grace

2 Chronicles 36, Malachi 4

Today, read 2 Chronicles 36 and Malachi 4.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 36.

Our reading of the Old Testament ends here with a description of the end of Judah’s independence in 2 Chronicles 36 and a promise for “you who revere my name” that “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” in Malachi 4:2. Let’s look for a minute at the end of Judah’s independence in 2 Chronicles 36.

God’s plan for Israel was to be one nation that worshipped him alone and lived under his sovereign leadership and direction, guided by his laws which both prescribed righteous behavior and described how to receive forgiveness when someone broke one of his laws. If the people kept the covenant they had made with God at Sinai, they would have had military victory, economic prosperity, large healthy families, and happy long lives.

Instead, they consistently disobeyed every aspect of God’s word. The worshipped other gods, refused to claim the land God had commanded them to take, divided into two kingdoms instead of one, and became subject to Assyria and Babylon. Despite all the problems their sins produced, verse 14 of this chapter says, “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Although God’s people deserved immediate punishment, God was patient with them. Verse 15 says, “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” There is a human tendency to resist correction and rebuke, no matter how lovingly delivered. God sent rebuke “because he had pity on his people” not because he enjoyed wounding them with words. If God’s people had humbled themselves in repentance, they could have received forgiveness and the blessings of God’s covenant. Instead, they resisted the Lord’s word and persecuted his messengers.

Don’t make the same mistake. Open your heart and mind to the correcting influence of God’s word. Be quick to repent when it convicts you and to obey when God commands. Most of all, believe the forgiveness of sins that Christ died to give us by grace. It will save you from the wrath of God in eternity and it will keep you walking with God all the days of your life.

This is the end of the line for OT18. Next year--aka tomorrow--I will be starting a new devotional series called 66in365. This plan breaks down the entire Bible in a series of daily readings. If you read each passage, you will read through the entire Bible in one year. In addition to the reading, I will provide you with a devotional meditation from one of the passages you read.

If you’re reading this in your email, you’re all set and should keep receiving these daily devotionals automatically.

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Thanks for reading the Old Testament with me this year. I hope it was a blessing to you and helpful to your Christian life.

1 Chronicles 29, Micah 6

Read 1 Chronicles 29 and Micah 6 today.

This devotional is about Micah 6.

I was named (unjustly) in a lawsuit once in my life and the suit was withdrawn a few days later after the two main parties worked out a deal. Those few days when I thought I was getting sued were stressful, especially since the plaintiff suing us was a lawyer.

If you’ve ever been sued or even been on a jury or served as a witness, you know how stressful lawsuits can be. But imagine being sued by the Lord! That’s what’s happening here in Micah 6. This is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against his people. Verse 1 commanded Micah to initiate the lawsuit with the mountains serving as the jury. The earth was created before humanity was, so the mountains were personified in this chapter as witnesses to all that the Lord had done for his people (v. 2).

In verse 3 God asks the people of Israel why they have broken faith with him. The question in the second line, “How have I burdened you?” is an interesting one. It assumes that God’s people looked on his laws as burdensome and felt that serving him was difficult. God responds in verse 4a-b by reminding them that he relieved them of a true burden--the burden of slavery in Egypt. He also reviewed how he sent them leadership in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 4c-d). Then he told them again how protected them from the oracles of Balaam (v. 5a-c) and in their journey to the promised land (v. 5).

Israel responded in verses 6-7 like a defendant would in a lawsuit. The implied question of these verses is, “Okay, Lord; how much do you want to settle this out of court?” The offer kept escalating. Verse 7 says, “How about thousands of rams? No? Ok, how about 10,000 rivers of oil (v. 7b)? Not good enough? OK, then how about a human sacrifice (v. 7c-d)?”

Verse 8 responds that the Lord wants a few basic things from his people; namely • justice • mercy and • to walk with God.

Justice is about doing what is right and fair to others regardless of whether they are rich or poor, family or enemy. Mercy is about showing kindness to people who deserve justice but are repentant. It also means showing kindness to people in need even though you don’t have any legal or family obligation to them. Walking with God means loving him, worshipping him daily, and following in his ways.

The concepts outlined in Micah 6:8 are easy; living them out daily is hard. It is hard because of our sin nature; we like to favor people we like or people who can help us. We like to punish people who have mistreated us even if they are repentant. We also like to, sometimes, ignore people in need. Finally, walking with God is tough because we are, naturally speaking, enemies of God because of our sin nature.

This passage, then, describes the absolute need we all have for God to save us. We can’t save ourselves; we are guilty and unable to give our way out of the guilt. In Christ, however, we have both the forgiveness of sins that the gifts described in verse 7 could never buy for us and the ability now to walk with God by faith and to do justice and show mercy.

2 Kings 24, Joel 3

Today, read 2 Kings 24 and Joel 3.

This devotional is about Joel 3.

“How can a good God allow so much evil and injustice in the world?” This is one common question that opponents to our faith ask.

A big part of the answer is described here in Joel 3. Put simply, “God doesn’t. He does not allow any evil or injustice in the world” in the absolute sense. Instead, those who do any kind of evil or injustice at all are storing up judgment (Rom 2:5) for themselves. God is long-suffering and patient, so his wrath has not yet been turned on this world.

But it will be. Joel 3 describes one day in which God’s wrath will fall. Verse 2 says this to all the nations that abused Israel: “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel....”

After this trial that God promised in verse 2, how many will find themselves guilty and receive God’s punishment as a result? Verse 14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The Valley of Decision is not where people decide for or against God. It is the place where God dishes out what HE has decided; namely, the sentence of judgment he handed down to the guilty when he put them on trial in verse 2.

This passage specifically warns the nations that oppressed Israel but plenty of other passages in scripture show us that God will judge every sin and every sinner. The only escape will be God himself. Yes, the one who is angry, vengeful, and judging to those who oppose him will lay down his arms of war and open his arms of love. He will protect his people from the wrath poured out on the wicked. Verse 16d-e says, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” By grace God has grafted many Gentiles into the category called “his people.” By that same grace he not only rescues us from the coming wrath (1 These 1:10) but he pours out his love and provision on us instead (vv. 17-20 here in Joel 3).

All of the blessings of protection from God’s wrath and provision and prosperity for eternity comes to us through Christ. He bore God’s wrath for us so that, by grace, we could escape these terrible Day of the Lord events. Passages like this one remind us of what Christ has accomplished for us; they also remind us that God has given us the responsibility to spread this message of grace to the world until he comes.

Who could you reach out to with the grace of the good news this week?

1 Kings 6, Ezekiel 36

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 6 and Ezekiel 36.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 36:16-38.

In this chapter, God gave more insight about why he sent his people away into exile for their sins. Every sin is an offense to God. Every sinner is guilty in his sight. But there are additional consequences to sin then just to the sinner. God said that the sins of Israel “defiled” their land (vv. 17, 18). But their sins also “...profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people....’” Israel was supposed to flourish as a nation because of its covenant with God. When Israel didn’t flourish as a nation, it gave other nations reasons to reject God. They did not know (or ignored) the fact that Israel was unfaithful to God and that God had promised punishment to them if they were unfaithful. The struggles and defeat of Israel and Judah caused idol-worshipping nations to reject and even mock the true God.

I wonder how often we consider how our words and our actions reflect on God. We call ourselves Christians. If we are lazy, dishonest, profane, difficult to reason with, racist, or guilty of a host of other sins, what does that say about our faith? What might an unbeliever conclude about our God?

These words of judgment were not the final story, however. In verses 24-31 God promised to redeem Israel from the exile in other nations. He promised to install them back in the land (v. 28a) but also to change their hearts. Verses 26-27 say, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is the promise of regeneration, God’s gift of new spiritual life to the spiritually dead. And why would God do this? Verse 32 says, “I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And verse 36 says, “...the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” Just as Israel’s sins gave God’s enemies an excuse to reject him, Israel’s spiritual life and prosperity would demonstrate the truth about God powerfully to those nations.

I wrote in an earlier graph today about how our sins reflect on God to unbelievers. But just as Israel’s redemption would testify to God’s power, so his transforming grace in your life speaks volumes about him to unbelievers who know you. As God deletes sins from your life and causes you to grow strong in faith and obedience, the people who know you will see a silent but potent witness that God is real.

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point to them which was to deliver truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet is commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God--our God--is the true God and because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God but because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him. Neither are we. This is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Psalm 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Psalm 16.

This devotional is about Genesis 17.

Two major events in Israel’s history were recorded in this chapter. First, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (v. 5). Second, God commanded Abraham and his descendants to obey the covenant of circumcision (vv. 9-14). Of all the commands God gave to Israel throughout the generations, this is the only one that they obeyed faithfully. The generation that entered the promised land had not been circumcised by their fathers, but that appears to be the only time when this covenant was not practiced faithfully (see Joshua 5:2-8).

Circumcision created a permanent, physical mark on a man’s body that separated him from people in other nations and specified that he belonged to the nation of Israel. That was important for preserving the unique ethnic identity that God wanted. The Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaites, and later the Philistines and many others had their own identity for a time, but then were absorbed into other nations and ethnicities. Circumcision set God’s people apart from these other nations.

But the covenant of circumcision had a much greater importance than just creating and preserving a national identity for Israel. God told Abraham here in Genesis 17:7 that the purpose of the covenant was, “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Although it was a physical mark, it had a spiritual purpose. Faithfully marking each man physically, apart from the spiritual purpose, made it an empty ritual.

Rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, faithful church attendance, and Bible reading and prayer are some of the ways in which God’s grace helps us to grow in Christ. But you can observe these rituals without God actually becoming “your God.” And, even as Christians, we can lose focus on our walk with God while continuing to practice these rituals; our practice of them becomes work that we do by habit or by willpower or because we think they earn merit with God rather than expressions of our love for God. Is there anything you’re doing as a Christian that is expected of Christians but that does not come from your heart? Ask God to re-ignite your passion for him so that you become again a person who walks with God faithfully from the heart.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalm 6

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalm 6.

This devotional is about Genesis 6.

I don’t think that a greater contrast could exist between Noah and the rest of the world around him. Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (v. 9b) while the world around him was “...corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (v. 11). Regarding the rest of the world, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth” (v. 6) but “ Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” There is no subtle contrast here. God approved of Noah and was “deeply troubled” (v. 6b) about everyone else.

Although Noah was “righteous” “blameless among the people” and “walked with God” (v. 9b), he was not perfect. He “found favor” with God because of God’s grace, not because of his own righteous merits. As a man, Noah had a sinful nature like everyone else on earth. Apart from God’s favor, he would have been as wicked as everyone else and just as worthy of divine punishment. So God’s divine election of Noah is what is meant by the phrase “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Practically speaking, God’s favor came through divine revelation. God explained to Noah his plan to destroy everyone and everything (v. 13), commanded Noah to build a means of escape (v. 14), instructed Noah about how to do it (vv. 15-16), then made a promise--“my covenant”--to protect Noah and his family (vv. 17-21). Because Noah was a man who knew God and walked with him, Noah received God’s word by faith, believed God’s promise, and obeyed accordingly (v. 22).

The details of our lives are different, but the pattern is the same with every person who knows God. God chooses us, God reveals what he wills to us, God commands us to obey, promises to protect us if we do, then calls us by faith to act. We can apply this to our own lives. Every truth taught in Scripture is God’s gracious gift to us, revealing what he wills to do, commanding us to believe and obey it, and promising blessing to us after we do what he said.

Are you struggling with obedience to the Lord in some area of your life? I don’t mean building an ark, I mean receiving the truth from his Word in some area and obeying it? Understand from this passage that God’s commands are not burdens for us to bear through obedience; they are his means for blessing us. If we will trust the Lord and do what His word commands, we will receive the promises he makes. It’s guaranteed because it is backed by God’s grace.

Revelation 21

Today’s reading is Revelation 21.

If you’re reading this, and it is December 28th, and you’ve read every other chapter in the New Testament, congratulations! You’re almost there!

Now that justice has been done and all unrepentant sinners have received their just penalty, God starts over here in Revelation 21. This fresh start is different than the one involving Noah and his family. Recall that God judged the world back in Genesis and started over with Noah, his family, and representatives of everything in the animal kingdom. It wasn’t long, however, before sin re-entered the world because Noah and his offspring were sinners. So, God’s efforts to start over with a flood were unsuccessful.

Here in Revelation 21, God made a new heaven and new earth AFTER he redeemed people to live in it (v.7). God unveiled his new created world and city only after creating a new society of people through the redemption of Christ to live in it. Then--and only then--will :God himself will be with them and be their God” (v. 3).

And what a God he proves to be! Instead of enslaving his people and demanding our worship--which he has every right to do--God moves to “wipe every tear from their eyes” (v. 4) to make us his “children” (v. 7b) and to cause the victorious to “inherit all this” (v. 7). Although God’s kingdom is for him--he’s the king, after all, he generously shares it with us and serves us in it even though he is the exalted king. When we arrive there, we will worship God but God will honor us, enlightening us with his glory (v. 23) and comforting all of troubled hearts.

Are you looking forward to that day? Or are you consumed with the things of this world, trying to build yourself a mini-kingdom instead of seeking first God’s kingdom? The eternity God has prepared for those he loves is beyond the ability of even an inspired writer like John to describe. Live for this; it is the only home that lasts forever.

Revelation 14

Today’s reading is Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone. Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5; they were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c). As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

Colossians 2

oday’s reading is Colossians 2.

The church at Colossae that received this letter was not started by Paul. Colossians 1:7 plainly states that the people who received this letter from Paul had received the gospel from “... Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” As we read yesterday in chapter 1, Paul was thankful and encouraged by the faith of these Colossians. Now, here in chapter 2, he assured them that he was “contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” Though they were not churches he had founded, Paul was concerned for their spiritual growth and health (vv. 2-4). Then, in verse 5, he wrote, “I... delight to see how disciplined you are....” That phrase, “how disciplined you are” is kind of unexpected. The rest of the verse, “and how firm your faith in Christ is,” is exactly like something we’d expect Paul to write. But what did he mean by, “how disciplined you are”?

Let’s start with the word “disciplined.” Discipline means training. When you discipline your children, you are not (or shouldn’t be) punishing them for being bad; you should be teaching them that doing wrong is harmful and doing right is better. So, when Paul said, “I... delight to see how disciplined you are” he is referring to the training they had received from Epaphras (again, 1:7). Epaphras not only told them that Christ died for their sins, he taught them what it meant to live in obedience to Christ and he expected them to show obedience to Christ in their daily decisions and lives. This was and is Christ’s goal for every Christian. He commanded his apostles to “Go make disciples” (Matt 28:19) and to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:20). Epaphras not only obeyed the “make disciples” part, he obeyed the “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” part of Matthew 28:19-20. Paul was happy to hear how these believers were growing in that way spiritually.

Still, threats to their faith were lurking around. False ideas about spirituality were gaining a hearing among the believers in Colossae. That’s why in verse 2 he said that he wanted everyone to “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” It’s also why he said, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Everything they and we need spiritually is in Christ. There is no need to look to Judaism or to pagan religions. God has given us everything we need in the church. What we need to put these growth resources to work in our lives is discipline. Discipline is a form of self-control that enables a person to make progress in the Christian life. Discipline is what calls us to form daily spiritual habits--Bible reading and prayer at the least--that will nourish our faith and stimulate our growth. The fact that you’re reading this devotional probably indicates that you’ve developed the discipline of reading the scripture daily. That’s great! But, also, each believer should discipline him or herself to pray everyday, asking God to keep purifying them even more.

Grace and discipline are not enemies; instead, discipline is an expression of grace and an application of the grace we received in salvation. Without grace, we could never discipline ourselves just to become more godly but, since “all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ” (v. 3) we can use God’s grace to teach us to be more holy and Christlike. So think about an area of your life where you need to become more holy and Chrislike. What kinds of self-discipline should you use by grace to become a godly man or woman?

Ephesians 2

Today you should read Ephesians 2.

But enough about you, let’s talk about ME! This is one of my favorite chapters in all of holy scripture. That’s because it lays out so clearly and logically what God has done for us in Christ.

First, Paul described our need: we were “dead in [y]our transgressions and sins.” We were under God’s wrath by nature (v. 3b) and because we deserved his wrath for our sinful actions and lives (vv. 2-3a).

Second, he pointed us to God’s amazing nature. Despite our sin god had “great love for us” and “is rich in mercy” (both in verse 4) despite the justice we deserve for our sin. So, since we were “dead” in sins (v. 1) God “made us alive with Christ” (v. 5a) and “raised us up with Christ” (v. 6a). This refers to the spiritual life God gave to us through the gospel message. More about all this in a second....

Third, God united us with his chosen people Israel (vv. 11-22). We used to be excluded from the spiritual status the Jews (v. 12) had but now, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Christ accomplished this reconciliation for us, using one means of salvation--the cross--for both Jews and Gentiles (v. 16b) to make us into one body (v. 16a). As a result, we are God’s children just as much as any Jewish believer is (v. 19) and Christ is building us together into a holy temple (vv. 20-22).

Getting back to verses 4-9, we learn that God has done incredible things for us in Christ. First, all that he has done for us is by grace (vv. 5, 8a). God’s grace is his favor that we don’t deserve and could never earn. Sinners though we were (and are) and unable to make our own favor with God, God just gave it to us! He gifted us new life in Christ including the faith to trust him for it (v. 8a). He also will give us an eternity where he lavish us with more gifts of grace than we can possibly imagine (v. 7). But there is a purpose to all of this: Not only does God give us this redemption for his own glory; he does it to make something great out of us. Verse 10 calls us “God’s handiwork.” He wants to make works of holy art out of our sinful lives. How does he do this? By “good works” (v. 9). As we become more holy, we live more righteous lives and do unselfish things to serve the Lord, his gospel, and his people. All of this displays the greatness of God because, on our own, we are incapable of becoming masterworks of holiness. This is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Let’s shine God’s light through our good works today--by his grace, of course.

Romans 9

Today read Romans 9.

For a letter written to the church at Rome, the book of Romans has a lot of Jewish themes in it. The chapters we’ve already read talked about Jews and Gentiles explicitly, as well as discussing the Law of Moses repeatedly. Scholars have wondered why there is so much about Judaism and the Jewish people in this letter; some have speculated that the church at Rome was actually a divided church--a Jewish congregation and a Gentile congregation. Perhaps moving the church toward unity was one of Paul’s goals in writing this letter. Maybe he was laying a foundation for attempting unification when he came to Rome in person.

That’s all speculation. What is clear is that chapters 9 through 11 or Romans will address the unbelief of the nation of Israel as a whole. Today’s reading, obviously, began that discussion; however, Paul came to the discussion about Israel indirectly here in chapter 9. His true intent was to talk about election. Israel, in this chapter at least, was brought up here as an object lesson in election.

In verses 1-5 Paul discussed the many spiritual privileges that Israel as a nation had. Despite those privileges, they did not receive their Christ when he came which gave Paul great sorrow and anguish (vv. 1-2). The problem of Israel’s unbelief, however, was not a failure of God’s word (v. 6). Rather, their unbelief was the result of God’s direct, merciful choice in election (vv. 15-18). In verses 7-13, Paul demonstrated that Israel’s own history showed that God worked through election. Only Isaac was chosen between Abraham’s two sons (vv. 7-9), then only Jacob and not Esau was chosen (vv. 10-13).

From a human perspective, divine election feels unjust. Paul anticipated the objection of injustice in v. 14 and he answered it by telling us that we’re looking at it the wrong way. It is just for God to punish us all; if he chooses to have mercy on some, that is his right as the creator (vv. 15-18). If the President pardons a convicted murderer, he has not been unjust to every other murderer. He’s been merciful to one; the constitution gives him that right and he an exercise it as often or as rarely as he wants by whatever criteria he chooses. In a much greater way God, the one who created us all and the one against whom all of our sins were committed has the absolute right to save everybody or nobody or some number of people in between all or none.

The reason we have a problem with election is not because it is unjust. Rather, we have an authority problem (vv. 20-23). The doctrine of election strains our human limits and tempts us think that we know better than God does. But his ways are wiser than ours and his will is beyond our comprehension. Like everything else in the Christian life, we have to humble ourselves and trust God.

One thing that is often overlooked when discussing election is this: without election, nobody would be saved. We think the opposite; we think that, if salvation were available to anyone and everyone, then most people would get saved. But we forget that salvation requires a miraculous spiritual act--the act of opening blind eyes, turning hard hearts, humbling our pride and causing us to come to God in repentance. These are unnatural--impossible, actually--for sinners. Election exists, in part so that Christ’s death and resurrection were not in vain. Before Christ came and died, God determined that his death would matter by choosing people and predetermining that it would apply to them. Election shows us that God is more gracious than we realize, making certain to save some according to his mercy. I hope this causes your heart feel gratitude for his grace in your life and humbled that he chose you, not because of anything you’ve done but just because he chose to love you.

Romans 8

Today we come to the greatness of Romans 8.

And there is so much in this chapter that I could write more than a week’s worth of devotionals on it. I’ll stick, however, to the opening paragraph. In the previous chapters we were taught much about the Law and its relationship to humanity. On Friday, in chapter 7, we learned that God’s Law is great and holy; our problems with it are not with IT but with ourselves: “...the Law is spiritual but I am unspiritual” Paul wrote, “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14). As Christians, we are torn by our mental and spiritual desires to obey God’s law (7:21-22, 25b) and our sin nature which rebels against God’s holy commands and makes us subject to death (7:16-20, 25c). What is the remedy for this spiritual dilemma? Romans 8:1: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are “in Christ Jesus” therefore the condemnation of the law has been removed from us. That removal took place through the atonement of Christ for our sins (vv. 2-3). The result of his atonement is that you are not guilty before God because God has credited to you the righteous life Jesus lived (his “active obedience”) and the atoning death Christ died (his “passive obedience”). Verse 3b-4 says that in these words, “And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Did you notice that phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us....” If you are in Christ, you’ve kept the law fully. The law has no beef with you because Christ has fulfilled it all on your behalf. He’s met every standard spelled out there and paid every penalty for your failures (and mine).

Many Christians live with a feeling of defeat. We beat ourselves up for our sin struggles and our failures. If that’s you, please take heart today. If you’re in Christ, it’s all good. Jesus has done all that you will ever need to cancel the law’s condemnation over your life and to declare you perfect in the sight of God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” so stop condemning yourself and live in the freedom of complete forgiveness!

Romans 5

Today, read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation. It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15--2x, 16--2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15--2x, 17, 20, 21) of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21). The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ--and that his grace which saved us is available to save others. Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ--not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

Romans 4

Today, read Romans chapter 4.

In yesterday’s reading from Romans 3 we considered the central idea of Christianity which is that reconciliation with God comes as a gift from God. It is not earned by those who work for it or deserved by living a righteous life. It is a gift received by faith when a person believes in the good news.

I mentioned in my devotional yesterday that if you’ve received the gift of salvation in Christ, God is just as much your God as he was the God of Abraham, David and others. Here in Romans 4, Paul goes into more detail about that truth. Paul demonstrated from the Old Testament scriptures that Abraham was given righteousness by faith (vv. 1-3) and so was David (vv. 6-8). But--wait a minute--both David and Abraham were circumcised. That was a physical, permanent mark that they were under a special covenant with God. We Gentiles don’t have that mark--OK, some Gentile men are circumcised, but not as a religious act. So chapter 4 here anticipates the objection of Jewish people that they have a special relationship with God because they have a special covenant with God symbolized and applied to them by circumcision.

Paul points out in this chapter that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he was circumcised (vv. 9-12; see Gen 15:6, 17:9-27). Our connection to Abraham spiritually, then, was by faith not by the covenant of circumcision (vv. 16-17). Just as Abraham believed God’s promises at multiple points in his life (vv. 18-22) we must believe God’s promises are applied to us through faith in Jesus (vv. 24-25). When God declared that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” that was said for our benefit as well as his (vv. 22-23), to show us that it was not obedience to some religious or moral code but faith that gave Abraham a righteous standing before God.

What about you? Are you reading these chapters in scripture and this devotional to try to get some greater recognition from God? If so, you’re missing the point. There is nothing you can do to earn any favor it all with God. That’s true before you become a Christian and after. The death and resurrection of Jesus did everything that was necessary (vv. 24-25). Learning and obeying God’s word are how we grow in the grace God has given us, not how we get more grace or deserve his favor. Whatever you are doing as a Christian--learning God’s word, praying, serving God, giving--keep it up, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to earn God’s favor; that’s actually displeasing to him. Do it because you love him and want to grow to be more like him.

Romans 3

Today’s reading is Romans 3.

On Friday we read in Romans 2 that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, he acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). This puts Gentiles like us on the same level with the Jewish people; God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name. Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand--there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

Matthew 19

Today’s reading is Matthew 19.

Compared to doing whatever you want to do and whatever the culture around you allows you to do, following Jesus is hard! If you want to follow Jesus you:

  • shoudn’t get divorced unless your spouse is unfaithful (vv. 1-10).
  • would be better off staying single, but that requires something unusual that isn’t for most people (vv. 11-12).
  • need to be childish in your faith, something that is really difficult to do (vv. 13-15).
  • must follow Jesus absolutely, even if he commands you to give everything you have away (vv. 16-24).
  • have to rely on God because what Jesus requires is impossible apart from his grace (vv. 25-26).

Quite a discouraging list, yes?

But what rewards Christ promised to those who trust him and follow him in obedience (vv. 27-30). This kind of submission to Christ may cause you to fall far behind in the rat race of human life. Human life, however, is over quickly; eternity, ...um..., lasts forever. Jesus promised more than fair compensation to those who follow him in this life. According to verse 29 you will get eternal life and far more, far better stuff in eternity when you actually have the spiritual capacity to enjoy created things without worshipping them.

Following Jesus in this way might make you feel like a loser in this life but expectations for this life are upside down. As verse 30 put it, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Matthew 15

Today read Matthew 15.

Not too many people have the guts to correct Jesus for good reasons. Being the God-man, he never makes mistakes and, therefore, never needs correcting. But here in Matthew 15 Jesus was corrected by a very unlikely person in verses 21-28.

First of all, she was a woman (v. 22). Although Christ himself talked directly to women and treated them with the same dignity he gave to men, that was not customary in his culture. So, many in Jesus’ world would have ignored or even rebuked her for what she said.

Second, she was “a Canaanite” (v. 22). Since Jesus was in the Gentile land, “the region of Tyre and Sidon” it is not surprising that there were Gentiles around. Despite her background, she came knowledgeably to Jesus calling him, “Lord, Son of David.” Clearly she had not only heard about Jesus, she had some insight into his significance.

I wrote earlier that she “corrected” Jesus and we’ll get to that in a minute. As you know, many times correction comes with a side order of superiority. People correct people often because they think they’re better informed or smarter or just better in some way than the one they are correcting. This woman did not have that spirit at all when she corrected Jesus. Instead she came asking, “have mercy on me!” (v. 22). She later kneeled before Jesus before correcting him (v. 25). As we’ll see, she had a deep, appropriate sense of humility in her approach to Jesus.

But she did correct him. Jesus did not respond to her request to deliver her daughter from demon possession (v. 23a). So, the disciples were quite annoyed with her (v. 23b) and wanted Jesus to get rid of her. Instead of rebuking her or continuing to ignore her or send her away, Jesus tenderly told her that his mission prevented him from helping her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). This response did not dissuade her one bit. Instead, she kneeled and asked for his help (v. 25). Jesus responded with a proverb, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (v. 26). This is where she corrected him: “‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’” (v. 27). What a quick, agile mind she had! In an instant, she grasped the significance of Jesus’ enigmatic proverb, embraced the implications of it, and responded in kind. Let me break that down for you:

  • She grasped the significance of his proverb. Jesus used an analogy that elevated Jewish people and denigrated Gentiles. The “children” in this analogy are the children of Israel. So Jesus’ proverb was an indirect way of saying that she had no right to ask for his help since he was sent to Jews not Gentiles. Her response in verse 27 showed that she understood his meaning.
  • She embraced the implications of his proverb. Dogs were not thought of a great pets in Jesus’ day; instead, they were considered vile, scavenging creatures. That’s who Jesus compared her too--filthy, disgusting (from their perspective) dogs. She understood that this was a put-down.
  • She responded in kind. What I mean is that she entered into the proverb and in her response showed Jesus how his own analogy proved that he could help her if he wanted to help her. Sure, the dogs don’t sit at the table and eat off the good plates like the king’s kids do. But the kids are sloppy and drop stuff on the floor and dogs are quick to scarf up whatever they drop. So despite what Jesus said, the dogs do get to eat. They don’t eat in the same way that the king’s kids do, but those who are quick and crafty can benefit from the excess that the kids don’t eat.

Her correction of Jesus was not a rebuke nor was she pointing out that Jesus had made some kind of error. Instead, she was showing her faith in the deep mercy of God. Throughout the Old Testament, some Gentiles experienced the overflow of God’s grace. Naaman did when Elisha healed him of leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar did when God restored his sanity. The people of Nineveh did when they repented at the preaching of Jonah. Whether she knew any of these examples or not, she had deep faith in Christ and it showed in her response to Jesus. Jesus acted the way that he did toward her so that her faith would be seen by all. Her example was a preview, a foretaste, of God’s saving grace to us Gentiles.

This passage, then, should lift our hearts to worship God for his amazing grace and mercy. Although there was no covenant reason (like the Jews had) for Christ to offer us salvation, he intended for you and me to sit at the table with Abraham and his descendants and receive God’s kindness in salvation. This passage should also remind us that there is nobody on earth who deserves salvation less than you do. None of us deserves salvation; since we have received it by God’s grace, we should eagerly offer it to everyone, whether we think of them as dogs or as children.

Psalms 4-6

Today let’s read Psalms 4-6.

In Psalm 5, David cried out to the Lord for help and waited “expectantly” for the Lord to answer (vv. 1-3). His reason for expecting the Lord to answer his prayer was God’s righteousness (vv. 4-6). He is displeased with wickedness (v. 4a), does not welcome evil people (v. 4b), won’t let the arrogant stand (v. 5a), hates all who do wrong (v. 5b), destroys liars (v. 6a), and detests the bloodthirsty and deceitful (v. 6b). In just a few verses there David cast a very wide net, ruling out answers to prayer for all kinds of sinners.

Of course, David was a sinner himself. So how could he be so confident that God would answer his prayers while refusing everyone else? The answer is in verse 6: “But I, by your great love, can come into your house.” Very simply, God had graciously chosen him. Because God chose to love David, David could come before the Lord in prayer and in worship.

God’s electing love was not restricted to David. It is the sole reason you want to know God. As we prepare to gather for worship and the Lord’s supper this morning, remember this. It is not your perfect performance of righteousness that causes God to hear your prayers, welcome your worship, or receive you at his table. In reality, you and I are as guilty before the Lord as any of the sinners David mentioned in verses 4-6. But, because of God’s great love, we are forgiven in Christ, welcomed in Him, and loved. Let this grace of God encourage you and prepare you to worship as we gather this morning before the Lord.

1 Chronicles 19–20, 1 Peter 1, Jonah 3, Luke 8

Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Chronicles 19–20, 1 Peter 1, Jonah 3, Luke 8. 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 Jonah 3.

Jonah’s message to Ninevah was simple: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” There is no call to repentance and no offer of grace to the repentant, for reasons we’ll see tomorrow. Yet the people did repent, including the king of Ninevah (vv. 5-6). When the king issued his decree calling for everyone to repent, we see why he called for repentance: “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (v. 9). And that’s exactly what happened: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” 

I have a couple of thoughts about all of this. First, don’t worry so much about having the perfect presentation when you give the gospel message or explain God’s truth to someone else. By all means do the best that you can, but understand that it is not your perfect presentation or your persuasive ability that will matter. If it is God’s message, God will use it to do his work. Just be faithful to what God has told us to say.

Second, repentance is always implied in any message of judgment God gives. The reason that the major and minor prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) exist is because God wanted to call his people to repentance. Though his words to them were direct, even harsh at times, they were designed to redeem people, not injure them emotionally. Keep this in mind when the Holy Spirit brings painful conviction into your life or a friend (or even an enemy) brings an ugly confrontation to your door. If you receive truth and repent at the message, God’s forgiving and restoring grace is right there to meet you. 

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 http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.