Devotions In Matthew

Unforgiving, Unforgiven

Scripture reading: Matthew 18:21-35.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (v. 35).

These are serious and searching words, Lord! Your story of the forgiven servant who was merciless to his fellow servant cautions me against presuming upon the love of God. It contradicts the popular doctrine of unconditional eternal security. It reminds me that my relationship to God is no better than the relationship I will to have with other persons. The forgiven, if they are unforgiving, become the unforgiven.

"From your heart" is a convicting phrase, Lord. So often the heart belies what the mouth says. Your emphasis was always upon heart-religion, ripping away the facades of men who hid evil hearts behind rituals and rules. Even prayer, fasting, alms giving and Sabbath-keeping became their masks. You know and judge the hearts of men.

Lord, I can honestly say that I am withholding forgiveness from no one. You have created in me a heart eager to understand and swift to forgive. Keep me that way, Jesus. I want to live by Your words.

Divorce--A Heart Issue

Scripture reading: Matthew 19:1-12.

Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard (v. 8).

Lord, Your words convince me that any marriage can endure if both partners are kindhearted. Unless their hearts are hardened by unbelief and sin, they will make whatever changes and adjustments are necessary to merit one another's respect and appreciation.

If they have gotten fat they will slim down. If they have gotten crabby they will sweeten up. If they have gotten stingy they will loosen up. If they have been hard, critical and judgmental they will become understanding and forgiving.

But if they persist in hardness of heart they will end up divorced, deserted or murdered in our society. You can change our hearts, softening them and sweetening them until we are easy to live with.

I think of Maxine and Jimmy. When they married they were so drunk they couldn't remember getting married. But they gave You their hearts and stayed together and raised a family and had a good marriage. Real love is Your gift and can overcome all obstacles to a happy married life.

The Impossible Made Possible

Scripture reading: Matthew 19:16-26.

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (v. 26).

The rich man's story can be summed up in three simple statements, Lord. He had many things; he lacked one thing; he lost everything. By clinging to his possessions he blew the opportunity to enter Your kingdom—where true riches abound forever.

We are not saved or damned by what we have, but by what has us. If things possess us we will be destroyed. If You possess us we will be saved. It is only by following You, at whatever cost You demand, that we have life eternal.

The rich man asked, "What good thing must I do...?" We do not gain eternal life by what we do for You, but by what You do for us. You break the grip of things, You forgive our sins and change our lives, You lead us through paths of service into the gates of glory.

Your death and resurrection, Lord, have created the possibility of salvation for any person, for all persons—rich or poor, slave or free. In You the impossible becomes possible.

Because of You, even I have entered the kingdom of heaven.

Fair Wages

Scripture reading: Matthew 20:1-16.

I will pay you whatsoever is right (v. 4).

Lord, You call men to work, not to loaf. A lazy person cannot follow You, for You would lead him straight to some demanding task. The old song is quaintly true: "This train don't carry no loafers."

All kingdom work will be rewarded.  Because You are just, the wage scale is simply stated, "whatever is right." But this parable, so difficult for us to understand and accept, makes a vital point: Rewards are based upon faithfulness to opportunity, not length of service or amount of labor. Each person entered the vineyard when the landowner summoned him.

I am generous" describes You well, Lord. Whatever You give us at day's end is undeserved. Compared to the price You paid for our salvation, our service is insignificant. Those who work for You work also with You. Working with You is reward enough. That anything more is granted is a tribute to Your grace, not to our worth.

I bless You today that You have allowed me to share the work of the kingdom. I envy no man his task or his reward. Your presence and approval satisfy me.

A Strange Kingdom

Scripture reading: Matthew 20:20-28.

 ...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve... (v. 28).

Yours is a strange kingdom, Lord. There the Ruler serves and only servants share His rule. Ambition is reproved and competition is condemned. Greatness is measured, not by having servants but by giving service. That service is costly to render—its price is a cross borne, a life given. How radically different is Your kingdom from "the kingdoms of the world and their splendor."

At first Your disciples totally misunderstood the nature of Your rule and the purpose of Your mission. They clamored for positions and prestige. The ambitious two, who wanted to flank You on thrones only slightly less powerful than Your own, did not know that You would rule from a cross. The indignant ten were cut from the same self-serving cloth. It would take Calvary and Pentecost to awaken and transform them.

And only Calvary and Pentecost can keep me from repeating their folly. I am tempted to worldly ambition and jealous competition. Only the cross can correct my vision; only the Spirit can cleanse my heart.

Help me to love and serve as You did, Lord.

Blind Men Sighted

Scripture reading: Matthew 20:29-34.

Immediately they received their sight and followed him (v. 34).

Matthew wrote of two blind men healed at Jericho. Mark and Luke mention but one. I know from my reading, Lord, that this has puzzled many scholars. If it were not for Scripture's "contradictions" and "inconsistencies" skeptics would lack ammunition, scholars would have time on their hands, and commentaries would be much thinner. Think of the fun so many would miss!

If there were two there had to be one. And, Lord, You could heal two-hundred as readily as two. I find the record no problem. I don't explain it, I just believe it, and it speaks to me of Your love and power.

The sighted men followed You. That's what all persons of sight and insight do, who, like these beggars, refuse to be intimidated by "the crowd." Blind men look to You for help and sighted men follow You in service.

Earnest, specific prayer prevailed. Compassionate and miraculous healing occurred. The consequence was two more persons in kingdom service. Those spiritual values and lessons outweigh all trivial disputes of scholars.

Thank You, Lord, for sight-giving mercy.

More than the Prophet

Scripture reading: Matthew 21:1-11.

This is Jesus, the prophet... (v. 11).

The crowds hailed You as Messiah and named You a prophet. Unless You were more than prophet You would be less than a Savior, however.

Prophets could denounce sin and promise salvation, but they could not forgive sin and bestow new life. Only David's Son who is also David’s Lord could save from sin.

Your enemies knew what to do with unwanted prophets—just what their ancestors had done—kill them as troublemakers. Only a week separated the hailing from the nailing.

A prophet would rot in his grave. You were raised from Yours. You were a prophet, but You were, and are, infinitely more. You are the Son of God with power to save all who trust in You. Wonder of wonders, You are my Savior.

What an irony of history—"the Son of David" rejected by "the Daughter of Zion." What a triumph of eternity—You are risen from the dead with "all authority in heaven and on earth." The triumphal entry, so called, was followed by the triumphal exit! That exit from death, Lord, became my entry into life.

Conditioned Faith

Scripture reading: Matthew 21:18-22.

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (v. 22).

Lord, that sounds like a blank check, and I've heard it so described. A blank check would make a greedy person's pulse race, and his prayers sound like a child's letter to Santa Claus.

But those who cite these words to claim that answered prayer has but one condition forget that faith also has conditions.

Faith is taking You at Your word, and we cannot believe for what You do not promise. You do not promise material wealth, unfailing health, social eminence, or desired talents to us all. Faith is trust that You reward those who earnestly seek You (Heb. 11:6). Seeking You is not equivalent to seeking self-indulgence or self-promotion. When You are found You thrust a cross into the hands of the finder.

We find You as the Lord of our lives, not as a servant of our whims and lusts. We cannot believe for what You do not will.

Faith brings reward to honest petitioners, not to "robbers" who merchandise religion (vv. 12-14). Faith withers only the trees You will to destroy, moves only the mountains You desire removed (vv. 18-21). Faith does not usurp Your lordship.

Believe, receive. That is not as simple as greed would make it!

Authority to Cleanse

Scripture reading: Matthew 21:23-27.

John's baptism...was it from heaven, or from men? (v. 25).

Lord Jesus, You angered a nest of hornets when You cleansed the temple. But You know how to take the sting out of irate enemies. One probing question was enough to silence their challenge to Your authority.

At Your baptism by John, You were inducted into, and empowered for, Your public ministry—including Your ministry as a priest.

Only the priests governed the temple, priests obedient to the law of God. Prophets could denounce temple abuses, kings could usurp temple activities, but only the priests could lawfully cleanse Your house. For that task of judgment and mercy You were qualified, divinely approved by John's baptism.

Unwilling to admit Your authority, Your critics reluctantly clammed up. Unfortunately, when they closed their mouths they did not open their hearts.

Lord, if ever I challenge Your authority, shut my lips. But open my eyes to see the truth, and open my heart to accept the truth. I don't want to live in rebellion against Your will. Cleanse, Lord, the temple of my heart!

Obedience or Destruction

Scripture reading: Matthew 21:33-44.

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit (v. 43).

Everywhere I turn in Your word, Lord, there is a stress on obedience.

The reward of obedience is a relationship with You that is both satisfying and secure. Disobedience issues in destruction. The stone falls and the rebellious are broken; indeed, they are "crushed."

The rebel's path to ruin is clear. It begins with greed, greed that robs God of what is rightfully His. Greed issues in violence, as the usurpers strive to protect the fruits of their rebellion. They stone and slay the messenger of God. Violence results in self-destruction, bringing upon the rebels a judgment they cannot escape.

Your kingdom is a gift. If misused, it will be forfeited—"taken" from those who foolishly suppose they can have kingdom benefits while rejecting the king.

The "fruit" of the kingdom is produced in submission to the king. Saving righteousness is mine, Lord Jesus, only as I repent of rebellion and trust in You. If I oppose Your will I am a helpless fool standing under a falling boulder. Your will is my safety or destruction.

Called to Joy

Scripture reading: Matthew 22:1-4.

Come to the wedding banquet (v. 4).

You call us to joy, Lord. The wedding feast was a major celebration of happy people, and aptly serves as a metaphor for the joy we experience now and anticipate as our future.

Those who represent Your rule as oppressive and grim caricature and slander You. You fill the heart with song. You create a joy that no alteration of circumstance can destroy—a "joy unspeakable and full of glory."

How sad the words, "they refused to come." You coerce none. All are invited, but none are forced to taste the joy. While men are free to choose, they are not free to choose the consequences of their decisions. They opt for misery who refuse Your joy.

The kingdom is a feast, the gospel of the kingdom an invitation. "Many are invited," but only those are chosen who choose to accept. "Few" is a testimony to human folly, not to divine fiat.

Lord, I am feasting! I have feasted for over 60 years. You keep turning water into wine and the celebration is extended. The best is reserved for the last, when we will feast with You eternally. Thanks for the invitation. I'm glad I accepted.

God of the Living

Scripture reading: Matthew 22:23-33.

He is not the God of the dead but of the living (v. 32).

God did not say, "I was the God of" the patriarchs. He said "I am" their God, though they had long before departed this life.

Lord Jesus, You insist that "the living God" is also "the God of the living," not of the dead. I am assured, as Paul wrote, that death cannot separate us from God. That comforts my heart today as I go to preach a funeral message for one of the truest Christian women I ever served as pastor. It braces me, also, in my old age as death draws closer.

I remember, Lord, that when my father and mother died, I left their graves with the overwhelming feeling that I would see them again on a brighter day in a better world. I am still convinced of that future.

The crowds "were astonished" at Your teaching. You put such profound truths into such simple words. I am astonished at the love and power that created those challenging and comforting truths. I am even more astonished that I could share, along with patriarchs and prophets, the life that death cannot defeat. Your grace gave me life when I was dead in sin. That life will not yield to the power of death. I will fellowship with You and Yours forever.

The Unique Christ

Scripture reading: Matthew 22:41-46.

What do you think about the Christ? (v. 42).

Lord, when I read "the Pharisees were gathered together" (v. 41), I got an involuntary mental image of a flock of vultures eager for a prey. Such groups remain today in Christendom, as preachers gather with a shared unwillingness to name You the Son of God. Like those ancient Pharisees, they are willing to say "the carpenter's son," even "David's son," but Son of God sticks in their craws.

You are God's Son and David's Lord. There never has been and never will be another man like You. You are unique, possessing a relationship to deity, to humanity, to history and to eternity that no other can share. You defy all categories of philosophers, psychologists and prophets. You cannot be fully understood or analyzed or described by any or all of them.

Tomorrow is Christmas, celebrating the miracle of Your birth, when David's Lord became David's son, when Mary's son became Mary's Savior. I can only wonder, praise and love. For this I am grateful. Only One who is too great to fit my mind one can fit my need. Unless You were more than I could think You would be less than I must have.

What I think about You and what I do about You determines my destiny.

Hypocrisy and Judgment

Scripture reading: Matthew 23:1-7.

Everything they do is for men to see (v. 5).

Lord, I can only live "for men to see" when I forget that You see. If my motive is to "appear" righteous I will be inwardly "full of hypocrisy and wickedness." Only when I live to please You, not to be praised by others, can I escape the subtle temptation to make religious practices a facade, stripping them of reality and thus of power.

How severely You denounced hypocrisy! Seven times You thundered, "Woe to you," recalling the prophetic "woe" that introduced Old Testament messages of judgment.

"They do not practice what they preach." Yet truth must not be rejected because a hypocrite proclaims it. You called upon Your disciples to obey the truth but discount the example of men who teach one thing and live another.

What I seek from You, Lord, is courage and strength to do the truth, refusing to allow anyone's hypocrisy to become my excuse for disobedience.

Be my "one teacher," and grace me and brace me to practice what You preach. Keep me from experiencing Your "woe," from being "condemned to hell" (v. 33).

The Enduring

Scripture reading: Matthew 24:1-14.

I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another.... he who stands firm to the end will be saved (vv. 2, 13).

Buildings do not endure, Lord, but people can. Your interest was not in stones that perish but in souls that live forever. Knowing its future, You were not impressed with the magnificence of the temple. Knowing their future You were impressed with the mystery of Your church. Your church is never a building, always persons—persons who trust You, who follow You, who proclaim You.

The temple was destroyed; course after course of stones were thrown down. Your church, built upon an indestructible foundation, survives all the attacks launched against it through centuries of time. Your people have endured hatred, deception, persecution and martyrdom, standing firm in faith, hope and love. Abounding iniquity has cooled the love and thinned the ranks of professing disciples, but true believers have defied all efforts of hell to turn them from You.

Unnecessary investments in ornate buildings distort Your values, Lord. Such buildings are monuments to pride, not witnesses to You. They will perish but You remain, and with You all those who love You "with an undying love" (Eph. 6:24). I am resolved to be among them.

False Christs

Scripture reading: Matthew 24:26-35.

Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather (v. 28).

You faithfully warned us, Lord, against false Christs. A number of them have arisen in my own lifetime. Taking advantage of the social and political upheavals of the world, they delude confused and insecure persons with their messages and miracles. That multitudes will follow them is no surprise, for "Wherever there is a carcass the vultures will gather." You draw men to life, they draw men to death.

These deceivers make much of secrecy. It is their refuge from exposure as frauds. Your work is open; Your coming will be public. You come to reveal, not to hide. All nations will hear Your message (v. 14); all nations will view Your coming. Your chosen ones, undeceived and loyal, will be "gathered" to You. Followers of the false Messiahs will be scattered from You.

Your words "will never pass away" (v. 35). They abide to expose the false persons and false systems that deceive and destroy. How vital it is to know and practice Your enduring, saving words! I will keep them before me, keep them within me, and their power will be my freedom. "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Psa. 119:11).

Watching

Scripture reading: Matthew 24:36-44.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come (v. 42).

I know You are coming, Lord. Your word declares it and that settles it. I know why You are coming—to gather Your people and to judge the world. But I don't know when You are coming, nor does any other person.

What sad messes are made by those who claim to know, and by the hapless dupes who follow them. I think, Lord, of the young preacher who sent me his tracts, all based upon "indisputable Bible evidence" carefully researched, even divinely revealed. He declared that the temple would be rebuilt in 1983, and that You would return by 1988. He hasn't sent me any tracts since those dates expired, leaving his predictions unfulfilled.

You tell me to "watch." That doesn't mean to watch political events in order to identify "signs" of Your coming. That doesn't mean to watch the rise and fall of leaders in order to identify the end-time antichrist. The context cautions me against false Christs and against wrong relationships with fellow servants. I am to watch against unreadiness occasioned by deception and sin.

Lord, I am watching my attitudes and actions, my relationships to You, to Your people, and to the world. As the song says, "I want to be ready."

A Glorious Invitation

Scripture reading: Matthew 25:14-30.

Come and share your Master's happiness (vv. 21, 23).

These are the most blessed words that I could hear from You in the future, Lord. I really want to be "a good and faithful servant." I really want to share the joy of heaven's fellowship.

You have entrusted me with abilities that can and should result in productive kingdom service. How productive, only You know. Mine not to forecast the measure of results; mine to invest the full measure of abilities.

You do not compare servants, Lord. Each one in this story is rewarded or condemned "according to his ability." I rejoice in what any man or woman achieves for Your kingdom, but I cannot make their achievements the standard for my own efforts. Goodness and faithfulness are Your criteria. I may achieve more or less than another servant—that is not the point. Am I doing my best where I am with what I have—that is the point!

Your "property," Lord, becomes my opportunity, and my opportunity becomes my responsibility. What I can do I must do, not shirking because another is lax, not pouting because another has more. With what You give me, Lord, help me to be faithful. I want to honor Your name and share Your joy now and forever.

Present Service, Future Reward

Scripture reading: Matthew 25:31-46.

Then they will go away to eternal punishment but the righteous to eternal life (v. 46).

There are two kinds of people in the world, Lord—those who live for themselves and those who live for You. And there are two final destinies—eternal punishment and eternal life.

To live for You is to live in service to human needs—clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and visiting the imprisoned who are Your "brothers."

Commentators are at pains to identify these "brothers," and cannot agree. I confess to less wisdom, so I adopt a simpler solution. I shall look upon any person in need as Your brother, and not demand ID cards before offering help.

To live for myself would prove self-destructive. Lord, keep me from such a foolish fate.

Matthew says much about Your compassion. Help me to be compassionate. Keep my heart tender towards hurting persons. Make me swift to share what I have with them. I want to be among "the blessed of [Your] Father" when You come to judge the world.

I know I can't buy heaven with good deeds, but I know too that good deeds accompany true faith in You, true love for You. Grant me such faith and love.

The Root of Betrayal

Scripture reading: Matthew 26:17-30.

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" (v. 25).

When I read this, Lord, it chills my blood. One of "the twelve," who had lived with You, who had observed Your miracles and had heard Your messages, became Your betrayer. He sold You out and sealed his doom.

I am no wiser, no better, no stronger than was he. If it happened to him it could happen to me. So I want to know how he could have sunk so low, how he could have gained the consent of his own will to commit such perfidy.

Surely this passage of Scripture contains the strongest clue. Judas said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" The other disciples had said, "Surely not I, Lord?" I searched the Gospels for myself and found that Judas never called You "Lord." The others did, but all Judas ever called You was "Teacher."

You were a Rabbi, an incomparable Teacher. But if I do not consent to Your lordship I have missed Your lessons. If You are not more than Teacher then I am less than saved. The uncommitted life will end in breakdown and tragedy. Your lordship establishes my identity and destiny. Help me, this very day, to live with You as Lord of all I am and have and do.

"I Will" Is Insufficient

Scripture reading: Matthew 26:31-35.

I will never disown you (v. 35).

How resolute Peter "and all the other disciples" sounded when affirming loyalty to You, Lord Jesus. I've no reason to question their sincerity. They meant it. They just didn't know the weakness of their own hearts. When the crunch came they failed You. Peter thrice denied that he was Your disciple. The others scattered in fear before your crucifixion.

My own loyalty has been avowed on frequent occasions. I have affirmed it in testimonies and in songs and in "amens" to scriptures which declare Your lordship. Such affirmations of loyalty are easier to make than to prove.

Not until they were filled with the Spirit did Your disciples find an inner power greater than the outer pressures. Pentecost made them what they thought they already were.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing.

Only as You dwell in me by the Spirit will I be "more than conqueror" when facing temptations and threats. My own resources of strength are pitifully inadequate. Create by Your indwelling Presence the courage and power I need to be Your loyal disciple.

Your Prayer, My Challenge

Scripture reading: Matthew 26:36-46.

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will (v. 39).

Lord Jesus, Your prayer in Gethsemane is my challenge in every crisis.

From it I learn that escape from agony is not always possible if I am to abide in God's will. Certain suffering is necessary for my spiritual growth. To spare me would be to stunt me. Certain suffering is necessary, too, if I am to achieve my mission in life, my service to others. I cannot always meet their needs without sacrifice and anguish.

It is good to hear You pray, "My Father..." I need to remember that whatever pain God imposes, or allows, He does as a loving Father, not as a cruel or indifferent despot.

From Your prayer I also learn to submit to what I cannot escape. "Yet not as I will, but as you will." You wanted nothing at the cost of disobedience. Always You defined sonship as obedience, and not as privilege.

I need to remember that the ultimate consequences of disobedience involve a greater suffering than any experienced in doing my Father's will.

Share with me, Lord, Your courage and commitment. Then shall I share, too, Your conquest.

Enduring Love

Scripture reading: Matthew 26:47-56.

Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for" (v. 50).

Lord, how immense and enduring is Your love. Even as Judas committed history's worst betrayal, You called him friend. You did not speak in sarcasm. You really were his friend and would have welcomed his friendship. Your word was love's last appeal to the traitor. Had he embraced Your friendship, and renounced his treachery, You certainly would have accepted and forgiven him.

No doubt, Lord, the same enduring love looked with pity upon the fleeing disciples who deserted You to save themselves (v. 56). You had "twelve legions of angels" at Your disposal, but did not call them. You had twelve disciples who should have been at Your disposal, but made "safety first" their slogan. Yet You did not withdraw Your friendship, did not disown Your followers, when they failed You.

That constant friendship has been my salvation. When I have proven disloyal, when I have been untrue, it was Your abiding love that brought me to repentance and restoration.

Thanks, Lord, for being a good Friend to a sorry one!

Tears Made the Difference

Scripture reading: Matthew 26:69-75.

And he went outside and wept bitterly (v. 75).

Peter's fears led him to deny You, Lord. Every time You spoke of Your coming death Peter tried to change the subject; partly, I am sure, because he loved You and couldn't bear the thought of Your crucifixion, but mostly because he feared for his own safety. If wicked men would execute You, what chance had Your disciples of escaping martyrdom?

Fear is root of many sins, Lord, but the worst of them is disowning You before Your enemies. Keep me from such moral cowardice, for I am no stronger than was Peter.

Peter's tears made possible his restoration. "He went outside and wept bitterly"—ashamed of his failure and disposed toward repentance. In contrast, Judas "went away and hanged himself" (27:5). Both men regretted their actions, one because he had hurt You, the other because he had ruined himself. As long as a man can sincerely weep over his sins, there is hope for him.

Peter "remembered" Your words that predicted his collapse. He remembered also Your words that promised prayer and implied forgiveness (Luke 22:33). You speak to unmask sin but You speak further to offer pardon.

Inevitable Decision

Scripture reading: Matthew 27:11-26.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man..." (v. 19).

Mrs. Pilate's advice was well-meant, Lord, but it was foolish. You were before that self-serving governor and he had to do something. No one can assume a position of neutrality toward You. Everyone is either for or against You; there is no middle ground. Pilate's own question, "What shall I do...with Jesus..." is one that each of us must answer, and our character and destiny hinges on our response.

Pilate's public hand washing and affirmation of innocence (v. 25) were as futile as they were false. He could neither evade responsibility nor escape the consequences.

Pilate is every man, compelled to decide whether to reject You or to follow You, and stuck with the results of that decision. He politicized the issue, attempted to save his position, and lost everything.

I have decided what to do with You. I name You the Christ; I name You my Christ. My hunger for You is greater than the pressure of the crowd or the reward of evil. I cannot be Pilate's judge, but I will not be his duplicate.

Compulsions

Scripture reading: Matthew 27:32-44.

...they forced him to carry the cross (v. 32).

It seems, Lord, that life is divided between the things we want to do and the things we have to do. What we are forced to do seems often to be the lion's share. The compulsions usually are odious.
Simon was really a victim of circumstance, in the wrong place at the wrong time. To be forced to carry a criminal's cross must have been embarrassing and frustrating. Did he inwardly seethe with rage?

Whatever he felt, carrying that cross had to become the most enriching compulsion of Simon's life. I can easily imagine him, when old, telling his grandchildren about it.

I have lived long enough to value the lessons I've learned and the treasures I've found as a conscript. Forced by circumstances beyond my control to do things I would never have chosen for myself, I have discovered in these compulsions many opportunities for growth and service that made my life fuller and richer.

Those compulsions that were linked to You and to Your cross have proved to be character building and destiny-making. What was momentarily galling will be eternally glorious.

Break Time--the Soldiers Watch

Scripture reading: Matthew 27:35-44.

And sitting down, they kept watch over him there (v.36).

From where they sat, Lord, they could read "the written charge" against You: "This is Jesus, the king of the Jews" (v. 37). What irony! "If he's a king," they must have thought, "where's his army?" Your disciples had forsaken You.

From where they sat, they could hear the insults and taunts heaped upon You by heartless onlookers. Religious and political VIPs united to mock Your helplessness. Commoners and criminals added their voices to the mockery. Those soldiers must have thought, "Some king! He has no loyal subjects.”

The soldiers did not join the crowd in mocking You. They had already mocked and beaten You until weary of their blood sport (vv. 27-31). They had indulged their lusts and done their dirty work—now it was break time.

All of this You endured in heroic silence. They watched You die but they didn't know who You were or why You died. This did not excuse their cruelty or evil. When we can watch any person's death with pleasure or indifference, we show how far from God we've fallen, how like the devil we've become.

You endured the cross to save us from what we have become, to restore us to Your likeness. What love! What power! What true kingship!

Heartbreak Time--the Women Watch

Scripture reading: Matthew 27:45-56.

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs (v. 55).

Lord, I find the contrast between the watching soldiers and the watching women intriguing. The soldiers watched as a matter of duty, the women as a matter of devotion. The soldiers watched in callous indifference, the women in heart-deep sympathy. The soldiers were a cruel endorsement of all the abuse and pain inflicted upon You, the women a silent, poignant protest against it. The soldiers embodied the world's dismissive "who cares." The women were a reminder of heaven's message in Christ—“Someone cares." It seems to me, Lord, that both kinds of watching are still going on in the presence of human suffering.

These women had tracked Your steps to serve Your needs. Now there is nothing they can do but watch. This is the hardest of all vigils for love to keep—standing by when nothing more can be done. The burden is lighter when one can be busier, doing something, doing anything, to help. When nothing else is possible or permitted, when all activities reduce to watching, how hard that suffering in silence becomes!

Help me, Lord, to do what I can while I can. When I can only watch—and hurt—help me to keep love's watch.

Post a Guard!

Scripture reading: Matthew 27:62-66.

“Take a guard," Pilate answered, "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how" (v. 65).

Dead or alive, Lord, You had the priests and politicians shaking in their sandals. Having killed You, they wanted You to stay dead. No grave robbers and rumors of resurrection must be allowed to disturb the easily aroused populace. So the tomb was sealed and the guard was posted. The powers-that-be had spoken: "You are dead. Stay dead!"

Heaven rocked with laughter! Shortly the earth would quake in response. You would be alive forever, and nothing would ever be the same again—not for persons or nations. They might as well have posted a guard against the sunrise, or a tidal change, or a lightning strike.

Somebody is always posting guards against You, Lord. Trying to defend their vested interests against Your authority, they resort to laws, to force, to political chicanery, to military maneuvers, to social pressure—and nothing works. You are alive, the present Savior, the coming Judge, and no earthly powers can secure themselves against heaven's triumph!

"Your kingdom come. Your will be done." Amen.

 Assurance, Assignment

Scripture reading: Matthew 28:1-10.

Come and see...go and tell (vv. 6, 7).

"Come and see." An invitation to gaze upon the scene and the evidence of history's greatest victory. An invitation to live again, with faith, hope and joy renewed. An invitation to witness heaven's triumph over the most and the worst that hell could do to ruin human life and reduce its noblest exposition to apparent nothingness. What an invitation, Lord!

No wonder it was quickly followed by "Go and tell." Some news is too big, too good, to keep. It must be shared—over and over again. Sin and death had been defeated. Lust, greed and violence—all the dark powers that fashioned the cross—had lost their prey before their victory celebration had gotten well underway.

You were alive! The love of God had triumphed. The word of God had triumphed. The power of God had triumphed. "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see...go and tell..."

Lord, the invitation came to me. I was challenged to look upon Your saving conquest and find my life, my future, my destiny there. The commission also came to me. I was conscripted to proclaim this glorious gospel. And I have never been the same person since.

The Universal Christ

Scripture reading: Matthew 28:16-20.

"All..." (vv. 18, 19, 20).

Lord, Your authority is universal. The placard on Your cross read, "King of the Jews," but "all authority in heaven and on earth" is Yours. The established boundaries of continents, nations and states cannot fence You in or out. Neither calendars nor treaties can define Your kingdom. You are "Maker and Ruler" of all the earth for all time. All lesser forms of authority exist, and cease to exist, as You will. Your lordship will one day be universally acknowledged (Phil. 2:9-11).

Your salvation is universal. "All nations" are to be discipled by Your followers, for the saving benefits of Your atoning death and risen life extend to all humanity, not to some privileged segment of it. Sin, guilt, death are universal—the dark and lethal forces that are as common to all nations as the blood in their veins and the air in their lungs. The remedy is as extensive as the plague.

Your presence is universal. Those who go at Your command to share the good news of deliverance are assured of Your presence "all the days" until "the end of the age." We cannot go where You do not share the trail and travail. The One who imposes the commission counters everyone and everything that opposes the mission: "I will be with you always." You are the universal Christ.

The Growing Family

Scripture reading: Matthew 1:1; 28:16-20.

...the genealogy of Jesus Christ.... go and make disciples of all nations... (1: 28:19).

The Gospel opens with Your ancestor list, naming some to whom You were related from the past. It closes with the missionary assignment given to Your disciples, implying those to whom You will be related in the future.

The genealogy links You to Israel. Gentile names are included, but they are persons who were assimilated into Israel. The commissioning passage embraces "all nations" throughout all ages. It's not that Your love became broader. Rather, the purpose of Your saving love became clearer and fuller to Your followers. There has always been room in Your heart for everyone.

From the beginning You chose the one for the sake of the many. Your covenant with Abraham terminated upon "all families of the earth." The song line, "He's got the whole world in his hands," has been true from creation. You are the Savior of mankind, not just some elite portion of it.

I rejoice to be part of Your family, Lord. Gospel preachers reached my nation. The Holy Spirit called my name. I trusted in You and You brought me into the family. I have been privileged to tell thousands of others about You. For this my full heart praises You today.