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The Sleepover Theologian

by Kalyn Stralow

Matthew 24 (NASB)

It was around 2am, and I was engrossed in conversation with my friends; our heads leaned in close and piles of pillows and blankets scattered around us on the floor. At 12 years old, there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from staying up super late, giggling with friends until all hours on a weekend night. We were past the giggly stage and had moved on to what we considered earnest and deep topics.

(The middle-school age is a sweetly earnest time of life – when one considers both the mysteries of the world and the crooked smile of a cute boy with the same intensity.)

Our topic that night? The end times! I attended a Christian boarding school in a small town in the Ivory Coast with limited access to TV or the internet. Armed with what we had read in our Bibles (Matthew 24!), mixed with questionable sources like the Thief in the Night and Left Behind movies, as well as an impassioned message or two from a guest speaker in chapel, we whispered our fears and thrills about what The End might look like, and if we would live to see it.

We debated if Jesus would rapture us before the tribulation or if we would have to live through the end times. Were we ready to be martyrs (yes, really … we took this very seriously)? Someone brought it back to the classic junior high perspective: “Well, Jesus better not come back too soon because then I’ll never be able to marry Chris,” my friend sighed dramatically, thinking wistfully of her crush. (Spoiler Alert – they didn’t get married).

Present-day-me wants to roll my eyes thinking about those naive and limited views. But I also have to acknowledge that as adults we aren’t that different in our thinking.

When reading Matthew 24 and the teachings about the signs of Jesus return, a different facet of that old concern emerged for me. This time, verse 19, “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!” stopped me in my tracks. Since I’m super pregnant as a write this, I couldn’t help the knee-jerk reaction: “Please, not now.”

And isn’t that just how it is with us? Expending so much energy on “Lord, not yet,” and, “If I could only get through THIS phase, then I’d really be ready.” But I’m willing to bet that I’ll never truly feel “ready” on behalf of myself and my children to happily embrace a future that promises trials.

The truth is, we cannot know when that future will come – just as we never truly know what our future will hold, good or bad. Being consumed with worry about hypothetical future suffering – whether the literal “End Times” or fretting about all bad things that MIGHT happen – only takes away from experiencing present joy.

But I see something else woven through this scripture. Jesus offers perspective and strength: “See to it that no one misleads you…,” “See to it that you are not frightened…,” “…if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him,” “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

His assures us not to be concerned with rumors and proclamations and fears about the future. We cannot know when He will return, and so to fret about it is a waste of time and energy. Can it be fun to discuss? Sure. I regret nothing about those late night chats developing my worldview with my young friends.

Live Kingdom life, as Jesus exemplified and taught throughout the book of Matthew. It’s enough. Being consumed with future, and trying to read the signs, and fearing what it all might signal? It only gets in the way of effectively living out the present for His glory.

Challenge this week: May we run after Kingdom life TODAY, confident in our pursuit of His will, and live without fear of the future.

A Georgeous Trash Can

by Shannon Laning

Matthew 23 (NASB)

It’s so hard to think of how to apply Matthew 23 to my everyday life… on opposite day! When thinking about my post this week, my thought process went as follows: verses 1-12 “Okay, this is what I need to talk about because how often do I do things to be seen by others?!”… and then each subsequent set of verses became more and more convicting, so since I don’t like hard things, I am not going to talk about it. Just kidding! But seriously, how crazy convicting is each part of Matthew 23?

The Pharisees were condemned over and over in for lacking humility, choosing the easy way out of things, not practicing what they preached and loving their outward appearance more than what was in their hearts. Ouch, that sounds all too familiar.

Those who know me best know I am a major hypochondriac. Germs, hate them. Sickness, stay away. You threw up 2 days ago, stay at arm’s length. Spraying Seventh Generation disinfecting spray everywhere, normal.


So what “woe” do you think stood out to me? Verse 25-26 which says, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Y’all, I am good at cleaning. And you bet I don’t forget the inside of the dish, but since we know this is a metaphor, let’s drive into it together.

As a woman and fashion blogger, I have become pretty adept in making my appearance look good. I know how to apply makeup and dress to cover those extra baby pounds that just won’t come off. They’ve taken refuge in my hips like guests who’ve overstayed their holiday welcome by three years. But you can’t overdress you heart. The Bible says that from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

I can be the “prettiest” woman in the room yet with a heart filled with hate, comparison, and self-indulgence. And do you know where I see my Pharisee-likeness the most? It’s in the way I react to my kids or husband when they do things I don’t like. If my first thought is to get angry or think “they/he are just not being fair” that’s a real #checkyourheart (thanks John Crist) moment for me. My outward appearance is constantly losing collagen and luster. But because of God’s grace, our insides can do the exact opposite. The more time we spend in the Bible, meditating on the word, and acting as Jesus would, the more beautiful and clean (yay!) our insides become.

While God certainly does care about us taking care of our physical bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), His utmost care is for our souls. He is not like the Pharisees in Matthew 23:14 who share the amazing news of His glory and then leave us to blindly figure it out on our own. The more we try to know Him, the more we will and the more our inside being, the more sacred part of our person, becomes more and more beautiful like Christ himself.

Clean is good. I love being clean and germ-free. But if I stayed away from temptation and things that aren’t like Christ as much as I spray sanitizer, and if I attack my depravity with as much fervor as I do the rhinovirus, how much better off is my soul?

And since I know you’re not supposed to end a blog post with a question, just know that the Seventh Generation disinfecting spray is amazing and doesn’t have to be wiped off like its competitors. You’re welcome.

What Internet Comments Taught Me About Sadducees

By Kalyn Stralow

Matthew 22 (NASB)

A running blogger that I have followed for years recently shared a rather in-depth post about her faith that I found fascinating. It was completely off-topic from the usual content of her blog, but after years of offhanded references to her beliefs, the post was super popular and prompted lots of follow-up discussion from her readers.

I was curious about what strangers’ reactions would be, and found myself scrolling through the comments section (something I almost NEVER do) to see what people were saying. Most were incredibly respectful, but people had questions. She belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so many people were asking some version of, “Do you guys really believe in ____?” In particular, there were tons of questions on the church’s views on marriage for eternity. I kept reading in fascination as some comments grilled her on the subject by presenting specific and complex hypothetical situations regarding divorce, wanting her to address who would “get custody of the kids” in blended families for eternity.

Reading those comments IMMEDIATELY brought Matthew 22 to mind. And they provided some fresh perspective on how we humans approach discussions of faith.

“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; 26 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh.27 Last of all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.” Matthew 22:24-28

Just like internet commenters looking for an explanation of how heaven might work under the most complicated of family dynamics, we see the Sadducees fishing for Jesus’ answer about the afterlife by presenting a scenario with seven husbands. Their baited question was so similar to my own observation in that running blog comments section – right down to the specifics of how multiple marriages in life would impact family life after death – that it was striking.

There really is nothing new under the sun, is there? Our human inclination, both now and then, is to try to trap the respondent by presenting an extreme case that tests the ability of the person to explain their worldview. It’s a really unfair way to debate – used by those who are more interested in winning the moment than having a meaningful discussion.

Jesus, though, never engages these baiting questions as expected. He rises above our natural tendency to respond directly to the attack and instead addresses the underlying issue at the root of their question. The Sadducees question of “whose wife is she in the afterlife” was meant to point out the absurdity of holding a belief in the resurrection of the dead. But rather than get bogged down by their riddle, Jesus points them back to the words of Moses to reveal a greater truth that they have had in front of them all along.

It’s so effective that he silences them. And he does the same thing multiple times in this chapter alone, overturning traps from the religious leaders by pointing them to the Scripture that they have had at their disposal the entire time. His responses are simple and clear, but are always guiding them back to God’s heart on these hotly debated yet narrowly-focused issues that were so divisive among the Jews of the day.

It’s hardly a stretch to imagine how Jesus might address the divisive views within our own fragmented church community today. Our tendency, whether among fellow believers or with anyone who shares an opposing viewpoint to our own, is to immediately turn our attention to some detail that will best allow us to lay an effective trap for our “opponents.” Just like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Just like the commenters.

I don’t think Jesus would stoop to our level any more today than he did then, do you? He is still beckoning us back toward God’s intent. Next time I find myself in the weeds on a divisive issue, my prayer is that rather than getting lost in a line of cross-examination that is only meant to trap, He will gently prod my perspective and my choice of words back toward His heart.

 

More Lessons from Layla

By Shannon Laning

Matthew 21 (NASB)

My daughter, Layla, turned one the week (read her story here). I’ve been reminiscing on all we’ve been through this last year: 53 day NICU stay, 3 major surgeries, 10 smaller procedures, months of physical and speech (for feeding) therapy. Couched in between each of those stats is the countless list of ways that God has showed up for us.

As the list of what I’ve learned this year continues to grow, I am emboldened to tell others about what God has done. You’d think this would be easy for a woman who’s been a Christian for almost 30 years. But, since my natural bent is to not offend or make others uncomfortable, my boldness for Jesus has been masked by fear of what others might think. The minute that Layla was taken from my arms and loaded onto a helicopter to be flown 100 miles away the night she was born, something in me shifted.

Stuck in a hospital bed with my 4-pound newborn taken from me, I felt my desperation turn to prayer. I could tangibly feel the power that night. Something in my subconscious said, “Be bold, because your baby can’t be.” I began to tell any nurse or doctor that came in the room about Layla and how we needed God right then.

In the NICU, I found that the more I talked about Jesus, the more others wanted to talk about Him as well!

What does this all have to do with Matthew 21? Jesus is more intentional in His behavior and speech. We see Him boldly entering into Jerusalem while crowds proclaim Him to be, “Hosanna, Son of David, He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He overthrows the tables of money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He harshly criticizes the Pharisees and predicts the acceptance of Gentiles (whom Jews hated) into God’s family. His boldness seems to know no bounds; Jesus is always harsh toward the religious leaders and truthful with the crowds. But it’s that “truthful” part that I sometimes miss out on.

Since my goal should be to emulate Christ in everything that I do, I want to be more and more like Him by boldly proclaiming His goodness and grace to others. Layla has taught me a lot this year, but I never want to lose the sense of urgency that I have felt to let others know why Jesus is so good.

The Eleventh Hour

By Kalyn Stralow

Matthew 20 (NASB)

“And about the eleventh hour [the owner of the vineyard] went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’” (Matthew 20: 6-7)

The “eleventh hour” is one of those idioms that feels like it has always existed in public consciousness. Seriously, hop on Wikipedia for two seconds and just see how many movies, books, shows, songs and albums use it as their title. And with good reason. It’s a great phrase that projects a sense of drama and suspense. (And if it was good enough for all them, you better believe it was good enough to be the title of this blog post too.)

I had never really considered it to be a religious phrase. In fact, I usually think of it in the context of a last minute agreement between opposing government parties before a looming deadline, or a dramatic rescue from a building seconds before the roof caved in. Or the kind of miracle the creators of Fyre Festival seemed to think would somehow magically occur as their ill-fated luxury music weekend loomed.

But it originates in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, a story told by Jesus that is unique to the book of Matthew. What I find most interesting is what we have retained about the essence of “the eleventh hour” in popular sentiment – an undercurrent of heroism, or of near disaster averted at the last possible moment.

That’s not exactly how we Christians usually view those eleventh-hour joiners in Jesus’ parable, is it? It was a story originally intended for the disciples, setting the reader up to empathize with the viewpoint of those early-morning laborers, who get paid the agreed upon price, yet still feel this sense of frustration that the people who only worked one hour are also being paid a full day’s wage.

We focus on the chastening component of it, and the reminder that making comparisons and grumbling is NOT a Kingdom-focused attitude.

But this is one of those rare cases where I also love what culture has held onto from this parable over time: the heroic, last-minute rescue. It focuses on the most beautiful and grace-filled part of the parable, as the landowner is still actively seeking out and drawing in people to his vineyard even in the final hour. The landowner graciously chooses to give payment far beyond what their eleventh-hour labor deserves. It is indeed a rescue story. It is our rescue story!

Even though I often relate most to those earlier workers – working to heed the warning not to draw comparisons or pass judgment against other laborers – I want the grace and mercy of God to come shining through first and foremost from this parable to the culture at large.

And it’s incredible to think of all the pastors and preachers and readers of Scripture in ages past who so clearly communicated this aspect of Jesus’s parable in Matthew 20 – so much so that the heroism in God’s desire to continue rescuing people to the very last possible moment managed to make it through the gradual secularization of the phrase. It’s a point of connection that I am glad to draw attention to with those who don’t believe in Jesus.

“Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:14-15)

May our eyes not be envious, but instead celebrate the generosity of our Rescuer, who continues to make room for anyone who will come, no matter how late the hour.

Into His Arms

Matthew 19 (NASB)

In this week’s Scripture, Jesus tells His disciples to “let the little children come to Me.” Imagine for a moment that you are busy with the day’s routine tasks when you hear that Jesus is passing through your village. You cannot miss this opportunity. You scoop up your young toddler, push you’re way through the crowd, and make it close enough for the disciples catch on to your plan and tell you to stay back.

But then, Jesus.

Jesus sees you, invites you near, lays His hands on the child, and offers a prayer. Wouldn’t you love to have the opportunity to present your child to the Christ?

You do.

Women, we have spiritual access to God and the right to request spiritual blessings for the lives under our care. Our words can be words that speak God’s blessings into children’s lives and into their HEARTS. Do you know how impactful that is? Instead of trying to control circumstances, why not ask God to bless their circumstances (time in the nursery, first day of school, a play date, a new job, a new relationship); whatever they may be.

Prayer is a mighty mother’s tool to scoop up her child, of any age or size, and place that precious one into the arms of a loving savior.  Does this change the way you think about praying for your child?

Touched by an Angel

by Shannon Laning

Matthew 17:14-18:35

As Jesus gets approaches the cross, we see shift in the urgency of his teaching. He seems more intense than before. I believe He senses his imminent and impending fate.

Chapter 18 begins with the disciples highlighting their humanity by asking Jesus who will be the greatest in the kingdom? Honestly, if I had just spent a ton of time with the gift of healing and ministering to all kinds of people, I think that my pride would be bursting from my body. Jesus doesn’t lash out. He doesn’t even sternly rebuke them. Instead, He turns upside down their thinking of what is great by saying that childlike faith is great. This is encouraging. Jesus isn’t looking for everyone to be Billy Graham. He wants us to take the gifts and abilities we’ve been given, lay them down before Him, and ask Him what to do with all of it. And then do it.

One thing that strikes me about Jesus is how he elevates the status woman and children in a culture that devalued them. Think about it, the fact that Jesus even talked to the Canaanite woman is astounding. She was a woman, not a Jew, and lived in a pagan party town. All of those things gave men in that day enough reason to ignore her. And now we see Jesus expressing love and affection for children. “Children should be seen and not heard.” Jesus didn’t think so.

“Take heed that you do not despise the little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 18:10). This is likely where the idea of “guardian angels” comes from, and while I don’t know for sure if each person has a guardian angel, I do believe that angels are around us. The Bible even says that we should be kind to strangers because in doing so we may have unknowingly been in the presence of an angel. How cool is that? Do you think you’ve ever met an angel? Well, I have. I know that might sound a little hokey to you, but let me lay out the evidence and you can decide for yourself what you think. Know this though; there is an entire spiritual universe that we can’t see.

Years ago, maybe even 20, my family and I were vacationing in the nation’s capital. Not only did we get to sit through a session of Congress where Michael (my younger brother) fell asleep, but we saw landmarks and historical sights that I had only read about. I was and am a history nerd; the entire experience was enthralling.

As a native west Texas family who felt that 10 minutes equates to a “long drive across town,” let’s just say that taking public transportation wasn’t the norm. One day in DC, my dad herded us toward a subway only to yell, “Not this one!” as my little brother, Michael, stepped into “this one.” The doors closed behind him, whisking him off to who-knows-where in one of the biggest cities on the eastern seaboard. My mom broke into hysterics as my dad ordered us to stay put while he alerted subway officials. Not 45 seconds later, Michael was walking back to us with a man in an expensive trench coat who simply said, “Here he is.” We grabbed Michael and turned to thank the man, but he vanished. My dad went to find him, describing him to people, and no one had seen him.

That man was an angel. I think we spend too much time explaining away miracles with medicine, science, common sense, etc. We think that it might seem weird to say the supernatural interacts with the natural world. But if we truly believe that Jesus is who He said He was and did what He said He did, then the supernatural is always with us. Regardless of what side of the argument you are on, can we just all agree with this: God is a loving Father, angels are real, and we are in desperate need of saving on a daily basis. I am so thankful we serve a God who elevates the status of women and children, intimately knows our needs, and rescues us from disaster. In Michael’s case, He just used a well dressed man to do it.

Two Ways I Hurt People, According to Matthew

By Kalyn Stralow

Matthew 16:13-17:13 (NASB)

 

Is this a safe place to talk about my failings? I’m going to assume it is as we’re in the second semester of The Table, and I can be completely honest with you all.

I have VERY little natural empathy for most of the day-to-day struggles that people around me are facing. I’m a fan of the “buck up, champ,” suffer-in-silence mentality. Because in light of the staggering scale of human injustice and suffering, the daily hardships and complaints I am exposed to often seem kind of….trite.

And isn’t that such a gross, self-gratifying way of rationalizing my lack of compassion? To frame it as if I am just so aware of the Really Big Issues that I don’t have the space for anyone’s smaller problem?

Frankly, the way that lack of empathy manifests itself in me is ugly, and it’s embarrassing to have you know I can be like this. Not to mention it’s downright toxic to both the people I interact with and to my own mental state. I’m not admiring grit or supporting loftier values – and it’s absolutely not edifying  – when I’m internally eye-rolling at people’s struggles just because they might be lower on the suffering scale than what another human is facing.

I’ve been aware of this tendency of mine for years. And, in general, I thank God that He is often able to show His love for people through this personal failing of mine. Because whenever I do respond with empathy to others, it’s purely Him acting through me and to His glory.

The Lord nudged me to confront this part of my nature again when reading and preparing for this week. As I was reading Matthew 16:21-28, and then in discussion with women from The Table, God used this interaction between Jesus and Peter to reveal two specific truths that I needed to confront in my life:

Overcorrecting to something positive (yet insincere or without basis in truth) is not a better approach to empathy (v21-23).

When Jesus is preparing His disciples for His upcoming suffering and death, Peter’s immediate reaction is to say “Never. This will not happen to you.” He is offering…reassurance? Comfort? Optimism? Denial? Probably a bit of each. But he is also making a meaningless claim in the name of comfort and support that has no basis in truth and is actually detrimental to Jesus.

In that way you see your own faults clearly in others, I recognized the way Peter was extending a false verse of empathy that I am often guilty of:

“No, I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”

“Everything will turn out great.”

“You are doing the best you can. It’s not your fault.”

I often say these types of things in an attempt to correct for my natural inclination. I want to sound supportive and empathetic, whether or not there is ANY validity to my words. That’s not constructive or helpful. It’s simply a platitude that, at best, accomplishes nothing. At worst, it could tempt the person down the wrong path, bolstered by a misplaced sense of support or confidence.

My attitude is contributing to the fallacy that your suffering has to be on the level of the persecuted church or an abuse victim in order to truly be “taking up your cross.”

As we were preparing for this week’s message, the topic of suffering for the Gospel was discussed, and the many cultural and traditional expectations that have been overlaid on these verses. And intellectually, I hold the belief that a person does not have to be a literal martyr to be bearing their cross for the sake of Jesus.

Yet my lack of empathy for the so-called minor suffering of others? That communicates the opposite message! It was never my willful intention to contribute to holding up that viewpoint, but I was doing it all the same. Ouch.

Thank God that His word is constantly active – and He uses it to reveal new things I need to confront. And forgive me, friends, for the times when my empathy has rung false, or I have upheld this false metric for comparing our “worthiness” in suffering. I want to be better. And I want to reflect Jesus, not the Peter of Matthew 16:22.

Love you all. Praying that He also reveals the exact truths that you need to be confronted with this week.

The Feeding of the Four Thousand that No One Remembered

By Shannon Laning

Matthew 14:1-16:12 (NASB)

 

In this week’s reading of Matthew 14:1-16:12, Jesus miraculously feeds the 5,000 from 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. We ALL know that story from church preschool. But did you notice He also feeds a crowd of 4,000? I’m not gonna lie, I’ve read Matthew many times and for some reason the second feeding never stuck in my memory. Can anyone relate to me here?

Jesus lays aside His desire to grieve in quiet as his dear friend, brother in arms, John the Baptist, has just been killed in the most gruesome way to teach, feed and heal the masses. As they labored beside Jesus, the disciples (understandably) grew weary and they’re humanity was displayed in full force as they implored Jesus to send the crowds away. They desired the crowds to find their own food but Jesus had other plans.

Jesus isn’t done with miracles for the day. He takes a meager 5 loaves of bread and two small fish and turns them into enough food to feed upwards of 12,000-15,000 people, with twelve baskets remaining at the end. The disciples are not immune to miracles but this had to stop them in their tracks a little. They were not wealthy and had probably had many times when more food would have been welcome. The fact that Jesus could command more food from almost nothing is astounding, memorable and truly miraculous.

But as with all miracles, time passes. Whether it was a lot of time or a little we don’t know. And I am not going to lie to you all, I have NEVER really noticed that there are actually TWO different feedings of several thousand people. I have read Matthew so many times and seemed to have just glazed over the fact that these separate events exist. But hey, I am in good company because 12 others forgot as well.

I feel like we can relate though. As a mom, friend, daughter, sister or colleague there can be times that you feel like all you do is give. Whether it’s picking up copious amounts of tiny toys or shuffling through hundreds of emails that are all pressing, there comes a point in time that you just want to rest. After healing, walking, ministering, caring for and talking thousands of people, the disciples were probably spent. And on top of that all, these thousands of people had followed Jesus and the twelve around for three straight days and didn’t even plan enough to have food to eat the end of that third day. The disciples find themselves stricken with a disease that we all seem to get: spiritual amnesia. Jesus had literally JUST provided food for thousands and the twelve wonder (maybe with a sense of despair mixed with annoyance) where food could possibly come from.

I mean how thick can they get? Couldn’t they just see that Jesus had just performed the same miracle that they needed to remedy the situation? How could people who were walking with Jesus not remember such a miraculous event? Well, it’s probably the same way that we forget. We are literally sitting on the other side of righteous redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus and we still think He can’t handle it.

“You know Jesus, I am know that you died on the cross and raised yourself from the dead and all, blah, blah, blah… but there is no way that you know what it’s like to: be a mom, deal with THIS husband, lose a child, be addled by chronic anxiety and depression, have cancer, watch someone you love make horrendous decisions, be a woman, live on the earth in this day and age…” While we may not say the first part of that statement, we certainly act that way. Well, at least I do. My history of trying to desperately control people and situations would suggest that I don’t believe that Jesus can handle it. Why is that? Shouldn’t the fact that Jesus is who He said He was and did what He said He did be more than enough for us to trust Him with every facet of our lives?

But we, like the disciples, forget that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive and well today, now, 2,000 years later. It didn’t diminish with time. I hope that I never forget what God has done this year in our lives. Even 50 years ago, Layla would have died (you can read more about her story HERE.) She wouldn’t be the thriving, bubbly, drooling little angel that she is today. God came down and touched her. He touched all of us. This year changed our lives forever.

Dear Jesus, may the spiritual amnesia that has plagued me much of my life cease to exist. You can handle it all because you HAVE handled it all. The power of the cross reaches across time and space transcending race, age, gender, ethnicity, and basic humanity. Thank you for selflessly serving on earth even in the midst of unfathomable trials like your abundant grief at the loss of John. May we never forget what You have done in our lives and throughout history. You are the hope for hopelessness, rest for weariness, joy for sorrow, calm for anxiety, and more than capable to handle it ALL.

Is the Jesus of Matthew 1-13 enough?

By Kalyn Stralow

Matthew 1-13 (NASB)

 

Christmastime is such a joyous season. The word “joy” is quite literally written into a large portion of carols, cards, and Hobby Lobby decorations. (Honestly, it’s a bit much for me, decoratively speaking.) But I love that the emotion is so pure.

We celebrate the birth of the Messiah and the message of hope that He brought to the world. We spend a whole season basking in the joy of His mere presence on Earth. The Lord is come. Yet it’s only the beginning.

As we near the halfway point of the book of Matthew this time of year, I cannot help but see our study as an extension of this joyous spirit. At the end of Chapter 13, the most significant moments in the life and death – and LIFE AGAIN! – of Jesus are still ahead of us. Is what we have learned so far worth celebrating on its own? After all, we’re only part of the way through the story.

Even at this point in Jesus’s life and ministry, there is already both joy and certainty to be found in who Jesus is. John the Baptist never lived long enough to know more about Jesus than we have learned by Matthew 13. He never knew the resurrection and ascension. Yet he believed and declared Jesus the Messiah. The people choosing faith in Jesus up until this point in Matthew did so without the benefit of knowing the end of the story as we do. The disciples followed Him, giving up their careers and choosing instead to live as He taught them and to share his message. Jesus was enough for them, even then.

Even without the rest of the story, we can still find joy in the coming of the Messiah to the world. In His birth. In His fulfillment of prophecy throughout His early life and ministry. In His miracles. In the message of the Kingdom.

While I’m excited to delve deeply into the radical and climactic parts of Jesus’ death and resurrection next semester, it feels right to pause here in December and truly celebrate the joy to be found just in His presence with humanity. Because after studying His teaching and His ministry up to this point, Jesus is the Person that I would want to follow, even if the cross and salvation there were not a part of the story that I was privy to. For me, He is enough.