Merry Christmas!

Illustrated by Xander Harris, age 7

“He’s Here!”[1]

The story of the Nativity as told in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible

Everything was ready. The moment God had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help His people, just as He promised in the beginning.

But how would He come? What would He be like? What would He do?

Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, He came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, He came.

There was a young girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph. (Joseph was the great-great-great-great-great grandson of King David.)

One morning, this girl was minding her own business when, suddenly, a great warrior of light appeared – right there in her bedroom. He was Gabriel, and he was an angel, a special messenger from Heaven.

When she saw the tall shining man standing there, Mary was frightened.

“You don’t need to be scared,” Gabriel said. “God is very happy with you!”

Mary looked around to see if perhaps he was talking to someone else.

“Mary, you’re going to have a baby. A little boy. You will call Him Jesus. He is God’s own Son. He’s the One! He’s the Rescuer!”

The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just a word, the one who could do anything at all – was making Himself small. And coming down…as a baby.

Wait. God was sending a baby to rescue the world?

“But it’s too wonderful!” Mary said and felt her heart beating hard. “How can it be true?”

“Is anything too wonderful for God?” Gabriel asked.

So Mary trusted God more than what her eyes could see. And she believed. “I am God’s servant,” she said. “Whatever God says, I will do.”

Sure enough, it was just as the angel had said. Nine months later, Mary was almost ready to have her baby.

Now, Mary and Joseph had to take a trip to Bethlehem, the town King David was from. But when they reached the little town, they found every room was full. Every bed was taken.

“Go away!” the innkeepers told them. “There isn’t any place for you.”

Where would they stay? Soon Mary’s baby would come.

They couldn’t find anywhere except an old, tumbledown stable. So they stayed where the cows and the donkeys and the horses stayed.

And there, in the stable, amongst the chickens and the donkeys and the cows, in the quiet of the night, God gave the world His wonderful gift. The baby that would change the world was born. His baby Son.

Mary and Joseph wrapped Him up to keep Him warm. They made a soft bed of straw and used the animals’ feeding trough as His cradle. And they gazed in wonder at God’s Great Gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

Mary and Joseph named Him Jesus, “Emmanuel” – which means “God has come to live with us.”

Because, of course, He had.

[1] Yes, this is from a children’s “bible”. We’ve spent a lot of time reading the Scriptures verbatim from the Word of God, and we absolutely should give priority to Scripture in our devotional life. But, maybe – just maybe – we could all benefit from looking at the Scriptures from the mindset of a child. Could it be that there is no perspective with more substantial faith at Christmas than a child’s? May we see Christmas in that way.

Christmas to Calvary — December 24

Jesus Is Raised

Now on the first day of the week, at very early dawn, they came back to the tomb bringing the fragrant spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. And it happened that while they were perplexed about this, behold, two men in gleaming clothing stood near them. And as they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, they said to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised! Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of men who are sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise?” And they remembered his words, and when they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the others with them were telling these things to the apostles. And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they refused to believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, and bending over to look, he saw only the strips of linen cloth, and he went away to his home wondering what had happened.

Jesus Encountered on the Road to Emmaus

And behold, on that same day, two of them were traveling to a village named Emmaus that was sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, and they were conversing with one another about all these things that had happened. And it happened that while they were conversing, and discussing, Jesus himself also approached and began to go along with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are these matters that you are discussing with one another as you are walking along?” And they stood still, looking sad. And one of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to him, “Are you the only one living near Jerusalem and not knowing the things that have happened in it in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” So they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, a man who was a prophet, powerful in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death, and crucified him. But we were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. But in addition to all these things, this is the third day since these things took place. But also some women from among us astonished us, who were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying they had seen even a vision of angels, who said that he was alive! And some of those with us went out to the tomb and found it like this, just as the women had also said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish and slow in heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures. And they drew near to the village where they were going, and he acted as though he was going farther. And they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is getting toward evening, and by this time the day is far spent.” And he went in to stay with them. And it happened that when he reclined at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks, and after breaking it, he gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he became invisible to them. And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” And they got up that same hour and returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven and those with them assembled, saying, “The Lord has really been raised, and has appeared to Simon!” And they began describing what happened on the road, and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

And while they were saying these things, he himself stood there among them. But they were startled and became terrified, and thought they had seen a ghost. And he said to them, “Why are you frightened? And for what reason do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that I am I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they were still disbelieving because of joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat here?” So they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in front of them.

Jesus Commissions His Disciples

And he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything that is written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending out what was promised by my Father upon you, but you stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. And it happened that while he was blessing them, he parted from them and was taken up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they were continually in the temple courts praising God.

Questions for Reflection:

  • If the tomb had held Jesus’ body held His body, what do you think that would have meant for Christianity (see 1 Corinthians 15)?

  • How does Christ’s resurrection affect our lives today?

  • How would you say you have gotten to know Jesus better over the course of this study?

  • Tomorrow is Christmas, and we have spent December 1-today looking at all of His life and, now, His death and resurrection. How does the reality of the cross and the empty tomb affect your thinking about celebrating Jesus’ birth tomorrow?

Live-the-Word Challenge:

Traditions are often considered essential in celebrating Christmas. Find some way to inject the gospel into your Christmas traditions. Find one particular tradition that can be altered to reflect that Jesus is indeed the reason for the season. Who knows: maybe this will indeed become a new tradition for you and your family and help you in the years to come to reflect more Christ in your CHRISTmas!

Christmas to Calvary — December 23

Jesus Brought Before Pilate

And the whole assembly of them rose up and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying he himself is Christ, a king!” And Pilate asked him, saying, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And he answered him and said, “You say so.” So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they insisted, saying, “He incites the people, teaching throughout the whole of Judea and beginning from Galilee as far as here.”

Jesus Brought Before Herod

Now when Pilate heard this, he asked if the man was a Galilean. And when he found out that he was from the jurisdiction of Herod, he sent him over to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem in those days. And when Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see some miracle performed by him. So he questioned him at considerable length, but he answered nothing to him. And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers also treated him with contempt, and after mocking him and dressing him in glistening clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And both Herod and Pilate became friends with one another on that same day, for they had previously been enemies of one another.

Pilate Releases Barabbas

So Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people, and behold, when I examined him before you, I found nothing in this man as basis for the accusation which you are making against him. But neither did Herod, because he sent him back to us. And behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him. Therefore I will punish him and release him.”  But they all cried out in unison, saying, “Take this man away, and release for us Barabbas!” (who had been thrown in prison because of a certain insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder). And Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept crying out, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!” So he said to them a third time, “Why? What wrong has this man done? I found no basis for an accusation deserving death in him. Therefore I will punish him and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he be crucified. And their cries prevailed. And Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. And he released the one who had been thrown into prison because of insurrection and murder, whom they were asking for, but Jesus he handed over to their will.

Jesus Is Crucified

And as they led him away, they seized Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and placed the cross on him, to carry it behind Jesus. And a great crowd of the people were following him, and of women who were mourning and lamenting him. But turning to them, Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children! For behold, days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that did not give birth, and the breasts that did not nurse!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

And two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him. And when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” there they crucified him, and the criminals, the one on his right and the other on his left. But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothes. And the people stood there watching, but the rulers also ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if this man is the Christ of God, the Chosen One!” And the soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” And there was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.”

And one of the criminals who were hanged there reviled him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself—and us!” But the other answered and rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, because you are undergoing the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done. But this man has done nothing wrong!” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” And he said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus Dies on the Cross

And by this time it was about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour because the light of the sun failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn apart down the middle. And Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit!” And after he said this, he expired.

Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began to praise God, saying, “Certainly this man was righteous!” And all the crowds that had come together for this spectacle, when they saw the things that had happened, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances, and the women who had followed him from Galilee who saw these things, stood at a distance.

Jesus Is Buried

And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man (this man was not consenting to their plan and deed), from Arimathea, a Judean town, who was looking forward to the kingdom of God. This man approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth and placed him in a tomb cut into the rock where no one had ever been placed. And it was the day of preparation, and the Sabbath was drawing near. And the women who had been accompanying him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was placed. And they returned and prepared fragrant spices and perfumes, and on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What do you think is the relationship between truth and justice? Did we see truth and justice displayed in Jesus’ trials? Did we see them in His crucifixion?

  • C. John Miller said that “repentance is humility in action”. What do you think about that statement? Why might humility be necessary to repentance and receiving forgiveness?

  • What do the two thieves on the cross teach us about the best use of our last moments of life if we are blessed to have our faculties when that time comes?

  • Unlike the people in this chapter, we live on the other side of the cross and resurrection. Does that fact help us to face and endure grief? How?

Christmas to Calvary — December 22

The Chief Priests and Scribes Plot to Kill Jesus

Now the feast of Unleavened Bread (which is called Passover) was drawing near. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they could destroy him, because they were afraid of the people.

Judas Arranges to Betray Jesus

And Satan entered into Judas, the one called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers of the temple guard how he could betray him to them. And they were delighted, and came to an agreement with him to give him money. And he agreed, and began looking for a favorable opportunity to betray him to them apart from the crowd.

Jesus’ Final Passover with the Disciples

And the day of the feast of Unleavened Bread came, on which it was necessary for the Passover lamb to be sacrificed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” So they said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare it?” And he said to them, “Behold, when you have entered into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house which he enters. And you will say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ And he will show you a large furnished upstairs room. Make preparations there.” So they went and found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

The Lord’s Supper

And when the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you that I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took in hand a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the product of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.

“But behold, the hand of the one who is betraying me is with me on the table! For the Son of Man is going according to what has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to debate with one another who then of them it could be who was going to do this.

A Dispute About Who Is Greatest

And a dispute also occurred among them as to which of them was recognized as being greatest. So he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called benefactors. But you are not to be like this! But the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am in your midst as the one who serves.

“And you are the ones who have remained with me in my trials, and I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” And he said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know me!”

The Two Swords

And he said to them, “When I sent you out without a money bag and a traveler’s bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” And they said, “Nothing.” And he said to them, “But now the one who has a money bag must take it, and likewise a traveler’s bag. And the one who does not have a sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this that is written must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was counted with the criminals.’ For indeed, what is written about me is being fulfilled.” So they said, “Lord, behold, here are two swords!” And he said to them, “It is adequate.”

The Prayer in Gethsemane

And he went away and proceeded, according to his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples also followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw and knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take away this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” And an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. And being in anguish, he began praying more fervently and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he got up from the prayer and came to the disciples, he found them sleeping from sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you will not enter into temptation!”

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

While he was still speaking, behold, there came a crowd, and the one named Judas, one of the twelve, leading them. And he approached Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those around him saw what was about to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” And a certain one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. And Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come out against him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs, as against a robber? Every day when I was with you in the temple courts, you did not stretch out your hands against me! But this is your hour and the domain of darkness!”

Peter’s Denial of Jesus

And they arrested him and led him away and brought him into the house of the high priest. But Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. And a certain female slave, seeing him sitting in the light and looking intently at him, said, “This man also was with him!” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him!” And after a short time another person saw him and said, “You also are one of them!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” And after about one hour had passed, someone else was insisting, saying, “In truth this man also was with him, because he is also a Galilean!” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. And the Lord turned around and looked intently at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

And the men who were guarding him began to mock him while they beat him, and after blindfolding him they repeatedly asked him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck you?” And they were saying many other things against him, reviling him.

Jesus Before the Sanhedrin

And when day came, the council of elders of the people gathered, both chief priests and scribes, and they led him away to their Sanhedrin, saying, “If you are the Christ, tell us!” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will never believe, and if I ask you, you will never answer! But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you then the Son of God?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” And they said, “Why do we have need of further testimony? For we ourselves have heard it from his mouth!”

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does the Father’s “no” to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane ultimately lead to our salvation and Jesus’ glory?

  • What is it about God that enables Him to receive those, like Peter (and us), who once rejected Him? What aspects of His character does the forgiveness of rebels, backsliders, and blasphemers reveal?

  • Why must Christians be committed to the truth? What happens if a Christian keeps a slippery grip on truth?

Christmas to Calvary — December 21

A Poor Widow’s Offering

And he looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the contribution box, and he saw a certain poor widow putting in there two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all of them. For these all put gifts into the offering out of their abundance, but this woman out of her poverty put in all the means of subsistence that she had.”

The Destruction of the Temple Predicted

And while some were speaking about the temple, that it was adorned with precious stones and votive offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see—days will come in which not one stone will be left on another stone that will not be thrown down!”

Signs of the End of the Age

And they asked him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “Watch out that you are not deceived! For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them! And when you hear about wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must happen first, but the end will not be at once.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and famines and plagues in various places. There will be terrible sights and great signs from heaven.

Persecution of Disciples Predicted

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will turn out to you for a time of witness. Therefore make up your minds not to prepare in advance to speak in your own defense, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom that all your opponents will not be able to resist or contradict. And you will be handed over even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put to death some of you. And you will be hated by all because of my name. Even a hair of your head will never perish! By your patient endurance you will gain your lives.

The Desolation of Jerusalem

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside it must depart, and those in the fields must not enter into it, because these are days of vengeance, so that all the things that are written can be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people, and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

The Arrival of the Son of Man

“And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity from the noise of the sea and its surging, people fainting from fear and expectation of what is coming on the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!”

The Parable of the Fig Tree

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they put out foliage, now you see for yourselves and know that by this time the summer is near. So also you, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you that this generation will never pass away until all things take place! Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Be Alert

“But take care for yourselves, lest your hearts are weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of daily life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who reside on the face of the whole earth. But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

So throughout the days he was teaching in the temple courts, and throughout the nights he was going out and spending the night on the hill that is called the Mount of Olives. And all the people were getting up very early in the morning to come to him in the temple courts to listen to him.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What comes to mind when you think about the end of the world? Is the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus an encouraging idea to you? Why or why not?

  • Jesus gives His disciples several things to focus on or do as they wait for the end and His return. Which of those things seem most necessary to your life right now? Why?

Christmas to Calvary — December 20

Jesus’ Authority Challenged

And it happened that on one of the days while he was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes approached together with the elders and said, saying to him, “Tell us, by what authority you are doing these things, or who is the one who gave you this authority? And he answered and said to them, “I also will ask you a question, and you tell me: The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?” And they discussed this with one another, saying, “If we say ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, because they are convinced that John was a prophet.” And they replied that they did not know where it was from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

The Parable of the Tenant Farmers in the Vineyard

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey for a long time. And at the proper time he sent a slave to the tenant farmers, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenant farmers sent him away empty-handed after beating him. And he proceeded to send another slave, but they beat and dishonored that one also, and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send a third, but they wounded and threw out this one also. So the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenant farmers saw him, they began to reason with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him so that the inheritance will become ours!’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenant farmers and give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard this, they said, “May this never happen!” But he looked intently at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

‘The stone which the builders rejected,
this has become the cornerstone.’

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls—it will crush him!” And the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay their hands on him at that same hour, and they were afraid of the people, for they knew that he had told this parable with reference to them.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

And they watched him closely and sent spies who pretended they were upright, in order that they could catch him in a statement, so that they could hand him over to the authority and the jurisdiction of the governor. And they asked him, saying, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and do not show partiality, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it permitted for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But seeing through their craftiness, he said to them, “Show me a denarius! Whose image and inscription does it have?” And they answered and said, “Caesar’s.” So he said to them, “Well then, give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God!” And they were not able to catch him in a statement in the sight of the people, and astonished at his answer, they became silent.

A Question About Marriage and the Resurrection

Now some of the Sadducees—who deny that there is a resurrection—came up and asked him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us if someone’s brother dies having a wife, and this man is childless, that his brother should take the wife and father descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers, and the first took a wife and died childless, and the second, and the third took her, and likewise also the seven did not leave children and died. Finally the woman also died. Therefore in the resurrection, the woman—whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they are not even able to die any longer, because they are like the angels and are sons of God, because they are sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses revealed in the passage about the bush, when he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him!” And some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him anything.

David’s Son and Lord

But he said to them, “In what sense do they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

David therefore calls him ‘Lord,’ and how is he his son?”

Warning to Beware of the Scribes

And while all the people were listening, he said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like walking around in long robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets, who devour the houses of widows and pray lengthy prayers for the sake of appearance. These will receive more severe condemnation!”

Questions for Reflection:

  • Authority seems wired into creation. Why do you think that is? What do you think it tells us about God’s purposes for creation and for authority?

  • Is the authority of human rulers the same as God’s authority? Why or why not?

  • How does Jesus teach us to relate to human governments and their authority in this passage? Are we to relate to them in this way only when they are good or effective? Why or why not?

  • When you approach the Bible, would you say you approach it with a deep sense of its authority in your life? Why or why not? What are the consequences for rejecting its authority?

Christmas to Calvary — December 19

Jesus and Zacchaeus

And he entered and traveled through Jericho. And there was a man named Zacchaeus, and he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he was seeking to see Jesus—who he was—and he was not able to as a result of the crowd, because he was short in stature. And he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree so that he could see him, because he was going to go through that way. And when he came to the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, because it is necessary for me to stay at your house today!” And he came down quickly and welcomed him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all began to complain, saying, “He has gone in to find lodging with a man who is a sinner!” And Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am paying it back four times as much!” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost.”

The Parable of the Ten Minas

Now while they were listening to these things, he went on and told a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. Therefore he said, “A certain nobleman traveled to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. And summoning ten of his own slaves, he gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to be king over us!’ And it happened that when he returned after receiving the kingdom, he ordered these slaves to whom he had given the money to be summoned to him, so that he could know what they had gained by trading. So the first arrived, saying, ‘Sir, your mina has made ten minas more!’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small thing, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ So he said to this one also, ‘And you be over five cities.’ And another came, saying, ‘Sir, behold your mina, which I had put away for safekeeping in a piece of cloth. For I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man—you withdraw what you did not deposit, and you reap what you did not sow!’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, wicked slave! You knew that I am a severe man, withdrawing what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. And why did you not give my money to the bank, and I, when I returned, would have collected it with interest?’ And to the bystanders he said, ‘Take away from him the mina and give it to the one who has the ten minas!’ And they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten minas.’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. But these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence!’”

The Triumphal Entry

And after he had said these things, he traveled on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. And it happened that when he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, to the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, in which as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no person has ever sat, and untie it and bring it. And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ So they said, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they put Jesus on it. And as he was going along, they were spreading out their cloaks on the road. Now as he was drawing near by this time to the descent from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began rejoicing to praise God with a loud voice for all the miracles that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king,
the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest!”

And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” And he answered and said, “I tell you that if these keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

And when he approached and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you had known on this day—even you—the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you and your enemies will put up an embankment against you, and will surround you and press you hard from all directions. And they will raze you to the ground, you and your children within you, and will not leave a stone upon a stone within you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

The Cleansing of the Temple

And he entered into the temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling, saying to them, “It is written, ‘And my house will be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a cave of robbers!”

And he was teaching every day in the temple courts, and the chief priests and the scribes and the most prominent men of the people were seeking to destroy him. And they did not find anything they could do, because all the people were paying close attention to what they were hearing from him.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How well positioned are you to see Jesus? Do you need to move in some way (physically, socially, spiritually) in order to get a clear sight of the Lord?

  • What evidence of repentance do we see in Zacchaeus? What evidence of repentance was evident at your conversion?

  • What do we learn about the sovereignty of Jesus and the certainty of His Kingdom from today’s chapter? Do these things give you hope?

  • Jesus promises that the world cannot take away the peace He gives (John 14:27, 16:33), but we see Christians who lack peace and face trouble. How do we reconcile those two things?

Live-the-Word Challenge

Jesus wept over Jerusalem; do you weep over your town? There are no doubt many who complain about your town, but there are few who will genuinely feel a need for helping the town – and fewer still who will do something about it. The most you can do for your town is pray. Rather than complaining to others, gossiping (in person or on social media), pray to God about your concerns for the community. Then, look to serve Him in your community.

Christmas to Calvary — December 18

The Parable of the Unjust Judge

And he told them a parable to show that they must always pray and not be discouraged, saying, “There was a certain judge in a certain town who did not fear God and did not respect people. And there was a widow in that town, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary!’ And he was not willing for a time, but after these things he said to himself, ‘Even if I do not fear God or respect people, yet because this widow is causing trouble for me, I will grant her justice, so that she does not wear me down in the end by her coming back!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge is saying! And will not God surely see to it that justice is done to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, and will he delay toward them? I tell you that he will see to it that justice is done for them soon! Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, then will he find faith on earth?”

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

And he also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed these things with reference to himself: ‘God, I give thanks to you that I am not like other people—swindlers, unrighteous people, adulterers, or even like this tax collector! I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far away, did not want even to raise his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than that one! For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Little Children Brought to Jesus

Now they were bringing even their babies to him so that he could touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to himself, saying, “Allow the children to come to me, and do not forbid them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a young child will never enter into it.”

A Rich Young Man

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, “Good Teacher, by doing what will I inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when he heard this, Jesus said to him, “You still lack one thing: Sell all that you have, and distribute the proceeds to the poor—and you will have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things he became very sad, because he was extremely wealthy.

And Jesus took notice of him and said, “How difficult it is for those who possess wealth to enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God.” So those who heard this said, “And who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

And Peter said, “Behold, we have left all that is ours and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly I say to you that there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children on account of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Jesus Predicts His Death and Resurrection a Third Time

And taking aside the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all the things that are written by the prophets with reference to the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and mistreated and spit on, and after flogging him they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” And they understood none of these things, and this saying was concealed from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.

A Blind Man Healed at Jericho

Now it happened that as he drew near to Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting on the side of the road begging. And when he heard a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. And they told him, “Jesus the Nazarene is passing by.” And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, that he should be silent, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stopped and ordered him to be brought to him. And when he approached, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, that I may regain my sight. And Jesus said to him, “Regain your sight! Your faith has saved you.” And immediately he regained his sight and began to follow him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Justice, mercy, the Kingdom, eternal life, and sight – out of these, which do you think is the most precious gift in this chapter?

  • What do we learn in this chapter about Jesus’ attitude toward those who are marginalized? What do we learn about the tendency of disciples and crowds to keep marginalized people away from Jesus? How would Jesus have us act in these situations?

  • Consider the instances of prayer in this chapter. What do we learn about Jesus’ response to prayer? What ideas from the chapter encourage you in your prayer life?

  • Do you think riches and material possessions are a significant hindrance to eternal life for some people? If so, why do you think some people choose their possessions rather than Christ? What is it about riches or about people that gives money/possessions this power?

Christmas to Calvary — December 17

Sin, Forgiveness, Faith, and Service

And he said to his disciples, “It is impossible for causes for stumbling not to come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone is placed around his neck and he is thrown into the sea than that he causes one of these little ones to sin.

“Be concerned about yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times he returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” So the Lord said, “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“And which of you who has a slave plowing or shepherding sheep who comes in from the field will say to him, ‘Come here at once and recline at the table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something that I may eat, and dress yourself to serve me while I eat and drink, and after these things you will eat and drink.’ He will not be grateful to the slave because he did what was ordered, will he? Thus you also, when you have done all the things you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done what we were obligated to do.’”

Ten Lepers Cleansed

And it happened that while traveling toward Jerusalem, he was passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee. And as he was entering into a certain village, ten men met him—lepers, who stood at a distance. And they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And when he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And it happened that as they were going, they were cleansed. But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. And he fell on his face at his feet, giving thanks to him. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were not ten cleansed? And where are the nine? Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.”

The Coming of the Kingdom of God

Now when he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Behold, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The Coming of the Son of Man

And he said to the disciples, “Days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Behold, there!’ ‘Behold, here!’ Do not go out or run after them! For just as the lightning shines forth, flashing from one place under heaven to another place under heaven, so the Son of Man will be in his day. But first it is necessary for him to suffer many things, and to be rejected by this generation. And just as it was in the days of Noah, so also it will be in the days of the Son of Man—they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building. But on the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, whoever is on the housetop and his goods are in the house must not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will keep it. I tell you that in that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left.”

And they answered and said to him, “Where, Lord?” So he said to them, “Where the dead body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you find forgiving others difficult? Why or why not?

  • Do you find asking for forgiveness difficult? Why or why not?

  • Can you recall a time when God showed you mercy? Did you thank Him for it?

  • How often do you think about the second coming of Jesus? Is it your “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13)? What difference does remembering the second coming make in your daily life?

Christmas to Calvary — December 16

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

And he also said to the disciples, “A certain man was rich, who had a manager. And charges were brought to him that this person was squandering his possessions. And he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give the account of your management, because you can no longer manage.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What should I do, because my master is taking away the management from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I should do, so that when I am removed from the management they will welcome me into their homes!’ And he summoned each one of his own master’s debtors and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of olive oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your promissory note and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your promissory note and write eighty.’ And the master praised the dishonest manager, because he had acted shrewdly. For the sons of this age are shrewder than the sons of light with regard to their own generation. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it runs out they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings.

“The one who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful with unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you your own? No domestic slave is able to serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and will despise the other. You are not able to serve God and money.”

Hypocrisy, Law, and the Kingdom of God

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are the ones who justify themselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts! For what is considered exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

“The law and the prophets were until John; from that time on the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urgently pressed into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the law to become invalid.

On Divorce

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

“Now a certain man was rich, and dressed in purple cloth and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, lay at his gate, and was longing to be filled with what fell from the table of the rich man. But even the dogs came and licked his sores. Now it happened that the poor man died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. And the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes as he was in torment and saw Abraham from a distance, and Lazarus at his side. And he called out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering pain in this flame!’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received your good things during your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. But now he is comforted here, but you are suffering pain. And in addition to all these things, a great chasm has been established between us and you, so that those who want to cross over from here to you are not able to do so, nor can they cross over from there to us.’ So he said, ‘Then I ask you, father, that you send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he could warn them, in order that they also should not come to this place of torment!’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they must listen to them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead.’”

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do we recognize that all that we have belongs to God? Do we use what we have in a way that pleases God or cheats Him? Are we storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven, or are we trusting the world’s riches that will fail?

  • Think practically: what decisions about money and possessions do you need to make differently in order to demonstrate your devotion to God?

  • Is there any area of your life where you trick others into thinking you are religious but the truth is something different? Have you considered that God knows your heart?

  • How do you feel about the doctrine and reality of hell? How does the rich man’s testimony affect your understanding of hell and what those there would desire for those still living?