January 19 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 21

Read Matthew 21:1-46

As we approach the Easter season, we will find ourselves contemplating the many events leading up to Christ’s death and resurrection at the hands of the Roman state and Jewish religious leaders.  Matthew 21 begins with Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. “Triumphal” is in quotes because it was absolutely triumphal in eternal ways, particularly when looking back on it from the perspective of 2021.  In many other ways though, it could have easily been viewed as anything BUT triumphal, and examining some of these small details in Matthew 21 reveals an eternal truth: God despises the proud and exalts the humble.  

The beginning of the chapter fulfills a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9; foretelling the coming of a king “righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus riding on a donkey was also a key demonstration of His coming in peace. A donkey (which was usually used for agricultural purposes) likely connected with poor people, and signified a servant King, one coming to give hope, and to save and serve the oppressed, poor and sick.  Jewish people of the day would have expected their king to arrive with much fanfare and circumstance, in a more regal fashion. Jesus turned that idea on its head.  Instead, people celebrate His arrival with simple palm branches, shouting “Hosanna!”, meaning “save, rescue, savior”.  ‘Hosanna’ was used as an exclamation of praise, agreement, or adoration to God. God exalts the humble.   

Other stories show us the same thing; Jesus turning tables over, clearly rebuking those seeking to profit from the temple’s important role in Jewish society. It begs the question, ‘If God despised that practice so much, why would the Jewish religious leaders allow it in the first place?’ God despises the proud.   

We see Jewish leaders challenging Jesus’ sovereignty, but Jesus defies the religious leaders’ demands and self-proclaimed “authority”. He refuses to answer their question, then tells them two parables.  The first was designed to show them that, in spite of their ‘expertise’, they had failed to see John the Baptist as sent from God.  He tells them “the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you”. 

Ouch.

The second parable results in Jesus telling them that “The stone that the builders rejected” (Jesus) will be the stone that crushes anyone on whom it falls. Matthew tells us that the leaders knew that Jesus was talking about them. God despises the proud.

What does this mean for us?  Let us embrace the heart of a servant leader, one who comes in peace.  Pray for God to reveal areas in your life where you are proud.  Is your pride causing you to miss the work Jesus is doing around you?  Will you join Him?  Let’s BE the church that follows Jesus’ example of SERVING the broken and sick, and to lead those around us with LOVE.

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Craig French

January 18 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 20

Read Matthew 20:1-34

Track and Field is a great sport and our oldest sport, in fact. It is an individual sport but it is also a team sport. The sportsmanship, respect and attitude among competitors is admirable. Go to a track meet sometime and you will see enthusiasm, commitment, hard work, victory and disappointment.

Just like life.

The most exciting aspect in all of sports is the state championships in Ohio, boys or girls. I recently was watching the state championship in the sport of Track and Field – the 400-meter hurdle event. A young man was winning the race, running to cross the finish line as the winner and then he tripped on the last hurdle and landed on his face. By the time he got up and crossed the finish line, he finished last. He went from first to last in several heartbeats.

Just like life.

When you participate in a sport, there are no guarantees. Sometimes games and events go well and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it just isn’t fair. I’ve seen it many times in many sports.

A parable is a heavenly story with an earthly meaning. Matthew 20 and the parable of the workers in the vineyard is a relevant parable. People say life isn’t fair. I’ve heard it many times. We have to accept the fact that life sometimes isn’t fair here on earth. The consequences of the Covid pandemic have been really unfair to a lot of people. 

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”Matthew 20:16

The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who started his day by hiring men to work for him for a denarius (the usual daily wage). Around 9:00 AM he hired some people to work. At about noon he hired more people to work. About 3:00 PM he hired some more people to work. At 5:00 PM he hired even more people to work.

In the evening when the day was done, he paid everybody for the work they had done. He paid everybody the exact same amount of money. Then some people began to grumble to the landowner because they worked more hours than the other people and they all were paid the same amount of money. They could have said, “That’s not fair.”

‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?’”Matthew 20:12-13

These verses also refer to salvation. The extraordinary generosity and grace of God, who gives to those who enter the kingdom last the same blessings that He gives to everybody else.

What are some ways in which you are thankful for the generous gift God has given you? What are some ways that you can spread that gift to others?

Tom Weckesser

January 17 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 19

Read Matthew 19:1-30

When it comes to winning the favor of others, what bullet points are on your resume?

The resume of the man who came to Jesus in verse 16 of this chapter certainly had a number of impressive points. First of all, there was his age. He was a young guy (v. 22). Our culture today values youth and the energy that is so often associated with it. Secondly, he was moral (vv. 18-20) . . . at least in his own estimation and perhaps from the perspective of others. You wouldn’t find his picture hanging in the post office as “wanted.” Thirdly, he was wealthy (v. 22). Money certainly impresses. For many, riches are an indication of doing something right. In fact, even the disciples in Jesus’ day marveled at the thought that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. They, too, were apparently impressed by this man.

But this man, who was likely deemed a success among his contemporaries, walked away disappointed from his encounter with the Lord. Why is that?

While man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Maybe the man had never murdered, but murder was more than an action in that it included an attitude of the heart (Matt. 5:21-26). Perhaps he had never been intimate with another person who wasn’t his spouse, but adultery included glances and thoughts (Matt. 5:27-30). Omnisciently, Jesus understood that this man’s greatest point of vulnerability was found in his possessions and resources. These had become idols that he was unable to subordinate and surrender to God. Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field, for which one sells everything to possess (Matt. 13:44).

In some ways, then, a person’s spiritual resume is measured less in terms of possessions and performances that might impress others. Instead, it is measured in terms of surrendering and following Jesus.

What is it that you are pursuing? Is it the applause of other people who might look at you and say, “He/she sure is successful!” Or is it the approval of heaven where no sacrifice is too great and no path for following Jesus is too difficult?

Steve Kern

January 16 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 13-18 Review

The day after Christmas, Jeff Walter challenged us to draw closer to God by reading through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John leading up to Easter.

This week, you read Matthew 13-18.

We thought that it would be important, as we continue to make our way through the gospels, more specifically Matthew, to pause once a week to reflect over what we have read so far.

A huge part of reading the Bible, or internalizing any kind of biblical truth, for that matter, is application. How are you aiming to apply what you’ve read to your life? In what way are you going to become a more fully devoted follower of Christ as a result of your reading?

So, whenever you are reading this Sunday, January 16th, what lessons are you taking away from Matthew 13-18? What stood out to you? What do you have questions about? I know there are a lot of takeaways from these chapters, but I challenge you to focus on even just one.

Take today to reflect on this past week’s readings and pray for God to open your heart and ideas to the principles you will receive this next week as we read chapters 19-24.

Thanks for taking on this challenge!

FYI, we have a private Facebook group for this challenge where people can interact with others and share what they’re learning. If you are interested in joining this group, email Sharon (skarhan@woostergrace.org) to receive an invite!

Jake Lawson

January 15 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 18

Read Matthew 18:1-35

“They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves cannot be proud.”John Flavel

Jesus’ teaching in this chapter addresses a critical heart issue: pride…and its preferred counterpart, humility. In the first four verses, Jesus teaches that His followers must be humble and dependent on Him, like a child to their parents. Humble followers are great followers (v. 4). And throughout this chapter, Jesus uncovers the benefits of humility and the devastating consequences of pride.

Pride will keep us from repenting of sin (vv. 6-9). Jesus’ graphic language strongly exhorts us to cut off sin before it overcomes us.  We tend to take sin much too lightly. But look around. We see the devastating consequences of sin all around us: addiction, conflicts, fear, anxiety, greed, immorality, hatred, idolatry, and the list goes on. The prideful person considers themselves immune to the consequences of sin, or presumes on the grace of God.  The humble person takes a posture of repentance and surrender to the Lord’s leadership.

And what’s more, if we fail to repent when lovingly confronted by another believer (vv. 15-20), we send a clear message that we value ourselves above the other person and unity in the church.

Pride can make us feel superior to others (v. 10). Looking down on another person, particularly another believer, treats that person with disrespect and as inferior. That kind of attitude is grievous to our Heavenly Father, because He and His angels take interest in their well-being as much as ours (vv. 11-14).

Moreover, pride prevents us from forgiving others (vv. 21-35). Many people are held captive because they refuse to forgive, and they become resentful, bitter and angry – destroying their lives and the lives of others (Hebrews 12:14-15)

Jesus’ words to Peter and the parable of the unmerciful servant proclaim loud and clear that, in Christ, we have been forgiven a debt we could not possibly repay.  Who are we to refuse to pardon those who have wronged us? Jesus isn’t saying it’s easy, but He is saying it’s essential.

I like what Rick Warren said about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves that allows us to get on with our lives instead of being trapped in the past by resentment.”

Do you want to strengthen your spiritual walk?  Increase your humility and forgive others for past wrongs. It will make your relationship with Jesus more dynamic and fulfilling and your relationships with others more encouraging and redemptive.

David Lawson

January 14 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 17

Read Matthew 17:1-27

Spring! While the temperatures and weather will continue to be cold here in Ohio for at least the next couple of months, Spring is more than just sunshine and warmer days; with Spring comes a sense of renewed optimism and hope for the days of summer that lay ahead. However, this Spring season seems to be different. The sense of hope, optimism, and anticipation of what is to come this summer is poignant.

However, as I was reading today’s passage I couldn’t help but be struck by verses 17-21. In fact, I read it over and over again because I felt the Lord tugging on my heartstrings. “Where have you placed your faith, Taylor?” I’ll admit this was a hard gut check for me. I saw myself in the voices of the bystanders and the folks who tried to do it on their own. The people in verse 19 asking, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Like many folks, I wanted this pandemic to end so badly and so quickly. I often found myself just counting down the days until the next shot got approved or when the next panel would convene to discuss who got vaccinated next. I had placed my hope in this area in mankind and not in the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where may you be placing your hope in someone or something other than Jesus?

The words in Matthew remind me today that it is Jesus who truly heals. It is our faith in Him, not in humanity that will be our ultimate redemption. Our faith in Jesus will save us from disease far deadlier than COVID-19. Jesus saves our souls from an eternal illness: sin. As grateful as I am that vaccines are here to fight the Coronavirus, maybe today God is challenging each of us (as cliché as it sounds) to take a shot of faith to trust Him more closely in our lives. I wonder if you will ponder with me some questions today:

  • Am I trusting God’s sovereignty? Do I believe that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him?
  • Am I living a grateful life? Am I thankful for the blessings and the pain?
  • Am I living a surrendered life? Or, am I chasing my will, my desires, my comfort? Am I holding on to things God wants me to let go of?

As you ponder these questions feel free to listen to Waiting Here for You by Passion. You may recognize the opening verse of the song from our reading today.

Taylor Bennington

January 13 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 16

Read Matthew 16:1-28

Jesus called him Simon son of Jonah. It was the name he had before he met Jesus. Before God the Father had revealed the truth about Jesus to this humble fisherman from Bethsaida. Then He called him blessed. It means happy. To be envied.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah . . .” (v. 17)

That’s when Jesus proclaimed Simon’s new position. He called him Peter. It means “rock”. And Jesus used Peter’s new name to proclaim the truth of the foundation of His Kingdom. “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

It was a pretty good day for Simon Peter, I imagine. A new name with which to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ the Son of God. He got to speak truth about Jesus to Jesus Himself.

Still, when Peter heard Jesus’ talk about suffering at the hands of religious authorities, it did not settle well. Jesus’ words must have sounded crazy and depressing. They cut to the quick of all that Simon Peter had just proclaimed and what He’d just heard Jesus proclaim. For if Jesus had to suffer, what would Peter have to do?

Maybe that’s why he took Jesus aside and quietly rebuked Him. Although he had loved what Jesus had told him just four verses earlier, the things He said now were downright hurtful. Hurtful, that is, from a self-centered I’m-finally-getting-ahead-in-this-world perspective. So, when Jesus heard the self come out of Peter’s words, the old nature that makes people seek the opposite of God’s upside-down ways, He rebuked Peter strongly.

And the man He’d just called blessed was now being called Satan by Jesus Himself.

It’s a picture of what happens when we speak truth from God’s perspective but then let our own sinful view of things taint the picture. Can you relate? Has God revealed a difficult truth to you that maybe you’ve rejected or twisted in your mind to make it more comfortable for yourself? Talk to Him about it. Ask Him to give you His perspective. Then trust who you know Him to be and follow Him through it.

Bria Wasson

January 12 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 15

Read Matthew 15:1-39

Here we are, just over half way through the book of Matthew. What have you learned of Jesus and His ministry? What has stood out to you about those who left everything to follow Him? 

For me, the biggest theme of most of Matthew is that of faith.

As I wrote about in my previous blog on chapter 9. Faith plays a huge role in the ministry of Jesus. 

How could it not?

What I love most about this chapter is that it starts with the Pharisees, these religious leaders and rule keepers, coming to Jesus and pointing their fingers of what “He has done wrong” … yet, what comes next is a takedown on the faith front. 

Here is Jesus reminding these Pharisees that it isn’t about what you do, but about your heart. It’s about where your faith lies. For most of the Pharisees of that day, their faith laid in their rules and regulations in order to remain “holy” and “good”. For the Canaanite woman and the people who ate with Jesus, their faith laid within Him and their lives were rewarded. 

Look at these two different scenarios; one of people who are prideful and saying all the right things in the name of pride and a woman who says something because her heart’s motive is truly believing in who Jesus says He is.

Her faith was rewarded where their pride causes them to fall. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. . . I am NOT saying we are rewarded when we operate out of faith, but what I am saying is just like the Canaanite woman and the people who were fed by a miracle. Their lives were rewarded because of where they placed their faith. 

I am surrounded by people all throughout my job, all of us, the same…human. We all breathe in and out the same way, we all have hurts and struggles and circumstances that cause us to feel sad or heartbroken. However, the biggest difference I see between myself and some people is where our faith is and where our heart’s motive is. We can say and do all the right things, give of what we have and what we are, but our lives are still about us.

Our heart’s motive is still selfish and prideful like the Pharisees.

Whereas, take someone like the Canaanite woman, someone who has so little that the scraps are most valued and she isn’t angry or sad over her circumstances. She knows the One who provides. She knows of the One who can truly satisfy and, in the end, her faith proves her holy. 

Her happiness lies within her relationship with her Savior and not her life itself. 

We have two choices in an ongoing cycle to make, day in and day out. We can choose to live for ourselves, looking like the part in faith… or we can actually live with our heart’s motive in a place of honoring the Lord and holiness. 

Where is your heart? Where is your faith? Is it for you or Him?

Kelly Lawson

January 11 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 14

Read Matthew 14:1-36 and Hebrews 12:2

My eyes were fixed on the field. They were fixed on the scoreboard. I was at the 2016 World Series – Game 7 in Cleveland. This had never happened in Cleveland before. And I almost had to mortgage my house to get a ticket. It was a thrill and my eyes were fixed (focused) on the game for all 10 innings.

Peter had his eyes fixed on Jesus when he walked on water. In fact, that’s how he did it.

But guess what happened – Peter looked down and lost his focus and then he sank. He lost his focus because of fear. Have you ever lost your focus because of fear?

“…Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:29-30

What does it mean to fix your eyes on Jesus?

Joel and Luke Smallbone are a Christian pop duo called FOR KING & COUNTRY. In the song, “Fix My Eyes On You,” the duo begins to address what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus:

“I’d love like I’m not scared,

Give when it’s not fair,

Live life for another,

Take time for a brother.

Fight for the weak ones,

Speak out for freedom,

Find faith in the battle,

Stand tall but above it all,

Fix my eyes on you.”

The message from Matthew and the song is that I need to keep my eyes on Jesus in everything that I do. If I take my eyes off of Him, I will sink – in life.

Verse 23 shows how Jesus used solitude and praying before big events in His life and ministry. We can keep our eyes on Jesus, if we do the same. We can ruthlessly work to have a quiet time in our day to pray and stay focused on God. Jesus sought solitude so He could pray.

“After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane garden, and he said to them, “’Sit here while I go over there and pray.’”Matthew 26:36

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

We all need to seek solitude to pray as a way to keep our eyes fixed on the Light of the world.

What do you fix your eyes on? In what way do you need to improve your prayer life?

Tom Weckesser

January 10 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 13

Read Matthew 13:1-58

Aww, Spring!  Nothing is better than the promise of Spring after several months of cloudy skies and snow.  When we think of spring, we think of sunshine, baby animals and, of course, gardens.

In today’s reading, Jesus was talking to the people about something they were familiar with – planting crops for a future harvest.  As usual, Jesus was teaching through parables (an Earthly story with a Heavenly meaning). By using everyday objects and activities to illustrate His message, Jesus knew the people would not only understand, but remember what He had said every time they work the soil for their crops, look at seeds or pull some weeds.

This chapter is titled the “Parable of the Sower”, but a better title might be the “Parable of the Soil” for it isn’t the sower or the seeds that change in each illustration but the soil.  The “soil” stands for the human heart. It was the soil where the seeds landed which made all the difference.  If the heart of a person is hard and is not prepared for the gospel, the words will fall on deaf ears.  Sometimes the gospel can fall on an eager heart.  This person is a baby Christian who is all in for everything involving church and God, but, if they don’t take time to develop a deeper understanding and roots, they can be easily swayed by false teachings and their faith withers and dies the first time their faith is tested. 

It is only the good soil, a willing heart, that will allow the word to be planted, grow roots, develop strong plants, and then produce fruit and spread seeds so that others can become strong Christians too.

No story about gardening would be complete without talking about weeds that want to stop the good plants growth by taking over and blocking the sun. These weeds hide among the flowers. Sometimes they are hard to spot.  They might even imitate the flowers in looks.  However, they will take over any unattended spot.  Some have deep roots and, no matter how you try to dig them out, they seem to come back and multiply.  Sometimes they are often covered with thorns and will hurt anyone who tries to remove them. 

Some people are like these weeds.  Some hide within groups, waiting for their chance to take over the cause for evil.  Then there are the people who wait to see where there is relative calm and sneak into the hearts and minds of other people with half-truths to cause doubt!  They might spread their poison through untruths, gossip, or social media.

I hope you aren’t any of these weeds.  I hope that you are a sweet-smelling flower who blooms wherever you are planted and lets your love of Christ flow through everything you do!  However, we need to not be so naïve to think that the weeds AREN’T around us everywhere!  We need to put on the full armor of God, even if it has to go over your petals. Then go forth and do some gardening for God! We need to pray that God will show us the hearts that are ripe for planting the gospel, reveal the weeds as they pop up and then help us to quickly remove them.   

Pat Arnold