The Secret to Marital Success: Matthew 19:1-12

Focus Passage: Matthew 19:1-12 (NCV)

After Jesus said all these things, he left Galilee and went into the area of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to trick him. They asked, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for any reason he chooses?”

Jesus answered, “Surely you have read in the Scriptures: When God made the world, ‘he made them male and female.’ And God said, ‘So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.’ So there are not two, but one. God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.”

The Pharisees asked, “Why then did Moses give a command for a man to divorce his wife by giving her divorce papers?”

Jesus answered, “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because you refused to accept God’s teaching, but divorce was not allowed in the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man.”

10 The followers said to him, “If that is the only reason a man can divorce his wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus answered, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but God has made some able to accept it. 12 There are different reasons why some men cannot marry. Some men were born without the ability to become fathers. Others were made that way later in life by other people. And some men have given up marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. But the person who can marry should accept this teaching about marriage.”

Read Matthew 19:1-12 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Hidden within this journal entry’s passage that makes many people uncomfortable is a clue about how to avoid failing at God’s ideal in our most significant relationship. While many people shy away from these verses because they speak against divorce, also included in this passage is a clue about how to have a successful marriage.

This clue is found as Jesus finishes teaching us what God’s ideal is in verses 4-6. Jesus ends this description of marriage by saying, “God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.

The big idea here is that God is the one doing the joining, and if this is truly the case, God will be in the middle of a successful marriage. It will also be true that we must be connected to God in order to truly connect well with our significant other half.

A statistic I learned about recently confirms this idea: A Gallup Poll done in 1997 by the National Association of Marriage Enhancement showed the divorce rate among couples who pray together regularly is 1 out of 1,152. If we were to make that into a percentage, it would be 0.087% — Less than 1/10th of one percent.

In culture today, where divorce is more common than we want to admit and marriage is not viewed as “till death do us part”, it would seem like the missing piece in our equation is God being the connecting link. Most people who want to get married want it to last forever, and most of those who have faced divorce don’t wish for their failed scenario to be repeated by themselves or others in the future.

In this passage, Jesus seems to imply that God is actively involved in a person’s marriage; but He doesn’t recognize divorce. We see this in Jesus’ words about God doing the joining, and also in the warning about not separating what God has joined and in the reality that God views second marriage sexual relations as adultery.

This is not condemning those who are divorced or who have remarried, but instead, it expands the definition of sin to be anything that is outside of God’s ideal/will. We all have fallen short of God’s ideal, and that is why Jesus came.

God wants us to experience the best life possible, and that includes the best marriage possible if marriage is in our present or future life. In this passage that speaks about God’s ideal regarding marriage, Jesus shares the secret to what makes a marriage successful: Don’t separate what God has joined together. God is the one doing the joining, and only by staying connected to Him are we able to truly stay connected with our spouse.

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No Plan B: Matthew 20:17-19

Focus Passage: Matthew 20:17-19 (NIV)

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Read Matthew 20:17-19 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

As Jesus and His disciples were headed to Jerusalem for the final time, Jesus pulls them aside and shares with them what will happen. Jesus shares that He will be handed over to the religious leaders, He will be sentenced to death, and He will be mocked, flogged, and ultimately crucified. But Jesus finishes by saying, “On the third day he will be raised to life!” (v. 19b)

I find this entire passage amazing, because nothing about that weekend was a surprise to Jesus. This is because either God had divinely revealed all this information to Jesus, or Jesus was a better student of Messianic prophecies than the religious leaders were at that time and He had pieced the entire timetable of this mission to earth.

It is amazing for me to think that Jesus knew everything – including that He would be betrayed (and likely already knowing it was Judas Iscariot) before Judas even had the idea for betraying Jesus. It is also amazing to know that Jesus knew about His future resurrection as well.

Some of those living today believe Jesus’ life was cut short against His will and His ideal plan. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Jesus lived the only life in history where Plan A was the only plan that was needed. Everyone else has messed up Plan A, and most of us have messed up plenty of other plans as well.

Jesus’ life was the most predicted and prophesied life ever in history, and Jesus faithfully walked the path that the Godhead had planned for Him to walk. This life included an incredible birth, and escape to Egypt, a normal childhood, a start to ministry at the age of 30, and the cross three and a half years later. Jesus’ life also included the resurrection, which was unprecedented. While other people in history had returned to life, none of these people’s return to life was predicted beforehand. Jesus has been the only Person in history to accurately predict his or her own death and resurrection.

We can trust Jesus because He lived the perfect life and He knows what God’s future holds for each of us!

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Answering With the Holy Spirit: Luke 11:1-13

Focus Passage: Luke 11:1-13 (GNT)

1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this:
 ‘Father:
    May your holy name be honored;
    may your Kingdom come.

3 Give us day by day the food we need.

4 Forgive us our sins,
    for we forgive everyone who does us wrong.
    And do not bring us to hard testing.’”

5 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you should go to a friend’s house at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. 6 A friend of mine who is on a trip has just come to my house, and I don’t have any food for him!’ 7 And suppose your friend should answer from inside, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 Well, what then? I tell you that even if he will not get up and give you the bread because you are his friend, yet he will get up and give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking. 9 And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks. 11 Would any of you who are fathers give your son a snake when he asks for fish? 12 Or would you give him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 13 As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Read Luke 11:1-13 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While teaching the disciples how to pray and how God wants us to be dedicated and persistent with our prayers, Jesus shares in the gospel of Luke some of the most famous words about prayer and asking God for answers that are included in the entire Bible.

Luke tells us that after sharing a parable about being persistent with our requests, Jesus continues by saying, “And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.” (v. 9-10)

If Jesus had stopped sharing here, which is where most people do, we would get the picture that God is like a genie in a bottle who is happy to grant any request we might ask of Him. This would include requests that are helpful, requests that are entirely selfish and self-serving, and even request that are harmful to us and/or others. Taking these two verses out of the context of what came before and especially what comes after distorts God’s character of love into being cheap, hollow, and something that can be easily abused.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop sharing in verse 10. He continues by giving a little more context in verse 11 and onward by saying, “Would any of you who are fathers give your son a snake when he asks for fish? Or would you give him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 11-13)

In this clarification, we find two key ideas that we should remember when looking for answers to our prayers. The first is that God, being the perfect Father, will only answer our prayers with things that are helpful and for our benefit. Sometimes the thing that is the most helpful for us is a trial that will help wake us up or develop some part of our character that is weak, while other times, the thing that is the most helpful is exactly what we are asking for. While the answers God gives us when we ask, seek, and knock are not always what we expect, we can trust that they are what God knows is the best for us.

The second key idea is that Jesus tells us the type of prayers He is referring to in the last verse. “How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13)

While God is free to answer or not answer any of our other prayers and requests, the whole context of this discussion on prayer, persistence, and asking, seeking, and knocking revolves around our requesting and desiring more of God’s Holy Spirit. In many ways, answering our prayers by giving us the Holy Spirit is God’s default way of answering our requests, because when eternity is on the line, the Holy Spirit is the best answer to help guide us into a saving relationship with God and Jesus. Every other possible answer is secondary.

So when we pray, when we ask, when we seek, and when we knock, don’t be surprised if God sends us the Holy Spirit as an answer to our prayers, because in the grand picture of History, saving us for eternity is the most important thing in God’s mind when He looks at us living in the world today.

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Seeking the Kingdom First: Luke 12:13-34

Focus Passage: Luke 12:13-34 (NASB)

For this journal entry, let’s look at a misconception that many people have about what God promises to give us when we follow Him. The headline for this passage is often something like the “Parable of the Rich Fool” for the first part, and then “Teaching about Money and Possessions” for the second part. With that frame of mind, many people latch on to the following two verses as a promise from God:

For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Verses 30-31)

Looking out into society, we see nations and individuals seeking fame, power, prominence, glory, wealth, security, as well as a number of other things. Since we just read the headline and have a frame of mind that this must be talking about wealth and stuff, then these verses must then be promising us both if we seek His kingdom.

However, while the passage does open with the parable of the blessed, stingy fool (he would have not needed to build bigger barns had God not blessed him with an abundant crop), Jesus then begins to frame how we should view our money and our stuff, and what really matters. Jesus tells the disciples:

“For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? . . . And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Verses 22-23, 25-26, 29-31)

The context of this promise is that God promises us food, clothing, and peace, and He will give these things to us when we seek His Kingdom as our number one priority. Money, status, fame, or luxuries are not included in this list. While God may bless some people with one or more of these things, there is no promise that He will do so for everyone.

Instead, we should be grateful for what God has blessed us with; we should seek Him and His kingdom into our lives; and we should seek to use what He has blessed us with in ways that would please Him. Gratitude is where we should begin, because one big truth I see between the lines in this passage is that when we are grateful for what God has done for us, we won’t be as inclined to worry about what will happen next.

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