Tag Archives: church

Childlike Humility: The Character of Saving Grace (Matthew 18)

Scripture reading – Matthew 18

Matthew 18 suggests four major themes: 1) The Spiritual Character of the Citizens of Heaven (18:1-4); 2) God’s Love and Care for His Children (18:5-14); 3) Steps to Resolving Conflicts and Offenses (18:15-20); 4) A Lesson in Forgiveness (18:21-35). Today’s devotional commentary will be limited to the first theme:

The Spiritual Character of Heavenly Citizenship (Matthew 18:1-4)

The opening phrase of Matthew 18, “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus” (18:1a), demands that we put the passage in context. Peter, James, and John had witnessed a display of Jesus’ heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, but He had commanded them to tell no man; a vision they would keep to themselves until Christ was resurrected from the dead.

Descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus had found His disciples the target of scoffing because they had failed to cast an evil spirit out of a father’s son. Jesus then taught His followers a lesson in prayer and dependence on God’s power, saying: “This kind [kind of faith] can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Matthew 18 marks a dramatic shift in Christ’s ministry, from one to the multitudes, to a ministry focused primarily on His Twelve Disciples (Mark 9:30).

As they passed through Galilee in their journey to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus foretold His betrayal, death, and resurrection (Matthew 17:22-23).  Matthew would later write, “They were exceeding sorry” (17:23b). Mark wrote, “They [the disciples] understood not… and were afraid to ask Him” (Mark 9:32). Luke wrote in his Gospel, “they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:45).

Why were the disciples blind to what Jesus taught concerning His death, burial and resurrection? Why did they fear to ask Him?

Three possible explanations come to mind: The first, it served God’s purpose for the disciples to hear, but not understand until after Jesus was resurrected from the dead (Luke 9:45). A second, they might have feared to ask for explanation after Peter was rebuked by Jesus for opposing His prophesy of His suffering death, and resurrection (Mark 8:32-33; 9:32). Another explanation, and one I suggest is the malady of many believers; the disciples were blinded by selfish ambitions.

During their journey to Capernaum, the disciples entered into a dispute among themselves (Mark 9:33-37; note also Matthew 20:20-21; Luke 22:24). Though knowing the hearts and thoughts of His disciples (Luke 9:47a), Jesus asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” (Mark 9:33) Mark would later reveal that the disciples “had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34). That dispute brings us to Matthew 18:1 when the disciples came “unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The disciples had expected Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom. Dismissing the prophecies of the Messiah’s suffering and death (Isaiah 53), they anticipated He would establish the Messianic kingdom prophesied by the prophets. Thus, the disciples debated among themselves, “Who is the greatest?” (18:1)

Seeming to ignore their question, Jesus called a “little child unto Him, and set him in the midst” (18:2) and began to teach His followers a spiritual lesson:

 A young child is a portrait of greatness, cloaked in humility (18:2).

The disciples were common men, and for the most part, fishermen. They were fickle-hearted, short-sighted, and self-centered. Though common, ordinary men, they nevertheless shared aspirations of fame, success, and power. Knowing the pride that resided in their hearts, Jesus set a child in their midst and said, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (18:3).

What spiritual truth should the disciples have taken from this object lesson?

Humility will define the character of all who are citizens of the “kingdom of heaven” (18:3). In other words, childlike humility is the sign of saving grace (18:4).

What was it about the small child that served Christ as a portrait of humility? I suggest four traits of humility found in the boy’s example. The first, he came to Jesus when He called (18:2a). Secondly, he yielded to Jesus’ will and embrace (Mark 9:36). The third, he stayed in the place where Christ called him (Luke 9:47). Finally, he served as nothing more than Christ’s example of humility (Matthew 18:3-4; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48).

The character of the children of God, who are citizens of heaven is this:

Matthew 18:3–43And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted [repent; turn from sin to Christ], and become as little children [submissive, trusting, yielded to the will of God], ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble [lowly submission] himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, Christ’s defined greatness and success, not by how many serve a man, but how many a man serves: “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35b)

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Nothing is Impossible (Matthew 17; Mark 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 17; Mark 9

Today’s chronological Scripture reading brings us to within six months of Christ’s appointment with the cross. The crowds following Jesus throughout Israel are growing, while the anxiety and fear of His enemies are inflamed. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priest plot His arrest, as His disciples debate among themselves who would be the greatest in His earthly kingdom.

Matthew 17 and Mark 9 record the transfiguration of Christ when He unveiled His heavenly glory.

Words and imagination fail me to describe the transformative moment when Peter, James, and his brother John (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13) witnessed Christ’s transfiguration. Those three disciples, identified as Christ’s inner circle, gazed upon Jesus, “and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (17:2). As the disciples looked on, suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus “talking with Him” (17:3). It has been suggested by many, and I believe the same, that Moses was representative of the Law and Elijah the prophets.

Peter, never one to be at a loss for words, interrupted the moment and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias [i.e. Elijah]” (17:4). Even as the words were in Peter’s mouth, he was interrupted by a sight and sound that silenced him and struck fear in the three disciples.

Matthew 17:5–6 – “5While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.”

With a touch of compassion (17:7), Jesus bid the disciples to rise, and challenged them to tell no man what they had seen, “until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (17:9). Peter would write later of this experience on the mount: “[We] were eyewitnesses of his [Christ’s] majesty. 17For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him [Christ] in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16–18).

After He had descended the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus found His other disciples embroiled in a controversy with scribes (experts in the Law of Moses), who were “questioning,” and mocking the disciples’ failure to cast a demon out of a father’s son (Mark 9:14; Matthew 17:14-16). Rebuking His disciples for their lack of faith (Matthew 17:17), Jesus commanded the demon to depart from the son, “and the child was cured from that very hour” (17:18).

The disciples, embarrassed by their failure and humbled by Jesus’ rebuke (Mark 9:19), later questioned why they had been unable to cast the demon out of the child (Mark 9:28).  Christ’s answer revealed the power and necessity of faith and prayer (Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:20-21).

Matthew 17:20–2120And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

The disciples had failed to cast the demon out of the child because they had faltered in both the matter of faith and prayer.

Jesus taught, even a small amount of faith can grow and overcome obstacles as great as a mountain (I believe the idea of moving a mountain was figurative or symbolic of great obstacles, and not literal mountains). To overcome a great obstacle, like that of the possession and influence of a demon, required both faith (believing “nothing shall be impossible” – Matthew 17:20) and “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).

Are you facing obstacles that seem to tower over you like mountains? Are you struggling to believe and trust God?

Set your heart to seek the LORD in prayer. Desire Him more than you crave food!

Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Whose Doctrine Are You Following? (Matthew 16; Mark 8)

Scripture reading – Matthew 16; Mark 8

There are times when I read and study the Scriptures that I feel overwhelmed by the necessity to choose one truth from a passage that is rich in content. Today’s Scripture reading in Matthew 16 and Mark 8 presents us with that challenge: Mining one truth in a passage of Scripture arrayed with diamonds of truth too numerous to be counted.

Mark 8:1-9 begins with the account of the Feeding of the Four Thousand. Immediately after, Jesus and the disciples departed by ship to an area known as “Dalmanutha,” which was located on the western short of the Sea of Galilee near Magdala (8:10). It was in Dalmanutha that the LORD had a confrontation with the Pharisees, the religious legalists of His day. The Pharisees came to Jesus and demanded that He prove Himself with a “sign [i.e. a miraculous sight] from heaven” (8:11). Mark declares that the purpose of the Pharisees was to tempt Jesus, meaning to put Him to the test in hopes that He would fail (8:11).

Understanding Jesus knew the hearts of men, He rebuked the Pharisees saying, “There shall no sign be given unto this generation” (8:12b). Jesus then departed, setting sail for Bethsaida (8:13-22), a village located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, that was the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44-45).

As they crossed the sea, Jesus charged His disciples, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod” (8:15). “Leaven,” like yeast, was used in dough to induce bread to rise when baked. The disciples, hearing Jesus speak of leaven, assumed He was speaking of bread, because they had neglected to bring bread on their journey (8:14, 16).

The irony of the moment was summed up when Jesus asked the disciples, “Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?” (8:17-18).

What was the irony? That the disciples would have been concerned with what they would eat at their next meal (8:19-20)! After twice witnessing Jesus take the lunch of a boy and feed 5,000 men, and seven loaves of bread and feed 4,000 men, and have leftovers on each occasion: Why would they be concerned about their next meal? “How is it that ye do not understand?” (8:21)

Matthew sums up the same narrative, concluding that the disciples then understood “how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12).

What was the “leaven (i.e. doctrine) of the Pharisees, and of the leaven (i.e. doctrine) of Herod”? (8:15)

It was a religious hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) that was rooted in their legalism (Matthew 23:27-29), traditionalism, doctrine of works for salvation, and other errors and departures from the Truth. I close asking,

Is the 21st century Church any different? How much of what we believe, and the Church observes, is rooted in traditionalism and not in the Truth?

As Bible believers, our doctrine and practice is to be solely based upon the Truth of God’s Word, and not traditionalism or the philosophies and interpretations of men.

John 17:17 17Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

God Uses Simple Things (Matthew 15; Mark 7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 15; Mark 7

We noted in an earlier devotional the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-43; John 6:1-14); and we find a similar miracle in today’s Scripture reading that is known as the Feeding of the Four Thousandor The Miracle of the Seven Loaves and Fish (Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 8:1-21).

The setting was a hillside that overlooked the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 15:29), at a place Mark identifies as Decapolis (Mark 8:31). Whereas the feeding of the 5,000 had taken place in Galilee at Bethsaida (Luke 9:10) and was attended by Jewish people; Decapolis would have had a population that was predominately Gentile. In other words, the feeding of the 4,000 not only put the faith of the disciples to the test, but also challenged their prejudices towards Gentiles.

Now, the fame of Jesus had reached Decapolis and there “great multitudes” came seeking Jesus, and bringing their loved ones who were “lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others” (Matthew 15:30, 38). Believing Jesus could, and would heal their family and friends, the people “cast them at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them, “31Insomuch that the multitude wondered [marveled], when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel” (15:31).

After ministering, and healing the sick and afflicted for three days, Jesus was sensitive that the people had “nothing to eat” (15:32). It was at the close of the third day when Jesus declared to His disciples, “I have compassion on the multitude…I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (15:32).

When Jesus fed the five thousand, He had questioned Philip how they might feed so many. On this occasion, the disciples questioned Jesus, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” (15:33)

The disciples, perhaps expecting Jesus would perform a miracle, stated the obvious: They lacked the means to feed the people. The disciples knew it was not a question of whether or not Jesus could perform a miracle. The question was, “Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness?” (15:33)

Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes” (15:34).

Taking the resources, the disciples had available, Jesus “commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. 36And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude” (15:35-36). There was not only enough to feed the multitude, there were leftovers that “left seven baskets full” (15:37; Mark 8:8).

There are several lessons we might take from this event.

The first: The challenge to look past our prejudices, and see the need of lost souls around us. When Jesus fed the 5,000, the disciples were among their own people, the Jews of Galilee. In Decapolis, however, the population was mostly Gentile, and a people the Jews would have disdained. Nevertheless, the people were hurting and hungry and Jesus had compassion on them (15:32).

A second lesson: God uses for His work and ministry, the resources we have at hand, no matter how little or humble.

The question for the disciples was not, “What would Jesus do to feed so many?” The question was, Would the disciples give what they had to the LORD, so that He might minister to others through them and their offering?”

I fear many believers go through life without ever grasping that simple truth:

Your ministry is dependent, not on your ability, but on your availability.     

1 Corinthians 1:26-27, 29 – “26 For ye see your calling [invitation to accept the benefits of salvation], brethren, how that not many wise men [wise in the estimation of man] after the flesh [nature of man], not many mighty [powerful; strong], not many noble [noble birth; high in rank; i.e. king, price or ruler], are called: 27  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound [make ashamed; dishonor; confuse] the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things [feeble; impotent] of the world to confound the things which are mighty… 29  That no flesh [no mortal man] should glory [boast; rejoice] in His presence [the Presence of God].”

Will you dedicate to the LORD all that you are and have, whether little or much?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Divine Omnipotence Provides, Where Human Resourcefulness Fails (John 6)

Scripture reading – John 6

Today’s Scripture reading brings us to the Gospel of John, chapter six, and what is often referred to as, the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” (John 6:1-15). We read in John 6:1, “After these things Jesus went over [lit. “other side”; farther side; across] the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.”

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke reveal the “things” that preceded Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and seeking the solitude of the wilderness. Luke records it was after the disciples returned from preaching the Gospel in towns and villages (Luke 9:10-17). Matthew writes it was after the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and reported how John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod (Matthew 14:6-12). After receiving news of John’s death, Jesus departed by ship with His disciples and went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee that was identified as the “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1).

Knowing it was the custom of Jesus to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 6:4), we should consider why Jesus did not go up to Jerusalem. John the Baptist having been martyred by Herod Antipas, and the Pharisees and Sanhedrin harboring a growing hostility toward Him, I believe Jesus was avoiding a premature confrontation with those who a year later would require He be crucified.

John 6

We read in John’s Gospel that there was a “great multitude” who followed Jesus, “because they saw [experienced; beheld] his miracles [supernatural signs that authenticated Jesus had divine power and authority] which he did on them that were diseased [weak; feeble; i.e. blind, lame, crippled]. 3  And Jesus went up [ascended] into [unto] a mountain [hill; ascending  from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee], and there he sat with his disciples” (6:2-3).

Ever manifesting compassion on the people, Jesus asked Philip, “Whence [what source or place] shall we buy bread, that these [the “great company”] may eat?” (6:5). Notice the question was not, “Philip, what are you going to do about feeding the people?” No, the question posed to Philip was, “Whence shall we buy bread?” (6:5).

What was the purpose of the question Jesus posed to Philip? John would write later, “this He [Jesus] said to prove [examine or test] him [Philip]: for He [Jesus] himself knew [looking ahead, knew with certainty] what He would do [was purposed to do]” (6:6).

Philip surmised, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:7). Assuming a “pennyworth” was probably a denarius and was a day laborer’s pay, Philip calculated the expense to feed so many would be nearly equal to eight month’s wages, and that only “a little” (6:7).

Another disciple, Andrew, identified as “Simon Peter’s brother” (6:8), came with news that there was a boy, “which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes;” however, he recognized the obvious stating, “but what are they among so many?’ (6:9)

With a prayer of thanksgiving (6:11), Jesus took up the small boy’s lunch and directed His disciples to distribute the fish and loaves of bread. By divine blessing and omnipotence, Jesus fed five thousand men (6:10), and in addition, “women and children” (Matthew 14:21). How many were fed that day would be conjecture on my part, but suffice it to say there were thousands more besides the five thousand men who represented that many households.

Not only was there enough to feed a great multitude, there was more than enough as the disciples took up leftovers that were enough to fill twelve lunch baskets (6:12-13), no doubt providing for the disciples next meal.

What can be learned from this miracle of feeding so many from so little?

For the multitude that had been fed and were aware that they had witnessed a great miracle, they confessed: “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (6:14). Riding the emotions of the hour, but also revealing how little has changed in man since that day, we read: “They would come and take him by force, to make him a king” (6:15). Knowing it was not yet time for Him to present Himself as the Messiah King, Jesus withdrew “into a mountain Himself alone” (6:15b).

That day, Philip, Andrew, and the other disciples learned a great lesson that we should all heed:

Where human potential fails, divine omnipotence fulfills.

Jesus would later remind His disciples, “for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“The Fearless, Fearful and Foolish” (Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9

History gives abundant testimony of the tension, conflict, and hostility the world holds toward God, His Word, and His people. In today’s Scripture reading (Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9), the animosity of human authority toward God and His prophet takes center stage.

The ministry of John the Baptist had been powerful, and the prophet had not minced words when confronting the sins of his day. Not even the most prominent politician in Israel had been spared the prophet’s condemnation (Matthew 14:4).

Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great, was “the tetrarch” of Galilee, a tetrarch being a ruler of one-fourth of a Roman province (Matthew 14:1). Herod had divorced his wife and married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 6:17). Their incestuous marriage had not only been an affront to God (Leviticus 18:16), but also to the Jewish people.

John the Baptist had tenaciously condemned such wickedness in Israel and said to Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4). Herod became so exasperated with John’s public rebukes that he had the prophet bound and imprisoned (14:3). Though he wished to put him to death, Herod “feared the multitude, because they counted him [John] as a prophet” (14:5). Herodias, on the other hand, had no political qualms and she “would have killed him; but she could not” (Mark 6:19), “for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy” (Mark 6:20).

Now a great banquet was held for Herod’s birthday, and the daughter of Herodias, after being instructed by her mother to dance before Herod and his guests, had instructed her to ask for the head of John the Baptist when the king offered to reward her (Matthew 14:6-7). Following her mother’s instructions, the daughter of Herodias, demanded, “Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger” (Matthew 14:8). Too proud to confess his error, Herod complied with the daughter’s wicked request, and “sent, and beheaded John in the prison” (Matthew 14:10).

The news of Christ’s ministry and His miracles had reached the ears of the king (Mark 6:14) and Herod “said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him…he said, It is John [the Baptist], whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead (Mark 6:14–16).

Herod’s alarm, that Jesus was John the Baptist, struck fear in the heart of the wicked king. He was haunted by guilt knowing he had murdered an innocent man, and a prophet of God. Rather than confessing his sin; however, Herod wrestled with guilt, and was troubled by fear (Proverbs 29:25). He feared John when he was alive (Mark 6:20), and he was terrified when he heard of the miracles of Jesus, believing John the Baptist was raised from the dead. The king had silenced John’s tongue, but he could not quiet his own guilty conscience.

Later on, when Jesus was arrested, He would have one meeting with Herod (Luke 23:6-11); however, at that time the LORD “answered him nothing” (Luke 23:9). The blood of John the Baptist was on his hands, and the soul of the king was damned by his wickedness.

Let us take a spiritual lesson from Herod: We might find temporal solace in the diagnosis of a psychologist or psychiatrist, and even salve our conscience with prescription drugs or other enhancers; however, if the root problem is sin, there is only one answer:

“Submit [subdue; yield] …to God. Resist the [temptations] devil”…acknowledge your sins, and let the tears of mourning pave the way to God’s forgiveness and joy (James 4:7-10).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Peace In The Midst of the Storm” (Mark 4-5)

Scripture reading – Mark 4-5

We continue our chronological reading of the Scriptures with today’s assignment, Mark 4-5. You will recognize the Parable of the Soils\Sower (Mark 4:1-20]) is the same as that which is recorded in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. Rather than review the Parable of the Soils, I invite you to turn your focus to an exciting event that occurred at the close of the same day when Jesus ended His teaching (Mark 4:21-41).

Mark 4:35-41 – A Storm and a Revelation

Exhausted from teaching (reminding us that, though He was Divine, He was also man with physical challenges of hunger, thirst, and fatigue), Jesus exhorted His disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (4:35). Knowing the far shore was seven miles away, Jesus laid down in the “hinder part of the ship” (meaning the stern or the latter part of the boat), and went to sleep (4:38).

The Sea of Galilee, fourteen miles long and seven miles wide, lies 700 feet below sea level, and has a sub-tropical climate that is warm and pleasant year-round.  Surrounded by the Galilean mountains and the Golan Heights, the area is part of the Jordan rift.  When cold winds from the snow-covered mountain peaks to the north, funnel through the hillsides, the cold air collides with the warm sub-tropical air often producing sudden, violent storms on the Sea of Galilee.

On this occasion, the disciples found themselves caught in a violent storm so intense, the waves of the sea filled the ship (4:37). Matthew writes concerning the same occasion in his Gospel: “there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but He was asleep” (Matthew 8:24).

Though at least four of the disciples were experienced fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), even those veteran seamen were unable to salvage the desperate situation.   With cold winds whipping, and waves crashing, the exhausted disciples cried out to Jesus, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Such a question was a faithless affront to their Master, who “arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (4:39-40).

Jesus knew the weakness of the disciples’ faith, and their failure to place their trust in Him (Luke 8:23-24). The sudden stillness of the winds and waves left the disciples wondering among themselves, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (4:41). They were struck by a sense of fear, awe, and respect. They had heard Him teach, but they had not understood His person. They had witnessed His miracles, but had not recognized His power.

The psalmist writes, “O Lord God of host…Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them” (Psalm 89:8a, 9).

I close with some practical observations we can take from today’s devotional. The first: Storms in life might take us by surprise; however, they come as part of God’s plan for growing our faith and dependence on Him. The Lord knew the disciples would face a storm when He commanded them to launch out into the sea. It was His plan to challenge their faith, that He might prove He was Sovereign and LORD of creation.

A second lesson: Our response to trials and troubles will evidence our faith or lack of faith in God and His plan for our lives.  The disciples did not fully know Who Jesus was, and He commanded the wind and the waves to cease, “they feared [and asked], What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41).

Finally, storms and troubles are opportunities to know God’s ways personally and intimately. They remind us that God’s will for our lives will sometimes guide us into challenging trials meant to assess our priorities, and reveal our limitations apart from Him. They test our faith and trust in Him.

Remember: The safest place in the world is in the will of God, even in the midst of a storm.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Are You Listening?” (Matthew 13; Luke 8)

Scripture reading – Matthew 13; Luke 8

We identify eight parables taught by Jesus recorded in Matthew 13. The Parable of the Soils, usually identified as the “Parable of the Sower” (13:3-23); the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (13:24-30, 36-43); the Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32); the Parable of the Leaven (13:33); the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44); the Parable of the Pearl (13:45-46), the Parable of the Net (13:47-50), the Parable of the Householder (13:51-52).

The focus of today’s devotional is the Parable of the Soils (13:3-23), of which you will notice that Christ identified four types of soil: The “wayside” (13:4, 19), the “stony places” (13:5-6, 20-21), the thorny ground (13:7, 22), and the “the good ground” (13:8, 23).

We find three familiar elements in the Parable of the Soils (Sower).

The first, the Sower, who “went forth to sow” (13:3). Unlike modern-day farmers who utilize tractor and plow, the work of a first century farmer was difficult. Laboring under the sun from sun up to sun down, his hands callused from working with a crude hoe, preparing furrows in the soil for planting, a farmer would come to the close of a day exhausted. Once the soil was prepared, the farmer would take up a leather bag that contained precious seed, and with measured strides begin to scatter seed across the field with simple flicks of his wrist. Each seed, whether wheat or barley, was precious, containing the potential of life and eventually harvest.

In spite of the farmer’s careful labor, some seed would invariably come to rest upon four soil types that Jesus identified in his parable. The “wayside” described the footpath a farmer and his neighbors would take through a field. The “wayside” ground was hardpacked and the seed would eventually be crushed under foot, or snatched up by birds (13:4). “Stony” was ground often worked by poor farmers. Such ground was less than desirable, and with rain, erosion, and the turn of a plow, required the farmer to be constantly removing rocks and stones from his fields (13:5-6). Thorns are a menace to every farmer, and good seed that fell among thorns was robbed of the moisture and sun that is necessary for good seed to take root and bear fruit (13:7). The “good ground,” was fertile and seeds that were planted in it would bear much fruit: “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” (13:8).

What was the point of the Parable of the Sower and the Soils upon which he scattered seed? The disciples asked Jesus somewhat this question when they came to Him and asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (13:10) Why did the LORD teach spiritual truths and veil them in simple narratives?

Jesus answered, “Because it is given [committed] unto you [His disciples] to know [understand] the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven [knowledge known only by divine revelation], but to them [others not of their number] it is not given” (13:11).

The followers of Christ were sincere in their desire to hear and understand spiritual truths (13:11); however, those who were not genuine believers were left in spiritual darkness (13:11). They could see, but they refused to believe (13:13). They could hear, but they refused to hear what Jesus taught (13:13).

I close with an interpretation of the Parable of the Soil (Sower).

Christ identified Himself as the “sower” in the parable, for we read, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man” (13:37). The seed is identified as “the word of the kingdom” (13:19) and in the Gospel of Luke, “the word of God” (Luke 8:11).

The ground, identified as four soil types was symbolic of the hearts of men and their response to the Word of God (13:19-23; Luke 8:12-15). The “wayside” heart is like its namesake; hardpacked, callused, insensitive, and unresponsive to the Word of God (13:19). The “stony” ground heart is impulsive and shallow (13:21); when troubles and trials come, the Word of God withers in a stony heart like a seedling without root withers in the sun. The “thorny” ground heart is preoccupied with sin and worldly pleasures (13:22), and is beguiled by riches and worldly possessions (13:22).

The “good ground” heart is commended by Jesus for being both fertile and fruitful (13:23). The “good ground” heart is described in Luke 8:15 as “an honest [noble; moral; virtuous] and good [morally good; pleasing to God] heart, havingheard [understood] the word [the Word of God], keep it [holds fast; sets roots], and bring forth fruit [bear fruit] with patience[endurance].”

Friend, what is the spiritual condition of your heart? Does your heart evidence a sincere, honest, longing desire for God’s Word? Open your heart to the LORD before it is too late.

Romans 10:9-10 – “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heartthat God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  [10] For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Lord, Teach Us to Pray” (Luke 11)

Scripture reading – Luke 11

Luke 11 is an incredibly rich passage, but unfortunately, too long for a devotional commentary intended to be brief! Rather than offer an exhaustive study of Luke 11, I will limit today’s objective to a lesson in prayer found in Luke 11:1-13 (a condensed account of the same prayer recorded by Matthew in his Gospel, Matthew 6:9-13).

Luke 11:1-4 – A Model of Prayer

Jesus had retreated to a “certain place” to pray, and when He was finished, His disciples came requesting, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (11:1). The disciples, particularly James and John, who had been disciples of John the Baptist, were familiar with John’s commitment to prayer, and noticed the same was true of Jesus.

Jesus answered the disciples’ request giving them a model for prayer (11:2-4), a lesson in a believer’s manner of prayer (11:5-10), and God’s measure in response to prayer (11:11-13).

The LORD’S model of prayer was defined by four parts.

Remembering God’s very name is hallowed (i.e. holy and sacred), we are to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (11:2b). We are to pray for God’s will to be done (and accomplished) on earth, even as it is in heaven (11:2c). What is God’s will in heaven and in earth?

Religious teachers of the late 19th and early 20th century supposed that their work was to labor for God to the end that their efforts would usher in His kingdom and an earthly utopia. I do not find in Scripture that God needs our assistance to usher in His kingdom; however, His will is surely that of redemption and salvation. Peter writes, “9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that God would “have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

It is also God’s will that He be glorified through our sanctification. Israel was commanded, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 20:7). New Testament believers are commanded the same: “15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

A second quality of prayer is for personal needs: “Give us day by day our daily bread” (11:3). Bread was an essential part of a family’s diet in the first century. Remembering every good thing comes from God the Father, prayers of thanksgiving before meals should be the practice of every household.

Thirdly, we are to acknowledge our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness. We are to pray, forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (11:4a). Not a day should pass without a believer acknowledging to God that He is holy, righteous, and just. We are sinners who need to remember that God is merciful, gracious, and forgiving, and He would have us be the same to others (11:4b).

The fourth quality of prayer is a petition for deliverance: “And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (11:4b). When times of testing and temptation beset us (and they will), we must trust the LORD is ready to deliver us when we ask (11:4c).

Perhaps there is someone who has hurt you deeply, and the thought of forgiving them, you protest, is something you cannot and will not do! I remind you, the LORD taught His followers that there are consequences to harboring a bitter spirit: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

Luke 11:5-10 – The Persistent Manner of a Praying Believer

How often should a believer pray about a specific need or request? We are to be persistent in prayer (11:5-8).

The LORD illustrated the principle of persistency, telling the story of a neighbor who had an unexpected guest that arrived at his home at midnight (11:5). Because hospitality was expected, it was a great offense, a societal humiliation, to have guests and fail to offer them nourishment. In the LORD’S parable, the neighbor refused to be dissuaded from seeking loaves of bread (11:5-7), until finally the head of the household yielded to his plea, rose from his bed and gave his neighbor what he required (11:8).

Application – God answers persistent, fervent prayer (11:9-10).

Luke 11:11-13 – God Hears and Answers Prayer

Another parable draws a contrast between a father who, though imperfect, loves his son and desires to give him what he requests. Of course, no loving father desires to give his son that which might injure him (11:11-12).

Lesson – If a father who is imperfect desires to give his son good things, how much more does God the Father who is altogether good, desire to answer the prayer of His children and give them what is best of all: The presence, power, and comfort of “the Holy Spirit” (11:13).

Believer, never tire of praying. God hears and answers the persistent, fervent prayers of a righteous man.

James 5:1616Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

When in Doubt, Believe the Word! (Matthew 11)

Scripture reading – Matthew 11

A great multitude was following Jesus as we come to Matthew 11. Jesus’ ministry had begun in the countryside of Galilee, and He was followed by great crowds who came to hear Him teach, perform miracles, and ponder if He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. The people had been watching and waiting for a Messiah-King who would cast off the oppression of Rome; however, they would learn too late that Jesus had come to be their Savior, Messiah-Redeemer.

Matthew 11 – The Disciples of John the Baptist

Jesus had finished commanding and commissioning His disciples, and appears to have sent them out to minister while He began “to teach and to preach in their cities” (11:1). It was in that hour that John the Baptist, now in prison, sent two of his disciples who came to Jesus and asked, Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” (11:3)

Why the question, “Art thou He that should come?” (11:3) Why this wondering? Was John doubting that Jesus was the promised Messiah? When he had baptized Jesus, John had witnessed the anointing of the of the Holy Spirit (3:16) and heard the voice of God the Father affirming, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:17).

Perhaps it was the darkness of the dungeon and his uncertain future. Maybe the isolation from those to whom he ministered, and the sudden end of his public ministry that left John seeking assurance that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

John’s disciples had brought him word of a spiritual stirring in Israel, and the people saying, “That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:16b). The news of Jesus’ ministry had reached John through his disciples (Luke 7:18). He had faith that God would send His Messiah, and he wanted reassurance, “Art thou He that should come?” (11:3) Jesus answered John’s disciples with love and grace saying,

Matthew 11:4b–6 – “4 …Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

Two Proofs Validated Jesus’ Messiahship: His Works and His Words (11:4-5)

Jesus commanded John’s disciples to go to him and declare what they had witnessed, His works.

Languishing in a Roman dungeon, John sought reassurance that Jesus was the Messiah, and it came in the outward, visible, undeniable evidence of miracles: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up.” (11:5)

The miracles Jesus performed, and later His physical bodily resurrection from the dead, give us undeniable proof that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Christ declared to His disciples, “11Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (John 14:11).

Are there times you need reassurance? Times when you find your faith weak? Remember, John the Baptist needed his faith strengthened, thou he was a man of whom Jesus said, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (11:11).

The second validating proof Jesus was the Promised One, the long-awaited Messiah, were His words(11:5b)

Jesus commanded John’s disciples to go and tell him what they had heard, His words: “The poor have the gospel preached to them” (11:5b). Unlike men who are given to rhetoric and take pride in their oral arguments and powers of persuasion, Jesus’ words were divinely inspired and delivered with authority.

Luke 4:32 – “They were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.

John 12:48–5048He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. 49For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

John 14:1010Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

We conclude with Peter’s assertion of his faith in Jesus Christ: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. 69And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68b-69).

The works of Christ were essential signs that validated His person and ministry before His generation; however, it is the hearing and preaching of the WORD that was and is essential for men to be saved.

Romans 10:17 17So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith