Scripture reading: Matthew 1:1-17
...Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ (v. 16).
Jesus was born from Mary's womb but not of Joseph's seed. This was Your arrangement, Lord God, executed at the cost of slander and scandal endured by two ordinary people who otherwise would never have been heard of.
Finally, though, every person's place in history and eternity is determined by his or her relationship to the Christ.
Apart from Him, O God, my life would have no lasting worth. The value of human life does not lie in achievement, wealth or fame. It rests upon one's answer to the question, "What shall I do...with Jesus?"
Lord Jesus, my life has been enriched in every important dimension by following You. I come to old age with no complaints, but filled with praise for the privilege of knowing, serving, and proclaiming You.
And just think—the best is yet to come! I will see You as You are and be like You. I will live with You forever.
Scripture reading: Matthew 1:18-23
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (v.18).
Lord Jesus, some have denied that Your birth ever took place. Seeking notoriety and worshipping novelty, they have denied, in the name of scholarship, Your historical existence. Such avant-garde "thinkers" have sunk into well-deserved obscurity.
But, Lord Jesus, many have denied that Your birth took place as this Gospel declares. The doctrine of Your virginal conception offends them. The parameters of possibility are set for them by secular science, not by divine power. They shrink their idea of God to fit their limited intelligence and decide that such a miracle was impossible, or unnecessary, or irrelevant. What believers they would be if they had half the confidence in Your Word that they have in their own opinions.
They picture a God who either voluntarily abandoned creation or was shut out of it. Their picture is a graven image "uglier than a mud fence in a rain storm," as my dad used to say.
How refreshing, Lord, to turn from their writings to Your Word.
Scripture reading: Matthew 1:18-25
...what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (v.20).
Lord God, in the person of the Holy Spirit You address human need with divine power. Our greatest need was a Savior from sin, for only sin alienates us from You; only sin incurs Your wrath.
Your answer to this need is Jesus Christ, conceived in a virgin's womb by the creative power of the Holy Spirit.
This is a mystery declared in Your Word and confessed by Your church. It is persistently denied by men who fancy themselves too wise to accept a miracle or too good to need a Savior. To us who believe, though, it is a precious truth. At the point of our greatest need You have released Your greatest power.
There is awesome power in sin. It dismantles our lives, part by part, until we are wrecked, until we are hopeless and helpless to counter and defeat our destroyer.
The power of Your Spirit exceeds the power of sin. You came to our rescue in Jesus, who was formed by the Spirit's power in Mary's womb. Eternal love would not abandon us to our own suicidal tendencies. Praise Your name forever!
Scripture reading: Matthew 1:18-25
"...they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us" (v. 23).
Lord God, You are not a distant spectator viewing human misery with indifference. You are a participant in our lot. In Jesus, You "came down" to earth, to humanity, to poverty, to sin. You stooped to conquer.
In Jesus, You are with us in all places. Jacob said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it" (Gen. 28:16). You may not always be recognized, but You are never absent. Your people never travel alone.
In Jesus, You are with us at all times. Jesus rejoiced with those who rejoiced and wept with those who wept. He is present in good times and bad. "There is a time for everything" (Eccl. 3:1), and in each of those times You fulfill the promise, "I will be with you always."
In Jesus, You are with us for all needs. You are with us to forgive, to heal, to sustain, to comfort, to strengthen, to encourage. Your presence is our light and peace and bread and refuge and hope.
At the threshold of this new day an old truth elates me—my Savior is Immanuel!
Scripture reading: Matthew 1:18-25.
And he gave him the name Jesus (v. 25).
Joseph called the child of Mary's womb "God's salvation."
Naming Him becomes every person's responsibility. What I name You, Lord, does not determine who or what You are. It determines who I am in relationship to You. It determines my character, behavior and destiny.
Some called You terrible things—blasphemer, drunkard, lunatic, deceiver. Some called You in contempt a name You bear with joy—Friend of sinners. Others called You Savior, Lord, and God.
You are what You are, unchanged by the names men give You. But what we name You changes us for better or for worse. You are indeed God's salvation. If I name You that in faith, I share that deliverance. You forgive my sins, cleanse my heart, direct my ways and fulfill my hope. Should I call You anything other or less than did the Father, the angels and Joseph, I submit to the slavery imposed by sin, and reap the harvest of doom my unbelief deserves.
I name You my Savior and Lord!
Scripture reading: Matthew 2:1-18
...Jesus was born in Bethlehem...." But you, Bethlehem...out of you will come a ruler" (vv. 1, 6).
From an insignificant town came the most important person of all time. The size of the place cannot determine the size of the person. Multitudes of petty people live in giant cities. Many great persons have come from "one-horse" towns. What determines us is not place but grace--grace accepted or rejected.
Jesus in Bethlehem's manger was of greater value than Herod in Jerusalem's palace. Jesus on the cross meant more to the world than Caesar on the throne.
Lord, teach me anew to reject the world's criteria of worth and importance. Remind me today that where I came from doesn't matter. What really counts is where I am headed. Following the Christ who was born in a cattle shelter in Bethlehem, I am bound for the everlasting beauty and glory of the New Jerusalem.
Not place, but grace and choice determine character and destiny. Your grace is my choice today.
Scripture reading: Matthew 2:8-15
And having been warned in a dream.... an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream (vv. 12-13).
Lord God, throughout Scripture we read of messages being sent from You to men and women by way of dreams. Especially is this true of warning messages.
I sometimes wonder why You chose, and still choose, this medium of communication. Are people so occupied with other matters during their waking hours that You can only access them while they sleep?
Whatever the reason, the channel of communication is a witness to Your grace. You love us too much to let us go unguided and unwarned. You even invade our dreams in order to keep us from the evil one.
This does not grant us license to regard every dream as a revelation or even as significant. We are to be guided by the clear teaching of Your word, not by "dream books." The message You send by way of dreams will not contradict the word You speak in the Bible.
Speak to me when and by whom You choose, Lord God, and I will obey as did the Magi, as did Joseph. Your word is my light and life.
Scripture reading: Matthew 2:16-21
...those who were trying to take the child's life are dead (v. 20).
Your enemies could not destroy You as a child, Lord, but they would kill You as a man. The time and place and reason for Your death would be, not an accident of history, but the fulfillment of divine purpose. As Wesley said, the servant of God is immortal until his work is done.
When it looked like Your enemies had at last succeeded, the resurrection would validate Your claims and affirm Your triumph. You would be declared, not merely "the king of the Jews," but the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). You would be proved, not the hapless prey of human hatred, but the divinely provided and accepted sacrifice for sins—the Lamb of God.
Wicked men put You to death, but the holy God freed You from its grasp, loosing a power for righteousness that became the salvation of all who believe.
As a child, protected; as a man, sacrificed—and through it all the redeeming purpose of God was fulfilled. My mind is staggered by the wonder, power and love expressed in Your life, death and resurrection. Hail, King Jesus!
Scripture reading: Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist came preaching (v. 1).
Lord, what contempt has been poured by the world upon preaching! Men have despised and ridiculed it for centuries. From "those days" to these days, preaching has been hated by lovers of darkness.
When the voice of John was silenced, a greater than John would begin to preach (4:16). As someone has observed, "God had but one Son, and made Him a preacher."
Though the wicked mocked, "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). No wonder Paul exclaimed in grateful awe, "Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8).
I thank You, Lord, for all who preached the gospel to me. And to think—You called me into the ranks of those privileged to proclaim Christ as the only Savior of lost mankind! My life has been spent in a glorious task, despised by the world but exalted by You.
Scripture reading: Matthew 3:-1-12
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (v. 1).
What a message was that of John, and Jesus, and all who are called by God to preach today!
It was—and is—a message of promise and possibility: "the kingdom of heaven is near."
The kingdom was as near as the King, whose way the Baptizer prepared, for God reigns through Jesus Christ. As near as the preaching, healing, and exorcisms of Christ, for God reigns through the words and deeds of Jesus. As near as the cross of Calvary, for God reigns through the atoning death of His Son. As near as the resurrection, for God reigns in the triumph of Jesus over sin and death. As near as the preaching of the gospel, for God reigns by the word that explains and exalts the meaning of Jesus for the world.
The message is demand as well as promise: "Repent." The nearing of King and kingdom requires me to consider my ways and turn my steps to His ways (Psa.119:59).
I have repented, and the King reigns in my heart. Hallelujah!
Scripture reading: Matthew 3:1-12.
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (v. 7).
These "vipers" were religious men—“Pharisees and Sadducees." That teaches me, Lord, that rituals and rules, ceremonies and creeds, cannot shelter me from Your wrath upon sin. My only refuge is the Christ whom John proclaimed as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
There is a "coming wrath." You will bring swift and terrible judgment upon those who refuse to repent. That wrath is a consuming fire (vv. 10-12), and religion doesn't fireproof a sinner.
You are faithful and gracious to warn against that coming wrath. You will to save, not to destroy. You delight in mercy and You are swift to forgive. Your preached word warns those who sin and saves those who repent.
When I was a viper menaced by "unquenchable fire," You warned me and saved me. For this You will have my love and thanks and service forever! Unquenchable love has rescued me from unquenchable fire.
Scripture reading: Matthew 3:13-17.
...Jesus was baptized... (v. 16).
You, who needed no repentance, were baptized along with those who were "confessing their sins" (v. 6). Naaman the leper was healed when he bathed in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14). You, the spotless One, were baptized there to identify yourself with all us moral lepers. As Paul would express it in wonder, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Your baptism was the prelude to Your death on the cross.
You identified with me in love. I identify with You by faith. In this way I am saved from sin, saved by grace. You "came to the Jordan" that I might come to You for pardon and peace. You "came to the Jordan" that I might enjoy newness and fullness of life. You "came to the Jordan" that I might one day come to the "river of life" that flows through the city of God.
How great Your love, how mighty Your grace! Help me, today, to live for You who died for me.
Scripture reading: Matthew 3:13-17.
And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (v. 17).
At Your baptism, Lord Jesus, You were identified with sinners. This identify was chosen by You, not forced upon You. You came to the Jordan to be baptized by John, though You personally needed neither confession nor forgiveness.
At Your baptism You were also identified by God. The Father's voice from heaven named You as His beloved Son, a phrase equivalent to "only Son." You bear a relationship to the Father unique and unsharable. You are divine.
When You took Your place with sinners, not as one of them, but as one for them, the Father was well-pleased. Insofar as Your baptism symbolized Your coming death, the Father indicated His acceptance of Your death as an atoning sacrifice. He was "well pleased" with You when You "died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous," to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). Preacher-talk about the Father turning His back on You is unconvincing. You were "obedient to death" and only disobedience separates from God.
God identified You as Son and Savior, and I worship You as that today.
Scripture reading: Matthew 4:1-11.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (v. 1).
I see, Lord, that being Spirit-led does not insure an easy path. Your path of obedience led to the desert, there to confront Your worst enemy in hand-to-hand combat for forty days.
Whom the Spirit leads, however, He first prepares. I must not overlook the little word "then." Then, after Your baptism and anointing, after the Father's voice attested Your sonship, then and only then were You "led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted."
I do not know where the Spirit may lead me. Walking in the Spirit has already brought me over surprising and dangerous trails. Always He was faithful to prepare me for the trek and to sustain me in the trials.
"Those who are led by the Spirit," said Paul, "are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). The proof of sonship is not to be spared but to be led. God "did not spare his own Son," but He led Him all the way.
Lord, I cannot ask for less. Ready me, lead me and expend me this day.
Scripture reading: Matthew 4:1-11.
The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (v. 3).
The devil specializes in doubt. J. B. Chapman told of a man who claimed to be the world's foremost expert on the word "if," but that dishonor really belongs to Satan.
The Father had just said, "This is my Son" (3:17). Now the devil says, "If you are the Son of God..." He did not directly contradict God's word, but tried to cast doubt upon it by wrongly interpreting it.
Satan interpreted sonship as self-indulgence. He urged You to use Your power to turn stones into bread and thus relieve Your hunger. But You interpreted sonship as obedience, as living by "every word that comes from the mouth of God."
Teach me, Lord, to recognize the voice of Satan when he comes to tempt me to doubt and disobedience. Remind me that hunger in the desert is preferable to fullness in disobedience. Keep me loyal to the Father's word and will at all cost to myself. I want to be a child of God in fact, not merely in name.
Scripture reading: Matthew 4:1-11.
Then the devil...said...it is written... (vv. 5, 6).
Satan quoted scripture—what a travesty on truth. He hates Your word, O God, but he will use it for his own purposes.
He will quote Your words, but he will not live by them. He seeks, not guidance for himself, but weapons against Your sons and daughters. He would turn Your words against Your work. He isn't wise but he is wily.
He uses Scripture selectively. Lord Jesus, You replied, "It is also written..." You lived by "every word" of the Father, not by words yanked out of context to rationalize self-indulgence.
Lord, teach me the value of knowing all that is written on a subject. Let my aim be to know and do Your will. Don't let me try to hide disobedience behind a proof-text. Don't let me place the Bible in service to self-interest. Rather, keep me subject to the whole truth by which You would guide me as Your servant.
When Satan quotes Scripture, let me reject his misuse of it, even if he's standing in a pulpit when he quotes it.
Scripture reading: Matthew 41-11.
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him (v. 11).
The devil assaulted You. Lord, if he attacked You, I can certainly expect no quarter from him. No measure of holiness or commitment will place a person beyond temptation in this world.
He did not leave until You commanded, "Away from me, Satan!" Even then he didn't go far or stay gone long. As Luke tells us, he departed "until an opportune time" (4:13). He may cease fire and retreat, but he doesn't surrender. He remains Satan.
Angels attended You. What that means I don't know. Perhaps they furnished You with food. Surely they celebrated with You the victory over the tempter. I know that if You had enemies You also had allies. Forces for righteousness were present as surely as forces for evil.
As I face temptation today, Lord, I am helped by the record of Your struggle and triumph. Clinging to God's word, counting on His angels, committed to His purpose, I can resist and overcome the enemy. In You I claim victory.
Scripture reading: Matthew 4:12-20.
John had been put in prison.... From that time on Jesus began to preach... (vv. 12, 17).
When the voice of John was stilled, the voice of another and greater preacher was heard in the land. The message continued to be proclaimed.
Throughout centuries one preacher after another has appeared, a succession of men and women who stood dauntless before threat and abuse, conveying the word of God with its demands and promises to their contemporaries.
Prison, torture, execution—none of Satan's cruelties could defeat the light You sent to relieve mankind's darkness, for always there was another messenger to lift the torch and to advance the march.
I marvel, Lord, that You summoned me into that noble succession! How glad I am to be Your messenger. Preaching has been my life, and I could have asked no higher calling, no grander reward. Thank You for allowing me to share the mission that You graced with Your own ministry and message. Keep me faithful to the task and to those who shared it before me.
Scripture reading: Matthew 4:18-23
Jesus called them... (v. 21).
Lord Jesus, You called the wicked. You preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (v. 17). Those who obeyed the summons were forgiven and enjoyed the fellowship of the King. I am glad I heard and answered that call.
You called the wicked and You also called the workers. To fishermen You said, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (v. 19). They did not become workers at Your call. They were already engaged at one task when You called them to another. You did not recruit loafers. I am glad I heard and answered that call.
You called to wholeness. You "went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (v. 23). You brought the gifts of light and health to "those suffering severe pain" in body and spirit. You united people with God, with themselves, and with one another. Your reconciling love brought wholeness to shattered lives. I am glad I heard and answered that call.
Scripture reading: Matthew 4:18-22.
Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (vv. 21, 22).
Lord, there is always something and someone to leave if we follow You. Discipleship is costly. Assets are forsaken and alliances are broken that have been significant and comforting. These fishermen loved their boats and their father, but left the familiar, the comfortable, the rewarding, to follow You.
You do not call us to forsake evil only. You call us to forsake the good also. We must be willing to sacrifice what we highly value and greatly enjoy for the sake of Your will and work.
How seldom through a half-century of ministry did I get to see my parents, children, and grandchildren! But I confess, Lord, that You gave more than I gave up. Fellowship with You in kingdom service is a greater treasure than the best of family circles or chosen careers. When You called, "Follow me," I had no reservations and now I have no regrets.
"The boat and their father" were good, not evil, but You call us to leave the good for the best.