2 Chronicles 27-28, Zechariah 10

Today we’re reading 2 Chronicles 27-28 and Zechariah 10.

This devotional is about Zechariah 10.

One of the metaphors that repeats throughout scripture is that people are like sheep. Like sheep, people are given to wandering off on their own. They will follow the voice of a leader--a shepherd--they trust but without a shepherd, they tend to wander into trouble. A good leader of people, then, both provides a clear voice for the people to follow and watches out for them to keep them from straying too far from the group. When sheep stray too far from the herd, they are vulnerable to predators and to accidents. A good shepherd leads his sheep and watches out for them.

Here in Zechariah 10:3 God expressed anger toward the leaders of his people. The reason for his anger is that these shepherds give voice to lies. Verse 2 says, “The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.” The result of these false, destructive, deceitful instructions was that “the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.”

God promised to provide the leadership that the kings and priests and prophets were not providing. Verse 3c-d says, “the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah....” But notice the result of that leadership in the next phrase of verse 3, “and make them like a proud horse in battle.” The metaphor changes, then, from the pool being like wandering sheep to becoming strong, able horses in battle. This suggests that God’s leadership takes us when we are weak, foolish, and vulnerable but develops us into strong, capable creatures.

Jesus was the shepherd God had in mind for this as we see in verse 4a, “From Judah will come the cornerstone” which is one of the images used to describe Christ. Christ has become the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). He is the cornerstone on which God’s people and our lives are built (1 Peter 2:6-7). Part of the leadership he provides is to give undershepherds (1 Peter 5:2-3) to his people to serve the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). The elders of our church, then, are here to provide you with the spiritual leadership and nourishment you need to make you strong and able to serve the Lord like a warhorse in the spiritual battles we face in this life.

Thank you for spending the time to read the Old Testament with me this year and to mediate with me on the meaning of these texts each day. I trust this is helpful to your life and that you’re using the word to grow in your faith.

But be sure to put what we’ve been learning into practice in your life. This is the goal of spiritual growth--to make us useful to God and his cause. What have you learned as a believer this year? How have you grown in your faith? Where are you serving the Lord more capably than before?

Judges 13, Jeremiah 26

Today we’re reading Judges 13 and Jeremiah 26.

This devotional is about Judges 13.

Although they lived in evil times, Samson’s parents certainly feared the Lord. Their reverence for God is visible throughout this chapter. One quick lesson we can take from them is that even in the most evil days there is always someone who loves God and lives by his commands. This is called a remnant in other scripture passages; just as carpet is measured, cut, and used but some is left behind as a remnant, so God always leaves behind some who believe in him.

Anyway, Manoah’s wife received a revelation from someone who “looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (v. 6). After her husband prayed for this one to return (v. 8), God sent this heavenly messenger to both of them (vv. 9-14). Manoah, apparently, thought he was talking talking to a prophet or something because he offered the messenger food (vv. 15-16) and “did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord” (v. 16e). When he asked this messenger for his name he was told, “It is beyond understanding” (v. 18). This should have been a strong clue that the “man” they were talking to was the Lord God himself. It wasn’t, however, until “the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame” (vv. 19d-20b). At that point, Manoah and his wife knew what was going on. They fell down in worship (v. 20c) and said in verse 22, “‘We are doomed to die...! We have seen God!’” Notice that neither God nor the writer of Judges disputed Manoah’s interpretation. His wife knew that they wouldn’t die (v. 23) but nobody refuted the statement that they had “seen God.” Why not? Because this is one of a few places in the Old Testament where God appeared in human form.

Theologians call these kind of visitations by God “theophanies” “Theo-“ means “God” and the rest of the word comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” This certainly is a theophany; however, it is more correct to call it a “Christophany,” which when Christ, the 2nd person of God, shows up in human form. The fact that this is a theophany is easy to see in verse 22 in the phrase, “We have seen God!” But how do we know that this was Christ and not God the Father or the Holy Spirit?

The answer is that Christ is called “the Word” in John 1:1 which describes his divine role in the Trinity. Christ’s role is to reveal God, to be the mediator between God and creation. Anytime God reveals himself directly to humanity, then, Christ is the one making that revelation. Colossians 1:15-16 told us that “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” These passages teach the communication role that Christ plays in the Three Persons of God.

I wrote, regarding Joshua 5, that the “‘commander of the Lord’s army’ was Jesus himself but I didn’t explain why I believe it was Jesus and not the Father or the Spirit. Today’s devotional allowed me to return to this subject and explain a bit more about how God revealed himself in Christ in the Old Testament. Note that Jesus was not yet fully human; that didn’t happen until the virgin conception. But he appeared in human form as part of his role as the Word, the Logos, the communication of God to us.

Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76

Today’s readings are Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76.

This devotional is about Exodus 28.

Exodus 28 described the uniform that the priests were to wear. Most of the garments that made up this uniform were for all the priests when they ministered in the Holy Place (vv. 43). Some pieces were reserved for only the high priest to wear (v. 15). Besides a description of each piece in the uniform, this chapter tells us the following:

  • The purpose of these garments was to give them “dignity and honor” (vv. 2, 40).
  • The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones and warn over the priest’s heart (vv. 9-12).
  • The breast piece was designed to make decisions for Israel and that was to be warn “over his heart before the Lord” (v. 30).

The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones which were warn over the priest’s heart. This should have helped him be conscious of what he already knew which is that he represented the people before God. Every time he put on the ephod, he had something tangible to remind him of his responsibility for all of Israel’s people. Likewise, every time he put on the breast piece, he had a physical reminder that God was the king of Israel and he was making the decisions for his people. Still, the best human priest could only imperfectly remember the people and his responsibility to them and the Lord and his way of revealing his will.

Aaron was a man, just like every other priest. As a man, he felt responsible for the work he was supposed to do. But he also experienced the concerns of everyday life--anxiety, perhaps, fear, loneliness, doubt, greed, envy, lust, and more. There were some times and some priests, I’m sure, where very little thought was given to the people or to the Lord’s will because the priest was preoccupied with his own stuff.

Jesus, our perfect priest, however, did not suffer from the sinful and/or selfish concerns that every other priest wrestled with as he did his duty for God. Jesus needed no reminder that his priestly ministry was for the people. The Bible tells us that his people were chosen by name to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was able to reveal God’s will like no other priest because he was God in the flesh. He did not need the Urim and Thummim over his heart to know and be conscious of God’s will; he knew God’s will intimately because he was the one willing it. Likewise, he did not need a reminder of the people whose sins he atoned for because he knew perfectly and completely each one of us. As the perfect man, because of his divinity, he was and is able to be our perfect priest without being distracted by his own human “stuff.” Instead of bearing a category representing us over his heart, he made atonement for and intercedes for us because we are in his heart.

Praise Jesus for fulfilling the symbols in this passage perfectly as our great high priest.

Revelation 5

Today’s reading is Revelation 5.

Yesterday, in Revelation 4, John described to us his vision of God, in heaven, on his throne, being worshipped. Here in Revelation 5, John saw that God is holding a scroll (v. 1). However, the scroll was sealed with no one worthy to open it (vv. 2-4). No one, that is, except Jesus who appeared in verse 5.

It is interesting to contrast the description of Christ in verse 5 and John’s description of his appearance in verse 6. In verse 5, one of the 24 elders we read about in Revelation 4:4 described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” This description, plus the statement that he “has triumphed” leads us to expect someone whose appearance is fierce, majestic, and powerful. Instead when John looked at him in verse 6 he saw, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” As if lambs aren’t weak and defenseless enough, this one looks like a dead lamb--one that died violently--hardly someone you would expect to be worthy to open the scroll of God’s revelation.

And yet, that’s what he began to do when he took the scroll from God the Father’s hand in verse 7. Why was he able to do this? The elders and living creatures told us in their “new song” in verses 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain.” The appearance of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb did not disqualify him from opening the scroll; it qualified him TO open the scroll. Why? Verse 9b: “...with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The triumph (v. 5b) that qualified Jesus was not that he defeated all enemies in battle but that he gave himself to rescue us from God’s wrath for our sins.

The result of his sacrifice was stated in verse 10: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This is why Jesus came. To create a new kingdom, composed of people everywhere that Christ redeemed, to enjoy ruling with him in his kingdom on this earth.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you understand that forgiveness of sins is just the first of many blessings that Christ secured for you by his death on the cross? Are you waiting expectantly for his kingdom to come and preparing for it by storing up treasure there?

Revelation 1

Today’s reading is Revelation 1.

Hey, if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You are one book of the New Testament away from reading the whole thing in 2018. That’s quite an accomplishment; I hope it has been a great benefit to your spiritual life.

As I mentioned in previous devotionals on John’s writings in the New Testament, hardly anyone on earth knew Jesus like John knew him. John was called by the Lord to be part of the inner circle of disciples along with Peter and James. They heard and saw things that others who followed Jesus didn’t see and hear--including the other apostles.

So if anyone who was looking at the end of his life (v. 9) would be overjoyed to see Jesus again, it would be John. When he saw Christ, however, he did not run to embrace the Lord like a friend greets a friend. Instead, when he saw Jesus, John “fell at his feet as though dead.” Why?

Well, just read the description of Jesus’s appearance in verses 12-16. Note the word “like” in these verses. That word tells us that John’s descriptions of Christ were not literal--he didn’t literally have “blazing fire” in his eyes. Instead, John is trying to visually describe for us how utterly brilliant, authoritative, and terrifying Jesus looked. This is why John collapsed before him; because he saw Jesus glorified with even greater glory in his appearance than he had after the resurrection. John collapsed in fear, in all-consuming awe of the glory of Jesus. It was the most fearful and yet majestic and beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Yet Jesus, powerful and glorified as he was, still retained his gentleness and grace toward the disciple that he loved. In verse 17b he said, “Do not be afraid” before identifying himself as Christ in verse 17c-18. The message that John would receive in this letter and the visions he would share were all about Jesus (v. 1a) to glorify him and to edify his church (vv. 11, 20). And the vision that Jesus wanted us to retain in our minds of him was the Jesus that John described in this passage--powerful, fierce, glorious, and yet gracious.

For this devotional today, I hope for nothing more than to stir up your heart and mind in worship for our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one we love. He is the one we are waiting for. It is his kingdom that we long for and work for so that we can see him and worship him. Let the vision of him described in this chapter humble you in worship before him. But let it also encourage you to speak up for him and point others to him. The one John described in this chapter is the one who said, All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples....” (Matt 28:18-19). Let’s keep doing that knowing that we are serving this One, the person so majestically described here in Revelation 1.

John 8

Today’s reading is John 8.

This chapter presents to us an extended argument between Jesus and the Pharisees (v. 13a). The argument began with a promise of Christ in verse 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about the implications of that promise. Without Christ, very little in this world makes sense. Why are we here? What happens after we die? Is this life all that there is? If so, why should I do anything other than what I want to do? Why should I do anything for others if it does not benefit me? Why should I respect their rights and avoid hurting others? But, if I just do what I want, then do I feel unfulfilled, even guilty? If this life is not all that there is, how can I know that?

Life is maddeningly strange without Christ and nothing really matters but your own pleasure, but living for pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. Jesus came along and said, “Whoever follows me... will have the light of life.” Why? Because he is “the light of the world.” Knowing him, believing him, receiving his teaching and obeying it give you hope for the future and purpose for this life.

But how can you know if Jesus’s promise is true before you commit to it? There are several ways but the main one in this passage is the witness of the Father (vv. 14-30). Those who knew God (like Abraham) looked forward to the coming of Christ and prophesied about it (vv. 33-41, 54-59). Those who know God now recognize the authentic word of God in Jesus the Son (vv. 42-47). This is why the gospel brings conviction of sin and stirs the heart of those who hear it, even if they don’t receive it. It is the witness of the Father to the light-giving person of the Son.

If you’re reading this and, for some reason, have never received Jesus, this is God’s offer to you. Trust in Jesus, follow him, and he will give you the light that brings life (v. 12c). Only he can do this because only he is “the light of the world” (v. 12b).

For those of us who have received Jesus, this is why we must continually remind ourselves to trust God’s word in obedience instead of believing the lies of the devil and the world around us. They are not legitimate sources of light; following them means “walking in darkness.” Jesus rescued us from that, but we must continue to follow him to have his light illumine our path through this world.

John 7

Today we’re reading John 7.

People often become skeptical when what they “know” (actually, what they believe or assume) to be true is challenged. You and I have assumptions that seem true to us and seem to have served us well throughout our lives. Those assumptions seem “true” to us and they affect how we process anything that we hear and see. When someone challenges those assumptions, we respond defensively with skepticism. Skepticism rises because it seems to conflict with something we think has already been proven true. The more important the principles are to you, the more skeptical and defensive you get when they are challenged.

John 7 shows us this over and over again. Jesus’ brothers are skeptical about him (vv. 1-9), the common people tended to be more open to Jesus (v. 12a, 40-41a) but many of them had suspicions about him (v. 12b, 15, vv. 25-27, 42b-44). The religious leaders were very threatened by Jesus and his teaching, so they were looking for him (v. 11) and were desperately trying to discredit him (vv. 20, and silence him (vv. 19-20, 30-32).

What was Jesus’ answer to all of this skepticism? “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (v. 17). In other words, the skepticism of the people indicated an unbelief in God. Those who were seeking God genuinely, eagerly trying to know him and serve him would instantly recognize Jesus and believe in him. But to eagerly seek after God requires his grace. He must lift the blindness of unbelief from one’s eyes in order to see the light of God’s glory in Christ.

This is why we must pray for those we want to see saved, in addition to giving them the gospel. The gospel is an immediate, direct challenge to anyone’s belief about God, about the world, about their own right and ability to choose. So, we must pray.

It also reminds us of our absolute need to submit to Christ always in all things. Many things the Word commands us to do are a direct challenge what we want, what we believe, and what we think we need. Our skepticism about believing, obeying, and living by faith in God is an expression of unbelief. So put aside your unbelief and just trust God--then you will find out that Jesus is the truth, not the other way around.

John 1

oday’s reading is John 1.

I have often puzzled over and even lamented John’s use of “Word” in John 1:1. It is clear to me that John 1:1 and 14 indicate that Jesus is the “Word” and therefore “was God” (v. 1). But I have talked with enough people who don’t think it is clear that, at times, I wish John has written something like, “In the beginning was the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son and Spirit were with God and each of them is God.” That phrasing would help us with the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

But, that’s not what John wrote. Instead he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why did John use the title, “the Word” to refer to Jesus?

First of all, “Jesus” refers to the man--the human named Jesus. The Son of God was not called “Jesus” until he was born, so it would be incorrect and improper for John to say, “In the beginning was Jesus....”

Although John did want to establish the deity of Christ, that purpose--in this passage, at least--was secondary to describing the function Jesus performs in the Trinity. By calling him “the Word,” John taught us that Jesus’ role was communication. This is why he was the one who created (v. 3) and why he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14a). He did these things because his “job” in the Trinity is to communicate, to reveal God.

That’s a very important role because verse 18a says, “No one has ever seen God....” We know the Moses saw God and that Isaiah saw a vision of God. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). So what does John mean in verse 18 when he wrote, “No one has ever seen God...?” The answer is that no one has ever seen God in his essence, as he truly is. God is invisible (Col 1:15), so anyone who “sees” him has seen only a manifestation of God, a presentation that God has chosen to make, not the true essence of God. Nobody has seen that.

Except Jesus, for verse 18 goes on to say, “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

It would be impossible for us to know God or understand a thing about him on our own. Unless God choses to reveal himself, all we can do is see the result of his existence--creation and his power--not God himself. But God has chosen to reveal himself “at many times and in various ways” (Heb 1:1) and Jesus is the ultimate expression of that.

Want to know what God would say about anything? See what Jesus said about it. Want to know what God would do in any situation? See what Jesus did in that situation.

Anything that is true about God is true about Jesus because Jesus is God and he came to reveal God to us. So, give thanks for God’s personal, powerful revelation of himself in our Lord Jesus. And, watch as we read through the Gospel of John to see what God reveals about himself through Christ.

1 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions. Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus. Why? Because he “gave himself as a ransom.” Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “...for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is exclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way--Jesus--so he is the exclusive way to God. But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth--Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives....” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man--our Lord--Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Hebrews 7

Here we go with today’s reading, Hebrews 7.

We are far removed from the world of animal sacrifices in the temple and the priests who offer them but this letter was written to “Hebrews” not to “North Americans.” Priests and their work was important to Hebrews because their law and their worship revolved around the temple and its sacrifices.

Imagine that someone told you to move whatever you had in terms of money out of dollars and into something new like Bitcoin. I am not recommending that you do that nor am I giving you any financial advice at all. But if someone whose financial acumen you respected told you to move to Bitcoin, I think you still might have a hard time doing that. Dollars are all we’ve ever known, right? So could it really be a good idea to move away from all of that?

That’s sort of what it was like to tell a Jewish person to forget about the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews in this chapter argues to them that there is a priesthood that is older than Aaron’s priesthood in the law of Moses. To return to our analogy, then, the author of Hebrews is not arguing for Bitcoin but for gold. Gold has been used for currency long before money came along and the value of our money used to be based on gold. Spiritually, then, Jesus is less like Bitcoin and more like a return to the gold standard. His priesthood, symbolized by Melchizedek, predated and was superior to Aaron’s priesthood (vv. 1-10), was spoken about during Aaron’s priesthood (v. 15-17, 20-21), and is superior to Aaron’s priesthood because he represented a better covenant than Moses’ covenant (v. 22).

The Hebrews who read this letter were drawn in faith to the promises and person of Jesus but they were uncertain about leaving Judaism behind. Judaism felt like a reliable currency for them; it wasn’t, really, but it was all they knew. The author of Hebrews was concerned that his readers were trying to keep a foot in both worlds; that is, they wanted to be Christian and Jewish at the same time. His warnings, one of which we looked at yesterday, were written to urge them not to turn their backs on Jesus to return to Judaism. Now, here in chapter 7, he urges them to turn their backs on Judaism and go completely with Jesus.

Verses 23-28 brings this discussion of priests to a point where we Gentiles can see the importance of Jesus’ priesthood. Verses 24-25 tell us that Christ is a permanent priest. Since there is no longer any “changing of the guard” now that Christ is our priest, we can be certain that our salvation is eternal because “he always lives to intercede for” us (v. 25b). In addition to being our permanent priest, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect. His perfect moral nature (v. 26) means that he is always qualified morally to be our priest. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, too (v. 27b-28), our sins are atoned for permanently.

Our eternal salvation is secure eternally because our priest is permanent and perfect. Although we have not yet been perfected, we don’t need to worry that our sins will cause us to fall out of God’s favor because Jesus’ perfect sacrificed atoned for all our sins--including those in our future and his perfect priesthood causes him to intercede on our behalf perpetually. If you struggle with assurance of your faith, the priesthood of Christ is just the doctrine for you. God gave us the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer and the perfect person to speak to God on our behalf when we sin.

Hebrews 5

These chapters in Hebrews are short--aren’t they--compared to Matthew? So, today’s short chapter to read is Hebrews 5.

The comparison of Jesus to the OT priests started in chapter 4 and continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.

The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).

Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task? Verses 7-9 answer that question. I wrote provocatively yesterday that “Jesus had it easy” but I’ve felt that way many times as a Christian. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.

The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of this nonsense. As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus felt the power of temptation more.. uh... powerfully than me because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like I often do. Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in his earthly life. So Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine. Verse 7 describes a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross--not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils. Now the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin. That included physical death but also spiritual death--separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently--in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too--for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request! Think about this the next time God answers your prayer with a “no”--Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking for something that God was not willing to grant. Why? Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Just as you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term, so God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father.

He is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries. Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest? Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know? Be encouraged; whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father. There’s nobody better or more qualified to do it.

Hebrews 4

Happy Valentine’s Day! Read Hebrews 4.

Jesus had it easy, right? Sure, he had to contend with the limitations of human nature during his days on earth. But since he was God he did not have to worry about being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He knew what a liar Satan is and how sin offers us pleasure that it cannot ultimately deliver, at least not for long. So it was easy for him to live the faithful life that chapter 3 talked about, right? At least, it was easier for him than it is for us, it seems. So the statement here in 4:15 that our high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” feels a bit hollow, yes?

Well..., think about it this way: imagine you are running a marathon-26.2 miles. Some people drop out after a mile, some after five miles, some quit 10 miles in, and so on. You’ve done some training and are in the best shape of your life, but from mile 10 onward your legs are just screaming to you, “Stop it!” You have the ability to quit at any time. You can drop out of the race anywhere. So who feels punishment of running the most, the person who completes the entire race or the one who drops out after a mile? Who feels the discomfort of high winds the most, the runner who quits at mile 5 or the one who finishes the race? What about the hot sun? Who gets burned the worst, the runner who quits after the finish line or the one who quits at mile 15? Whose foot blisters hurt the most? Who suffers most from the internal arguments that your brain engages in to try to get you to quit? Of course, all of these problems are felt most acutely by the runner who completes the race. Whether he or she is in better shape than you or not, the toll of the race is felt most fully by the one who completes it.

Similarly, when I was in seminary my systematic theology professor said that only the one who withstands temptation completely knows the full force of it. If you give into temptation before the temptation goes away, you haven’t experienced the full intensity of it. So Jesus, the “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (v. 15b) is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15a) fully because he successfully endured every scheme the devil had to throw at him. Sure Jesus had a perfect nature but so did Adam and he quit after the first half mile. Jesus, however, endured every temptation obediently. He finished the race so he felt the difficulty of it more than anyone else who has ever lived.

This is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16). You may be tempted to throw your faith away (v. 14c) at some point in your life; in fact, you probably will be tempted to do that. But the best thing you can do when you feel tempted to sin in any way is to go to Jesus in prayer. Many of our failures to live a holy life by resisting temptation are due to relying completely on ourselves and our willpower instead of coming to Christ for the mercy and grace he offers. So, go to him in prayer when your faith is weak and your desire to sin is strong. He’s finished the marathon, he knows what it is like, and he will help you if you ask him for it.

Matthew 9

Today we’re reading Matthew chapter 9.

Jesus accomplished a remarkable amount in just 3 and a half years of ministry. Not only did he save the human race from eternal destruction, he left behind a committed group of people to spread that message around the world. In addition, he taught truth in memorable ways so that both his words and his methods of instruction are still studied today.

A man like this must have worked a hundred hours a week or more, right? Maybe. The gospel writers certainly didn’t tell us that Jesus took vacations. But he lived in an age before machines, so he didn’t ride a plane, a train, or an automobile. Instead, he walked everywhere he went. You and I would consider that a waste of time, but that’s what he did. Jesus also lived before electric power so the things he did happened mainly from sunrise to sunset. This means that he took time to rest on a daily basis.

Going further, we never read of Christ being in a rush. He was always on the move, but never in a hurry. Although he was aware of the time of his death, he never worried about the clock running out before he accomplished what he needed to do. Yet he was aware of the great needs around him. As we read today in verses 35-36, Jesus busily taught and healed but there were so many people with needs and Christ “had compassion on them” (v. 36). What was his reaction to this? It had two aspects.

First, Christ called the disciples to pray (v. 38a). Instead of thinking that he had too much to accomplish to spend time praying, he himself withdrew frequently to pray and he called on the disciples to pray in response to the great needs he saw around him.

Second, Christ prayed for workers (v. 38b). His solution to the vast needs around him was not to work more or pick up the pace of his labor but to ask God to multiply the number of laborers. This is wise. Who can accomplish more--10 men working 50 hours a week or 500 men working 10 hours a week? The math is easy; multiplying workers is far more efficient and effective than working longer at a frantic pace.

Like everything Jesus did, we would be wise to follow his example. When we’re too busy to pray, we’re doing it wrong. When we try to get more done by working more hours at a breakneck pace, we’re doing it wrong. This is true in all of life but especially and more importantly in ministry. Wherever you’re serving the Lord, if you feel overworked and burdened by God’s work, it’s time to start asking God for helpers. Then, when he provides them, take time to train them well then use them wherever they can make the greatest impact for God’s work.

This is my mission for 2017 as your pastor: to do less ministry myself and more praying for and training God’s people. Want in? I’ll be talking more about this soon....

Matthew 4

Today we’re reading Matthew 4.

In this chapter, Jesus was tempted to sin by the devil (vv. 1-11), moved from Nazareth--where he grew up--to Capernaum after John was put into prison (vv. 12-16), and began preaching (v. 17, 23-25) and assembling his disciples (vv. 18-22). Jesus’ temptation accomplished at least two important things:

First, it confirmed his holy nature. Adam was created in God’s image so he was holy and sinless, yet he chose to disobey to become a sinner. Jesus was God so he was holy in his divine nature and had lived a sinless life to that point. In order to become the second Adam, he had to continue to choose not to sin. This period of testing between his baptism (chapter 3) and the beginning of his preaching (4:17) demonstrated that he was morally qualified to be our substitute and to begin calling people to repent from their sins and worship him as king.

Secondly, Christ’s temptation left for us a pattern--a case study--for how to defeat temptation. Today, I want to focus on one aspect of that. Satan is a very clever creature. He allowed Christ to wait in the desert for forty days without food so that he would be depleted physically before tempting him to use his divine power to make food. Christ could have easily justified doing what Satan encouraged him to do. There was no virtue, no salvation to be found in him if he died of starvation, so he had a good reason intellectually to justify miraculously turning those stones into bread. And there was nothing morally wrong with miraculously making food. Jesus would later feed thousands of people by miraculously multiplying loaves and fish. Among all the lessons in this chapter, reflect on this one: many temptations in life will come to you when you are weak. They will seem harmless--who would be harmed if Christ turned stones in the desert into bread? Also, temptations will often seem justifiable. The challenge for each of in the moment of temptation is to trust God’s word, his promise, even if the sin seems harmless and totally justified. God calls us to trust him by doing the right thing even when the wrong thing seems like the best or only option we have.

Matthew 2

Today’s reading is Matthew 2.

From the beginning of his life Jesus was met with extreme mixed reactions. He was born in Bethlehem, a town famous for being the hometown of David but with nothing else admirable or prestigious about it. His parents did not live in Bethlehem, so he was born in very humble surroundings. Although his birthplace had been prophesied to be in Bethlehem (v. 6), nobody in Israel was expecting him to be born there when he was. With the exception of a handful of people, God’s chosen people were unprepared for the coming of Christ and unaware of his arrival.

Even though people in Israel were unprepared for and largely unaware of Christ’s birth, others outside of Israel were aware of it. Verse 1 told us that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” That statement is not specific enough to identify what country these men came from, but they were definitely Gentiles, not Jewish men. Verse 2 told us that it was astrology that drew them to look for Christ for they said, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Old Testament condemns the use of astrology (see Deut 4:19 or Isaiah 47:13-14) and it is not one of God’s methods of revelation. But, just as God allowed the medium at Endor to conjure up a vision of Samuel from the dead for Saul (1 Sam 28), he used a star to draw these men to the birthplace of Jesus. And their attitude and reason for coming honored Jesus because they said, “We... have come to worship him” (v. 2).

Once Herod heard from the Magi, his reaction was extreme. He first desired to use the Magi to hunt down and kill Jesus (vv. 8, 12, 16a). When God warned the Magi not to tell Herod where Jesus was, he brutally murdered the baby boys in and around Bethlehem (v. 16). It is the identity of Jesus that draws out these extreme reactions in people. Because he is God in a human body, most people want nothing to do with him or to extinguish any memory of his existence. But those whom God has called and blessed with faith want to worship him. These reactions, obviously, exist to this day. God protected Jesus from all harm until the time came to harm him by crucifixion for our redemption.

This passage also shows us another theme that is true of Christ. In addition to sparking extreme, mixed reactions in those who meet him, those who accept and worship Jesus often come from unexpected backgrounds. It seems natural to expect that “the chief priests and teachers of the law” (v.4) that Herod consulted would be interested in seeing Jesus. But, although they knew where to look for him, they took no effort to come to his cradle. Foreigners who looked for signs in the stars came to worship Jesus but those who were experts in the prophesies about him couldn’t be bothered. This is the unexpected grace of God. God calls and saves people who seem unlikely to embrace Jesus while leaving religiously-oriented people in indifference and unbelief. This gives us a good reason to thank God who saved us in Christ when we were unlikely to be saved. It also reminds us not to decide for ourselves who would and would not be interested in Christ. If God has chosen him or her and is working in his or her heart, he might use you to save someone you’d never expect to trust him.

Matthew 1

Today’s reading is Matthew 1

Every story has a beginning and we read the beginning of Jesus’ story today in Matthew 1. But think about some of the biographies you may have read. They typically begin with the birth and early life of the person whose life is being profiled. You learn about that person and his or her parents and that’s about it. If any other ancestor is mentioned, that person must have been famous or contributed to the story of the person in the biography.

The four Gospels of the New Testament are not biographies. They focus on Jesus, of course, but with a much greater purpose than any biography ever written. Yet Matthew spent the first seventeen verses of his Gospel tracing the family tree of Christ all the way back to Abraham. Why?

There are several reasons for this. One is that Matthew is a Jewish man writing to Jewish people. The Old Testament contains several genealogies in order to connect God’s people to God’s promises over many generations. A second reason Matthew included this long genealogy was to connect Jesus through Joseph to David. This was necessary because God had promised Messiah would come from David’s line.

I want you to consider a third reason why Matthew included this genealogy: to establish Jesus Christ as a real member of the human race. Right after this genealogy, Matthew described the virgin conception of Jesus (vv. 18-25). This was the first of many, many miracles connected to the life of Christ. Were it not for these genealogical records--which could be checked--many people might dismiss Jesus as a mythological character rather than a real person who lived in human history. In fact, people throughout history and today try to do this! They try to deny that Jesus existed as a historical person, despite Matthew (and Luke’s) attempts to trace the ancestry of Christ, specific the name of his parents, the place and circumstances of his birth, and tell us enough historical facts to certify his place in humanity. The truth of the matter is that we have far more evidence that Jesus existed than we do for guys like Plato and Socrates and others. Nobody denies that they were genuine historical people. But because of the uniqueness of Jesus, the testimonies about his divine power, and his death and resurrection for us, unbelievers would like to relegate him to the land of mythology.

As we start our journey through the New Testament this year, I hope it will strengthen your faith and cause us all to greater understanding, worship, devotion, and obedience to Jesus. That begins today by understanding that Jesus is real. The things he did and said happened in human history and have been recorded in scripture with enough historical detail to erase any questions about him. People may try to deny his virgin birth or his healings, or that he rose from the dead but only a fool would question whether he really lived on earth. Let this give you confidence as we learn more about him in the days ahead.

2 Kings 3, 2 Thessalonians 3, Daniel 7, Psalms 114–115

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 3, 2 Thessalonians 3, Daniel 7, Psalms 114–115. 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 Daniel 7.

Up to this point Daniel has interpreted the dreams and visions of others but here in chapter 7 he received a vision of his own from the Lord. It happened at the very beginning of the reign of Belshazzar son of Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1). Daniel’s dream, like Nebuchadnezzar’s, had a lot of symbolism. Although the Lord interpreted the dream for Samuel to a point (vv. 15-27), the identity of “the four great kings” (v. 17b) is not specified in the interpretation. We won’t take time to unpack all the symbols and the meaning of this prophecy; for now, just notice that the end of these human kingdoms happens when “the son of man” (v. 13a) “was given authority, glory, and sovereign power” (v. 14a). Verse 14 tells us that, “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” This is, of course, a prophecy of Jesus. Though Christ did come, the fulfillment of this part of his ministry is still future to us. We see that in verse 13 which says that this one was, “… a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” The “clouds of heaven” part of this prophecy is a clear reference to Christ’s second coming, not his first coming when he arrived as a virgin-born boy. This promise will finally happen when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom on earth.

Notice that verse 14 says, “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him,” and verse 27 repeats the thought: “…all rulers will worship and obey him.” The fact that this coming “son of man” receives worship from “all nations and peoples” and from “all rulers” indicates that he is more than just any old “son of man.” Only God is fit to receive worship; the fact that Jesus would receive worship and does receive it today is a clear indication of hi deity. Although he was “son of man” he was also “son of God” and is therefore worthy of our worship and praise. 

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.

Joshua 1, Psalms 120–122, Isaiah 61, Matthew 9

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 1, Psalms 120–122, Isaiah 61, Matthew 9. 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 Isaiah 61.

Early in his preaching ministry, Jesus returned to Nazareth, the small town where he grew up. On the Sabbath day he stood up to read God’s word and the passage he read was our scripture for today, Isaiah 61. [I delivered a message on this incident in the life of Christ, as recorded in Luke 4:14-30, on May 8 of this year and you can listen to that message here

Christ read verses 1-2a of Isaiah 61, then stopped before the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God….” Then he told his neighbors and friends from Nazareth, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Although Christ will make good on the rest of the promises of Isaiah 61, it was not his intention (or God’s will) for him to do that during his first coming to this world. God still has a remarkable future in store for Israel, but it will not be fulfilled until Christ returns a second time. In the meantime, though, Christ is still proclaiming “good news to the poor” (v. 1c), binding “up the brokenhearted” (v. 1d), proclaiming “freedom for the captives” (v. 1e) and releasing prisoners “from darkness” (v. 1f). This is the good news that Christ came to deliver; the promise he arrived to fulfill. Although all humanity is damaged and wounded by sin, Christ offers release from the penalties of sin and comfort from the damage that sin does in us and to us. Remember this when the door opens to share Christ with someone: Jesus came to deliver people from the slavery of their sins, to patch up their broken hearts, and to shine light into the darkness where they are groping around looking for truth. So let’s look for ways to tell people what Christ has done for us and what he will do for them if they bow before him in repentance and faith. 

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.

Exodus 38, John 17, Proverbs 14, Philippians 1

Happy resurrection Sunday! If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Exodus 38, John 17, Proverbs 14, Philippians 1. 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 John 17.

In the next chapter Jesus was arrested and the events that led to his crucifixion and resurrection began. When it came to preaching, healing (except for Malchus’ ear), and discipling the apostles, Christ’s work is finished. This is the finality Jesus felt when he prayed here in John 17:4: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Though the crucifixion and resurrection were also an essential part of his mission, those would be done to him rather than by him, so his active work is done. Now his request is that God would glorify him so that he may glorify God (v. 1b). The specific way which he would do this is explained in verse 2: “that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” Notice that the authority Jesus has is over all people (v. 2a) but eternal life only goes to those given him by the Father (v. 2b), namely those God has chosen. And what is this eternal life? Well, it’s less about a life that never ends than it is about knowing God who is eternal: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Anyone who is interested in the gospel as a free ticket to heaven but without any desire to know and follow God is not a believer. The work of salvation is primarily about reconciling us to God and beginning a relationship of worship and obedience to him as Lord. This is real life and the fact that it is eternal is a side effect of it being given by God. Everything God does is eternal so the life that we receive that causes us to know and follow him is also eternal. 

Easter Sunday always fills the chairs in our church; it is like this in almost every church in America. Many of these people are going to church out of tradition but would you pray with me that the Lord would send us some whom he is drawing to himself? Would you pray that they would find eternal life today in our church or at least begin attending our church so that they can start to understand God and all that he offers us by grace?

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.

Exodus 34, John 13, Proverbs 10, Ephesians 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Exodus 34, John 13, Proverbs 10, Ephesians 3. 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 John 13.

Of the four gospels, the Gospel of John gives us the most extensive description of Jesus’ final hours before his arrest. Here in chapter 13, that description begins. The Passover meal is set to begin and Christ is distinctly aware that his betrayal, trials, torture, and execution will follow. John stressed to his readers that Jesus knew what was about to happen. Verse 13 says “…Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father…” and verse 3 says “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;” Meditate on this for a moment. If you knew that your death was coming, that it would be extraordinarily violent and painful and that it would culminate with the rejection of God the Father, what would you be thinking about? What would you want to do with that time? How would you handle interactions with other people?

Personally, I'm pretty sure I would be preoccupied with what was coming and that I would be a nervous wreck. It would be natural to turn to those closest to you for comfort but when your friends are completely oblivious to what is coming (vv. 22, 36-38), they are in no position to comfort you. So, in addition to being preoccupied with myself and my fears, I think it might be irritating to be around friends who don’t get what is about to happen and are, in fact, in high spirits due to the Passover. It would be easy to be angry with them for not understanding and to run from them to be alone with your fears.

But that’s me; then there is Christ. He knew that he “was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet… "(vv. 3b-5a). Instead of being preoccupied with himself, he was intent on loving and serving his disciples; in the words of verse 1: “he loved them to the end” which I interpret to mean “to the fullest extent.” This was a genuine act of love but it also set an example to us who follow Jesus of service (vv. 12-17) and of love for others (vv. 34-35). Christ’s example and his command to us, then, is not to allow our anxiety and fear to take over our lives; rather, despite the real emotions we feel about our lives, put others first and serve them lovingly. What is the result of this kind of selfless service? Verse 17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed [happy, benefitted] if you do them.” Serving others is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when we think of how to be happy. Often being happy to us means having someone else serve us. Serving others rubs our sin nature raw; it tempts us to resent the ones we're serving or the fact that we're put in a place where we have to serve. But Christ promises the blessing of joy to those who take the lower place and choose to serve others because we love Him.

So not only does our faith in Christ call us to have a servant’s heart toward others, it calls us to serve others in love even at the very moments where we could be expected to forget other’s problems because we have so many of our own. If you are lacking joy due to problems and difficulties in your life, find someone to serve. Not only will you be obedient to our master and Lord but you will also be blessed if you do it (v. 17).

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.