What Are You Living For?

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Reading the Word

Luke 21:34–36 (ESV)

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In yesterday’s reading, we looked at Mark 13:33-37 where Jesus told his disciples to “stay awake.” In today’s reading from Luke, the message is the same. Jesus’ followers are to stay awake. In Mark, the emphasis was on fulfilling the tasks that the Lord has given, which include holy living and preaching the gospel. The emphasis in Luke is different. Now Jesus teaches that disciples must not become weighed down with the cares of the life. We must seek first the kingdom of God before everything else.

Reading these words of Jesus, one might come to the conclusion that Christians should only concern themselves with prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. While these are all good things, and even essential things, we must admit that it is impossible to spend every minute of every day doing only these tasks. We also have to eat, sleep, clean, work, take care of our children, and mow our lawns. The list goes on and on. In fact, the list of other things that we must do probably takes up the majority of our time. So what is it that Jesus wants from us? What are the cares of this life that we are to avoid?

Jesus’ instruction in this passage is very similar to yesterday’s. It is about setting proper priorities. Christians should have priorities that are different from the world. Our highest goals and desires should not be materialistic or based on a short-sighted view of life that ends at the grave. We must realize that there are greater things to live our lives for. There is an eternal world for those who believe. It should be our priority to live in light of this truth and spread the news of the kingdom of God to all who will receive it. We must not become so bogged down in the everyday tasks and pursuits of this world that we forget the world to come and fail to tell others. One day, Jesus will return and he will want to know what we have done with all of our time.

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Stay Awake

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Reading the Word

Mark 13:33–37 (ESV)

33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In the previous passages, Jesus told his disciples that he would return. He did not tell them when this would take place, but assured them that his word was certain. He will return, gather his people, and judge evil. Knowing this, in today’s passage, we read Jesus tell his followers to “[B]e on guard” and “keep awake.”

Jesus uses the illustration of a master who leaves his servants to do the work while he is away. One servant is commanded to be doorkeeper. As such, the doorkeeper must stay awake to accomplish his job. The master could return at any time of the day or night. What if he were to return and find the doorkeeper sleeping?

It is easy to see why the doorkeeper must stay awake and we understand what that means. However, we must know what it means for us today. How do we stay awake and on guard? The servants in Jesus’ illustration had been given certain duties. When their master returned, he expected to find them carrying out his instructions. Jesus also left his servants with instructions on what to do until his return. We must be busy with living holy lives and proclaiming the gospel to the world. To neglect these things is to not be on our guard. To neglect these things is to forget that our Lord could return at any moment and find us asleep and failing to do what he has commanded.

Jesus’ teaching on the end times was not to present us with a timeline, but to encourage us to live with the right priorities. When we truly understand that we could be standing in the presence of our Lord at any moment, it should change how we live. If you knew that Jesus was coming tonight, what would you do?

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A Lesson from a Tree

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:32–36 (ESV)

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33

Understanding and Applying the Word

I live in the Michigan, where we love the change of the seasons. In our area of the country, we experience all four seasons in full force, from the hot and humid days of summer to the frigid cold of winter. With each change in season, there are telltale signs that a change is in process. My personal favorite takes place in the fall when the air becomes cooler and the leaves on our beautiful hardwood trees display an array of colors before dropping. It is easy to know that summer is over and winter is coming soon.

Jesus used the example of a fig tree to teach his followers about preparing for his return. When a fig tree puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. Just like reading the signs of the changing seasons, we can read the signs of the times to know that Jesus is coming soon. Jesus said, “When you see all of these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The things Jesus referred to are the ones listed in the previous verses (vv. 4-25).

We must be careful in how we read these words of Jesus. It was not his intention tell us to watch for signs and create charts and calendars to figure out the timing of his return. He explicitly stated that no one knows the time, but the Father. Jesus’ purpose was to reassure his disciples that they could trust that he would return. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he said. We can count on Jesus’ promise to return. His word stands forever. Let us be ready and let us serve him in confidence while we wait!

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The Heavens Will Be Shaken

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:29–31 (ESV)

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus described what it will be like when he returns. The heavens will be shaken and when the Son of Man appears in power and glory, the nations will mourn. Why will they mourn? The world will realize that the gospel that has been proclaimed and denied is true and that the opportunity for salvation has passed. Jesus will send out his angels to gather those who are his.

We must realize that time is running out. As Christians, we have to understand the urgency in preaching the message of salvation and the coming kingdom. Our families’, friends’, and neighbors’ eternities depend on hearing the gospel from us. If you do not know the Lord, today is the day to reconcile with God while there is still opportunity. He sent his Son to pay the price for our sin. We must repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness and life. God has shown us his love and grace in Christ. Turn to him today.

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It Will Not Be a Secret

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:23–28 (ESV)

23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:21-23; Luke 17:23-24

Understanding and Applying the Word

In the days and years leading up to Jesus’ return to this earth, there will be many who will make claims that he has already come when he has not. There will also be those who claim to be him. Jesus warned his followers so that they will be on their guard and not fooled by such false claims. He assured his disciples that when he returns it will be a highly visible event that everyone will see. It will be on par with lightning flashing from the east all the way to the west. It will be known. It will not be a secret event.

Throughout history, there have been false claims by those who say they are Jesus and there have been false teachers who have made the claim that Jesus has already returned, but people missed it. Jesus’ words in today’s reading assure us that he has not returned. We have not missed it. Jesus will come again in the future for his people and it will be a grand event that everyone will know about.

As Jesus’ followers living in today’s word, our responsibility is to continue to proclaim the Good News of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We must continue to proclaim that Jesus has promised to return for his people and to judge evil. We do not know when that day will be, but we know it is future and it could occur at any moment. We must be ready.

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There Will Be Great Tribulation

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:15–22 (ESV)

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21:20-24

Understanding and Applying the Word

In this passage, Jesus speaks of the future time preceding his return (cf. vv. 29-31). He refers to the Book of Daniel and mentions an “abomination of desolation”. In 167 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Jewish temple by setting up an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar. Daniel 8 speaks of that event, but Jesus speaks of another, future event. He describes it as a time of “great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now.” It will be a time foreshadowed by Antiochus, but it will be much worse. During that time, believers will suffer greatly.

As bad as it will be, Jesus assures his followers that evil will not win the day. Christ will return and end the suffering of his people. He will defeat the tyrant, who is known as the Antichrist, and he will establish his own kingdom.

As those who belong to Christ, believers may sometimes become concerned with the way the world seems to be heading. We may wonder if the end is near and if persecution will increase for Christians. We know that our brothers and sisters around the globe often find themselves in great difficulty because of their faith. What should we do?

Christ’s words here should encourage us. Evil may continue for a time. It may even become extremely great. But God has a plan. The days will be cut short. Christ will return and defeat his enemies and the enemies of his people. We must find strength and confidence in these promises as we pray for our fellow believers in the line of fire and as we pray for our Lord’s coming.

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The Gospel Will Be Proclaimed

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Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along every day. We are currently reading through the life of Jesus Christ.

Reading the Word

Matthew 24:9–14 (ESV)

9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19

Wars and Rumors of Wars

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:3–8 (ESV)

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11

Understanding and Applying the Word

Matthew 24 begins what is commonly referred to as the Olivet Discourse. The discourse runs to the end of Matthew 25 and gets its name from the location of Jesus’ teaching, the Mount of Olives. In these chapters, Jesus’ instruction is in response to his disciples’ questions regarding the coming of the last days (cf. Matthew 24:3). The topic of the end times is one that raises much interest and much speculation still today. It is important for us to read the words of Jesus and understand what Scripture says on this subject.

Jesus told his disciples that there would be those who would come and claim to be the Christ (or “Messiah” in Hebrew). Jesus’ followers must not be fooled by counterfeits. There will also be much conflict (“wars and rumors of wars”) and many natural disasters in the days leading up to the time of the end. However, those things do not mean that the end has dawned. They are simply the beginnings of birth pains that will later lead to the birth of the last days. Wars and disasters, as we see throughout history, are a common theme in our world and remind us that something is very very wrong with this world.

Scripture’s description of the last days fascinates many, but we must keep in mind the primary points that we can know about it. It will be a terrible time. It will be a time unlike any other in history. God’s people will face severe persecution under the rule of one who makes himself as a god. However, as bad as it will be, it will come to an end. Jesus Christ will return and will defeat his enemies and also gather his people. The Lord has promised that sin and evil will be judged and that the people of God will find rest in his presence for eternity. We can find strength and encouragement today knowing that the trials we face are temporary and that our God’s plans are in place, even if we have not been given all the details we would like. Let us find our hope in the words and promises of our Savior who is risen and coming again!

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True Religion

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:1–2 (ESV)

1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6

Understanding and Applying the Word

The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Judaism. It reminded the people of their special relationship with God, who had chosen them through Abraham and brought them out of Egypt through Moses. It reminded the people that the land that they lived in was given to them by the Lord. The temple was the center of Jewish worship and was the place where God had graced the Jewish people with his unique presence. The temple was a grand building and was the pride and joy of the Jewish people. It is no surprise that Jesus’ disciples would comment on the greatness of the structure and be in awe of its size and beauty.

Jesus’ response to the disciples concerning the temple probably was surprising. As the disciples spoke glowingly of the greatness of the temple, Jesus told them that it was going to be destroyed. There would not be one stone left on another. The words of Jesus were fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans entered Jerusalem to put down a revolt. The temple was destroyed in the process.

The disciples, and the Jewish people, saw the temple as the center of their religion. However, Jesus consistently taught that the religious leaders and the religious practices of Judaism had become empty and meaningless. There was no spiritual substance to their religion, only external ritual and show. The temple was going to be destroyed and religious practice would never be the same. This would serve as a reminder that our religion means nothing if it does not issue forth from the depths of our hearts. Our worship must come from changed lives and love for God. Fancy buildings and external rituals are worthless without a heart devoted to the Lord.

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A Poor Widow’s Offering

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Reading the Word

Mark 12:41–44 (ESV)

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Parallel Text: Luke 21:1-4

Understanding and Applying the Word

In today’s passage we read of a woman who gave “two small copper coins, which make a penny.” The coins that are mentioned are lepta. A lepton was a Jewish coin worth about 1/128th of a day’s wage. So, two coins would have only been worth about 1/64th of a daily wage. The two coins were of a very small value. They were insignificant by worldly standards.

Jesus commented on the woman’s offering and remarked that the woman had given more than the rich people who put in large sums. Why did he say this? Because the rich gave out of their excess. It was easy for them to give the amounts they did. They would never miss it! However, the woman was poor and gave all that she had to live on. Her gift was truly sacrificial and revealed what was truly valuable to her.

It is a well-known saying: “Show me what a person spends his money on and I will tell you what is truly important to him.” What would our financial records reveal about us. Do we put God and his kingdom first, or are we only ready and willing to give out of our excess? How we use our money, possessions, and time truly reveals what is most important to us.

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