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“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” (Luke 24:30-35).

Only Dr. Luke records this post-resurrection event. Two downcast disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem and returning to their home in Emmaus. They share with their unrecognized Lord how great their crucified Master was. Yet they could not veil the disappointment that their hopes that He was “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) had vaporized. “After all,” they said, “it has been 3 days since His death.” Jesus’ response was loving but stern: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then He patiently explained that these events were the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and that Scripture had pointed to Him from the beginning (v. 27). And when they understood, they rushed back to Jerusalem with a renewed sense of enablement.

These followers of Christ were still living in the past, choosing to dwell upon Friday’s seemingly tragic events. They had been told that he was alive (v. 22-24) but, with their faith shattered and their heads staring down at the dirt road, they solemnly trudged home to their former life back in Emmaus. But they weren’t alone. Peter, along with some of the other disciples, had essentially done the same thing. Jesus had called them to be “fisher’s of men” but where did He find them after He had come victoriously from the grave? Fishing! For fish (see John 21:1-14)! Defeated by their failure to be faithful during Christ’s suffering and hopeless and helpless without the leadership of their Captain, they had returned to the same purposeless way of life they knew before they met Jesus. But upon seeing their risen Lord they made a mad dash to greet Him (John 21:7-8).

This season we celebrate Easter and Jesus’ expression of His continued presence with us, power in us, peace for us, and purpose through us that is clearly demonstrated by His resurrection. In the 40 days (Acts 1:3) before He ascended to the right hand of the Father He continually reminded His followers of those 4 things and made clear statements regarding each (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-49; John 21:15-19; Acts 1:1-11). All of this became a reality for His disciples as they waited in Jerusalem (the very place many had left following His crucifixion) for these promises to be fulfilled by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, it was after Easter that the full impact of His resurrection was most realized in His followers and they, moving forward, led lives that demonstrated His continued presence, power, peace, and purpose. Just read the book of Acts for the dramatic aftermath.

My point? Let us not lose the inertia of our Easter worship and festivities. Many of us will be stirred by exhilarating music, emotional “Passion Plays,” and motivating sermons. But our experience of the profundity of His resurrection is not meant to end there. The influence of His resurrection is to be something that propels us all year around, day by day, moment by moment. Let us not, like these disciples, return to the routine of a former, spiritually trivial life, but let us be continually transformed by the “fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May His presence, power, peace and purpose in and through us not fade after the invigorating crescendo of our Easter activities and focus. Instead, may our hearts continue to “burn within us” with an all-consuming passion that can only come from the ongoing sufficiency that His resurrection guarantees.

Let Jesus’ truth resonate with us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Do we? Then let us be transported by the truth that His resurrection is to be experienced not just on a holiday but every day before and after. Let us not live like He is still dead. Let us not revert to the old passionless, mundane ways that we rose above during this sacred season. Let us magnify Him through His presence, power, peace, and purpose…even after Easter!

This an excerpt from my book “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him.” It can be found on virtually any on-line bookstore in both hardcopy and digital formats.

First Peter 1:3 exclaims, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In other words, Christ’s all-powerful and glorious resurrection gives us more than a future hope; it gives us a living hope. The Lord’s death and resurrection created for us a transforming power that goes beyond His ability to raise us from the physical grave. It provided a power that can energize and give purpose to daily life.

Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him” (Philippians 3:10). In saying this Paul affirmed the predictive words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). What Paul is saying is that the resurrection empowers us to experience supernatural living now as well as eternal life in the future. In other words, the reality of physical death being overcome by eternal life through that all-important resurrection victory has real spiritual connotations for living.

Paul explains further: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). What did he primarily lose? Himself! What did he gain? Christ and the power of His resurrection! That’s why he tells the Roman Christians, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). This is a more important part of the Gospel than many give it credit for.

You see, in order to experience the power of the resurrection we must die physically and spiritually, literally and figuratively, now and in the future. You can’t be physically resurrected unless you physically die and you can’t live in spiritual resurrection power unless you die spiritually to self. This involves transitioning from our old self-oriented person to one whose focus is now on Christ. Then, through faith, we experience His resurrection power and presence. Paul elaborates: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

You see, when Paul talks about many of his travails, he considers the resurrection the root of his endurance and hope. The resurrection does give Paul hope that he’ll live with Christ in Heaven, but additionally it gives meaning to his life. In First Corinthians 15:30-32, as he connects his dying to self with the power of the resurrection, Paul says, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In short, he has gained everything in Christ because of the fact of the resurrection. Without it, life is worthless.

Understand that without the power of the resurrection, our living (and dying) is in vain. First Corinthians 15:14, 17 clarify: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Our lives in Christ become meaningful and powerful only when we see the glorious ramifications of the resurrection. That happens only when we “die to self” and all things become secondary to His will and glory. This means that we forsake self-determination and self-absorption. Instead we live in the power of His presence and are guided by His purposes instead of our own (Philippians 3:7-8).

My prayer is that God will give me the desire to daily die so that I might live in Him and the power of His resurrection. After all, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15: 36).

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

These passages are so familiar to most Christ-followers that we have become numb to their significance and relevance. So I’d like to visit these passages with the idea of showing how many (myself included) have become desensitized to Christ’s command to go to all the world. I think you will see along the way why so many have called our reaction to this mandate as “The Great Omission.” 

First, let’s see that this was a personal dictate. Jesus didn’t say, “they will go.” No, Jesus “came near” (HCSB) to them and said, “[You] go!” Can you envision the scene? He huddled with them to lay out them the game plan for the expansion of His church and kingdom. And it was a personal command. They, and us by extension, are summoned to go. This is not to overlook that we are called to go in community and as the church universal, but it’s so easy to just write a check to a local or foreign missions group (and I praise God for them) or consider the church where we give a portion of the money God has generously given us to be a “missions-minded” church. But this does not exempt any of us from personally going and making disciples. We must not let our giving to (or praying for) missions replace the individual “good news journey” that’s to be an integral part of our daily lifestyle (more on that later). 

Second, this command is to be done with His power. It is His authority that makes our going come alive. It is not our own power that we go with. As ambassadors of Christ we go with His Kingly approval and authority. We must not think that there is anything else but His boundless energy that brings life-changing transformation to those who hear His Word. Though often times weary and weak in our calling to go and tell and train, we must be dependant upon Him and rely on His limitless resources to empower our going and sharing. If it is from us or about us, it is ultimately destined to fail. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 

Third, we see the purpose of our going. We are to make disciples not just “converts.” Our goal (as is His) is to see people radically transformed by the Gospel. This is not just about counting those that raise their hands during an invitation, pray a scripted prayer, are baptized, or become “church members.” This is about people fully embracing His calling to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) and “take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow (absolutely surrender to) Jesus (Luke 9:23). This is where evangelism and discipleship must merge (as if they were ever designed by God to be different, segregated functions).

Which leads us to the fourth point – the practice that is part of making disciples. This practice is a lifestyle of obedience. Disciples, according to Jesus, are to observe all (not some) of His commands. They see Him not just as Savior but as Master and Lord of all aspects of their lives and being. Discipleship is not just intellectual assent to who Christ is but also capitulation to His Lordship and obedience to His commands. As John Calvin once said, “We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone.” This, in a sense, is an extension of the 3rd point. But, given the cultural landscape (Watchman Nee described American Christianity as “three thousand miles wide but only one inch deep”) we can’t overemphasize that our call is to see people drawn to the light of Christ and live in it. And this synergistically leads to multiplication and exponential growth in going and making other disciples. 

…to be continued in the next post.

**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas as a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This is the second part of a discussion (see the previous post for part 1) concerning who the Christ-child of Christmas really is. In the last post we looked at Isaiah 9:1-5 and saw that the baby Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah. He came to emancipate the captives, enlightened the darkened, ensure the joy of His people, ease the burdens of His chosen, and eventually end all conflict. So let’s continue in Isaiah 9, focusing now on verses 6 and 7, to more fully answer the question, what Child is this? This time we will find the Christ of Christmas as Ruler (and King). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). 

Here we see baby Jesus depicted as: 

  • God the Son (v. 6)
  • Eternal Governor (v. 6)
  • Wonderful Counselor (v. 6)
  • Mighty God (v. 6)
  • Everlasting Father (v. 6)
  • Prince of Peace (v. 6)
  • Forever King (v. 7)
  • Righteous Ruler (v. 7) 

Much could be said of each of these designations but the one theme that is unmistakable is power, or authority. When we ponder the Christ of Christmas, do we see Him with these attributes and titles? The manger-born baby seems harmless enough to many. Our primary perception of Jesus is as Savior. For the most part, Jesus as Savior is relatively inoffensive. But ruler, King and judge? That’s usually not our view of this infant whose birth has sparked our holiday festivities. But just as much as this child is Savior, He is also Lord – King of kings and Lord of lords. And before Him eventually all will bow down and confess Him as such. 

This worship is foreshadowed in the saga of Christ’s birth. The Magi from the east recognized the kingly nature of the Christ-child. They brought Him gifts worthy of a great ruler. Whether they knew it or not, this baby would one day be the lightning rod of both the redemption and condemnation of mankind. All men will be judged based upon their relationship with Jesus; the One God the Father has given all things. 

Although Jesus took on the “tent” of humanity, He is still God of very God. And His humbling of Himself and coming to us as a child is the reason not only for our hope but also for His eventual and ultimate glorification and reign: 

“…Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

This Christmas season, and beyond, I urge us all to contemplate the significance of the titles given Christ in Isaiah 9:6-7. They are truly awe-inspiring. They reek with attributes and character worthy of adoration and exaltation. They compel us to worship Him, not only as the child of Christmas, but as the sovereign Savior. This baby is mighty and almighty. The manger-born Jesus is more than “the reason for the season” but the reason for and ruler over all things. We can’t box Him up like a Christmas gift and open Him only once a year and still call Him Lord. We can’t keep Him a babe that never grows up – He is so much bigger than what we have twisted this holiday into. For the Child of Christmas is the Christ of all creation.

So what Child is this? John explains Him this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:1-4;12-14;16-18).

**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

We all know how commercialized Christmas has become. This is to be expected in our secular society. But the twisted and homogenized view of baby Jesus that has evolved is causes me the most consternation. Yes, He was born in a manger and eventually evacuated Bethlehem in fear of a mentally ill and threatened Herod’s commanded slaughter of all newborn males under 2 years of age. These things are true of the Christ-child. But He is so much more than a helpless and powerless infant who conjures up innocent and heartwarming feelings that desensitize us to this newborn’s true might. So let us look to the prophet Isaiah to answer the question, “what Child is this?”

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:1-5). 

Here we see this baby Jesus as Savior. Lets notice that this child has come to: 

  • Emancipate the captives (v. 1). This passage establishes Jesus as our emancipator. He claimed such as He read the prophecies of Isaiah regarding the release of the oppressed in Luke 4:14-19, which is a passage that corresponds nicely to Isaiah 9:1-5.  Jesus came to set the captive free, to unfetter the wayward in bondage to sin, to tell and be the Truth that releases us from the wrath of God that rests on those who don’t believe. He has come that we might be emancipated from all that binds us – sin, religion, legalism. Apart from Jesus we are all slaves in desperate need of His power to free us from all that separates us from Holy God. As He tells us in Luke 4:18, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
  • Enlighten the darkened (v. 2). The Christ-child is the light of the world. Darkness has covered humanity since the sin of our forefather Adam. We stumble along in deceptive pride and self-sufficiency. Jesus even called the religious elite blind guides (Matthew 23:16). Nothing apart from the shining brilliance of Jesus can make the blind to see and the dead be raised to new life. In Luke 4:18, Christ says, “[God] has sent me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind.”
  • Ensure the joy of His people (v. 3). This manger-born baby came to give life and life more abundant (John 10:10). On the eve of His crowning achievement, the crucifixion, Jesus prays that, “I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13, NIV). Not only did Christ ensure the joy of His followers but it is His joy He gives us. And is to be known in full measure.
  • Ease the burdens of His chosen (v. 4). As an adult this child would proclaim, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus came to “release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19, NIV)
  • Eventually end all conflict (v. 5). This infant is the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile us to God, facilitate reconciliation between people (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and eventually banish all that causes conflict and disharmony: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). 

What child is this? He is the Savior of the world (see John 1:29)! He is more than a baby whose birthday gives us cause to erect and decorate trees, exchange gifts, and share meals. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV).  

I pray that this is the One we worship this Christmas. The One sent to redeem all those who put their trust in Him. He’s the only One who can emancipate us from sin, enlightened us to God’s truth, ensure our joy, ease our burdens, and will ultimately end all that causes suffering and sorrow. This Christ-child of Christmas is our Savior.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-nine – Jesus: The Messenger and the Message

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Both the message and the messenger of the Sermon on the Mount prove unique, distinctive, and powerful. The Lord’s discourse is unlike anything ever heard; it completely contrasts ancient teachings and threatened the theological powerbrokers of the time. Not before Christ’s earthly ministry or after it has the world witnessed teaching of such authority, received instruction to prompt such radical change, or found education that so thoroughly challenges and inspires.

Jesus holds the position of the ultimate communicator and was often referred to by the honorable title of “Teacher.” But that designation proves a tremendous understatement. Christ told His followers that as the Messiah, He should be their only teacher (Matthew 23:10). In other words, His message is the only one that truly matters. The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, stands not just as the greatest sermon ever delivered; instead, it serves as the prologue to the incredible sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. It sets the stage for God’s redemptive strategy, proving that God has a plan to change human interactions, to reintroduce selflessness, and to restore fellowship between Himself and man. Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus unveils much about His role as King as well as the intricacies of His kingdom. He speaks with divine authority. His words hold life-transforming power!

The Sermon on the Mount reveals Jesus as the Savior of the world. The narrow gate leading to eternal life. Further, Christ fulfills Old Testament Law: only through Him do sinful humans find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As they sincerely surrender to Jesus, people begin to live by “the law of Christ,” the New Covenant standard (Galatians 6:2). This law of love supersedes, enhances, and deepens the principles of the Old Covenant and sums up the law of the prophets without nullifying them (see Matthew 22:34-40).

To one outside the Christian faith, the standard of living Christ sets in His sermon seems outrageous and impossible. But we must remember that all things—including loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety, and walking in righteousness—are possible in His power (Philippians 4:13). Further, Jesus never asked us to do anything He was unwilling to do. For thirty-three years He lived a mortal life, loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety to the Father, and walking in perfect righteousness. Jesus embodied the message He taught.

As we learn and are empowered to walk in Christ, we live out the mountainside message He shared. What a privilege to follow Him! 

Author’s Note

Not long ago a thirty minute lunch encounter shook my world. On a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas, I met an eighty-year-old translator and missionary who—along with his wife of fifty years—planned a return to the deepest jungles of Africa. I do not remember the man’s name, but I’m certain that God does.

For over ten years the man and his devoted wife worked with a remote and primitive people-group. In that time they translated small portions of the Bible into the villagers’ native tongue—a language for which there were virtually no books. By endearing themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep the tribe’s newborns alive and free from pestilence, the two earned acceptance and eventually befriended them. Over the years, as they translated the critical New Testament texts and placed them in the hands of those who could communicate biblical truth to the tribe, the missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. Their lives were not easy.

All of this happened several years before I met this devout man. The couple had long ago returned to the States in pursuit of retirement. God, however, gave them a new vision for how to spend their last days: they’d return to that African country to continue their outreach.

“This time we will tell stories of Jesus,” the man explained with a gleam of joy in his eye. “That will be quicker and more effective. The people will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read.”

I asked, as the old missionary rose from the table, when they’d return home to the States.

“Actually,” he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to America. We plan on dying there, in Africa, with our tribe. We have the good news to spread and little time remaining to do so. We have a King to serve and a kingdom to share.”

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Nineteen – Kingdom Prayer

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:”

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

 your kingdom come,

your will be done

 on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:7-15).

Countless volumes address the deep significance of the model prayer Christ shared in Matthew 6. The passage provides incredible insights into God’s character and the way He desires Christ-followers relate to Him. Perhaps more than any other section of Scripture, this passage demonstrates that our dialogue with God stands as an intimate yet reverential kingdom-centered privilege. It exalts God’s plans, purposes, and will while acknowledging our dependence on Him for daily provision and practical holiness. This simple prayer resoundingly captures the astonishing essence of the grace-wrought relationship we have with our Father. Unfortunately, many people still view the passage as a script meant for recitation. Thousands know it by memory, but few understand its depth.

I love that Jesus preceded the model prayer with advice on what not to do. He begins by acknowledging that even the godless pray, but their prayers are insincere and frivolous. The term translated as “babbling” here can also be understood as “empty repetitions.”[i] According to Jesus, uttering meaningless words and failing to approach God in focused sincerity ignores the inward realities necessary to truly dialogue with our King. Reciting clichés without backing them in heart-induced authenticity fails to honor the Lord.

My friend Robin beautifully summarized what many Christ-followers experience in their prayer life. She saw her prayers as sign-posts in her spiritual journey: “When I was just born-again I struggled to say anything that made sense. After a few years of being in church, I learned to use a bunch of tired, empty phrases that held little meaning to me. You know—the kind of stuff you mindlessly and hurriedly spit out before a meal? But as I grew in the Lord I began to experience the awesomeness of His presence during my quiet time. Then my words took on heart-felt meaning, and I found myself having a real, dynamic, life-transforming conversation with my Lord.”

At the heart of Jesus’ dialogue with His Father, come these words: “hallowed (revered) be your name.” God’s ultimate glorification defines the goal of every prayer. Magnifying the Heavenly Father and approaching Him with the intent to follow His plans and purposes is primary. Our King is transcendent, majestic, and separated from His creation. Even Christ—His own Son and the exact representation of His glory—approached God with awe and the humility of a servant, recognizing His magnitude. This posture stands in sharp contrast to the man-centered “vain repetitions” the pagans use in calling out to the divine.

Amazingly, Christ encouraged listeners to approach God as “Father.” In doing this He allows a glimpse into the supernatural grace that restores our fellowship with God; in spite of our failings, we are allowed to call Him “our Father.” The Apostle Paul used the term Abba, meaning “Daddy,” to capture the beautiful intimacy that we can have with our King (Romans 8:15). Authentic kingdom prayer shows the personal nature of our sovereign Lord without diminishing His deity. God, great and glorious, provides omniscient care for the needs of His royal children.

The centrality of God’s kingdom provides the basis for Christ’s prayer. We should offer all of our praise and everything we ask of Him with this in mind. We must constantly acknowledge His dominion over creation, allowing our prayers to reflect passion for the on-going revelation of His reign. Our hearts should surge with the attitude, “Your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”! As we approach the Lord with this mentality, we stop thinking about ourselves and begin to focus on Him. This allows us to find peace and confidence in God’s sovereignty and affirms within us that He will capably provide what we most need.

Our Lord acknowledges God’s promise of physical provision in this life for His children as a general principle (see Matthew 6:25-31). Interesting that He advises us to pray for things that God has already promised to provide (i.e. our daily bread) and about needs that He is already aware of (Matthew 6:8). Provider of all that we have, God imparts the necessities and often blesses us with nonessentials. By praying for what He has already promised to provide (and often times already gives) we humbly recognize Him as the only source of all good things (James 1:17). We recall God’s greatness as our Provider and recognize His caring and compassion in our lives.

The prayer clearly reveals that Jesus desires His disciples pursue righteousness. Holy living is predicated on our understanding of His gracious forgiveness. When we grasp the beautiful forgiveness Christ offers us, we will reveal that understanding by adopting lifestyles of forgiveness. In order to mirror God’s purity, we must passionately pursue godliness, an inherent attribute of His chosen people. Recognizing God’s holiness and falling in love with Him sparks within us a passion for purity. As we pursue blamelessness and extend forgiveness, we reflect Him.

Studying the model prayer always prompts my heart: Do my prayers come across as vain, selfish, empty, or shallow? Or does my communication with Him project an intimacy that compels me to glorify Him? Do I plead for His kingdom’s expansion? Do I exhibit a heart grateful for His underserved provision? How often do I yearn for a holy life that reflects His absolute purity? Jesus prompted us to pray kingdom-centered prayers to an incomprehensibly supreme King. Only when I give God the focus, reverence, and surrender He requires do my prayers match with the principles Christ laid out in Matthew.  

Apply It.

Jesus encourages us to find, as He did, a place of solitude to pray (see Mark 1:35; Matthew 6:6). Considering life’s busyness and distraction, we must consistently find a place and time that allows us intimate communion with our Father without interruption. Does this reflect your practice? Ask God to give you the discipline to daily fellowship with Him in a place of quiet.

[i] Robertson, A. T.  Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament (Broadman Press, 1960).

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eighteen – The Rewards of Selfless Service

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6).

Throughout Matthew 5 Jesus spoke on righteousness and the importance of a believer’s purity, devotion, and influence. As a new chapter opens, Christ encourages genuineness and the absence of hypocrisy, further expanding listeners’ understanding of kingdom character. He turns first to the nature of religious exercises, calling people to serve God authentically and insisting that they do so without show or self-promotion. Kingdom living requires that we stop going through the motions of giving, serving, and worshipping. Ostentatious religion proves unacceptable: the Lord desires that we live in sincerity, carefully honoring Him instead of elevating ourselves.

To understand the context of this passage, consider Luke 18:9-14. With a gloating attitude of self-righteousness, a Pharisee stood and prayed about himself! Bragging on his piety, moral superiority, and “good works,” he likely filled the temple with his voice, drowning out the soft but sincere cries of those—like the despised tax collector—who sought God’s attention and not the spotlight. This parable illustrates the dichotomy between those seeking to serve God out of a pure heart and those doing so for personal gain. One is accepted (justified) by God, and the other has received all the reward they will ever get; the praise of men.

In the first verses of Matthew 6, Jesus mentions three traditional and prominent practices commonly held by many religions: giving (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-6), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In general, all are good and commended. If, however, the motives behind them are wrong, they morph into meaningless and empty activities void of spiritual substance or eternal reward. Why? Because when we do these things for attention or to make ourselves feel spiritual, we fail to glorify God.

To the church at Galatia, Paul posed this question: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” (Galatians 1:10). Within this query he acknowledged the natural tendency all believers face. We generally seek approval in the tangible here and now as opposed to the spiritual and eternal. Should we succumb to temptation, we’ll soon exalt man’s opinion and our self-image over God.

I recall a painful lesson I learned during my early ministry. Soon after seminary I pastored a fairly large church that provided a deceptive ego boost for a young preacher in his twenties. With my appointment came the insidious growth of spiritual pride. I quickly began to operate as more of a professional pastor than a servant leader: I soaked up and began to believe the adulation and prestige that came with my new position. Thinking I’d arrived, I began to trust in my own abilities and education instead of depending on God to do His work through me. The church grew numerically, but my intimacy with God gradually declined. It didn’t take long before my arrogant house of cards toppled; “my” church was gone. God shook me out of my pretense, humbled me, and reminded me that “a haughty spirit goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

Outward religious show versus God-centeredness defines the essence of hypocrisy. Even the most dedicated believer will sometimes fail to live up to God’s standards, but when we portray ourselves as something untrue, we deserve the label “hypocrite.” The term comes from the Greek word, hypokrites, and refers to acting. When we begin to replace heart-righteousness with empty practices, we fail to love the Lord. While our outward displays of piety—tossing an envelope of pocket change in the offering plate, singing in the choir after a night of arguing with family members, or serving on the hospitality committee though we complain about it for hours afterward— may look good to observers, God stands unimpressed. Jesus, addressing this tendency, referred to the Pharisees as cups “clean on the outside but dirty on the inside” (Luke 11:39). He saw them as “white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). Should we perform deeds meant to exalt ourselves and not to honor God, we’ll earn the same harsh comparisons.

Attitude and focus count! Only deeds done out of a sincere desire to honor God prove worthy of reward. Anything we do to gain points with onlookers will fail to honor Him. The Lord wants us to let go of our pride, that critical barrier between God and man. Since humanity disobeyed in the garden, we’ve struggled against self-centeredness, often opposing God and ignoring His perception of who we really are. But believers must remember Christ’s lesson in Luke 18: Only the broken “sinner,” who felt contrite and transparent in his pleadings before God “went home justified before God” (v. 14). Why? Jesus answers, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v.14).

In First Corinthians 3:13-14 Paul explained, “[our] work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.” One day each believer will stand before God. Those who’ve served with authentic faith and a desire to honor Him will receive the ultimate honor. From His mouth we’ll hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Apply It.

Read and mediate on First Timothy 6:18-19. List your good deeds and assess your motives. Are they selfless and propelled by your love of God and others? Do you think they deserve God’s “well done”? Pray that God would compel you to live in a way that seeks His eternal rewards and not earthly ones.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).*

*You will need your Bible for this study. If I copied all the texts this post would be a small book.

Isaiah 40 contains a passage that many Christians hold dear. We often cling to verses 29-31 when we are exhausted in our journey to follow Jesus amidst life’s challenges and trials. The principle of an indescribably awesome (in its truest and fullest sense) God supplying us soaring, sustaining, and steadfast power brings great comfort (see Isaiah 40:1-2) to those in dire need of such strength. Yet often this energy seems inaccessible and merely words – words that we believe but rarely experience. And why is this? Because these magnificent promises are only understood and realized as we digest and apply what precedes them. In other words, one must interpret Isaiah 40 backwards to get the full picture.

The 2 previous verses to our focal text tell us that this power is connected to faith: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:27-28). Clearly the prophet says we must believe in order to experience the strength of an all-knowing and all-powerful God. But faith in what?

Faith in Him and Him alone. We see this from the previous verses where Isaiah’s oracle makes fun of the silliness of idols in light of the nature of the one and only true God (vs. 18-26). He mocks those who erect false gods that can’t even stand on their own (verse 20 reminds me of “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” as it describes the wish to craft an idol that won’t topple over). Ridiculous, eh? But for our purposes, an idol is not a graven image but anything that we treasure, love, and desire more than God. An idol can even be seemingly good things (like religion, humanitarian efforts, ministry, or family) that supersede God in importance in our lives. This includes the most insidious of idols – our own energy, effort, and ingenuity (let’s just call this self-sufficiency or pride). The prophet says that to experience the unfathomable power of God we must believe in Him in all of His greatness and nothing can be more important than Him.

But moving further back in the text, we see that it’s not just believing in God but having a right vision of His awesomeness and boundless might. This is what we see in verses 12-17. Here He is described as an immeasurably powerful Creator and the sustainer of all things. What we have described in these verses is mind-boggling. It, as best limited human language can, portrays God as incomprehensibly mighty. As compared to our pathetic, limited, and vastly inferior ability, we see that, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17). As James MacDonald says, “It’s not that your problems are too big. It’s that your God is too small.”

But how are we connected to this awesome God? In and through the Son of God who became Jesus the Christ (vs. 1-11). Scripture shows Him to have this same power and character as Yahweh, Jehovah God (John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1). We see the mighty ruling arm of God (v. 9) become the lovingly tender arm of God (v. 11) by way of Jesus (vs. 1-5). This is called the good news (v. 9 – better understood as “great news”) of the Messiah, whose coming was heralded by John the Baptist with Isaiah’s words, “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3). And this is the “Word of our God that will stand forever” (v. 8).

So, in summary, to access the unfathomable strength of God (29-31) we must have genuine faith (27-28) in God and not ourselves or our God-substitutes (18-26). And our trust must be in an awesomely large and limitless God (12-17) that has connected us to His immeasurable power through our surrender to the person and power of Jesus (1-11) and experienced through His Holy Spirit.

So, if we want the soaring, sustaining, steadfast strength of our supremely awesome God, it will only come from Jesus when we:

• love Him above all else and lean only on Him

• yearn for Him and yield to Him

• are devoted to Him and dependant on Him alone

• are surrendered to Him and sustained only by Him

• faithfully fix our gaze on Him and feast on His Word

The New Testament equivalent of the powerful principle of Isaiah 40 is found in Hebrews 12:1-3. The writer connects the dots and gives us a passage to call our own as we seek the strength of God found only in Christ:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

This powerful phrase represents the message of hope we find in the Gospel. You can put an infinite number of thoughts ahead of this phrase and then say, “But God,” and you get to the heart of His good news. So let’s do an exercise. I’m going to make some statements, comments that might be common thoughts to many of us, and let some Scriptures that use this encouraging phrase respond (all emphasis mine).

My sin is so great and I’m burdened with the guilt of my poor choices, mistakes, and unholy bent. How can God love and forgive me? – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I have so little to offer my Lord. Really, I’m a “nobody” and don’t see how He can use me. – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

There is so much I don’t understand about Him, His ways, His will, or His Word. How can I know God and how I can best be His servant?  – “…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

I’m not sure how I can serve Christ’s church, how I fit in, and if I’m really needed?  Am I important to the body of Christ? – “…while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Corinthians 12:24).

I feel endangered and unprotected in a cruel world. Sometimes I feel that everyone is against me and I have no real shelter from their attacks. – “…Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, But God did not allow him to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7).

I feel defeated and powerless. Where do I get the wisdom and strength to live for Jesus and be the kind of Christ-follower that advances His kingdom and gives Him glory? – “…for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).

I’m so discouraged, maybe even depressed. I can’t get out of this rut and I feel distant from Jesus. Where should I turn for hope and help? – “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:6).

I feel as if I try so hard, but even with all of my effort I feel like a spiritual failure, as if my all resources and “works” don’t add up to much in the sight of God – “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4).

Looking at my circumstances, I feel as if I’m being punished by God. I know most of this is if of my own doing, but how is God involved? – “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Who can I trust? What can I trust in? It seems like there is no one or no thing that I can really count on in this life – “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son: (1 John 5:9).

Is there hope? There have been so many defeats, broken promises, and my past is littered with a myriad of things that haunt me today? Can I trust that my future is bright and, if so, in whose promises do I need to trust? – “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise” (Galatians 3:18). Or, But it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’. But God has revealed them to us…” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

“But God…”  I don’t know what your thought or question might be today but I encourage you to make the statement and then search the Scriptures to find His answer. For in Christ we have received the promises of God and God can not lie (Titus 1:2: Hebrews 6:18). His promises are real and by believing in Christ you can find the great meaning and hope found in this simple phrase that changes everything – “But God!”

So how does this happen? By faith in Jesus through the grace given by God. Let’s add a couple more passages:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by His grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4 ).

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

All of this reminds me of a cliché that we often hear, an anecdote that actually has rich significance. I think it sums this up well. And that phrase? “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

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