Friday, April 16, 2021

April 16 - Judges 6, Acts 4

 Key verse: Judges 6:12

Big idea: We are who God says we are, not who our cycles say we are.

Sometimes God gets our attention easily. Our hearts are sensitive and a little bump in the road shakes away the sleep from our eyes and brings us back to where we belong. Other times, we need to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken. In the days of Gideon, who we will meet today and look at again next week, Israel needed someone to scream, shake, and pour ice water on them. The Midianites came in judgment, so the Israelites had to hide in caves, could not reap from their fields, and were plunged into poverty. After six years of this, they cried out to God for mercy, and He raised up a judge.

This judge was no hero or warrior. He was hiding like everyone else, throwing wheat into the air in a pit. But the Angel of the Lord (an Old Testament appearance of Jesus) appeared to him and said: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." No one looking at Gideon would have called him valiant. He was not a warrior. For six years, he could have tried to stand up to the Midianites (and probably died in the process), but he was just hiding. Yet his past did not determine his identity or his future. God saw what Gideon could be and would be and so that is who he was.

God is a transformer. He promised Israel that he would give the nation a new name (Isaiah 62:4-6), no longer desolate and deserted but married and beloved. In the same way, He promises us individually a new name (Revelation 2:17). We, like Gideon, are not who we have been but who God has declared us to be. Gideon's weakness, sin, and failings were not the end of his story! And yours and mine are not ours. 

Discussion idea: What sin or weakness are you tempted to let define you? What does God call you in the gospel instead?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to bring my sin and shame to You to be forgiven, and to trust Your word about who You have called me to be. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

April 15 - Judges 4, Acts 3

 Special guest post: Bro Chris Meek

 Key Verse: Judges 4:21


Big Idea: God breaks our cycles in unexpected ways


Have you ever been right… even though you were wrong? If you’ve ever had to take a multiple choice, you know what I’m talking about: you don’t have a clue what the answer is, but you guess correctly; the teacher forgets to put the correct answer on the test, so everyone gets it right; or maybe your teacher marks yours right by accident! You didn’t know the answer, but you get credit for it anyway. You didn’t expect it, and yet, it happened. You didn’t earn it, and yet, you got it anyway. Who saw that coming?


When we meet Barak in Judges 4, Israel is caught in a cycle of sin, oppressed by Jabin, his commander Sisera, and his 900 iron chariots. Deborah reminds him: God has called him to take 10,000 men against Sisera, whom God has promised to deliver into his hands. Instead of obeying, Barak offers Deborah a deal: I’ll go, but only if you go, too. Deborah agrees, but warns him that if he does it his way, the honor will not be his: “...for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman” (vs.9). The outcome is still the same: Sisera is still defeated. But Barak doesn’t get to play the hero. If you thought it was Deborah, you’d be wrong. Instead, that honor goes to Jael, who in a final twist of irony, kills Siserah with a tent stake (working with tents was considered Women’s work at the time). Who saw that coming?


We can take comfort in the fact that God is in the business of doing the unexpected. When Sisera came to Jael, he didn’t expect his end. When the thief is on the cross, he doesn’t expect to be in paradise. When we sin, we don’t expect the forgiveness of God. And we don’t expect the King to trade His robes for torn garments, His crown for thorns, or His throne for a cross. We don’t expect God to trade His place for ours, but God does the unexpected.


We may remember another time God uses a woman to do the unexpected. When Jesus came to live among men, He did not come as a fully grown man, but as a newborn child born through Mary. Although Jesus, the Lion of Judah, could command legions of angels, He came into the world in the weakness of a child, the Lamb that would take away the sins of the world. If you are someone who often feels weak, know that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Find your strength in Jesus!


Discussion Idea: One of the major themes in this passage is the irony of a woman killing a man with an instrument primarily used for women’s work. Sometimes we fail to see what God is doing because of societal and cultural expectations. What are some legitimate ways that God might use us, which might go against our own culture?


Prayer Focus: Lord, help me to see life through your eyes, and not my own. Give me Your strength to be obedient to the unexpected things You are doing.





Wednesday, April 14, 2021

April 14 - Judges 2, Acts 2

 Key verse: Judges 2:10

Big idea: Cycles of sin begin with neglect.

The book of Judges picks up around 1375 BC, roughly the same time as the reign of Tutankhamen in Egypt. It feels like a remarkable step backward: after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites finally moved forward to victory and settled the land. But now, in the period of the Judges, the Israelites were stuck again.  For the next 200 years, they lived in the same basic cycle described in this chapter. The people sinned, God sent an enemy to judge them, the people cried out, God raised up a deliverer to rescue them, and the people sinned again but worse than their fathers. It was a slowly descending spiral, falling further and further from God's blessing. 

How did it start? Judges 2:10 is horrifying. The generation that knew Joshua died, and the next generation "knew not the LORD, not yet the world which he had done for Israel." They did not know God (personally) and did not know what He had done (intellectually and in faith). Their parents had neglected to carry out the instruction of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 of diligently teaching their children about who God was and what He had done, and so in a single generation the truth was lost and wicked behavior followed. God has no grandchildren, so each generation needed to come to trust Him anew personally, and they did not. 

There are probably almost no Christian parents who deliberately teach their children to live lives far from God. Instead, they neglect. They talk about sports and politics more than the Bible. They skip church for sporting events, show greater pride in grades than spiritual maturity, and make a career the supreme goal of life. Maybe they are too proud to admit their own failings and how God has helped them. And so they raise a generation that does not know the Lord. Should we be surprised when that generation lives in rebellion? Even in our own lives, no one sets out the wander (what people used to call backsliding). Instead, we neglect the truth, forget God's works, forget God, and then fall into sin. 

Discussion idea: What areas of your walk with God are you neglecting? How can you remind yourself of who He is and what He has done?

Prayer focus: Lord, start a cycle in my heart that will lead to growth and holiness: knowing You more deeply, obeying You, and coming to know You better.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

April 13 - Joshua 24, Acts 1

 Key verse: Joshua 24:15

Big idea: Victory is rooted in a choice.

About thirty years before our chapter Moses had given his farewell address to the nation. He had reiterated the covenant that God had made with them at Sinai, and had told them that he was setting before them life and death, calling on them to choose life. Now, Joshua was ready to be gathered to his fathers and to Moses, and it was time to give his own farewell speech. Israel was in a drastically different situation: rather than being nomads east of Jordan, they were now settled in the land which God had promised them. The great battles of their early history were behind them, and they had finally learned what it meant to experience victory. But in another sense, they were in the same position they had been all of those years before. Every generation chooses between life and death, victory and defeat. Indeed, every individual is faced with the same challenge that Moses and Joshua presented: God has shown Himself to be faithful, how will you respond?

Joshua made it clear that the people before him were faced with a choice. Who would they serve? Would they go to the gods of the pagan nations they had displaced? Would they follow the gods that Abram's family had worshipped before God called him out? They might do those things, but he and his family would not. They would serve the LORD, who had rescued them, blessed them, and would continue to do so. 

Like Moses before him, Joshua pled that the people would choose life. In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah would confront another generation with the same challenge. Matthew 7:24-27 revealed that a life is either built on the foundation of obedience to Jesus or is built on sand and destined to collapse. It is a choice: life or death, faith or rebellion, victory or defeat.

Discussion idea: Why does God arrange the Old Testament so that Moses and Joshua's farewells were so similar? How does this same element of choice apply to our lives? Is the command to "choose this day whom you will serve" a one time choice or a repeated one?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to choose You. Help me to not be pulled to all of the temptations that compete for my loyalty but give my heart to you alone.

Monday, April 12, 2021

April 12 - Joshua 22, Luke 24

 Key verse: Joshua 22

Key verse: There is victory in unity. 

You have probably never heard a sermon on today's chapter. It is a little bit bizarre. It involves a misunderstanding, an altar that was never used, and a nation on the brink of Civil War. Recall that when Israel came into his land, they conquered the territory east of the Jordan River first. It was given to two and a half tribes, while the other nine and a half would inherit the land on the west side. The warriors of the  eastern tribes did not get to enjoy their territory until the work of conquering the remaining land was finished. But as we look at chapter 22, Joshua will soon die and the work is nearly complete. Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manassah were released to go home. There was joy and camraderie: they had worked together as a unified nation and were now resting in the land God had given them.

Surely, they were tired. Surely, they had no more appetite for war. Surely, they had made friends across tribal lines and did not want to see each other hurt. But when the western tribes saw that the eastern tribes had built a large altar, they were ready to go to war. They loved their brothers in arms and they loved peace, but they loved God more. There would be no idolatry in their land, and they were willing to go to war if that is what was needed to tear the altar down. 

But before acting rashly, they sent a delegation to talk. It is a model of biblical relationship: they were ready to have an uncomfortable confrontation and they were also willing to listen and be proven wrong. And they were! The eastern tribes explained that the altar they built was not for sacrifice: it was just a replica of the true altar, where God was worshipped as the tabernacle, to serve as a memorial to their kinship with the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan. They took the question with humility, and everyone went home in a unified peace. Victory without war: victory from a united desire to serve God together. 

Discussion idea: Why were the people of the OT so quick to build memorials, such as this replica altar or the pile of stones at the Jordan River? What part should reminders of our past play in our lives?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to be willing to confront sin, willing to listen, and most of all: willing to be corrected. Give me a teachable heart, ever being made more like Yours. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

April 9 - Joshua , Luke 23

 Key verse: Joshua 14:12

Big idea: Victory is not about who we are but who God is.

It has been some time now since we read about the spies going into Canaan before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. Perhaps you remember that there were 12 spies, 10 of whom convinced the Israelites that the land was too dangerous and thereby condemning that whole generation to die in the wilderness. The two faithful spies were the only ones over the age of forty who were allowed to enter the Promised Land. One of those spies, Joshua, has been a key figure in the narrative so far. The other has faded into the background (he is mentioned only a dozen or so places in the whole Bible) but comes back to the top here. Caleb, now eighty-five years old, comes to Joshua to request a specific city as his inheritance. Hebron, where the giants lived that had scared the nation away before, remained unconquered.

Caleb was either the eldest or second-eldest Israelite (depending on how old Joshua was). He was at an age where, even today, many people have hung up their work boots and decided that they have done their share and it is someone else's turn. Not Caleb! He told Joshua that God had maintained his strength all these long years so that he could do something. He said "Now, therefore, give me this mountain."

It is simple enough, isn't it? If God has kept the strength to breathe in your lungs and the strength to beat in your heart, it is not because He is ready for you to quit. We may be tired sometimes, we may be discouraged sometimes, we may think that others are not doing their share. But God has given us our strength as a stewardship. It does not belong to us, but has been entrusted to us for investment. Let's do it.

Discussion idea: Caleb refused to say that he couldn't serve God because he was too old, and 45 years earlier, he had refused to say he couldn't stand up for what was right because he was too young. What excuses do we give for not serving God? What should we say instead?

Prayer focus: Lord, remove my excuses. Strip away the pride that makes me think I can do things on my own or uses my condition as an excuse for why I can't. Use me for Your glory. Give me that mountain.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

April 8 - Joshua 7, Luke 22

 Key verse: Joshua 7:13

Big idea: To receive God's victory, we must follow God's Word.

The victory at Jericho was not untarnished. Although no Israelites died in the assault on the fortress, they were defeated in their very next assault on the small village of Ai (pronounced "aye" or like the letters A. I.). 36 people died and the army was chased away and forced to retreat for a staggering 16 miles.  The people's hearts "melted like water," and Joshua fell down in mourning. What had happened? How could victory turn to destruction so quickly? Remember that the conquest of Jericho was a sacred event. God had set apart all of Jericho as holy - it was exclusively His property and was to be destroyed in sacrifice. Nothing was to be taken for their own personal gain, it all belonged to God. 

One Israelite, Achan, had violated this commandment by taking a cloak, some silver, and some gold. He hid them beneath his tent (where his family surely would have known what he was doing) and thought that he had succeeded in robbing God. The parallels to the Fall in Genesis 3 are stunning: he saw, he desired, he took, and brought death on the whole community. Israel had taken the things devoted to destruction and become devoted to destruction themselves (much like those who worship useless idols would become useless themselves, as described by the later prophets). Only when Achan was found and punished would God give the Israelites victory over their enemies once again.

Unfortunately, we often want God to bless one part of our life and stay out of the others. Help me with my job or my schoolwork, Lord, but stay away from my temper. I am so stressed out God, give me some peace while letting me keep all of the relationships and behaviors that stress me. Give us victory over Ai while we cherish the things You have called to be destroyed from Jericho. Maybe the greatest tragedy is that God allowed the people to keep the spoils of Ai (Joshua 8:27), but it was too late for Achan. God will give us greater blessings than we could want in His time, but our rebellion will rob us of our blessings.

Discussion idea: Read James 1:14-15 and compare it to the cycle that Achan and Eve fell into (see - covet - take - die). What do you notice? How should this principle affect our lives?

Prayer focus: Ask God for forgiveness for any sin you are holding onto and for His strrength to serve Him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

April 7 - Joshua 6, Luke 21

Key verse: Joshua 6:2

Big idea: Victory comes from the Lord.

The conquest of Jericho is a story that many of us learned in Sunday School, but let me try and give it to you in some detail. You can see from the map that I have uploaded below that the Israelites had come up from Egypt, wandered in the desert for 40 years and were finally entering into the land God had promised. They had crossed the Jordan River (marked in yellow, connecting the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea), and the first major city they faced was the fortress of Jericho. It was called the "city of palm trees" because of a spring providing water and fertility and has been settled for all of recorded history. The old city was built on a hill 400 yards long and 200 yards wide (about 16 acres), and 70 yards high (about the height of a 20 story building). Around this was a thick wall (at least at some point in Jericho's history, they were 12 feet thick), punctuated with guard towers. 

If the Israelites could conquer this city, it would result in a huge psychological victory over the other inhabitants of the land. If they walked by it unconquered, the Canaanites would have a constant stronghold to resist them. The battle must begin at Jericho. But how could the Israelites conquer?


They would not be able to do it in their own strength, but God did not expect them to. He turned the conquest of Jericho into a religious ceremony and even decreed Jericho as a holy place. The priests led the "assault." Six days of silence, walking around the city once a day for each day. Not doing anything themselves, but waiting on God. On the seventh day, the seventh time around, the priests blew their sacred trumpets and shouted in triumph, then the walls collapsed. The residents of Jericho were confused, weakened, and the Israelites needed only to march in and overcome them. The victory was not theirs, but God's! I wonder how different our lives would be if we saw conflict and challenges as worship. We are being given a chance to put God's grace and glory on display, if we will let Him. 

Map source: Faithlife Corporation. “Biblical World — The Conquest.” Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Logos Bible Software Atlas. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation, April 7, 2021. https://ref.ly/logos4/Atlas?IsLegendExpanded=false&IsMediaCollectionExpanded=false&MapId=BIBLICALWORLDTHECONQUEST-EN&MapStyleKind=Terrain. 

Discussion idea: What is a modern equivalent of the priests leading out in a conflict in your life? How can you let your spiritual priorities take the lead, instead of the backseat?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you turn to Him first, not last.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

April 6 - Joshua 5, Luke 20

 Key verse: Joshua 5:14

Big idea: God determines what victory means. 

In our hyper-divided age, it seems that we cannot have an opinion without finding out whose side someone is on. If we hear a political speech, we need to know if the person has an R or a D next to their name to decide if we agree with them or not. When watching a baseball game, our opinion of the umpire's calls has a lot to do with which team is affected. When someone does not fit neatly into our categories, we are suspicious: are they on our side, or the enemy's? We often try to put God into the same kind of box, as if He would be neatly on the side of our culture, our nation, and our preferences, and against those who disagree with us. But it is a deep error.

Before entering Jericho, Joshua saw a man with a drawn sword and started to interrogate him. "Are you on our side or our enemies' side?" The man answered: "No." He rejected the whole setup, and announced instead that He was the captain of God's angel army. He was neither an Israelite not a Canaanite, but was above their conflicts: the King of all the Earth. "Take off your shoes," He told Joshua as He had told Moses almost a century earlier. The same God was with him, and would protect and defend him, but should never be mistaken for Joshua's employee. God is His own master, and we should not be concerned about getting Him on our side but about getting on His. Victory is not our team winning, but God's triumph.

Discussion idea: Why do you think Jesus appeared to Joshua in this way before they conquered Jericho? How does God reassure of us His constancy and presence?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to see that you transcend my categories and conflicts. Help me to find Your plans and Your ways to walk in them, not to try and have you bless my own ingenuity. Bring me on Your side, where I will find Your victory.

Monday, April 5, 2021

April 5 - Joshua 4, Luke 19

 Key verse: Joshua 4:23

Big idea: The same God gives us the victory in the mountains and the valleys.

The ancients believed that there were many gods, who each had narrowly specified domains. There might be a sea god, a sky god, a harvest god, and so on. The authority of the god might be tied to a specific city or place, and outside of that realm they were impotent. God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but was His power tied to that place? Was it tied to Moses, now dead and buried? Or could He still lead the Israelites into the future? 

At the Jordan River, the boundary of the Promised Land, the Living God revealed that no Canaanite idols could keep His people out. The same God who had parted the Red Sea under the time of Moses went before His people with the Ark of the Covenant, and stopped the Jordan River. Their parents had walked on dry ground out of their old home, and now they walked on dry ground into their new one. The same God was Lord of all the Earth, and was with them. 

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead works powerfully in your life and mine, so that we can live for Him. You may be a long way from Egypt and Jericho but God is still in control wherever and whenever you are. He proved Himself to be faithful, and capable of delivering His people over and over again, and He can do the same for us.

Discussion idea: Where/when have you felt God the most clearly? Where/when have you felt Him the least? What does it mean that God was equally present in both?

Prayer focus: Lord, help restore my wonder at your infinity. Teach me to worship You as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who reigns over every place and every moment.

Friday, April 2, 2021

April 2 - Remembering the Cross

Today, the reading is very long and is going to break our program up. It is a full-length sermon I wrote to condense into an outline for an ebook of sermon resources for pastors. I hope that you will take the time to read it today. 

Adrian Rogers once told a captivating story. A spider walked into a cave one day and found a lion asleep. Like all of the creatures of the savannah, the spider feared the lion, although she was more concerned with his heavy steps than his jaws. She decided that with the lion asleep, she could finally capture him. All night long, she spun her web around him, running threads over his back, paws, and tail, until finally, he glistened to her eyes in a powerful net of silver. Sunrise came, and the lion stirred. He yawned with a roar, stepped up, and walked out of the cave. He did not rustle his mane to shake the web off but simply went on about his day, unweighted and unaware that he had ever been bound at all. All the spider’s skill and strength were nothing compared to the might of the lion. Those webs that could easily trap a fly could never hurt the king of the jungle.

We find ourselves bound by many things. Some of you might know someone who has been bound by addiction, or been bound by it yourself. Some of us have been bound by fear or pride. Sometimes, we are bound by things because of their strength. Sometimes, like an exhausted Gulliver being tied down by an army of Lilliputians, we are captured because of a moment of weakness. Sometimes, we can break free on our own, eventually. But some things that ensnare us are inescapable, on our own or with the help of friends and family. One example stands out above all others: when someone lies cold in a casket, no amount of willpower and no pep talk could ever rouse them again. The chains of death are more than our strength could ever overcome.

But today we are gathered to remember a death that was shaken off. We are here to worship a Man who could not be held by the things that we could never escape. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah shook off the pains of death like a spiderweb, and with His roar breaks their grip on us. What makes this Friday a good one is that the cross was not the end of Jesus’ story. It was impossible for death to hold Him.

Our text comes from Acts 2:14-40, Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. As the apostle reflected on the events of Good Friday and Easter, he gave us one of the most thought provoking lines in the Bible: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” It was not possible for Jesus to be held by the pangs of death! As we think about His death today, we’ll see three reasons why. It was impossible for death to hold Jesus, because the penalty was fulfilled. It was impossible for death to hold Jesus because death could not restrain what God had promised to free. And it was impossible for death to hold Jesus because death could never hold the Life.

Let’s begin in verse 14, and see Peter’s sermon about the indomitable Jesus.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

The crowd had gathered because of the miracle of tongues on the day of Pentecost, and the reactions ran from one extreme to another. Some saw drunken rambling, some who were closer to the mark saw an incredible miracle, but Peter saw something much more dramatic. Prophecies, visions, and wonders would precede the day of the Lord’s coming, the sun would be turned to darkness (like it was when Jesus was on the cross) and the moon would be turned to blood. Something new and exciting was beginning, and the day of Pentecost was part of that. Yet it was not only something new, it was the fulfillment of this ancient prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 that he quotes from vv 17-21. “The time is here!,” Peter was clearly saying, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Why did they need to be saved? What did they need to be saved from? Remember that Joel wrote during the Exile, when the Temple lay in ruins. Their access to God had been broken. They were scattered from their home. Their salvation would mean their communion with God and their return to their homes restored. It was a microcosm of the human condition since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden: our sin has separated us from God and left us wanderers without a permanent place here. But now, that was all changing.

The presence of God had returned! His Spirit that had led the Israelites out of Egypt as a pillar of fire and that made the Temple too bright to enter on its dedication day had now returned, and sanctified the Church as a new Temple. For this to happen, the cause of the exile – our sin – must have been dealt with. The wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), but the sinless Jesus did not deserve it. He took on our death willingly, and because its penalty was paid in full, death could no longer hold him. Death could not hold Him when its penalty was fulfilled. As Hebrews 9:12-14 tell us, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing us an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” His death was the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice that, like the old hymn says, “paid it all.”

The Boston Globe ran a horrifying story about a man named Rommel Jones, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Through a horrific clerical mix-up and the lack of an advocate, he spent four additional years in prison. He told people his prison sentence was up, “When my sentence is over, they can’t hold me no more. They’ve got to let me go,” he said. Mr. Jones was right.[1] Whatever crime he committed, when the penalty was paid, the prison system no longer had any right to hold him. It was a miscarriage of justice, probably only explicable from a mixture of wickedness and incompetence. There is no such risk with God. When the penalty was paid, the pangs of death could not hold Jesus anymore.

But what about us? We are freed in Christ! If you have been saved by placing your faith in the Jesus who died for you, this is a Good Friday because the penalty of your sin has been paid in full.  Paul put it this way in Romans 8:2-4: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” There is a lot going on in those verses, but I want you to see how it related to the claim Peter and Joel made: whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. You can be saved from the penalty of your sin and I can be saved from the penalty of my sin because it has been completely dealt with. It has no more rightful jurisdiction over you than the Massachusetts Department of Corrections had over Rommel Jones. You are free, and God makes no mistakes.

Jesus did not only deal with the penalty of sin. He broke its power in us, allowing us to become new creatures. “For freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1)”! Whatever sin you have been entangled with, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has shaken it off without strain. When we try and deal with our struggles in our own strength, they are like a child’s finger traps, our pride making the pinch tighter. But when we go to Christ through prayer, corporate worship, confession to our brothers and sisters, and time in the Bible, God gives us new strength. What we mustn’t do is give up. The greatest enemy is death, and if death could not hold Him because sin was overcome, what could?

But that is not the only reason that Death’s power was stopped. It was not just the absence of Death’s authority, but the presence of a higher Authority. Death could not hold what God had promised to free. Look in verses 22-31:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”

 

The crucifixion was no accident, where God’s plan had gone out of control and His chosen Redeemer was defeated by His enemies. This was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” It was God’s plan that the Jews handing the Messiah promised in the Law to Gentiles who had no conception of the Law – crucifying and killing Him by the hands of lawless men. It would be bad news if this were where everything had gone off the rails. But it is a Good Friday because this was God’s promise and His plan. The same God who planned His death also planned His resurrection, and neither one would fail.

 

David wrote in Psalm 16 that “my flesh will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades or let your Holy One see corruption.” King David is long dead, and His body returned to the dust decades ago. On our honeymoon, my wife and I stood at the place that is marked as his tomb.  David could not have been speaking about Himself. But David knew that God had made a covenant with him that, although David would not build God a house in the form of a Temple, that God would build David a house in the sense of a family. His descendants would rule on the throne. But here, tantalizingly, God apparently revealed to David that one of his descendants would rule forever. We know this is Jesus Himself! The one who was part of David’s house, as his descendant, but also God’s House – God Himself come down as a Man,  a living Temple. On Pentecost, His body became a Temple in the same way, filled with His Spirit. God kept His Word! He kept it when He gave Jesus as a sacrifice, He kept it when He rescued Him from the grave, and He kept it when He sent His people power to be witnesses. He could not have done otherwise. It was not possible for Jesus to stay held by Death when God had promised that He would be freed.

 

His word is no less certain today. “Every word of God proves true, he is a shield to those who take refuge in him,” Psalm 30:5 promises. We can stand on God’s promises today too. Hebrews 13:5 tells us that we do not need to worry about our material possessions because God will “never leave [us] nor forsake [us].” Imagine the load that could be lifted when you realize that the concerns of this world cannot hold you because the Maker of the world is your provider. Maybe you are dealing with a struggle in your life and don’t know which way to go? Try on James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” You need food? God will never forsake you. You need wisdom? Ask in faith and He gives generously.

 

In John 6:37, Jesus promises: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” If you have come to Christ, you do not need to worry about Him rejecting you or turning His back on you. Maybe you have sinned, maybe you have doubted. But you are not the one strong enough that the chains of death are helpless before you. He is. Your salvation is not based in your strength but in His.

 

Because He will not cast us out, we can take the promise of John 14:3 seriously: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Even death cannot hold us! Jesus has prepared a place for us to dwell with Him, the presence of God and the end of exile. The work that was pictured on Pentecost and paid for on Calvary will be fully realized because God is faithful. If death could not keep Him from fulfilling His promises, what could?

Death could never hold Jesus because the penalty was paid and the promise was sure. Death could not hold Jesus because of what He did. But I think that there is at least one more reason, even more fundamental. Death could not hold Jesus because of who He is. Death could not hold the life.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

 

This Jesus, David’s Son who David called ‘Lord,’ is exalted at the right hand of God. He received the promised Spirit and passed that Spirit onto His Church. He sits enthroned: Lord and Christ. Redemption is not something that just anyone could have accomplished, and it happens to have been Jesus of Nazareth. Redemption was tied to His nature as fully Man and fully God. This God-Man was so fully human that He could die in the place of His brothers, and so fully God that Death could not hold Him and He could take His life up again. “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men,” 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “the man Christ Jesus.”

 

It was this Jesus, who they crucified, that was made Lord. The same One – fully God and fully Man. In John 6:48, Jesus had said: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Although it made the crowds turn away from Him, Jesus announced that He was the source of their spiritual life as surely as bread was the source of their physical life. He was even more explicit in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Or John 14:6, in all of its glorious abstraction: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

That is as simple as it could possibly be. Jesus is Life Himself. Death could not conquer life. The message Peter preached was not about an abstract idea. His good news was not “Death could not hold it.” It was “Death could not hold Him.” Here is a real person, who invited you into a relationship with Himself, in His name. A relationship that will change everything. We can only find real Life in Him, because He is the life. 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Death could not hold the One who is the Life, and it cannot hold those who have Him, and who He has as His own. Not physical death, which will be broken in our resurrection like His. Not spiritual death, because the penalty of our sin and its power have been canceled. We can count on His promise and know that no thing and no one could ever stop Him. Death could not hold Him.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilisations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”

Is that you? Are you trying to run your life on the fuel of good intentions, education, material wealth, popularity, church attendance, or some other secular or religious rite? It won’t work. You can only find the strength to overcome the gravitational pull of Sin and Death by trusting in the one who conquered it. The One whose promises are sure. The One who is truly the Life.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

If that unstoppable life has cut you to your heart, there is no better way to make this a very Good Friday for you than to repent of your sin (which is defeated and has no power anyway) and come to know Him today.

 



[1] http://archive.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/04/22/correction_system_mess_held_inmates_past_their_time/

Thursday, April 1, 2021

April 1 - Joshua 1, Luke 18

Key verse: Joshua1:8

Big idea: Victory comes from the word of God.

Have you ever been overwhelmed? I know that I have. Too many tasks, too little time. Unending decisions and responsibilities weigh on your mind and leave you sick to your stomach and no closer to your goals. Imagine how Joshua must have felt! Moses, the leader who talked to God face to face and led the people for forty years was dead, and it was now Joshua's job to bring the people into the land to conquer. There were many tasks ahead, great and small. Cities would need to be conquered, land would need to be divided, and ordinary disputes would need to be settled. What did Joshua need for victory? 

God told him directly. Joshua needed to be strong and very courageous, and the key was the Bible. Joshua only had the first five books of the Old Testament (the Law), but it would be the core. "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." If Joshua kept the Word of God in his mouth, in his heart, and in his actions, he would have victory. 

What do we need to succeed in life? The Bible! We need to read it, share it, memorize it, and obey it. Then, we will have the path we need for success in God's sight.

Discussion idea: How can you meditate on the Bible this week? When was the last time you memorized a verse of Scripture?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to hide Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March 30 - Deuteronomy 30, Luke 16

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 30:19

Big idea: God's covenant can bring blessing or curse.

When I was teaching high school, occasionally a student would ask when they were going to use Pre-Calculus in their real lives. I had a serious answer (math is really about teaching you to think logically and solve problems, people who study math learn to think more precisely in dealing with a wide variety of situations) and a flippant answer for when they were not being sincere. My flippant answer was "Well, if you don't pass this class, you won't graduate high school. If you don't graduate High School, it will be hard to get a job. If you don't have a job, you won't have money for a shower. No shower, no friends. Therefore no Pre-Cal means no friends." 

Obviously, I was teasing the students that seemed to be looking for an excuse not to do their work, rather than really trying to understand the use of what we were studying. I did that by stringing a pretty ridiculous string of loosely connected consequences together. Sometimes consequences are somewhat arbitrary, like a speeding ticket. There is no direct consequence between financial loss and speeding, without stringing some elaborate farce together. A crash is a natural consequence of speeding: it is the reasonable outcome of your behavior.

As Moses concluded his farewell address to the people, he explained that they had two paths to choose: death or life. They could live like those around them, worshipping those dead gods and ultimately sharing in their death. Or they could worship the Living God, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and share in those things. Death was not some arbitrary consequence for sin, like a fine. It was the inevitable outcome of rejecting the One who is life. God is consistent and reliable. The difference in receiving life or death, blessing or curse, is not some inconsistency in God. It is just the natural outcome of the way we respond to Him. Do we follow faith and obedience or idolatry and rebellion? The choice is ours.

Discussion idea: Read Romans 10:5-10. How does the choice of life or death match up with the situation presented by Moses?

Prayer focus: Praise God for His faithful holiness, His mercy, and the freedom He gives us to choose life.

Monday, March 29, 2021

March 29 - Deuteronomy 18, Luke 15

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 18:20

Big idea: All true prophets serve God's revealed covenant.

As the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan, they were facing a world that had elaborate ways of trying to tame the future. They had people who claimed to discern the future from the stars, who claimed to control it with charms and magic, or who said they could communicate with the dead or familiar spirits for wisdom and insight. The Israelites were expressly forbidden to partake in any of that. No horoscopes, no magic, no mediums. They were not special ways to get insight or harmless entertainment, they were the very sins for which the Canaanites were being expelled from the land. They were the rejection of the true authority and the embrace of idolatrous lies.

But God offered a better way. His prophets would not lead people astray to other gods, but would reinforce what He had already revealed. His prophets would have 100% accuracy - any error meant that they did not speak for the God who declares the end from the beginning. The purpose was not to satisfy their curiosity but to build their confidence in the One who holds tomorrow.

In fact, there was one more prophet par excellence who would come: a prophet like Moses. On Sinai, the Israelites had begged Moses to be their intermediary so that God would not speak to them directly again. After Moses died, there was not another prophet that spoke to God "face to face," until the promised Prophet came. The One who mediated God's presence would give the people a perfect Law, and give them a better Exodus. He would be an Israelite man like them but also the perfect revelation of God's character. The supreme prophet would do what all of the true prophets did: point people to God's Word. Jesus did not just tell us, He transformed us.

Discussion idea: Why are people so fascinated with the future? How does trust in God's faithfulness remove the need for details?

Prayer focus: Repent of any sources of comfort and security for the future you have chased instead of God. Ask Him to bring you satisfaction in His final revelation.


Friday, March 26, 2021

March 26 - Deuteronomy 24, Luke 14

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 24:19

Big idea: Covenant blessings do not belong to us.

Deuteronomy 24 describes an important part of Israelite law called gleaning. When a farmer harvested their field, it was forbidden to go to the very corners of the property or to go back and collect places that had been missed before. These edges of the fields belonged to the poor, the widow, and the foreigner, who had no land of their own. The farmer owned the land, had tilled it, planted it, and watered it, but God commanded that the fruits of their labor belonged to someone else. When the harvest was completed, the indigent could go behind and "glean" the remainder. It provided for their basic needs while preserving the dignity of work. But how was it just for God to take the products of the land from the one who owned it and had worked it to give to someone else?

The biblical explanation was that landowner was a misnomer: the land belonged to God. All of it. The worker lifted the hoe with the arms that God had given him, planted his crops in God's earth, let it soak up God's water, and the crops grew with God's sunshine. The blessings belonged to God and He graciously blessed us with them, but that does not make them ours. So when God instructed the Israelites to tithe every year, He was not taking 10% of their possessions but allowing them to keep 90% of what belonged to Him. So to give them the bulk of the land and then give the corners of His property to the poor, God was reminding them about who really owned it all.

This is a good lesson for us too. We may take the credit for the blessings that God has given us, but He alone deserves the glory. If our strength and our time belong to God, then however he asks us to use those resources is His business. If He makes us a steward of His money, then we are obligated to use it in the way that pleases its real Owner. 

Discussion idea: What is some blessing in your life that you are tempted to claim ownership of? How could you redirect it for God's glory?
Prayer focus: Lord, remind me that all of the resources in my life are your blessings, and help me to use them for Your glory.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

March 25 - Deuteronomy 15, Luke 13

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 15:2

Big idea: God's covenant overrides all of our other relationships.

Jim Collins, renowned business author, wrote: "Good is the enemy of great." People rarely set out to be mediocre, but they often settle by stopping before they reach their real goal. Goals are hard because they require trade-offs: saying yes to one person or task requires saying no to another. We only have so much time, and we only have so much attention. If we have to choose between two good things how can we distinguish the good from the great? The answer, I think, is purpose. A company with a clearly defined strategy is much more likely to succeed, an athlete training toward a record will excel, and so on.

But ultimately, each of these goals must be evaluated in light of the master purpose of your life. The resources devoted to any relationship or task all depend on how it supports that ultimate goal. Deuteronomy 15 introduces some laws that are bad for business: every seven years, all debts were forgiven and slaves were released. It was bad enough for the aspiring banker that Israelites were not allowed to charge each other interest, but now lending was not just a break-even proposition. If they had not paid it back before the year of release, it would be a loss. And God forbade anyone from refusing to lend to their brother because the year of release was at hand. Generosity and forgiveness were literally the Law. How is it possible to sacrifice the repayment you are entitled to or the service you have paid for? 

God's answer in Deuteronomy 15 is that our relationship with Him overrides all other relationships. We treat our brothers and sisters with generosity and kindness because God has given the same things to us. We who have been strangers and exiles in the world should treat the weak and vulnerable with the same grace that God has shown us. Following these regulations might sacrifice profit or comfort but our relationship with God is truly "the bottom line." We can pursue many other good goals, but only our walk with the LORD is great.

Discussion idea: When you are choosing a job, a spouse, a sport to play, or a college, how does the supremacy of your walk with God affect your decisions?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to make You the center of my life, and bring everything else into place around you. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

March 24 - Deuteronomy 9, Luke 12

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 9:5

Big idea: God's covenant is all of grace.

Some people imagine a sharp line two-thirds of the way through the Bible. On one side of the line is grace: people are saved by faith because of God's unstoppable love. On the other side is Law: people had to behave to earn God's favor. The problem is that this theory is entirely wrong. There is one message in the Bible from cover to cover: the Law could never save anyone because humanity was too weak to carry out its demands and the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. The only way that anyone could ever be who God intended them to be was through His unmerited favor. Everything has always been brought about by grace. 

This is not just supposition. It is God's explicit declaration in Deuteronomy 9:4-5: "Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." He warns the Israelites against taking credit for His blessings. It is not because of their righteousness that He blessed them; they did not have any righteousness! The Canaanites were being expelled from the land for their wickedness and the Israelites were receiving it because of God's gracious faithfulness to Abraham. The father of the nation had received promises when he was still in Ur of the Chaldees and all he had to do was start walking and claim them. 

What was true about the promises of land and material possessions is so much more true of our inheritance. We cannot do anything to deserve to be adopted as God's children, and certainly do not deserve a place in His eternal Kingdom. But - by grace and grace alone - He invites us to it anyway. Let us never be arrogant enough to try and take the credit, like it were our righteousness or the uprightness of our hearts that earned God's favor. It is, and has always been, His love.

Discussion idea: What would happen if the Israelites believed that their blessings were earned instead of given? What are the consequences of that error in our lives?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to remember that I am not saved by my works, but for works. Keep me from looking down on others or elevating myself, and teach me to serve you in gratitude for your free gift of love.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

March 23 - Deuteronomy 6, Luke 11

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 6:5

Big idea: Obedience to the covenant begins with love. 

Deuteronomy, which means "second law," details Moses' farewell addresses just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In it, God gives the Law once again, reiterating that the failure of the previous generation had not nullified God's promise and that He would still maintain his relationship with those who were entering the land. It is roughly outlined around the ten commandments, where this whole book could be understood as Moses' sermon on the implications of that most basic set of laws. The longest section is on the first commandment: "Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me." It details proper worship and the honor that God deserves. All of the other commandments flow from that first relationship. 

As we have worked our way through the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Law or the Torah), we have seen many instructions about various details of life. But it all begins with the proper attitude toward God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the beginning of the daily Israelite prayer called the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."

When Jesus was asked for the most important commandment, this is what He quoted. It all begins with love of God. If we love Him and fulfill our responsibility to point others toward Him, beginning with our own children, then everything else will follow. Jesus described the second most commandment as being a different form of the same thing: "And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But if we love God rightly, we will love the people made in His image too. If we do not love people, there is something missing in our love of God.

Discussion idea: What does it mean about love that love can be commanded?

Prayer focus: Teach me to love, O Lord. Bend my heart to You and teach me to live for your glory.

Monday, March 22, 2021

March 21 - Numbers 35, Luke 10

Key verse: Numbers 35:33

Big idea: We cannot move forward when sin is ignored.

If you kill someone accidentally or in self-defense, should you face any consequences? In Texas, the law is somewhat complex, with “stand-your-ground” provisions and other complications. In Israel, the situation was much more straightforward. If you killed an enemy, threw something with malicious intent, or lay in wait for someone, it was murder, and the penalty was death. But what about something less clean-cut? Shoving someone to their death in the heat of a moment, striking someone with a stone in a fight, or failing to build a safety wall around the roof of your house, so someone fell and died (Deuteronomy 22:8)?

Here, negligent homicide might result in a fine: in Israel, no financial compensation could even be considered for the loss of human life. The only thing which could make atonement for blood was blood. But someone who was not a murderer should not be killed either. So there was sin which had to be dealt with (or the nation was polluted) and there was no adequate means for making it right. What should be done? God introduced six cities of refuge to address the problem:  Levite towns where a manslayer could flee to avoid execution. Once there, he would face a trial, and if found not guilty of premeditation, would be protected. If he left the city, he could be killed. There was no way to pay a fee to be freed early, his life was spared because the bloodguilt was “quarantined.”

But he was freed eventually: when the High Priest died. The death of the priest, who stood over the sacrificial system and administered the Law, made atonement for the manslayer. What a picture of Jesus! Sacrifice and priest – setting us free from the bondage of sins of commission, omission, and ignorance. Our sin cannot be ignored or treated as a light thing, but praise God, it can be forgiven.

Discussion idea: Why would our society reject cities of refuge today?

Prayer focus: Search me, God, show me my sin, and carry it away by the death of the Great High Priest.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

March 18 - Numbers 21, Luke 8

Key verse: Numbers 21:9

Big idea: To move forward, we must look up.

In Numbers 21, the Israelites are once again being judged for their rebellion against God. He sends a plague of snakes on the nation, and when they cry out for mercy, Moses intercedes and God gives them a cure. If they looked up at a brass serpent that Moses made, they would be healed. Look - a word that implied looking up in faith - and live! Several commentators have pointed out the interesting inversion: normally contact with death made someone impure, but in the case of sacrifices the ashes or blood of a dead animal could remove someone's uncleanness. Here, a serpent removed the pain of a serpent. 

It might be an interesting story without long-term impact, except for something Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." What was the connection Jesus was making? It seems to me that when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, His death cured the power of death. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us. Jesus was lifted up so that we could look at Him in faith and live. 

Discussion idea: What might God be teaching us by linking the shape of the problem and the cure?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to keep my eyes on You, my healer, and especially the clearest expression of Your healing - the cross.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

March 17 - Numbers 20, Luke 7

 Key verse: Numbers 20:10

Big idea: We must follow God's leadership to move forward.

Yesterday's text reminded us of the importance of human leaders, but Numbers 20 immediately provides an essential corrective: the human leaders must follow God's leadership, and because of their responsibility must be held to an even higher standard. God gave Moses a simple instruction: strike the rock once and it would bring forth water, then speak to it and it would bring forth more water (see Exodus 17). After an extended time in the desert, the Israelites began to grumble again. But instead of following God's instructions, Moses lost his temper. "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" he asked, as if he and the Lord were partners. Then he struck the rock twice, instead of following God's instructions.

God's response was swift and sharp. Moses would not be allowed to enter into the Promised Land - he could not go forward any farther than the wilderness - because he had failed to set God apart as holy. God told him, "because you believed in Me not." Moses did believe God would bring water from the rock, but he failed to have the kind of relational faith which recognized God for who He is. Because he lifted himself up to the same level as God, and failed to follow the instructions he was given, he lost the honor of entering into the Promised Land. It seems that Moses never stood in the land he had longed for, until his Spirit stood on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Elijah. He will not stand there in the flesh until he is resurrected at the last day.

We know from 1 Corinthians 10:4 that this rock represented Jesus, so striking it twice was a blasphemous breakdown of the symbol. Jesus died once and for all, and we simply call on Him to be saved. Moses probably didn't know that. But there is a lesson there too. Just because we do not know why God gives us an instruction does not excuse us from following it. He knows best, and so submitting to Him is always right.

Discussion idea:  Which extreme do you think our culture tends to fall into: rejecting leadership altogether, or putting leaders on a pedestal and realizing that everyone is ultimately under God's authority? What about you personally?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you live with the kind of faith that follows Him, even when you don't know the why, and leads others to do the same.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

March 16 - Numbers 16, Luke 6

 Key verse: Numbers 16:10

Big idea: God appoints leaders to move us forward.

I apologize, I had an emergency tonight that I had to handle which kept me out until about 12:30. I just can't seem to string any words together. I will update this post tomorrow so that on Wednesday, you will be able to see both.  The concept I will try to get across is that the people resisted Moses' leadership because they observed (correctly) that they were all God's people. Nevertheless, God gave Moses a special role, although not greater value. Today, God puts people over us at specific times and for specific reasons and we ought to have the humility to follow that. 

I once read about a young pastor who complained about the size of his congregation, and an older, wiser man said "I can assure you, that when you give an account for them in the day of judgment, you will find that they were more than enough." We should all realize that we have plenty to be accountable to God for without getting out of our lane. Hopefully tomorrow that will all make more sense. Thanks for your patience.

-Justin

The Luke 6 devotional can be found below.


Monday, March 15, 2021

March 15 - Numbers 14, Luke 5

Key verse: Numbers 14:8

Big idea: We can move forward when we trust that God is with us.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that you could never step in the same river twice. Every moment, some water is leaving the river (flowing into the sea, evaporating, or being swallowed by some animal) and other water is coming into it (from snowmelt, rain, or a tributary feeding into it). I can never step into the Jordan River like it was this morning because I was in Texas today, not in Galilee. If I go tomorrow, it will be a different river in some sense, and will never be exactly the same river again. That is a trivial example (who cares if I stepped in that exact river), but the visual of opportunities flowing by and draining away forever is powerful to me. Life is like that. The person you had a chance to encourage or help today will never exist in that situation again, the opportunity to minister to them in that crisis is gone. Opportunity rarely knocks twice. 

Israel learned that painful lesson in today's chapter. The book of Numbers picks up where Exodus left off, at Mount Sinai receiving the Law, on their way from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. It should have been a relatively quick trip, and by today's reading, they have crossed the desert (wilderness and desert mean the same thing in the Bible) to arrive. They sent forty spies into the land to see what they would be facing, and all of them agreed that the land was bountiful and beautiful ("flowing with milk and honey" should make us think of something like the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). But all but two of them also agreed that it couldn't be done. The enemies were too great; it would be better for them to just die in the desert than to be slaughtered in Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb stood on the obvious truth that if God had given this land to them, He was certainly strong enough to secure it. The nation as a whole rejected their counsel and lost the opportunity to enjoy the land God had promised them. He condemned them to wander in the wilderness for forty years - until every adult of military age who could have invaded Canaan and refused to had died. They would get their wish to die in the desert, and their children would be the transformed nation that would enter the land. 

How often do we miss opportunities because, like the Israelites, we do not have the faith to trust that God will empower us to do what He calls us to do? Dr. Charles Stanley is famous for saying, "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him." The idea was not original to Him; it is the lesson the Israelites should have learned a long time ago.

Discussion idea: What would you do for God if you were not worried about whether you could?

Prayer focus: Lord, teach me to trust You.

Friday, March 12, 2021

March 12 - Leviticus 23, Luke 4

Key verse: Leviticus 23:2

Big idea: Both times and places can be holy.

As we have read about Leviticus, we have seen a lot of emphasis placed on holy spaces. The holy of holies, like the ground where Moses stood, was a special place where God dwelt, distinguished from all the other places on the Earth. Ultimately, the hope of God's people was that the whole Earth would be filled with His glory. But it was not only spaces that would be set apart as holy, but also time. Leviticus 23 reveals a series of holy days that ranged from the annual day of atonement to the weekly sabbath. These days built a rhythm of rest and worship into their society, where every place was given a taste of the sanctity of the Temple.

Consider the descent of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, where the New Heaven and New Earth collide in harmony. Revelation 22:1-5 shows the aftermath: "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever." 

This is the promise of where holy space and holy time are fused. The special moment of the Sabbath, a day of rest and worship, will become the truth of every day. All of space and all of time will become the holy moment we spend with God, forever and ever.

Discussion idea: What is it about being human where we need routines to remind ourselves of the truth?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to build the rhythms that point to You, from daily time with You, to church attendance, or whatever else points me toward the day of rest.


Thursday, March 11, 2021

March 11 - Leviticus 19, Luke 3

 Key verse: Leviticus 19:2

Big idea: We shall be holy because God is holy.

Leviticus 19 reads like a miscellaneous catalog of rules that didn't fit in anywhere else. Honor your parents, keep the sabbath, don't harvest the edges of your field but leave them for the poor, don't harbor hatred but confront people who have upset you directly, don't practice prostitution, respect the elderly, give the same rights to foreigners and natives, and have honest weights and measures for commerce. Except these rules are found in other places, and are not repeated here because they had to go somewhere but because they fit under the heading of verse 2: "Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy." 

God's holiness touches on every conceivable area of existence: our holiness should too. This grab bag of regulations is to show us that our religious lives, our family lives, our business practices, and everything else should be shaped by Who we belong to. But the heading of this section makes it more than advice: His people shall be holy because He is holy. Our holiness is not something we work up in ourselves! It is a reflection of our fellowship with the Creator. The Israelites were expected to know this; as people who had His presence in their midst, they would be transformed! Of course, their sin and rebellion often resisted this transformation, but in eternity (for those who were really His people) it was assured.

For us, of course, the principle is the same and even more intense. The presence of God does not dwell in a Temple in Alvin or Washington, but in our hearts and in the midst of our church. He is making us holy by His holiness through the presence of His Spirit and will finish it with the arrival of His Son. This is the promise of 1 John 3:1-3: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." We will be made holy because He is holy, and the process begins now when we keep our eyes on Him.

Discussion idea: Which of the elements of holiness in this chapter seems the hardest to you? The easiest? How do they relate to the heart of God?

Prayer focus: Lord, conform me to the image of Christ, whatever it takes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

March 10 - Leviticus 16, Luke 2

 Key verse: Leviticus 16:16

Big idea: Holiness comes from atonement.

Have you ever moved a problem around without solving it? Putting off a tough conversation, moving a mess from a room where the company is coming to a room where they won't go, or refinancing a credit card with a personal loan are all examples or delaying a problem without really doing anything about it. This is usually a foolish approach unless you know that you will have help cleaning tomorrow, some good advice for your conversation this afternoon, or a substantial pay raise coming. Then, you delay the inevitable sickness until the cure is ready, and the movement is not rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but a steady push toward the finish line.

That, in many ways, is what the Old Testament sacrificial system did. Sin cannot be eliminated by good works, any more than decades of community service can offset a murder. The animal sacrifices showed that sins deserved death, and gave them a chance to plead for forgiveness, but it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). So in Leviticus 16, we learn that the sins of the people accumulated in the Temple - moved, but not expunged. The problem was pushed forward, but not dealt with. Once a year, the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holiest Place (the Holy of Holies) where God dwelt. Cloaked in incense, He went in and put blood on the mercy seat, pleading for forgiveness at the spot which represented the very throne of God.

This occasion, called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in Hebrew, was when the whole nation fasted and mourned their sins. There were two goats selected, one of which was sacrificed and made an offering to God. The High Priest confessed the sins of the people over the other with his hands on the head of the goat, transferring the guilt that had accumulated in the sanctuary on that animal, which was then driven off into the wilderness. Of course, even this did not really deal with sins. But it pushed them forward a little farther, until the true Sacrifice came, who carried our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Atonement was necessary, but the true Day of Atonement was the Passover when Jesus died on Calvary.

Discussion idea: Leviticus 16 is explicit that the sanctuary was cleansed on Yom Kippur. How do we know that transfer of Jesus was the final solution to the problem of sin, and not just another stopping point?

Prayer focus: Praise God for the finished work of the Cross, that our sins are forgiven now and forever.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

March 9 - Leviticus 12, Luke 1

 Key verse: Leviticus 12:8

Big Idea: Birth is a holy time of celebration.

What does a baby mean to you? For some people, it is a memory of grief. For others, a cause for fear. But to God, the birth of a child is a time of celebration - another image bearer has come into the world - tinged with sadness - he or she will die because of the curse of sin. Children are not an inconvenience to be avoided (still less a parasite to be killed).  They are a blessing and a reward from God (Psalm 127:3). So it should not be surprising to us that God's Word included specific regulations for how the birth of a child should be carried out. This short chapter probably seems strange to us. There is nothing about skin-to-skin contact, methods of swaddling, the sins/virtues of pacifiers, or any of the other things that are apparently indispensable to modern childbirth! Instead, there are sacrifices and purifying periods. 

Why? Because the birth of a child is not an isolated event. Since Genesis 3, every birth has been filled with promise: that one day, the Child would be born who would set us all free. Every birth was a time of worship and of hope, even in the midst of childbirth made painful by the curse. The woman was ceremonially unclean for two weeks (shortened to one week for a baby boy, apparently to allow her to participate in his circumcision) and kept from visiting the Temple for a longer period, until she could come and bring the proper sacrifices. Was this waiting period a picture of the long wait from Eve to Mary? Or something else? We can't really be sure. But what we can be sure of is that God is never absent in the birth of a child, crafted in His image for His glory. No matter the circumstances, a birth is a time for worship and celebration.

Discussion idea: Read Luke 2:22-24. In light of Leviticus 12, what does that passage teach us about Mary and Joseph?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the gift of children, pray for those that are unwanted, and ask God for opportunities to serve "the least of these."


Monday, March 8, 2021

March 8 - Leviticus 11, Jude

 Key Verse: Leviticus 11:44

Big Idea: Holiness extends to every area of our lives.

After the excitement of Leviticus 10, maybe chapter 11 is where your eyes start to glaze over: "I remember why I thought the Old Testament was boring." Israelites could eat animals with divided hooves, as long as they also chewed cud. So no camels (they don't chew cud) and no rock badgers (what the KJV calls a "coney," it has the wrong kind of feet). Both requirements had to be met for an animal to be acceptable for food. For fish, the two requirements were both scales and fins. Moses goes on, explaining different requirements for insects, birds, and so on. Even the carcasses of these animals could not be touched. In Matthew 23:24, when Jesus said "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel," he was accusing them of carefully avoiding the smallest unclean creature, while taking in the largest one whole. They were so focused on the details that they missed the big picture. Perhaps that is where you find yourself at this point in the text.

So, the gnats aside of why one thing was clean and another was unclean, let's look at the camel: why did God tell the Israelites what to eat? For you, dear reader, who has been following the Old Testament for over two months now, maybe this is not such a shock. After all, in Genesis 2-3, the first commandment God gave was a dietary restriction! In that case, the issue was clearly not about health or the corruption of a fallen world. It seems most likely to me that the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not give the knowledge of good and evil on its own, but that they would learn what good and evil were by either obeying or disobeying God. The purpose of the commandment was to draw a bold line: you will either obey Me and by like Me, or obey the serpent and be like him. There were no small commandments and big ones, just a simple test that revealed the decision of the heart.

In the same way, these food laws show that every detail of the Israelites' lives were to be shaped by their special relationship with the LORD. Either they would eat what the nations around them ate and what was convenient, or they would restrict their foods to the ones that were permissible for sacrifice. They could imitate the Egyptians and the Canaanites, or they could imitate God and share in His bounty. Their different status was to be shown in ways that other people could notice: their clothes, their food, and so on. For us, it is different. All foods have been declared clean (Mark 7:19). The distinguishing marks for Christians is love (John 13:35). But if food laws touch every area of our lives, how much more will the better law about the love of our hearts?

Discussion idea: What areas of your life seem too small to matter to God? How does holiness require wholeness, even in that?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to walk with integrity, so my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength are united in devotion to You. No part of my life is reserved as a foothold for sin, and no task is too great or too small when You call me to it.

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.