Friday, March 5, 2021

March 5 - Leviticus 10, James 5

 Key verse: Leviticus 10:3

Big idea: God will not tolerate being treated as anything less than holy. 

God is not an idolator. 

That may seem like a strange sentence but it has profound implications. God will not put anything or anyone in the place that He is rightfully entitled to. This is not conceit; it is wisdom. God behaves as if He is the purpose and source of all existance. If you and I behave that way, it is arrogance and sin. God behaves that way because it is true. This plays out in many ways throughout the Bible and perhaps nowhere more graphically than the execution of Nadab and Abihu. 

At the end of chapter 9, God provided fire from Heaven to burn on the altar. Perhaps lightning struck the exact location, or perhaps a literal flame danced down from the sky. Either way, at the consecration of the Tabernacle (the tent where the Israelites worshipped before the construction of the Temple centuries later), God showed that He accepted their worship by providing the fire that accepted the sacrifice. They were truly able to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the very next chapter, two of Aaron's sons (Moses' nephews) grow cavalier. Even the holiest and most precious things become routine to us when we are around them day after day, if we are not careful. How many things were once precious to you that now you treat lightly? Lots of people have strict rules about what they will allow in their car when it is new that fade over time. An expensive gift might be cherished and put back in its original packaging for a while, but probably not forever. Many wives could verify that their husbands showed a lot more care and concern before they were their husbands! Unfortunately, we treat God the same way. Yesterday's answered prayers, last week's forgiveness, and all of the ways we have been privileged to see God work become more and more ordinary. 

Nadab and Abihu offer "strange fire" to God. I suspect that this was as simple as kindling their own fire instead of going to the altar of incense to get the flame to burn the offering. It seems likely that this was not an act of wickedness but laziness. Maybe they wanted to get their work done a little more quickly or maybe they just didn't think it mattered. Either way, they deviated from the specific plan of God's worship, and God sent fire once again: not on the altar this time, but on them: killing them in the Holy Place. God told Aaron: "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified." No one would come to God without treating Him as holy. 

If the penalty seems harsh, maybe it is because we underestimate the holiness of God. Also, of course, at the beginning of this new era in salvation history, God needed to set the bar which would be the baseline from then on. But the news gets even worse! "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23 says. Every person has been guilty of not giving God the proper honor He deserves, and the penalty that we earn is far worse than fire that kills in an instant. God has a remedy, but it is equally specific and tolerates no "strange fire." Whoever has the Son has life. If we place our trust in Jesus, we will be forgiven and will enter into eternal joy with Him. If we reject Him, our worship is unacceptable and we can only expect condemnation. 

Discussion idea: Why did God respond so drastically to the sin of Aaron's sons? How does God respond when people worship Him in a sinful way today?

Prayer focus: Ask God to keep your heart from growing hard, so that you can continue to set His name apart as holy. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

March 4 - Leviticus 9, James 4

 Key verse: Leviticus 9:7

Big idea: The priest must be holy to sacrifice. 

One of the most interesting things to me in Leviticus is how orderly it all is. Nothing is left to chance or the whims of a particular priest. There are certain tasks to be performed in a certain order if we are going to worship a holy God, and He is very specific about it. I think there are many implications for us, maybe the most obvious being the admonition Brother John Raines loves to share from 1 Corinthians 14:40: "Let all things be done decently and in order." Too many of us play at our worship, worship our work, and work at our play. God expects something more.

But if that is true of us, how much more for the priests! Those who would bring sacrifices to God could not just waltz into the Temple. God had specific standards for what they needed to do to purify themselves before they could offer the sacrifices to purify others. A key example of this comes from Leviticus 9: before Aaron and his sons could make the sacrifice for the sins of the people, they first needed to bring a sacrifice for themselves. Before they could bring sacrifices for others, they needed to be cleansed themselves. 

This raises a question: why could they offer a sacrifice for themselves when they were unclean, but not a sacrifice for others? I think it is plain that there is something else going on in the background, a hidden Mediator who brings the people to God but does not need to make any sacrifice to prepare Himself. Of course, that Mediator is none other than Jesus: "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore." 

The Son of God is the one who has never sinned, not made a priest through the weakness of the Law, but the unfading promise of God. As the perfect priest, He was willing and able to make the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. While the flawed priests needed to make sacrifices day after day, ever unable to get to the heart of the problem because of their own weakness, Jesus died once and for all: the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice.

Discussion idea: If human sacrifices could never get to the heart of the problem, what was God teaching by requiring them?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for the perfect intercessor. I do not need another human being to get to You, I do not need to become perfect myself, I already have the perfect advocate who knows the pain of temptation and also knows how to overcome it. Help me to lean on Him and Him alone.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

March 3 - Leviticus 7, James 3

 Key verse: Leviticus 7:20

Big idea: Fellowship follows holiness.

We saw back in Exodus 20 that rules follow relationships. God gave His people rules to live by but only after He rescued them from Egypt; they obeyed because He had already saved them, not so He would. But there is something beyond the existence of a relationship that is important too! Without fellowship, we do not get to fully enjoy the benefits of our relationships. My daughter is my daughter no matter what, but if she tells a lie or is disrespectful, she does not fully enjoy the benefits of that relationship and there is a wall between us until she repents and is forgiven. Our relationship with God is unconditionally based on our faith in response to His grace. Once we are His children, we are always His children, and the expectations for our behavior flow out of that source. When we walk in the proper way, our relationship with God is intimate and we enjoy the blessings and benefits of our family, but when we sin, we keep our relationship and lose our fellowship. 

This pattern was established even in the Old Testament. We saw on Monday that there were sin offerings and burnt offerings to bring when you needed forgiveness, but those were not the only kinds of offerings prescribed in the Law. One offering, which was voluntary except for one annual festival, was the peace or fellowship offering. After a Nazirite completed his special vow, a king returned triumphant from battle, or God delivered a person out of a specific difficulty, they would bring a peace offering as a form of gratitude. The peace offering was shared as a meal, reflecting on the fellowship and harmony not only between God and the worshipper but between His people. If a worshipper brought the peace sacrifice while in his uncleanness, he was cut off from his people. There could be no fellowship until sin was forgiven! The blessing of enjoying harmony with God and His people begins in salvation and grows in our obedience. 

Discussion idea: Read John 13:8-10. Jesus uses washing as a metaphor for salvation: if we have been totally bathed, we are clean, and only need to wash our feet from the daily defilement of the world. How does this relate to salvation -> expectation -> fellowship?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you see what sins in your life are limiting the intimacy of your fellowship with Him, and for help in overcoming them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

March 2 - Leviticus 6, James 2

 Key verse Leviticus 6:5

Big idea:  For our relationships to be whole, we must make peace with God and one another.

If there is one thing that human beings are good at, it is going to extremes. Some people want to make their sin entirely about God, where we want to go to God for forgiveness and leave people to think what they want. Others want to make other people the only interested party in our sin, worrying about making amends but treating our religious life as completely separate. The Bible does not tolerate those kinds of divides, as if our work life happens in one part of our identity, our family life in one, and our spiritual life in yet another. Every sin against another person is also a sin against God (Psalm 51:4), who made us and the person we have harmed, so it is necessary to seek God's forgiveness. But it is not enough to ask God for forgiveness. The Law also requires restitution.

In a variety of crimes, what was stolen or lost needed to be replaced, plus an additional 20% penalty. This was to be done in the same day that the sacrifice was made: forgiveness from God and peace with neighbor were not to be drastically separated. Refusing to make restitution, when it is possible, is evidence of an unrepentant heart. 

This is not just an Old Testament principle. Jesus made the same point in Matthew 5:22-23: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Even if you were in the act of giving a gift on the altar and were in Jerusalem, it was necessary to make the trip back home, be reconciled to your brother, and then offer your worship to God. A major component of holiness is wholeness: being who God intended for us to be in relationship with Him and each other. These two parts: love of God and love of His children are inseparable.

Discussion idea: When David murdered Uriah the Hittite to cover up his sin, he prayed in Psalm 51 that He had sinned against God, and God only. How should that be understood? How does that affect the way we see our sins against others?

Prayer focus: Pray for a relationship that needs to be restored, and for God's help in seeing that as part of your worship.

Monday, March 1, 2021

March 1 - Leviticus 1, James 1

 Key verse: Leviticus 1:3

Big idea: A sacrifice for sin must be holy.

Imagine a groom who is in charge of purchasing the flowers for his wedding. He waits until the day before, goes to Walmart, and finds the ones marked “Must-Go”! They are slightly wilted, slightly brown, and slightly likely to lead to his death when his bride sees them. Or maybe he went to the venue and asked them to set aside any leftover flowers from the weddings that week so he could use them. Is any man, consumed with love and excitement for his wedding, going to give his new wife what is left over? Or is he going to give her the best he can afford? She certainly expects more than that. It seems ridiculous, but how many of us treat God that way?

Under the Law of Moses, sacrifices needed to be “without blemish.” You could not take the sheep that was lame or sick and offer it to God, like some people bring beat-up furniture to the Salvation Army to write-off on their taxes. God demanded and deserved the very best. Giving Him anything less than you would give your fiancĂ© or your boss reveals how little you think of Him. It is an insult, and in some sense, blasphemy. It does not please God, and does not win His favor.

When someone sinned, a sin offering was required. The sacrifice must be perfect, or it would not be accepted. First, a cheap sacrifice would reveal an unrepentant heart, still more concerned with what benefits me than what a deserve. Second, it undermines the severity of sin by denying that it is costly. But ultimately, it is because the sin offering was not an end-point but a signpost to Christ’s sacrifice. 1 Peter 1:18-19 puts it this way, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin because He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21, see also: Romans 8:3 and 1 John 3:5). The sacrifice of the sinless Jesus showed the cost of sin and paid it, and showed a heart of unchained grace: the very best Heaven had to offer to rescue rebellious sinners.

If that was the price of our salvation, what do we give God? Do we give Him the time we have left over after working overtime for our vacation, kids’ sports, our social life, and TV? Too often the Lord who made us and bought us gets the scraps when everyone else is finished. Do we give Him the last of our money or what’s first? Your bank account will often show who your true master is even why you try to lie to yourself. God gave the very best for us, so we should give the very best to Him.

Discussion idea: Ephesians 5:27 says that Jesus presents the church to Himself “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” How does that relate to the standard for sacrifices? Compare and contrast the church as a “sacrifice” with the sin offering of Jesus. See Romans 12.

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for giving us the truly perfect sacrifice and redeemer, so that we could have abundant life. Forgive us for the times that we have given you second-best. Help us to put you first as individuals, as a family, and as a church.

Friday, February 26, 2021

February 26 - Exodus 40, Hebrews 13

 A big shout out to Brother John Raines, who is helping me out by writing today's devotional (and yesterday's too, if you missed it). Thank you!

Big Idea: God called Israel out of Egypt to worship Him, and His glory came down from Heaven so we could.

Key Verse: Exodus 40:34

As we conclude the book of Exodus with today’s devotional, I am reminded of the beginning of the exodus journey when Moses approached the pharaoh requesting the people be allowed to journey to worship God. We know that ultimately God’s intention was to bring His people out so that they could worship freely, but what began as a promise some 400 years earlier to Israel, now ignites in a request to worship. Pharaoh would not allow the people to worship God as He had called them to worship, hence God would facilitate Israel’s ability to worship.

The passage we find ourselves reading today centers around setting up the tabernacle for which Moses had received the instructions for its construction. Notice our key verse, “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” God’s glory came down to represent His presence with the people and their call to worship.

We, as modern-day followers of Christ, are not unlike the people of Israel in that we are also called to worship, although at the time they (Israel) were not where God intended for them. I am reminded of the Jim Reeves song, “This World Is Not My Home” where the first stanza states, “This world is not my home I’m just passing through.” While this world may not be our home, we too are called to worship. That is why in John 1, we see where God sent His Son to be the light of the world. We too are called out of "Egypt", figurative language representing sin, so that we can worship.

As we were reminded in yesterday’s devotion, the people of Israel became accustomed to God’s presence and provision and became complacent. We too often become accustomed to God’s presence and provision and become complacent, not remembering the sacrifice that was made through Christ so that we could experience the Glory of God. So always remember the access to God’s Glory that Christ has provided us and your call to worship.

Discussion Idea: What do you think Israel’s reaction to the Glory of God filling the tabernacle was? Are you awe-inspired with your opportunity to worship? What are some things we allow to get in the way of our worship?

Prayer Focus: Lord, help me to be mindful of the sacrifice made so that I can experience Your Glory. Help me to make my worship of You a priority in my life.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

February 25 - Exodus 33, Hebrews 12

A big shout out to Brother John Raines, who is writing the devotional for today and tomorrow to help me in a particularly busy time.

Key Verse: Exodus 33:14

Big Idea: God leads us out where He calls us to go.

I do not know about you, but as I read Exodus 33 as our text for today, I am both remorseful and joyful at what God has stated regarding the children of Israel. In the beginning of this chapter, we can see God’s frustration with Israel and His concern that if He goes amongst the people the He may consume them in the way due to their continued lack of trust and hardheadedness. But after the people show repentance, God says in our key verse, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” As our family has read through the devotionals about the exodus of Israel, we have often noted how the people so quickly forget about the presence of God (pillar of cloud and fire) and His provision (miraculous manna and water from the rock). However, we cannot be too quick to cast blame.

You see, we too are often guilty of the same sin that Israel was guilty of, complacency, and in some cases absolute apathy. God also provides for us, comforts us, and protects us, but it takes little for us to become blind to God’s presence. The thing is, God still desires to have the same role in our life as He desired for the lives of Israel. The Creator of the universe desires a relationship with us as our leader and provider, and for us simply to follow. The implication in the key verse is that He will lead us where He calls us to go, just as he promised to go before the people into the promised land to drive out the inhabitants before them. All Israel had to do, was, follow God and GO.

Now while we may look at Israel and the exodus from an abstract point of view, the lesson for today’s text is still applicable. Jesus made a similar statement in John 16:7 when he told His followers that even though He may depart physically, He would send the Comforter (Holy Spirit) to minister to them, and us. The role of the Holy Spirit is key in the life of a believer if the believer will simply follow. But we, like Israel, are often too blinded and deafened by our sin (and hardheadedness) to recognize the presence of the Spirit to lead us. Maybe we too need to repent of the sin in our life so that we may fully enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit, so that God may lead us where He calls us to go, and that we will follow God and GO.

Discussion Idea: What are some reasons we find it difficult to follow where God leads? What are some things (sin) in your life that may be hindering your ability to see and hear God’s leadership in your life?

Prayer focus: Lord, forgive me of the sin (be specific) in my life that hinders me from your presence. Help me to see and hear Your leadership in my life, and to follow where You lead.


Key Verse:
Hebrews 12:2

Big Idea: Our faith’s trailblazer and completer is the Son of God.

Many advances are started by one person and finished by another. Much of what we know about planetary motion was discovered by Johannes Kepler, but he built on years of observations by his mentor, Tycho Brahe. Edward Jenner invented vaccines when he discovered that infecting someone with cowpox would keep them from getting smallpox, but Jonas Salk changed the world by applying the principles to polio (and now COVID-19). Even in our families, we often see things unfulfilled and picked up by others. We might read the Hall of Faith in the last chapter and think that Christianity is like that: Moses had some, David added a little more, the prophets added to that, and Jesus finished it off. But today’s verse reminds us that this is not the case: Jesus is the author and the finisher of faith - the beginning and the end.

This is what gives chapter 12’s call to endurance its bite. We have been given the perfect example of where to go and how to get there. Jesus came to the beginning of the path when He was born in Bethlehem and followed it all the way through the cross to return to Heaven again. Christ’s portrait is not a rosy one. It involves pain, rejection, and separation. If we stray from the path set before us, God disciplines us to bring us back in line, but even when we are faithful, it can be grueling. 

But we do not do it because it is easy. We should hold fast to our faith, no matter the cost, for at least two reasons. First, the trail has already been blazed by the Son of God. There is no uncertainty about our life because He has already cleared the way. The pits we could not cross and the mountains we could not climb have been tamed by the One who conquered sin and death. Second, the path leads straight into the presence of our Heavenly Father. What better destination? And, although we will not ever make it to Him in this mortal body, we do grow closer to Him and stand more in His light every day. From A to Z, it is all of grace. Jesus has showed us the path, and His presence empowers us to take it.

Discussion Idea: If Jesus were just a perfect human, we could admire the life He lived. How does the fact that He was also God allow us to follow His footsteps?

Prayer Focus: Is there some area in your life that you have given up and decided that some act of obedience is unattainable? Pray for forgiveness and confidence in the fact that Jesus has taken the path before us.