discipleship

Judges 2, Jeremiah 15

Today we’re reading Judges 2 and Jeremiah 15.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah is set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment has been passed and the sentence is settled. Pain is on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there will be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God keeps saying it is too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was bringing to him. He had no friends (“I sat alone...”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling him to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult word, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you but if you don’t, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but they do provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

John 21

Today’s reading is John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected (see Acts 1:6).

This must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “...that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

While it is true that Peter had seen Christ before this, it is also true that the memory of his denial of Jesus was still fresh in his memory. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love--his commitment--to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus--doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

2 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 2 Timothy 2.

Paul’s life was coming to an end. Timothy, apparently a much younger man, would not live forever either. If the church in Ephesus was going to survive and thrive beyond the short term, the false teaching in it needed to be rooted out (vv. 16-17). While Timothy was doing that, however, he needed to be instilling good doctrine. Verse 2 commanded him to take “...the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Verse 14 commanded him to “keep reminding God’s people of these things.” Truth is the antidote for false doctrine but it is also the mother’s milk of spiritual growth.

Have you ever discipled another person, passing on what you’ve learned of our faith to someone else? It is one of the best ways to grow strong in the faith yourself. It is also important for the growth and development of the gospel. The process Paul described in verse 2 of taking “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses” and entrusting them “to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” must not break down. Look around and find someone who could use a good model of Christian growth or a faithful instructor of God’s word. Then, invite that person to grow with you by learning God’s word through personal discipleship.

Acts 20

Back to Acts for 1 chapter, then we go to Romans tomorrow, according to our schedule. Read Acts 20.

As we read 2 Corinthians, we noted that Paul was coming to Corinth both to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering (2 Cor 8) and to deal with those who were living in sin in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 13). Here in Acts 20, Luke noted that Paul did in fact go to Corinth as he said he would (vv. 1-3). Paul continued on to Jerusalem stopping in Philippi (vv. 3-6) and Troas (vv. 7-12). He decided to travel by ship to Jerusalem and that ship stopped in several places (vv. 13-15). Paul decided not to go back to Ephesus, where he had spent so much time back in Acts 19, but he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him (vv. 16-38). His meeting with them was emotional because God had told him that he would suffer in Jerusalem (vv. 22-23) so he expected that he would not see the Ephesians again (vv. 35, 38).

If you had spent several years of fruitful ministry in a city but believed that you would never go back there, what would you say to the people you had discipled and mentored and taught? Paul’s message which Luke recorded in this chapter is summed up in verse 31: “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Paul knew that the church would face some difficult problems in the days ahead (v. 29), so he urged the elders to do the work of shepherding to protect themselves and the flock (v. 28). But what was he getting at when he said, “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears”? That statement is, in essence, “Don’t forget my teaching and my example. When false doctrine comes in, remember what I taught you. Stick to it because it is God’s word; don’t stray from it.” This is something worth remembering. There is a lot of teaching out there, some that claims to be biblical and Christian and some that makes no claim to be Christian but does claim to be true. People sometimes get enamored with new ideas or attracted to big promises to change their lives in some way. If what you are learning is biblical, it will align with what you already know to be true from scripture. If it takes you away from the doctrines you learned when you were saved and discipled, however, it is a trap that will hurt your spiritual life, not help it. So, evaluate everything and don’t ever forget the gospel and the word of God that was taught to you when you first became a believer.

Although Paul was deeply concerned about what the church at Ephesus would face, he did not stay there to try to protect the church himself. Instead, he expressed faith in God’s own oversight of the church and his word: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32). When people we led to Christ move away or our children grow up and go out on their own, we can become concerned about the many threats to their spiritual lives that they will encounter and rightly so. It is good to be concerned, to express your concern, and to urge believers you love to watch themselves just as Paul did in this chapter. However, it is impossible to control another person so you can only do so much to try to protect their faith and their doctrine. Instead of being fearful, at some point we must release them and trust God to do what we can’t. Paul ended his time with the Ephesian elders with prayer (v. 36) and we know from his letters how earnestly he prayed for the spiritual life of all the believers and churches. This is the best way to care spiritually for those we cannot be with directly--pray for God’s continued work in their lives, for their protection from sin and from false doctrine, and for God to watch over their spiritual lives.

Are you sending a kid off to college soon? Have a young adult child who is moving to a different area to start a new life? Do you know anyone who is leaving our church or another good church but there is uncertainty about where they will worship? Pray. Warn them and express your love for them, but trust God to watch over them and pray daily for them to walk with him. There’s really nothing better you can do for another person spiritually.

Matthew 8

Today we reading Matthew 8.

After teaching his disciples the difficult ethics of his kingdom to emphasize our need for true spiritual rebirth, Jesus went on a tear, healing people in rapid succession. He healed man who who had leprosy just after coming down the mountain (8:1-4), the servant of a centurion (vv. 5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 14-15), and a gaggle of demon-possessed people and others who were ill (vv. 14-16). Matthew told us in verse 17 that Jesus did all this to fulfill what Isaiah prophesied about Messiah in Isaiah 53:4.

In response to Jesus’ teaching and power display, men began offering to follow him. One of them was a prestigious “teacher of the law” (vv. 18-19) who volunteered to go with Jesus everywhere. Jesus told him to get ready for an unsettled life. Every wildlife creature may have its own home, but not Jesus. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back. He found a place for himself and his disciples to sleep every night, but it was a different place every night and none of them ever felt like home (v. 20).

Another would-be disciple wanted to follow Jesus but on his own terms. When he asked to bury his father, there is no indication that his father is dead, dying, or sick. The passage suggests that he is promising to follow Christ later, when he is out from under his father’s authority. Jesus’ answer was, “‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” Both the man’s wish to wait and Christ’s use of the word “dead” suggests that this man’s father was an unbeliever. The man wanted to honor his father first and receive his father’s approval, then follow Jesus when his father’s approval was no longer an issue.

Both of these men were invited by Christ to take risks for the gospel. Christ described discipleship as a chaotic living situation (at best) instead of stable home life and a situation where one must do what God commands even when it costs you the approval of the person whose approval you want the most. This is living by faith. It is counting on God to take care of you and reward you instead of finding those things by the usual human ways. Jesus demonstrated his ability to be trusted, however, by demonstrating his power over nature (vv. 23-27) and over the supernatural world (vv. 28-34). So the “risk” of no home and family disownership was really no risk at all because all things are subject to the power of Jesus, so he can be trusted to take care of you.

Are you struggling with the cost of discipleship? Are you tempted to hide your faith in Christ around friends of colleagues who think that our faith is backward, unscientific, and bigoted? Do you encourage your children to live by faith--go to a Christian college and enter Christian ministry or to find a safer, more conventional career that will provide a stable life. The cost of discipleship is unequally distributed. God calls some disciples to literally lay down their lives for Jesus; others he calls to risk their professional reputation or their economic prosperity and stability. The cost of following Jesus may be higher or lower for you than it is for me but it will cost each of us something.

Do you trust Jesus enough to take the risk?

2 Kings 21, Hebrews 3, Hosea 14, Psalm 139

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 21, Hebrews 3, Hosea 14, Psalm 139. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 2 Kings 21.

Hezekiah and his son Manasseh lived on opposite poles of the worship globe. Hezekiah was devoted to the Lord with all his heart and even did the hard work of rooting out the private places of idol worship in the hills and mountains around Jerusalem. That was great during the twenty-nine years he reigned, but then it all ended. Manasseh his son devoted himself to the worship of every kind of god other than the God of Israel. He rebuilt all those shrines of idolatry that Hezekiah had torn down in the hills (v. 3a) and introduced the worship of Baal and Asherah to Judah (v. 3b). He began to worship the stars and planets in space (v. 3c) and even built idol altars in Solomon’s magnificent temple to the Lord (v. 5). He burned his son alive as a human sacrifice to pagan gods (v. 6a) and practiced every kind of witchcraft (v. 6). Later he added Asherah worship to the temple along with the altars he had built there to the celestial bodies (v. 7). God had forewarned Hezekiah that his judgment would come to Jerusalem for sins like this (20:16-19) and he sent prophets again to warn Manasseh and the people of Judah (vv. 10-15). When God sends messages of judgment through is prophets, the goal is always repentance but Manasseh was unrepentant for his idolatry. In addition to being an idolator, Manasseh was a killer, executing people in bulk who had not committed crimes worthy of execution (v. 16). This should not be a surprise. Worship is about far more than who receives your prayers and sacrifices; it also determines your morals, ethics, and your actions. Find an ungodly ruler, one obsessed with idol worship and you will see unjust ruler, one oblivious to justice or the value of human life. If a man is so hardened that he is willing to offer his infant son as a burnt offering to a false god, why would he grant justice to adults or show compassion to those who oppose his will?

Manasseh was his own man. Like every person, he was responsible for his choices. But I can’t read his story without wondering: Did he not see how God delivered Hezekiah from Sennacherib when all Hezekiah did was pray (2 Kings 18-19)? Was he not informed about Hezekiah’s fatal illness and how God extended his life after he prayed (2 Kings 20)? Hezekiah tore down those idol altars in the hills because he believed God. He worshipped one God and one alone. He gravitated toward the Lord’s temple (see 2 Kings 19:14, 20:8) suggesting that he spent much time there learning God’s law and observing the worship ceremonies devoted to the Lord. Did Manasseh fail or just refuse to see the depth of his father’s devotion and how God honored Hezekiah’s faith and obedience to the Lord’s word? Or did Hezekiah neglect to instruct his son to follow the Lord? Hezekiah is implicated in any of Manasseh’s idolatry of disobedience. But recall 2 Kings 20:19, which we read yesterday: “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’” For all his virtues, Hezekiah may have spent too much time thinking about himself, his lifetime, his walk with the Lord and not enough time preparing and passing on what he knew about God to others, particularly his own son, his successor. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.