Thursday, June 3, 2021

June 3 - 1 Kings 9, Romans 8

 Key verse: 1 Kings 9:9

Big idea: Worship starts with obedience.

After Solomon completed the Temple, God came to him in a second vision, like the one where He had granted him wisdom. This is not as well known as the first, but it is perhaps even more important. In this chapter, God reaffirms the covenant that He had made with David in 2 Samuel 7. God's blessing would not depend on the faithfulness of the whole world, on the faithfulness of all of Abraham's descendants, or even on the faithfulness of all of Israel. Instead, God would give His people His presence through the Temple if David's son was faithful, and forsake the Temple and the land if David's son was faithless. God's rescue plan that we first considered in Genesis is now nearing its fulfillment: there is only one more stage of narrowing left. One particular Son of David would perfectly obey, redeeming Israel and through Israel the whole world. 

The connection between the Temple and obedience is not arbitrary. Truly experiencing God's presence is inseparable from holy living. When we love God, our first response will be to recognize Him as who He is: the King. If we reject obedience (the most basic form of worship), all of our other worship is superficial and meaningless. As Samuel said back in 1 Samuel 15:22, "to obey is better than sacrifice". 

Discussion idea: Why did God wait to give this assurance until after the Temple was built? How does the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD relate to Jesus' final victory as the rightful King?

Prayer focus: Thank God that He provides His presence and the opportunity for us to worship Him through Christ's perfection, despite our sin.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

June 2 - 1 Kings 8, Romans 7

 Key verse: 1 Kings 8:56

Big idea: Worship gives rest.

Back in Exodus 33, when the Israelites had built the golden calf and Moses had to plead with God to continue personally dwelling among them. God's answer was staggering, "My presence will go with thee and I will give thee rest." From the Garden of Eden on, people had lost both the presence of God and their own home because of sin, and were forced to wander apart from Him. It was impossible to restore one without the other: there is no rest without God and no real understanding of God that does not bring rest. Here, when the Temple was finally completed, the presence of God came to rest in the Temple (like He had in the Tabernacle), and His brightness was so intense that no one could enter. Solomon prayed to dedicate the Temple, and said something very interesting: "Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us."

Israel had been in the land of promise for centuries, but when the Temple was inaugurated, a new level of peace and rest became available to them. They could rest in His forgiveness, His provision, and His promises. The knowledge that He would not leave them or forsake them gave them rest. For us, there is no greater rest than in worshipping the God of grace. We do not need to earn His love, but can rest knowing that we have His Spirit by faith.

Discussion idea: Have you ever felt refreshed and rested after a time of worship? What is the connection?

Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of faith that brings peace and rest.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

June 1 - 1 Kings 6, Romans 6

 Key verse: 1 Kings 6:29

Big idea: Worship is a taste of paradise.

Four years into his reign, King Solomon was finally able to do what God had forbidden David to do: build a permanent Temple. Since the end of the book of Leviticus (about 500 years earlier), people had gone to the tent known as the Tabernacle to worship God. But David desired to build God a permanent structure, more fitting of the importance and glory of God. The Lord told David that he would not build God a house to be worshipped, but that God would build David a house - a family. The first heir in that family, Solomon, was now ready to build the Temple. It was a large, impressive structure, where the larger population of Israel could be accommodated, which would be durable enough to last for generations.

Two elements of the Temple are especially worthy of note. First, much of the Temple was covered in gold. This was no casual display of Solomon's wealth, although it certainly did demonstrate that, but an important part of the Temple's symbolism. At the heart of the Temple, in the "holiest place" (literally, "holy of holies"), was the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant that represented God's throne, flanked by two large statues of angels. The gold all around reminds us of Revelation 21:21, where we are told that the streets in the New Jerusalem are like pure gold. Whatever Revelation 21 means, the throne and gold together show us that the Temple was meant to be a taste of the new age now. 

Further, our text tells us that the Temple was engraved with palm trees and flowers. While the gold points forward, this garden imagery points back to the Garden of Eden. While Adam had walked with God in the Garden, that consistent access to God was lost because of sin. But in the Temple, when sins were covered and peace was restored, there was a sense in which people were able to experience a taste of Eden too. The New Jerusalem, when Heaven comes down to Earth, includes Garden imagery too (Revelation 22:1-5). Throughout the whole Bible, God weaves a thread of His presence with His people, where what we lost is restored, and even more is given to us.

Discussion idea: 1 Corinthians 3:5-17 uses two metaphors to describe the church. What are they? How do they connect to the imagery within the Temple?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for giving me access to Your presence through the cross. I did not need to go up to a Temple or a Tabernacle, or climb up to Heaven or down to the grave. You came to me! You let me know You and experience Your love. Help me to never take that for granted and to rejoice in that worship today.

Monday, May 31, 2021

May 31 - 1 Kings 3, Romans 5

 Key verse: 1 Kings 3:9

Big idea: Worship is the heart of wisdom.

Today's text picks up after the death of King David, when his son Solomon began to reign. The Lord came to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he wanted. Solomon could have asked for military might, personal wealth, long life and good health, or ten thousand other things. Every child who has ever seen the movie Aladdin probably has some ideas about what they would ask for if the opportunity arose to have anything their heart desired. But the king's answer was different: he asked for a wise heart to govern the people. The king knew that God had given him an extraordinary task, and his greatest desire was to handle that task well. To do that would require the ability to discern between difficult choices, to find a middle way between bad options, and to represent God well in all that he did. 

It is no coincidence that Solomon wrote, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," in Proverbs 1:7. At the time that he prayed, we do not have any evidence that Solomon had any extraordinary wisdom beyond his love of God. But the wisdom to put God's will for his life first led to all other wisdom. For you and me, we cannot expect to be visited in a dream and be given unmatched insight into every situation, but we can cling to God's promise in the book of James that if we ask God for wisdom, He will give it to us generously. If wisdom is the practical skill of living, what could be more central to being wise than having the single most important priority of all in place? God was pleased with Solomon's response, and as a reward for his humility, promised to give him all of the things that he did not ask for as well. Jesus put it this way, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." The principle is the same and God is still faithful.

Discussion idea: How does the story that ends this chapter illustrate Solomon's wisdom? How might a lesser king have resolved that same situation?

Prayer focus: Lord, make your Word and Your Spirit a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Help me to seek Your kingdom first, and know that everything else will be added.

Friday, May 28, 2021

May 28 - 2 Samuel 24

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 24:24

Big idea: When God reigns, He sometimes calls on us to give much.

2 Samuel 24 is a challenging chapter. God was angry with Israel, so he incited David to conduct a census and then judged them for the census? Strange. Worse still, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan (a Hebrew word that means adversary or accuser that tempted David. What is going on here? Let me propose a theory that is shared by several scholars. Under David's rule, the united Israel was going stronger and stronger, and as they grew in strength, they were more and more proud. There was no reason for them to conduct a census - God was their strength, not raw numbers, and a census in the Bible was a sacred act. The people were not the king's to count as if they were his property; they were God's own people first and foremost. God was angry with the Israelites for their pride, and allowed Satan to tempt David. David sinned by proudly numbering the people, and in response to this, God judged the nation, and tens of thousands died.

When the judgment stopped, the angel of the Lord stopped at a large stone threshing floor. It is at this place, where God's wrath was stopped, that the Temple would eventually be built. But I am interested in one little verse today, toward the end. When David went to the main who owned the threshingfloor and asked to buy the land to build an altar. Araunah said that it was not necessary to buy it - he could have it, the oxen, and the tools to make a fire. But David said that he would not give God what cost him nothing, and bought the land and the oxen. 

Real worship is costly. We can give cheap worship: flowery language and symbolic gestures. But if God is really the King of Kings, then we must be prepared to give Him the painful and the inconvenient. We must be ready to strip down everything that seems precious to us, and give him the things that are of great value. What have you given up for Jesus?

Discussion idea: What costly act of worship is God leading you to? Where can you "give until it hurts"?

Prayer focus: Lord, make me a living sacrifice, open and vulnerable for whatever You ask.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

May 26 - 2 Samuel 7, Romans 4

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 7:11

Big Idea: God's great promises begin in the smallest details.

2 Samuel 7 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. It serves as one of the great links in the chain of the biblical story, like God's promises to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, or to Abraham in Genesis 18. David decided that he wanted to build a Temple - a house for God. But God told him "no," and promised instead to build David a house. Sometimes, God says no to one thing so that He can offer a bigger yes. God would not build a palace for David, but a family, that would carry on an everlasting dynasty. God had promised Abraham to bless the whole world through him, and now he would bless the nation through the obedience of David's line. Ultimately, one descendant of David's perfect obedience would bring the hope of salvation to the whole world! 

But thinking about Jesus adds even more to the story than that. David had wanted to build a building where God could dwell, but the House where God dwelt most fully was not one made by human hands, but the body of Jesus. When the Word became flesh, the house that God built for David was the house that David could never build for God. Today, believers are God's house in the world, both as individuals and as the gathered church. We are the place that God's presence rests, and the house where He loves to be worshipped. The promise of this chapter is our hope and our joy, and it all began when God told David, "No." 

Discussion idea: Why does Nathan assume that it would be okay for David to build a Temple? Why does God wait to give David the promise of an unending kingdom until this chapter?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to trust Him to use the small inconveniences and detours in your life to accomplish His plans.

Key verse: Romans 4:21

Big Idea: The greatest and the least all need the gospel.

Sometimes heroes seem to inhabit a different world than the rest of us. Who can think about Apollo 13 without wondering if Jim Lovell is made of a different kind of flesh than we are? Or look at Winston Churchill without doubting if we would have the strength to stare staggeringly powerful evil in the face and hold onto hope against hope? Could anyone claim to be like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, giving their lives to try to take the gospel to the Huaorani people, and Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, going to love the very people that had killed their husband and brother (respectively)? For Paul's Jewish readers, Abraham was like all of these combined. He was the founder of their nation, who with staggering faith had marched across the known world to go to the land God had promised. He was a religious, patriotic, and cultural icon. He lived centuries before the Law of Moses was given, and was the first to be ritually circumcised according to the commandment.

How does he fit into Paul's radical claim that because we are all sinners, incapable of attaining righteousness by obeying the Law, we are all saved by faith alone? Isn't Abraham's faithfulness the perfect example of someone who was saved by good works? Paul's answer is a challenge to read the Old Testament account carefully. God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (although his wife was too old to have children), that he would have a certain land, and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him (ultimately, a promise that one of his descendants would be the Messiah). Abraham believed God and God credited that faith to Abraham as if it were a life of righteousness.

Abraham's relationship with God, Paul points out, was because of his faith in God before he was circumcised. Before Abraham took the mark of a Jewish man, he was already God's. He did not comply with the Law first or join a religion first, he simply believed God's Word. The hero came to forgiveness the same way as the murderer Saul and the same way as you and I can. God could have had Abraham be circumcised first, but He controlled the order so that we would know that external acts of obedience follow a change of heart, not the other way around. 

Discussion Idea: Why is Abraham's salvation recorded in Genesis, according to Romans 4:23-25? The Bible includes a lot of history; how does God use examples to help us?

Prayer Focus: Pray for the ability to grow in faith, and take God at His Word.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

May 25 - 2 Samuel 6, Romans 3

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 6:22

Big idea: When God reigns in our lives, no one else's judgments matter.

Since our last reading, David has consolidated his reign over all twelve tribes, set up his capitol in Jerusalem and intended to bring the ark there. For the journey of about nine miles, David secured a previously unused cart. It was clearly intended to be an act of reverence, no cart that had ever carried anything else was worthy of carrying the ark of the Lord. They began their journey with all kinds of instruments and a tone of celebration. Then, when the ark began to fall, Uzzah reached out to stop it. He certainly intended to respect the ark, but paid for it with his life. David tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem on his own terms, with his own ideas about how to respect God, but it would never work. In fear, David stopped the ark for several months, until he heard how God was blessing the household where it was. David was reminded that God is a blessing God, and that the judgment of Uzzah was a response to their sin, not a sign that God wasn't good. So he prepared to bring the ark to Jerusalem, but carried by people this time, apparently with no instruments but trumpets and voices, and David himself led the procession, wearing a linen ephod. It certainly looked less dignified than the first attempt, but it was what God wanted.

The party took six steps from Obed-Edom's house to see if God would permit them to continue, and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving when He did. As they proceeded, David danced ("twirled") before the Lord with all of his strength, in worship. His wife and the daughter of Saul, Michal, looked down from a window and despised David. This was no way for a king to behave. A linen ephod was little more than a loincloth, and while a child might wear it, it was hardly appropriate for a grown man, and still less the dignity of a king. When Michel accused David of humiliating himself before the servants, what she probably meant was that he had humiliated her. But she had revealed her heart in any case. David explained that he was not dancing before the servants, but before God, and that he did not care what anyone else thought. Before God, he was happy to be humiliated. David knew that when he honored God that God would bless him, and told Michel that the servants would honor him just the same. In their first attempt to move the ark, people would have been pleased. In the second, God was.

Discussion idea: Why was God so particular about how the ark was moved? How can we replace God's will with what seems good to us or what looks good to others in worship?

Prayer focus: Ask God to teach you to be humbled before Him, and to trust Him to exalt you before others. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

May 24 - 2 Samuel 2, Romans 2

 Key verse: 2 Samuel 2:12

Big idea: The 

David had been anointed king by Samuel, served in Saul's court, spent years on the run, until Saul finally died at the end of 1 Samuel. We might be tempted to imagine that now, at last, everything has fallen into place and David can ride into the sunset to live happily every after. Unfortunately, as our text shows us, this is not what happened. Instead, Saul's general Abner set Saul's king up as king (apparently as Abner's puppet), while David ruled only over his own tribe: Judah. 

This is an interesting parable. The wicked, rejected king is dead and his power is broken. Formally, all power now belongs to the Anointed One of God. Practically, his domain only includes his own people for a little while, but will eventually spread. Doesn't this sound like our world? Satan has been defeated, Jesus is King, but right now only His people accept His rule. But this will only last for a little while!  Like David would be King over the whole nation in two years, the day is coming when the Son of David will reign over all of creation, We only need to be faithful to Him while we wait.

Discussion idea: Why do you think that God allowed David's consolidation to be delayed? Would Jesus' apostles have been surprised to know that He has not returned yet?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to follow You now, and long for your coming Kingdom.

Friday, May 14, 2021

May 14 - 1 Samuel 7, Acts 24

Key verse: 1 Samuel 7:12

Big idea: God reigns in the past and the future. 

One of my favorite hymns is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. One of the verses comes from our text today:

Here I raise  my Ebenezer

Hither by thy help, I've come

And I hope by thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wand'ring from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood

When Samuel was judging the Israelites and they were able to drive back the Philistines, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer, "help stone." He explained that it was because God had helped them this far. "This far," like in English, has two possible meanings: it can mean up to this point in time, or up to this border in space. In this case, maybe both! 

Over and over again in the Old Testament, the Israelites set up stone monuments to commemorate God's deliverance. It was because they knew how forgetful human beings can be, and how quickly yesterday's blessings are crowded out by tomorrow's fears. These monuments reminded them that God had been with them in the past, and that He would still be with them in the future. It is the same way with us. God had brought us this far! In time, He has carried us to this point in your life. In "space," He has taught you and me so many things and helped us to grow past so many old habits and hurts. Is he going to stop now? No, beloved, when we look at our Ebenezer, we remember that God has brought us this far and will take us home. The God who sought you with His own blood when you were His enemy is not going to abandon you now that you are His child.

Discussion idea: Where is your "Ebenezer"? What has God helped you through in the past that can reassure you of His help in the present and future?

Prayer focus: Worship God for His faithfulness and repent of your forgetfulness. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

May 12 - 1 Samuel 5, Acts 22

 Key verse: 1 Samuel 5:4

Big idea: God rules over all other powers.

Because of the wickedness of Eli's sons, God allowed the ark of the covenant - the symbol of his powerful presence in Israel - to be temporarily taken. But the Philistines would not see this as God judging his own people, but as a sign that their god Dagon had defeated the god of the Israelites. That was not an impression that God would allow to stand. So when the ark was taken into the Temple, the idol that they worshipped as their God fell flat on its face before God, as if in worship. They propped the statue back up (what kind of god needs to be picked up by his worshippers?) and the next day, he had fallen down prostrate again and his hands and neck were broken off. The Philistines had defeated and shamed Israel in battle, but Israel's God was the conqueror of all others.

Sometimes, people imagine that God and Satan are locked in combat, two equals struggling for supremacy. But this is not so. God is the Maker and Sustainer of all that exists, from the highest angel to the lowest insect. Nothing in heaven or earth can oppose him, and more than the statue of Dagon could stand before the ark. For a season, Satan is allowed to oppose the people of God, but his defeat is certain and his power goes no farther than God permits. In your life, God may allow you to go through difficult times, but take heart! They can go no further than His wise and loving hand allows.

Discussion idea: Why did God allow the ark to be captured? How does the idea of warring gods leak into our culture today?

Prayer focus: Lord, You are Lord of Lords. all of the other powers and principalities in the universe are under your hand. Set my heart on you alone, and my faith in you alone. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

No Devotional for Today

 I apologize, but there will not be a devotional today. I was tied up in back to back meetings until fairly late last night. We will resume tomorrow. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

May 10 - 1 Samuel 2

 Key verse: 1 Samuel 2:35

Big idea: God rules with holiness and justice.

During the life of Samuel, the wickedness of the earlier judges is fading, but not yet gone. Eli, the priest that takes Samuel in, is followed by two extraordinarily wicked sons. They abuse their power in every possible sphere, and their biography reads a lot like a politician or Hollywood producer. God announces a judgment on Eli's house: they will lose their place of preeminence, Eli will live to see the Ark of the Covenant taken, and both of his sons will die in a single day. Stealing meat, taking advantage of women, and using spiritual and physical intimidation to manipulate people are all on their way out. 

Has God abandoned the priesthood? Is He going to turn His back on Levi or Aaron's descendants? Of course not. But He will shift from one branch of Aaron's family to another because His people cannot move forward without justice at the center of their society. He promises to raise up a new priest, who will go before His anointed one (His Christ) forever. In the short term, that will be fulfilled during the reign of Solomon, when Zadok's family is set up as the high priestly line that will serve David's family until the exile. But ultimately, the Priest and King will go together because they will be one man: Jesus Himself.

Discussion idea: Why does God need to deal with the wickedness in the Temple to bring His people out of the dark period of the Judges? Where does wickedness begin?

Prayer focus: Lord, begin a revival in our nation and our world; start with me!

Friday, May 7, 2021

May 7 - 1 Samuel 1, Acts 19

Key verse: 1 Samuel 1:23

Big idea: God rules over the big and small things in our lives. 

In a study like this one, trying to summarize all 920 chapters of the Old Testament in 260 chapters, going through all four chapters of a book like Ruth is time that I will have to make up down the road. But after spending so much time in the dark and depressing book of Judges, hopefully you can excuse the desire to find a bright spot. Today's chapter takes up a similar path, but a few years later. It begins sadly, but unlike the book of Judges does not deal with tragedy of national or regional significance. Rather there is a man who has two wives, one who has not been able to have children and one who has, and rubs the first one's nose in it. We find a tender husband (bigamy notwithstanding), a broken heart, and a rivalry. It is a good reminder that God is working in the big, dramatic pain, and the pain unseen by everyone else.

Hannah, the wife with no children, poured out her heart before God with such intensity that the priest thought she was drunk and reprimanded her. But she was simply broken in the presence of her Lord, begging for a child who she could send to serve Him. Hannah undoubtedly knew that God was dealing in the mess of her country, but also believed that He knew and cared about her own broken heart. If you take the time to read chapter 2, you will see that she did not really draw a sharp line between the two: God works big things through small people. 

Her rival mocked her, the high priest questioned her, but God heard her. Isn't that good news for us? God is always working, no matter what anyone else thinks. He works in ways that seem to be small to us, but as in the case of Samuel, those small hinges often open great doors.

Discussion idea: What is an answered prayer in your life that might have seemed small to others but which had a big impact?

Prayer focus: Thank God for His attention to small details and sovereignty in the big picture.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

May 6 - Ruth 4, Acts 18

It may be an exaggeration to say that, like the book of Ruth, the Bible begins with a funeral and ends with a wedding. But hopefully a pardonable one. The story of humanity does begin with death and loss, and ends with the marriage supper of the Lamb and the beauty and intimacy of an eternal family. Naomi, by the end of the first chapter, has a bitter heart and empty arms, but by the end of this sweet short story, her arms have been filled with a grandson who is like a son to her, and her heart has been restored by the love of her daughter-in-law and faithful kinsman redeemer. We have seen God's lovingkindness modelled by each of the main characters in the story. Ruth's commitment to go with Naomi, Naomi's desire to provide for Ruth, and Boaz's tender generosity all point to the God who is working behind the scenes. Can the work of God end in anything less than new life? 

Early in the book, we noted how different the faithfulness of the Moabite Ruth was from the wicked Israelites in the period of the Judges. But of course, that is too broad of a brush. God has always maintained a people for himself. He told Elijah that he had preserved thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his church. The whole world was bathed in wickedness before the flood but Noah still stood for the Lord. God is never without witness. So when we come to the genealogy at the end of this book and find that Ruth is the ancestor of no less than King David himself, we should not really be surprised. The covenant keeping, faithful God, preserved the lineage of the King with whom he would enter a new covenant. 

Even more importantly, the promises God made the David were not the last word to David's line. David's descendant, Jesus, came into the world as a direct descendant of this Moabite woman, who had been a widow and was redeemed by Boaz. He was the heir of Naomi, who had called herself "bitter," and yet learned to remember that life could be sweet. How much more do we, as children of God, need to realize that his lovingkindness always breaks through. God has a plan to use the pain, the sorrow, and the apparent chaos of our lives for something beautiful. It began with death, but it ends with new life!

Discussion idea: Why do you think God chose to include this short story in the Bible? What would we miss without it?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the people he has used to demonstrate His lovingkindness in your life.

Key Verse: Acts 18:10

Big Idea: The churches of Jesus have unexpected allies.

Many storytellers, with a wink and a nod, bring every character back for the great finale. In The Lion King, Timon and Pumbaa show up as some unlikely allies to fight Scar. In Great Expectations, every ostensibly minor character is actually a major one. Most of us learn quickly that real life has a lot more loose ends. But as we read Acts 18, we realize that in God's world, nothing happens without a purpose. In Corinth, Paul makes two important allies, Priscilla and Aquila. They had moved out of Italy (about AD 49) because the conflict over Christ had caused dissension among the Jews and Caesar had expelled them all from the capital. The king's harsh edicts placed two people in Paul's path that would have a wide-reaching impact for God's Kingdom. Although Paul faced a lot of opposition, God reassured him not to worry: God was with him and there were many people in the city Paul did not know about. When the persecution reached a fever pitch, the local ruler's laziness protected Paul and he was able to complete his ministry there.

When he left Corinth, Paul took Aquila and Priscilla with him to Ephesus, where they stayed and eventually discipled Apollos, who became an important ally of Paul's and figure in the development of the church at Corinth. Paul then traveled on, strengthening the churches that had already been established. Every thread pulled together to make a path for the gospel to be spread and for God's servants to be brought together. In your life and mine, there may be threads that we never see the end of, but none of them are loose. God is weaving them all together into a master tapestry, to showcase the beauty of Jesus and make us like Him. There are no accidents, so we can be grateful for everything. We are never alone because God can raise up friends in unexpected places and unexpected ways. No one knew that better than the apostle Paul, who saw the friends Christ raised for Him and was surely an unexpected ally himself. 

Discussion Idea: In 1 Kings 17, Elijah was convinced that he was God's last faithful servant, but God reassured him that there were hundreds more. Why are we so prone to feeling alone? If we know God is in control of every circumstance, how will that affect the way we respond to those kinds of situations? 

Prayer Focus: Who is someone God has placed in your life for your good and His glory that you can thank Him for today?

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 5 - Ruth 3, Acts 17

 Key verse: Ruth 3:10

Big idea: Lovingkindness is at the heart of true character.

Alfred Hitchcock coined the term "MacGuffin" to refer to an element that is theoretically the center of a film's plot, but could actually be replaced with something else and exists only to pull the story along. He called it, "The thing the actors on the screen worry about and the audience doesn't care about." The classic example is the military secrets in Hitchcock's own Thirty-Nine Steps, but the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the travel papers in Casablanca, or the meaning of the word "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane are all classic examples. On paper, those are what those stories are all about, but they are ultimately passive plot devices, a means to an end.

By this point in Ruth, you might start to think of Naomi as a MacGuffin. Things have happened to her (a famine, the death of her husband and sons, a faithful daughter in law), but she seems only to react and not act herself. She is the way that God brought Ruth to Israel but has otherwise been passive. But in chapter 3, things change. Naomi turns out to be an insightful and wise woman, making a plan for Ruth to have the "rest" of marriage. It had been about two months since she had first met Boaz, and he was a man of character and kindness, ideal for a husband. Naomi gave her specific instructions: go to him in secret (there was no need to pressure or embarrass him). Uncover his feet when he was asleep with the others after a long day of harvest, and lay down there. When the chill of the night gradually woke Boaz up, he would wake and find Ruth there, who could then propose marriage. It would be a unique kind of Hebrew marriage: because Boaz was a close relative (a kinsman redeemer), their first child would be legally considered the son of her deceased husband and his heir, to carry on the family name. 

Teens/Adults: Judah, the father of Boaz's tribe, sinned grievously in a story about this kind of kinsman redeemer marriage. Genesis 38 tells the story of how his daughter-in-law Tamar remained childless because no one in the family was willing to have his deceased brother's heir, and Tamar pretended to be a prostitute who was solicited by Judah. Both of these woman, Tamar and Ruth, are in the ancestry of Jesus. In Tamar's case, the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer went unanswered. It adds a certain tension to the story: will Boaz be like his ancestor, or will he be noble and kind?

Naomi's plan worked. But there is a wrinkle. There is another man, who is a closer relative, that would have something like "right of first refusal." Boaz cannot redeem this family if the closer relative chooses to instead. Would this other redeemer be the same kind of man as Boaz? Ruth did not want to marry him because he was the youngest or most attractive from a physical point-of-view, but because he was a man of character and integrity. Boaz did not fall in love with Ruth because of her family origin (she was a Moabite), because of her wealth (she was deeply poor) but because of the character she showed in her relationship with her mother-in-law. Our faithfulness reveals our hearts.

Discussion idea: Compare Ruth 2:12 and 3:9. How does Ruth use Boaz's own prayer to persuade him? Now read James 2:16. How does God often answer our prayers for others?

Prayer focus: Ask God to make you a person of lovingkindness, and to value faithful integrity in others more than the superficial things that so often distract us.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May 4 - Ruth 2, Acts 16

 Key verse: Ruth 2:20

Big idea: The Lord shows His lovingkindness through His people. 

In a study going through the Old Testament as quickly as this one, it is hard to justify slowing down to reflect on every single chapter of any particular book. We will not do it again except the book of Obadiah (look it up), but Ruth is a truly incredible piece of literature which has taught many people how to love the Bible. This chapter introduces us to the third and final major character of this short story: Boaz. The first chapter of Ruth was about Ruth's love for Naomi, this chapter is about Boaz's love for Ruth, the next chapter will be about Naomi's love for Ruth (in helping her plan for her future), and the final chapter will be about Boaz's love for Ruth. Confused yet? Let's take it one day at a time.

Gleaning was a provision in the Israelite law to provide for the poor and the immigrant. Israelites were forbidden to harvest to the very edges of their field, go back if they dropped anything, or prevent people walking by their fields from harvesting what they could eat. This food belonged to God, who used it as a provision for the needy and the foreigners who had no land of their own. It maintained their dignity, as they still worked for what they had, while providing for those without capital. Ruth, both a widow and a foreigner, was the kind of person that the law was deigned to protect. But when she "just happened to" enter the field of Boaz, she met a man who was far more generous than even the letter of the law required. He had heard of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and his heart was touched by her character. He had his workers feed her, give her water, intentionally drop sheaves for her to pick up, and not stop her from picking even among the rows which had not been harvested yet. God provided for Ruth, and used this godly man to do it.

God rarely provides for us with manna falling from Heaven. Instead, He shows his lovingkindness to people who pass that lovingkindness onto others. Ideally, it starts with your parents, who taught you what God is like by their own faithfulness. Friends, church family, spouses, and a thousand other people besides are all God's vessels for showing His love for us. In turn, even our smallest acts of kindness are infinitely important if we remember that these two are worship: pointing people to the God who is Love.

Discussion idea: Who is someone specific who has modeled God's lovingkindness to you? What relationship in your life is a chance for you to show God's lovingkindness to someone else?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the specific example you thought of in the discussion section, and ask for open eyes to see acts of kindness to offer God as worship.

Monday, May 3, 2021

May 3 - Ruth 1, Acts 15

 Key verse: Ruth 1:1

Big idea: The lovingkindness of God continues even during judgment.

By the time we finished our series in Judges, I was ready to be finished. It is such a dark and depressing period of the Bible that a serious study leaves your heart longing for a better day. That better day comes swiftly in two forms: one will be the rise of the judge Samuel, who will set apart both Saul and David as king. The other is the book of Ruth, set during the book of Judges, showing a bright patch in an otherwise bleak portrait of the life of God's people. We will touch on both this week, and they are like a breath of fresh air after a long time in darkness. The theme of Ruth is best summarized in a little Hebrew word: hesed. It refers to the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises, and is often translated as "lovingkindness." God is faithful even when people are faithless, and we see His hand here, during the period of the judges.

The story is kicked off when Naomi, her husband, and her sons must leave Bethlehem because of a famine. We should not see this as some random chance: God had warned Israel that when they were unfaithful they would experience famine and drought (Leviticus 26:19-20). God would not leave them to be complacent in their sin but would judge them to shake them from their slumber. Naomi and her family went to the country of Moab, where both of her sons married Moabitess women. Her husband and her sons died until she was like a female Job, bereft of all the blessings she had enjoyed. She determined to return to Bethlehem and said goodbye to her daughters-in-law. 

One of them kissed her, and said goodbye reluctantly. The other one "clave unto her." Especially in light of the wickedness in the book of Judges, this Moabite woman was a better picture of the faithfulness of God than the Israelites who learned about Him from childhood. Others might kiss and make a show, but He clung to His people, whatever it took. Even when He was judging them with famine, it was to bring them home. In fact, it was only through the famine and the death of these three men that God brought Ruth into Bethlehem, and through her both King David and King Jesus into the world.

Discussion idea: How did God use His judgment of Israel to bless Israel in the story of Ruth? Has God ever done anything like that in your life?

Prayer focus: Faithful God, teach me to be faithful like You. Teach me to cling to Your people and to Your promises, as a model of integrity and hope.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

April 29 - Judges 19, Acts 13

 Key verse: Judges 19:12

Big idea: Cycles of decline end in a crash.

Judges 19 is a horrible story, and in that sense a fitting end to the book of Judges. Over and over again, the moral decay of the nation has spiraled deeper and deeper until now, there is nothing but death. Even the most basic family relationships are broken down, and so there cannot be anything but disaster. The scene opens with another Levite, which would not be so ominous if we had not read about the wicked Levite in the previous chapters who served as a hired pagan priest. It is hard to escape the parallel: this chapter also begins by reminding us that there was no King in Israel. The Levite's wife is not mentioned, but he has a concubine who has left him and returned to her father in Bethlehem. He goes to her, intending to speak sweetly to her and convince her to come home. Apparently, he is successful because she is going to go back with him, but her father delays. For several days, he continues to drag out the limits of hospitality to prevent them from leaving. Finally, the Levite decides to leave, but foolishly late in the day.

As sunset hastens, he is close to the city of Jebus, a Jebusite city which remained unconquered, although it would eventually be taken and renamed Jerusalem. It is ironic that this somber tale begins in Bethlehem, where King David and Jesus would both be born, and passes by Jerusalem, where God's presence would be revealed in Temple and Cross. The Levite does not stop in Jebus, fearing the way he will be treated by pagans. Instead, he decides to go on to the Benjamite city of Gibeah, which would be the hometown of King Saul. But when he gets to Gibeah, he finds that the Israelites act like pagans. He is left to sleep in the city square, until an old man from the same region where he lives who is staying in Gibeah temporarily welcomes him into his house. 

Have we finally found a hero in this story? Alas, what follows is nearly a beat for beat recapitulation of the story of Sodom. The climax is when the host offers his daughter and his host's concubine to the mob, and tell them to (literally) do what is right in their eyes. This host gives into the spirit of the age, where there is no king and every man did what was right in his own eyes. Our text gets more somber still. The concubine is abused all night, stumbles to the porch and died. Her husband wakes up in the morning and goes out to callously tell her it is time to leave, only to find her dead already. Sodom is now within Israel, the tribes are set up for an inevitable conflict, and all of the things that God had been doing through His people seemed to be in jeopardy. Of course, it won't be. There will be much sorrow because sin leads to disaster, but God's grace goes farther still.

Discussion idea: Why is it so hard to reverse the decay of sin? What areas in your life have things seemed to spiral out of control? How does God resolve this runaway train?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the provision of Bethlehem and Jerusalem - that our sin does not continue unbound forever but had been dealt with once and for all!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

April 28 - Judges , Acts 12

Key verse: Judges 18:31

Big Idea: Cycles of idolatry are hard to break. 

"In those days there was no king in Israel" is an expression that can be read in two ways. In one sense, this was the period of the judges, when there was no centralized king who had united the nation. This was important: when God made his covenant with David, he was given a special role in guiding the people as God's representative. But there is another way of reading it too. When the people first clamored for a king, God said that it was because they were rejecting Him as their King (1 Samuel 8:7). To say that there was no king in Israel might be a way of saying that the people had rejected God as their king, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes instead of what God  decreed. It sounds much like our society, I think. Our rejection of all authority is very much a symptom of our rejection of God's authority. There is no King and so everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

Where does that lead? In the case of our chapter today, it led to a priest who had abandoned the duties of his people at the tabernacle to become the private priest of one man, who led the worship of his private idols. Then, when the tribe of Dan (who had failed to conquer the territory assigned to them) came to this have-altar-will-travel priest and offered him more money and more prestige, he followed them instead. The nation was deep in a cycle of idolatry, and getting deeper all the time. The tribe of Dan, with the strength of their idols and their hired priest, found an isolated town and murdered everyone there. When would it stop?

Tragically, the Bible tells us that they kept their idolatrous altar in their stolen town throughout the period of the Judges. Their false priest was a descendant of Moses himself. We might look at this story and wonder why God allowed them to be victorious in their invasion. Shouldn't they have been defeated? Shouldn't their be repercussions? Perhaps that is the most horrible element of this story. They were so far gone that God did not stop them. He let them sow their seeds, let the fruit of their sin grow, and would let them bear the harvest. They were deep in cycles of idolatry, and it would only be in the days of Samuel, who would anoint a king for the people, that things would change.

Discussion idea: What do you think it means that there was no king in Israel, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes? How do you respond to authority in your life?

Prayer focus: Ask God to expose your idols, and break their hold on your heart.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

April 27 - Judges 16, Acts 11

 Key verse: Judges 16:30

Big idea: There is no cycle so deep that God cannot reach us.

One of Jesus' best-loved parables is the story of the prodigal son. Who can hear it without being moved? A son tells his father, "I can't wait for you to die. I want my portion of the inheritance now!" And his father liquidates assets to send the son on his way. Jewish custom was to hold a funeral for such a child, who had dishonored his family and treated his parents as nothing more than a too-slow ATM. There was no taking back such a radical step, the relationship was forever severed. This son went and wasted a lifetime worth of earnings in a short period of time, and when he was forced to take up a job tending for pigs, he was so hungry that he stared longingly at their slop. It was in that state that he came to his senses, and decided to return home. He knew that he could never be a son again, but his father's servants were treated better than he was. When he got home, his father saw him from a long way off, and ran to him (an act considered extremely undignified in first-century Israel). This son was forgiven and restored. He had gone a long way from home and had done something incredible, but he had still not gone too far to be restored by God.

No wonder this story sticks out in our minds! How reassuring to know that we are never beyond the reach of God; while there is life, there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4). Samson is a great example of this truth. He had made a lot of mistakes (or rather, he had made the same couple of mistakes over and over again). But in his final hour, when his eyes had been gouged out and he was bound in Philistine chains, his hair began to grow back. It was cut because of his sin, glorying in the wrong things brought shame as it always does, but he was not finally rejected because of God's grace. His final act, bringing the building full of Philistine rulers down on them (even though he knew it would also end his life) killed more of Israel's enemies than he had killed in his life. He had gone far, but when he cried out to God one last time, God still heard him.

Since Samson is included as an example of godly faith in Hebrews 11, I think it is hard to escape the conclusion that when he left this life, the Father received him with as much gusto as the father of the prodigal. "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:24). The same is true for you! While it is much more pleasant to stay in the father's house and enjoy the blessings of fellowship and peace all the time, you have never gone too far to turn back to him, if you just will. 

Discussion idea: How is Samson's life both an encouraging and a cautionary tale? Do you tend to err on the extreme of writing yourself off because of your mistakes, or of being too tolerant of sin?

Prayer focus: Lord, teach me to obey You, but also to have the faith to know that I stand by grace alone, and that nothing I do can ever change your love for me. Thank you for the assurance that no sin is too great to be covered by the blood of Jesus, except rejecting his forgiveness.

Monday, April 26, 2021

April 26 - Judges 15, Acts 10

 Key verse: Judges 15:20

Big idea: Be sure that the cycles of your character can bear the weight of your blessings.

Samson was a truly impressive man. We usually remember him only for his moral weaknesses, but it would be unfair to forget that he was one of the examples of faith in Hebrews 11:32. This man defeated the Philistines and judged Israel for two decades! God blessed him in an incredible way, with privileges, opportunities, and supernatural strength. But ultimately, we remember Samson because his life came tumbling down. From the time he was young, he expected to have every impulse satisfied, and his parents did so (Judges 14:3). 

He decided that a Philistine woman was so beautiful that he had to marry her, despite their different faiths. After she betrayed him in chapter 14, he finally returned to her and found that she had already married the best man from his wedding. In a fit of rage, he burned the Philistine crops, and when they responded by having some fellow Israelites capture him, he killed 1000 men. Yet, he prayed afterwards for water, and God cared for him. God blessed him and used him, but character takes time to develop. When we are faced with small temptations and challenges, we develop the mental muscles that we will need for the big ones.

Sometimes children feel like their parents are picking on small details in their lives. Is a white lie or unfinished homework really that big of a deal? But the character traits we learn in the small details will determine our behavior in the big moments. Samson's character failings meant that all of the blessings God gave him were ultimately more than he could handle. What about you?

Discussion idea: Why did God choose someone as flawed as Samson to deliver the Israelites in that time period? How could Samson be a man of faith and still a man of sin?

Prayer focus: Lord, make me a person of integrity: wholly devoted to You. Teach me the skills I need to obey, and purge me of the double-mindedness that so easily entangles us.

Monday, April 19, 2021

April 19 - Judges 7, Acts 5

Key verse: Judges 7:2

Big idea: It is God’s power that breaks our cycles.

Have you ever asked a child who taught them something? Many times, they will say, "I taught myself," or "I just knew." Of course, that is rarely true. Someone spent time and energy with them, showing them how to read, how to do a puzzle, how to write their name, or whatever it may be. But they forgot! They only remember that they have the skill, and they are proud of it. Their memories are short and so the person who put in the work doesn't get much credit.

Unfortunately, we are like that with God. We turn to God in a moment of crisis and pray, "I can't make it anymore, Lord, I need you to rescue me!" God does, graciously, and then in a few weeks or months we look back and think, "Wow, I really handled that well." Whenever we can take the credit, we do! We forget about God's help, the way He ordered our circumstances, put the right people in our paths, and encouraged our hearts when we did not have the strength to go on any further. Pride drives out worship.

God knows this, obviously. He is not surprised by this weakness in our hearts and sometimes He takes surprising steps to mitigate against it. That was certainly the case with Gideon. This "mighty man of valor" that we met last week was going to conquer the Midianites but God knew that it would be easy for him to take the credit. So the Lord made it painfully obvious that it was not Gideon's power that did it. He had the commander send home soldier in waves, telling him that there were too many of them. Imagine any military commander, pastor, business person, or teacher saying, "The problem here is that we have too much help and too much money." It's absurd! But because God's primary interest was not in rescuing the Israelites from Midian but from sin, He needed fewer people to prevent them from taking the credit. 19,700 troops were sent home. 300 were used by God to deliver the nation. It was a powerful picture.

In fact, He could have done it with 299. Or even 0! When He defeated the army of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, no Israelite had to raise up a sword. The point was to make it clear that it is not our strength, but God's that does the real heavy lifting. Our own cycles of sin and pride will only take us in the same downward direction that they always have. The only way out is for a hand up. God reached down into our death and helplessness if we are willing to admit that it is helplessness, and saves us when we could never save ourselves. We only need the faith and the humility to ask.

Discussion idea: What is something God has done for you which you have let slip from your mind? We are we so "prone to wander," as the old hymn says?

Prayer focus: Lord, I cannot do anything on my own. You are the vine, and I am the branch, all that I have comes from You and without You I can do nothing. Take away the things that give the delusion of self-sufficiency and teach me to trust and to worship.

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. 

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.