All our hope of being saved was at last abandoned’ (20). We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves. (b) There is hope: ‘God has granted you all those who sail with you’ (25). God has provided a way of salvation: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son’ (John 3:16). (c) Faith believes the Word of God: ‘I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told’ (25) – ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (16:31). (d) Safety: ‘all escaped to land’ (44). God has ‘prepared’ for us ‘a better country’, a ‘heavenly one’, ‘a city’, ‘the city which is to come’. Do you want to ‘escape’, to be saved? Make sure that you don’t ‘neglect such a great salvation’ (Hebrews 11:16; 13:14; 2:3).
28:1-31 – Read of Paul’s protection from the ‘snake’. ‘Rejoice’ – Christ has won for us a great victory over ‘that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan’. When God gives us His victory, we must not think too highly of ourselves – ‘he was a god’. We must give all the glory to God: ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God and the authority of His Christ have come’ (3-6; Genesis 3:14-15; Revelation 12:9-12). ‘So we came to Rome’ (14) – These are words of triumph. God had fulfilled His promise: ‘you must bear witness also at Rome’ (23:11). Rejoicing that ‘this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles’, Paul was ‘preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered’ (29,31). Don’t miss God’s opportunities to share Christ’s Good News!