Friday, January 29, 2021

January 28 - Genesis 37, Matthew 21

 Key verse: Genesis 37:20

Big idea: In the beginning, Joseph was betrayed by his brothers.

Since yesterday's reading, we have crossed a huge swath of time. Esau, also a changed man, welcomed Jacob with open arms. Rachel died in childbirth*, giving birth to Benjamin, and Rachel's second youngest son, Joseph, became his favorite. Israel had learned many things over his long life, but the one who knew the pain of a father playing favorites made the same mistake. His other sons, not surprisingly, resented it. Joseph, although seventeen and able to work, was treated as the supervisor of his brothers, going back to his father to report on the quality of their work. By all indications, he was a spoiled brat. 

But, despite his sinfulness and unworthiness, God had a plan to use him. Joseph had two dreams, both indicating that he would be preeminent over his brothers (the second dream is referenced in Revelation 12:1-6 and is important for understanding that passage). His brothers hatched a plan to kill Joseph, foiled only by Reuben, who tried to rescue him. Instead, he was sold to some Ishmaelite traders (whose very existence was the result of disfunction in God's chosen family) and he was taken to Egpyt, where he would spend the rest of his life. His brothers convinced Jacob that he had been killed by putting a goat's blood on Jacob's expensive, multicolored coat. The same Jacob who had used a goat's meat and skin to fool his own father now experienced the same thing. Still, God's master strategy to redeem the world through Abraham's family was not foiled. God had a plan to use the sinful favoritism of his father, the sinful betrayal of his brothers, and many other things besides. 

Their sin was not excused because God used it for His purposes, but it should be encouraging to us that no suffering is wasted. In His wisdom and love, God brought all things together for good. Joseph was not innocent or sinless, but did not deserve the mistreatment he endured. But there was another who suffered unjustly and yet for a purpose. Joseph is what theologians call a "type" of Christ: someone that comes before and points toward the rough details of the One who was coming. Joseph was sold by his brothers for 20 pieces of silver; Jesus was betrayed by the nation he came to rule (John 1:11) and sold for 30 pieces of silver by one of His disciples (Matthew 26:15). Joseph and Jesus were both destined to reign, but hated for it. The sins against Joseph ultimately allowed him to save the lives of his family. Jesus' murder and betrayal made Him the perfect sacrifice to redeem the whole world. 

Discussion idea: Has God ever used some way that another person hurt you for your good? What suffering is going on in your life now? How could God use that?

Prayer focus: Ask God for forgiveness for the times you have been like Joseph's brothers: jealous and resentful, resisting God's plan out of pride. Thank God for His faithfulness to advance His Kingdom, even when our own foolishness gets in the way.

* There is a possibility that Rachel died after Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. For a number of reasons, the chronology is difficult to work out. The main elements are the same either way.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

January 27 - Genesis 32, Matthew 20

Key verse: Genesis 32:28

Big idea: In the beginning, God taught Jacob to hold on.

Unfortunately, one of the many trade-offs in covering the Old Testament this year is skipping Genesis 29-31, one of the most compelling stories of humanity in the Bible. I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself. Jacob went to the land of his relatives, where Abraham's family had settled before the final journey to Canaan. He fell in love with a beautiful woman named Rachel, and her father Laban agreed that they could be married if Jacob worked for him for seven years. Jacob did, and the Bible tells us that it seemed like only a few days because of the love he had for her. But on the day of their wedding, Laban sent his older daughter, Leah, in under a veil. Imagine the conversation leading up to the wedding: "Leah, the only way any man will ever marry you is if we trick him." So the next morning, Jacob awoke and found Leah beside him. Laban agreed that if Jacob completed the weeklong honeymoon that Leah was entitled to, then he could marry Rachel - provided he worked for another seven years after. Jacob, the con man, learned what it was like to be conned. 

After the stories of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar or Isaac, Esau, Jacob, and Rebekah, it is hardly surprising that this generation of the family is a mess too. But the disfunction runs deeper. After Leah has a child, she named him Reuben and said that now that she had a baby, her husband would love her. The cycle goes on, and the two sisters each give their husband their servants to bear children on their behalf. Repeating the mistakes of the past seems to be a family pastime. After fourteen years of labor, Jacob worked another seven years in exchange for livestock to support his new family. Despite Laban's wickedness, God blessed Jacob, and Jacob's heart was slowly changed. Eventually, Jacob and Laban separated and made a promise to stay apart. With Laban behind him, Jacob had no place to go but back to Canaan - and Esau.

Teenagers and adults: I wonder if Leah tried to convince herself that once they had spent their wedding night together and Jacob awoke in the morning, he would love her. Obviously, she was disappointed. In the same way, when she had a baby, she thought that would win her husband's affection. When that didn't work, she thought the second would. Then the third. In the fourth son, she finally turned to the Lord for her salvation. (She fell back into her old thinking with her sixth and final son in Genesis 30:17). Many people today could learn a lot from Leah's heartbreak before they make the same mistake.

Jacob sent all of his possessions as gifts to Esau, trying to bribe him for his favor. He even sent his wives (but Leah before Rachel, of course) and children. The seeds God had planted in his heart were obviously not mature yet: Jacob was once again trying to manipulate his way out of the situation. On the edge of the river, Jacob was alone, just as he had been over twenty years before. But then he wasn't. "A man" wrestled with him until dawn. When He saw that Jacob would not give up, He dislocated his hip with a touch. He told Jacob to release Him - they had been at it all night. But Jacob said, "I will not let you go until you bless me." He could not win or overpower this Man; there was no way for Jacob to manipulate the situation in his own favor. So after decades of exile and being cheated, the cheater finally learned to just hang on. That is when the Man revealed who He was: Jacob had wrestled with God, and God was going to rename him from Jacob (supplanter) to Israel. God had prepared him for this moment when he was made into a new man and finally fit to be the father of the nation. Crossing the Jabbok (a branch of the Jordan River), Jacob was finally ready to enter the Promised Land. But not because of his cleverness or strength: because he held onto Jesus.

Discussion idea: Has it been your experience that God prepares you for big changes over a long period of time and then they fall into place quickly? How did the mistreatment in Laban's household help turn Jacob into a man fit for God's use?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the struggles He has used to prepare your path, and that nothing happens by mistake in His world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

January 26 - Genesis 28, Matthew 19

 Key verse: Genesis 28:12

Big idea: In the beginning, Heaven met Earth.

On the run from Esau. Jacob left the promised land and began working his way north to Haran (Ha-RON), the city where Abraham's family had settled many years before and which was apparently named after Abraham's brother (the father of Lot). This does not seem like the steady forward march of progress: the heir is going backward! Like many of us, he was not yet prepared to receive the blessings God had already secured. His sin drove him away from the land of his inheritance and he would not return until he was a changed man. 

Jacob stopped for the night at a place called Luz, about twelve miles north of Jerusalem. He didn't know it, but Abraham had been to the same place (Genesis 12). He set up a rock as a pillow (the source of the line "my rest a stone" in Nearer, My God, to Thee, a hymn which is drawn largely from this passage) and fell asleep. In his dream, God revealed a staircase that stretched down from Heaven and rested on the Earth, with angels going back and forth between. God Himself was at the top. The world was sinful and God no longer walked with people as He did in the Garden of Eden, but He has not completely cut humanity off from Himself. He continues to bring His blessings down through these angelic mediators and speaks to the children of Abraham.

The Lord promised Jacob that he would return to this land and that, achieved by deception or not, the blessing of Abraham would be passed onto him. When Jacob awoke, he named the place Bethel (Beth: House, El: God) and set it as an altar. By calling this place the house of God and the gate of Heaven, He recognized that a Temple was not something any human could create from their own grit. He had been in a holy place without even knowing it! Our access to God is all of grace. The tower of Babel 
(Babylon is a similar word that means gate of the gods) could not ascend to the heavens, but God provided a bridge between his people and himself here.  We don't reach Him, we simply recognize and honor the place He has come down to us. 

All of this is interesting and important. But why am I spending time on it in such a short survey of the Old Testament? In John 1, Nathanael becomes one of Jesus' first disciples. Verses 50-51 are worth quoting in full: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." Nathanael had been impressed by a miracle, where Jesus had seen him when it was physically impossible, but Jesus predicted that he would see something far greater: when angels ascended up and down the Son of man from Heaven. Jesus, by alluding to the events at Bethel, claimed that He is the true House of God, the true place where Heaven and Earth collide, and the true way to Heaven. Jesus is Jacob's ladder, and we will either ascend to God on this way He has provided or not at all.

Discussion idea: How does learning the Old Testament background help you to understand the New Testament better? Why do you think Christians tend to neglect the Old Testament?
Prayer focus: Thank you, God, for providing a way for us to be where you are, even though our own strength could never accomplish it. Thank you for sending your Son to be raised up on a cross so that we might be lifted to You.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

January 25 - Genesis 27, Matthew 18

Key verse: Genesis 27:29

Big idea: In the beginning, sin could not stop God's plan. 

A Hebrew man putting his desire for food above God's intended blessing. Sound familiar? Isaac's favorite son Esau sold his birthright for a meal in Genesis 25, and in Genesis 27 Isaac, falsely believing he was close to death, was fooled in his pursuit of a meal. He had grown old and blind. Blind physically so that he could no longer distinguish between his sons. Blind spiritually so that he could no longer distinguish between his will and God's. He called Esau to him and asked for his son to hunt a meal for him to eat before he bestowed his blessing. In recounting this story, the Holy Spirit had Moses refer to venison eight times and "savoury meal" six times, emphasizing Isaac's fleshly perspective. The same error that had led to Esau's foolish trade was present in both of their hearts. 

What about God's promise that the elder would serve the younger? It was clearly long forgotten. But Jacob, the one who ought to receive the blessing, was no better. His mother, Rebekah, approached him with a plan to fool Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. We must wonder how God could form the nation that will rescue the world through a family that is such a mess. Emphasizing the tension, the author calls one of the twins Isaac's son and the other Rebekah's! Jacob, dressed in Esau's clothes and with skins on his hands to copy Esau's hair, went in with food that Rebekah has prepared to taste like venison, while Esau was still out hunting. 

When Isaac suspiciously asked Jacob how he returned so quickly, Jacob's response was blasphemous: "Because the LORD thy God brought it to me." But it was also true. God used Jacob and Rebekah's sin to accomplish his promise, in spite of Isaac's sin. God allowed Isaac's deception to take place, without excusing it, to accomplish His plan. If Rebekah and Isaac had not intervened, God would undoubtedly have accomplished the same end. Maybe an angel would have descended or God himself would have spoken. However it would have happened, there would have been a lot less heartbreak. This family was scattered for years as Esau plotted how he would kill Jacob as soon as his father died and Jacob ran away. Esau and Isaac were hasty in their funeral planning; Isaac survived 80 more years (Genesis 25:26 and Genesis 26:34 vs Genesis 35:28). But Rebekah did not. Because of their sin, the mother and son never saw each other again. God's purposes are not thwarted, but His way is always best.

Discussion Idea: Has God ever turned some sin in your life around to turn out for the best? Did it still come with heartache?

Prayer Focus: Praise God for His sovereignty, thank Him for His mercy, and ask for His forgiveness for the times we have futilely tried to "kick against the pricks." 

Monday, January 25, 2021

January 24 - Genesis 25, Matthew 17

 Key verse: Genesis 25:23

Big idea: In the beginning, God revealed His people.

A lot happens in Genesis 22. The main instrument of God's plan for redeeming the world, Abraham, dies like all of his ancestors before him. He joined his wife Sarah, who had died several years earlier. Before his own death, he gave gifts to the children of the woman he married after Sarah (Keturah) and left Isaac alone as his proper heir. God's promise would not be stopped by Abraham's death, but God was also not yet finished narrowing the focus of His efforts. He chose Seth of the children of Adam, Shem of the children of Noah, and now Isaac among the children of Abraham.  God is still not finished. 

Isaac's wife, Rebekah, was pregnant with twins that struggled even in the womb. God announced that, against the conventions of normal inheritance, the elder would serve the younger. When the Lord chose Abraham, He did not select a great nation to be made greater, but a barren couple to become a multitude. He does see as people see. Merely being born into the right class or even the right family is never enough to be part of God's people (Romans 9:7-13). Although both of them were sinners and neither deserved God's blessing, He chose Jacob over Esau to be His chosen one, carrying the line of promise forward.

Only one of Isaac's children will bear the promises God made to Abraham. From there, the faithful descendants of that entire nation will experience those blessings, until ultimately the promises are accomplished in One (2 Corinthians 1:20). By bringing His promise to pass through One Man, God then offered salvation to all the nations of the Earth. He rejected Ishmael as the heir in Genesis so that in Revelation, all the descendants of Esau who placed their faith in Christ would become children of God and joint-heirs with Jesus.

But Esau revealed his character by the end of the chapter. He traded the normal inheritance of the firstborn (a double-share) for a bowl of lentil stew. For Esau, the pleasure of a moment was worth more than his birthright. This same attitude that places the profane priorities of now over things of eternal consequence, leads many to reject God to this day (Hebrews 12:16). Even though Isaac did not deserve God's favor either, Esau's life showed that his heart was far from God. Still today, the distinguishing characteristic of God's people is that "we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)." 

Discussion idea: Why do we have such a hard time trading the short-term for the long-term? How does suffering in the short-run sometimes lead to longer-term joy?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for your grace. You do not welcome us because of our strength, our ancestry, our wisdom, or even our goodness. Nothing we have could ever deserve the blessings you have given us or make up for our sin. You love us because of who You are, not because of who we are. You selected an insignificant nation and chose to bring Your Son into the world in one of the least of those families, so that those who trusted in this humble Savior would enjoy everlasting joy with you. Help me to live with that same mindset. Help me to share this good news with others. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

January 22 - Genesis 22, Matthew 16

 Key verse: Genesis 22:8

Big idea: In the beginning, God provided a Lamb. 

If Genesis 22 does not hit us as one of the most emotional moments in the Old Testament, it is only because we are too familiar with it to let it have the full effect. Remember the major plot. Abraham and Sarai were childless and on God's premise left their homeland to go across the world. Eventually, God promised that they would have a son - a promise that went unfulfilled for twenty-five years. Finally, the promise was fulfilled and Isaac was born. He is probably in his early 20s by our chapter today, when God made a startling demand of Abraham: "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest" (the repetition seems to twist the knife, "and get thee into the Land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering." The promise which he had waited for so long was now going to be given up.

Older kids: Occasionally, there will be a news story about a parent who believes God told them to kill their children. God's rejection of human sacrifice at Mount Moriah, and later explicit condemnations of it in the Law in places like Leviticus 20:1-5. No subjective experience that contradicts Scripture is from God, so while in Abraham's day there was no explicit proof that something like this was God's will, in our day there is. 

Abraham acted swiftly and got up the next morning for the journey to the land of Moriah, where God would reveal a particular mountain to sacrifice Isaac. The mountain would later be the site of the Temple and be incorporated into the city of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1) and Abraham had been to the area years before when he had offered a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14). When they arrived, Isaac asked Abraham where the lamb was which they would use for the burnt offering. Abraham told him that God would provide a lamb. He meant that Isaac himself, provided by God, would be the sacrifice. But he spoke better than he knew: when they got to the mountaintop, God did not allow him to sacrifice Isaac, but sent a ram to be caught in a thicket and be sacrificed in Isaac's place. 

But there is still more. A ram cannot stand as a proper substitute for a human being, because human beings are of infinitely more worth than any animal (Hebrews 10:4). But the ram was a placeholder for a better sacrifice. Abraham's hand could be held back from his son because God sent His Son to die in Isaac's place. To die in Abraham's place. To die in your place and mine (Revelation 5:12). Unlike Isaac, Jesus died on the mountain, but like Isaac, He was returned to His Father. God provided the ram that Abraham needed, and God provides the sacrifice for sin that we need. He proved His character as the one who provides the Lamb.

Discussion idea: We learn from Hebrews 11:17-19 that Abraham was convinced that even if he killed Isaac, that God would raise him up again to fulfill His promises. Would killing Isaac still have been a sacrifice from Abraham's perspective, even if he had been resurrected? How does this help us to understand the death of Christ?

Prayer focus: Ask God which of His blessings you are holding tighter than Him and pray for God to help you to love the Giver more than the gift.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

January 21 - Genesis 21, Matthew 15

 Key verse: Genesis 21:1

Big idea: In the beginning, God accomplished His word.

Have you ever intended to do something and simply forgot? You didn’t change your mind, you didn’t get busy, and you weren’t intending to lie. It just slipped your mind. I think we all have. The longer the time between the promise and the fulfillment, the higher the risk is. If I tell you that I am going to do something in an hour, that is much less likely to fall through the cracks than a commitment 6 months from now. Sarah and Abraham (their names were changed by God in chapter 17 from Sarai and Abram)  had been waiting on God’s promise for twenty-five years. Had He failed? Had He forgotten them? Of course not. God’s timing is perfect, and when the time came, He acted.

The heir of God’s promises, the joy of his parents, and the next phase in God’s plan to redeem the world had come. Sarah, who had laughed at the promise a year earlier when God announced it was finally time, replaces the laughter of doubt with the laughter of joy. A child when she was 20 would have been a delight, but it was surely sweeter after waiting so long. I do not know why God dealt with this situation the way He did. On the surface, it seems like it might have been easier if He had given them a child sooner, or not given the promise until it was almost time to fulfill it. But God knows things we do not, and even if those paths would have been easier, they might not have been better. It is in the gap between promise and fulfillment that we learn what faith is and come to deepen our relationship with the Lord. 

God never acts unwisely and never forgets His promises. Romans 8:28 might be a cliche, but Sarah knew first hand that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." When it seems like God is delayed, His promises are still sure. When He ascended to Heaven almost 2000 years ago, it was with the promise that He would come again. When He promises He will never leave us or forsake us when you spend long hours in the hospital waiting room or even at the cemetery, He is still working. God is faithful, whether we wait for decades like Sarah and Abraham or for millennia like the countless generations of Christians praying “Even so, come!”.

Discussion idea: When have you had to wait the longest for God to act? What did you learn in the delay?
Prayer focus: We wait earnestly and wonder how long the world can go on like this, but even so come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

January 20 - Genesis 19/Matthew 14

 Happy birthday, Dad!

Key verse: Genesis 19:16

Big idea: In the beginning, God showed mercy.

Mercy is probably not the first word you think of when you think of Sodom and Gomorrah. An entire plain, with two substantial cities, wiped out in a night for their sin because there were not ten righteous people in the entire city (Genesis 18:32). When we last met Lot, his uncle Abram had rescued him and the rest of the inhabitants of Sodom after an invasion, before Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek (Genesis 14). Now, his city is being destroyed and he alone is righteous in God's sight (his wife will turn back in rebellion and his daughters will reveal their character later in the narrative). He tried to convince his sons-in-law to leave, but they thought he was joking. But by verse 16, Lot proves that he is better at giving advice than taking it. He dawdles when he ought to be running; apparently, he feels more secure in a city under God's judgment than he does outside.

What a picture of us! We know that sin will be judged, but we can't bring ourselves to give up our creature comforts. The city may be about to burn (2 Peter 3:10-12) but it is still home. How like a human being to hesitate to leave what we know we cannot keep anyway. But how like God to grab him by the hand and pull him out anyway. "The Lord being merciful unto him" pulled him, his wife, and his daughters out before the destruction came. 

Older kids: Has God ever pulled you out of a friendship or situation "kicking and screaming"? How does mercy sometimes mean he protects us from ourselves?

God pulled Lot out of Sodom and has promised to pull us out too. When Jesus returns, He will send his angels out with the trumpet blast and they will gather His children from the ends of the world (Matthew 24:31). He is the Good Shepherd, who will not leave His flock scattered or forgotten but will gather them wherever they have wandered to bring them back home (Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 10:11-18). If you have lost sight of where He wants you to be, He is taking you by the hand to bring you back. If you have never trusted Him as your Savior, His arms are open and He is ready to pluck you from your own sin and shame. The God who showed mercy to Lot will show mercy to you too.

Discussion idea: Even though his family was not righteous, God rescued them for Lot's sake. If there had been ten righteous people, the entire city would have been saved. Do you think that families and nations are spared judgment today because of the righteousness of a few? If so, what are the limits?

Prayer focus: Sing or read the hymn "Come Thou Fount" and pray in response to the third verse.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

January 19 - Genesis 16/Matthew 13

Key verse: Genesis 16:2

Big idea: In the beginning, Abram tried to walk in his own wisdom.

After at least ten years of waiting with no children, Sarai thought of what was clearly an anti-climactic solution. Abram would have a son to be his heir, but it would be the child of her servant, not of her. It seems strange that God would make such bold promises that would be brought about by the ordinary process of childbearing, but ten years was clearly a long time to wait on God. Sarai wanted to see God's promises fulfilled, He just obviously needed her help to do it. 

The whole thing seems disgusting to us. What could be more obviously immoral than giving a slave to your husband to bear a child? But in the ancient world, it was apparently common practice. In the code of Hammurabi, a Nuzi text, and a surviving Assyrian marriage contract (among others), we have the expectation that if a woman were unable to have children, she would arrange a surrogate. Back in Genesis 2, God revealed His intention for marriage: the union of one man and one woman for life. But social pressures and the needs of the moment have a way of warping our thinking. She needed a child, and everything around her said that adultery was the way to get one. She felt like she did not have any options because, after ten long years of waiting, it seemed like God had abandoned her. The truth is that we never have to sin - God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Could we possibly doubt how this works out? Apparently, we can, since we often try to convince ourselves that the ends can justify the means in our own lives. How many people lie on their taxes, fail to give as they should, leave their spouses for a new "soulmate," or tell a "white lie?" Can God's people ever use evil to accomplish good? The disaster of Hagar means that we should know better. It is slander to claim that we should do evil so good will come (Romans 3:8). When we add up two situations and decide that sin will work out better than righteousness, it is only because we have neglected to factor the favor of God into our calculations. 

God would later give Sarai a son of her own; His promises were not canceled by her sin. But it bears consequences to this day. Hagar, Sarai's slave, did get pregnant. She bore a son, Ishmael. He was not to be Abram's heir, but he was blessed by God to be a powerful man, though a wild one. They were sometimes called Ishmaelites and sometimes Kedarites (after one of his sons) and survived to serve God as Judah's punishment during the time of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:28-33), after centuries of conflict. Eventually, they apparently fused with another nomadic tribe (the Nabataeans) and are known today as Arabs. Sarai and Abram's actions did not accelerate God's promises, but they did bring lasting consequences.

Discussion idea: Why are we tempted to "help" God fulfill His Word? What is an area in your life where you try to strike your own path?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you trust Him, and walk in obedience, even when you feel like you are between a rock and a hard place.

Monday, January 18, 2021

January 18 - Genesis 15, Matthew 12

If these devotions are helpful to you, would you pass them along to someone else? They can sign up for emails here or go to to read them. Thanks! - Justin

Key verse: Genesis 15:6

Big idea: In the beginning, God counted Abram's faith as righteousness.

We have already seen Abram demonstrate some marvelous faith: he left everything he has ever known to come to a land he had never seen. God's word had led this man far beyond where his eyes could see. But it is not until today's reading that we come to the famous line, quoted in Romans 4:3, 4:18, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23, that Abram "believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness." The point is not that faith is righteousness, as if having faith is some kind of super-work so good that it cancels out our bad works. Rather God looks at our faith and treats it as if we have been righteous as if a certain transaction notified the bank to move $50 million into your account. It is not your money, and nothing you have done properly entitles you to it, but nevertheless, you receive it. 

What is this faith that brings about salvation? It is not abstract faith in God. It is faith in a very particular promise of God: the promise of the coming Seed. Abram did not know the name of Jesus and had never heard of a cross, but when God promised these descendants, he responded to the light he was given and trusted. It reminds me of Genesis 3, where Adam was clothed by God when his own fig leaf coverings still left him naked. It was not immediately, but after the promise of a Son in Genesis 3:15 and after Adam responded in faith by naming his wife "Eve," declaring in faith that she was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). Adam did not know that the promised Son would be many generations in the future, but he believed that He was coming!

We have a lot more information. We know that Jesus already came, born of a virgin, born as a descendant of Abraham under the Law (Galatians 4:4-5), and born to be the Last Adam - the beginning of a new humanity (1 Corinthians 15:45). We know that He attained salvation for us by death on a cross, bearing the shame and suffering we deserve. We know that the third day He rose again victorious once and for all. But our faith is in the same Jesus. You and I look back on something Abram looked forward to, but Acts 4:12 rings true: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

Discussion idea: What would it mean if Abraham had been saved a different way than us? What does it mean for global evangelism that he wasn't?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to remember that my salvation was no afterthought. You brought Your Son into the world at the perfect time but have always offered salvation in Him and through Him alone. Even when You made the world and mankind in it, You knew the terrible cost of a relationship with us and chose it anyway. Thank you. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

January 15 - Genesis 14/Matthew 11

 Key verse: Genesis 14:18

Big idea: In the beginning, God appointed a priest.

Suppose you have deeply offended someone by doing something wrong. You do not feel like you can go to them directly because of the conflict, but also want to restore the relationship. What you need is an intermediary, the carry your apology or explanation to the other person on your behalf. It needs to be someone you both trust, who cares for you, and who is willing to serve as the bridge. If someone is not willing to receive you and there is no suitable go-between, the relationship is likely irreparable. 

As the Bible has revealed, we are in deep conflict with God. We have shaken our fist at Him despite the innumerable blessings He has given us. To provide a way for our relationship to be restored, God created the office of priest. These priests were people called out by God to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people and restore their fellowship with God. We do not know much about how the priesthood worked in this early period, but we do know that Abram went to Salem (later called Jerusalem) and offered a tithe (10%) of everything he had. Before Abram's descendants took up the role of priest, there was already a priest in place: Melchizedek. 

The existence of a priest before the Law of Moses hinted from the very beginning that there was something beyond the regulations that would come. Somehow there was a deeper way that God would provide atonement for His people to restore their relationship. David wrote in Psalm 110:4 that the Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not a member of the tribe of Levi, but someone who would be in some sense outside the nation to make atonement for them all. 

This priest, Jesus Himself, was the gift from God to restore humanity (Hebrews 5:6-10). The appointment of Melchizedek in Abram's day gives us reassurance that God's plan has always been to reconcile us to Himself, and that He has always provided a means for us to come to Him. The appointment of Melchizedek and the appointment of the Levites later point forward to the one High Priest who can truly take away sins.

Discussion idea: How does the need for a priest affect our pride? Can we approach God on our own?

Prayer focus: Father, thank You for giving us access to Yourself by the cross. Thank You for removing the sin that stood between us and giving me a relationship with You. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

January 14 - Genesis 12/Matthew 10

 Key verse: Genesis 12:2

Big idea: In the beginning, God chose to bless the world through Abram.

As we discussed yesterday, Genesis 12 marks a turning point in the Bible's storyline. God made an incredible promise to one man. Abram was called to leave his homeland, his family, and everything he had ever known to go to a land he had never seen. Although he had no children, God promised that he would be a great nation. He was unknown, but God guaranteed that those who blessed him would be blessed and those who cursed him would be cursed. God turns His attention to this one man and his family, but with a broader purpose: all nations on the earth would be blessed by the seed of Abram. 

Galatians 3:15-16 makes a simple analogy: no human contract can be changed after it is signed. It would be dishonest to make a promise and then add new restrictions later. If a human being would not do that, how could the holy God? So the promise that God made to Abram would never be restricted by later laws or restrictions. No matter what, God would bless the whole Earth through Abram and his seed. Galatians pushes the point further: seed is singular, not plural. The blessing of the whole world would eventually come through one very specific descendant. Abram (Abraham) would give birth to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to Judah, and down through the line to Jesus. In Jesus, all families of the Earth would be blessed.

Discussion idea: How do the blessings of being made a great nation, a great name, a land, and blessing the whole world connect with the effects of the Fall?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to see that you use humble means to work great things, and that you are faithful to every promise. Help me to live in the confidence of that faithfulness. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

January 13 - Matthew 9/Genesis 11

 Key verse: Genesis 11:7

Big idea: In the beginning, God scattered the people. 

Genesis 11 is the final chapter of Genesis' opening act. For the last time in the Old Testament, God deals with all of humanity at once, before the dramatic transition is made to Abraham and his descendants as the key which will rescue everyone else. Mankind has already been divided from each other and from God by sin, but the Lord's master rescue plan requires dividing them physically, choosing one nation, and from that nation saving the world. The 10th chapter outlines the descendants of Noah, but instead of fulfilling their mandate to fill the Earth as God's representatives, they decided to build a city and a tower for their own glory instead. God's response was that if they had decided to do so, they would be perfectly capable, "this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."

God loves us too much to allow us to succeed at the wrong thing, so He confounded their language and their plans. Like casting Adam and Eve from the Garden, so they would not live forever in their sinful state, God was protecting them from themselves. But this division was not meant to be forever. On the day of Pentecost, God called on His people to build a church for His glory, not their own. Rather than people trying to build a tower to Heaven and having their language scattered, Heaven came down and united their languages (Acts 2:1-4). But God's solution is not a return to uniformity, with all of the people speaking one language. Each group in Acts 2 heard their own language. Incredibly, we look forward to the day when every tongue praises him in overlapping harmony (Revelation 7:9). God scattered us in nature, but in the cross we are brought back together again.

Discussion idea: How does Pentecost reverse the effects of Babel beyond simple language? How is the denial of the command to be fruitful and multiply linked with the empowering to witness in the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Great Commission?
Prayer focus: Ask God to make you an instrument of peace, bringing people together not through an astroturf uniformity, but the unity of the gospel. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

January 12 - Genesis 9/Matthew 8

 Key verse: Genesis 9:1

Big idea: In the beginning, God blessed His people to multiply.

Back in Genesis 1:28, God "blessed [Adam and Eve], and God said unto them, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.'" It is interesting that it is not described as a command, although it is, but as a blessing. God is empowering them with the privilege of filling the world with His image-bearers. After the flood, the world once again needs to be fully inhabited. God renews his blessing on Noah and his family: be fruitful and multiply. Contrary to the gestalt of our age, human beings are a good thing: we are representatives of a loving, holy God. Noah and his descendants were not to be a scourge on creation, but its caretakers on God's behalf.

We know from Luke 24:50-51 that as Jesus rose up to Heaven, He blessed His church. But what was that blessing? In Acts, the second volume of Luke, we find out: "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Once again, it is a blessing-command: to be fruitful and fill the earth. While children remain a blessing, in our era, God adds a new level. Sin has marred our nature and we have traded worship of the true God for idolatry, but when we receive the gospel, we are remade in the image of Christ. As those image-bearers, we have a blessing and a responsibility to multiply! Not just by procreation, but through the Great Commission. 

Discussion idea: Why is multiplication both blessing and command? Do you think of being able to share the gospel as a blessing?

Prayer focus: Ask God for the strength to represent Him and bring more representatives into the world by the good news of Christ.

Monday, January 11, 2021

January 11 - Genesis 8/Matthew 7

 Key verse: Genesis 8:22

Big idea: In the beginning, God promised to sustain the world.

"It happens like clockwork" is an interesting expression. It implies pieces that interlock and interact reliably, over and over again. One second per second, one minute per minute, and one hour per hour. But a clock is only as good as its materials. If iron suddenly became as soft as a marshmallow or if gravity blinked off and on, even the finest clock would be worthless. The most consistent things in life depend on the consistency of God's sustaining work in creation. After the flood, God promised that He would never again wipe out the normal order by water again. He made a commitment to sustain our world. 

His faithfulness in things like seasons and the laws of nature tells us something about the character of God. If he has kept His covenant with the electrons and protons, surely He will keep His covenant with David (Jeremiah 33:23-26). If He keeps the covenant He made with David, how much more the covenant He sealed with the blood of His Son? His sustaining work shows us that He is a God who keeps His promises. 

Yet, God has also promised that there will be an end to His sustaining. Although some might think that the consistency of life proves that Jesus is not coming to radically change it, the truth is the opposite (2 Peter 3:4). The God who has been faithful to maintain the Earth will be faithful to keep His promise to come again and make a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. 

Discussion idea: What is a promise worth to you? Does it depend on the one who makes it? What are God's promises worth?

Prayer focus: Thank God for His faithfulness to His Word. Find some specific kept promises to praise Him for.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

January 7 - Genesis 6/Matthew 5

Key verse: Genesis 6:22

Big idea: In the beginning, Noah obeyed God.

Last week, we had the Mark Trammell Quartet come and sing at AMBC. One of their songs has a chorus that says: "Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks." Their emphasis in that song is on evangelism, but the point stands in many areas. You can tell me what you believe, but your actions will reveal the truth. There were probably many people in Noah's day who claimed they worshipped God, but their wicked lives revealed the truth. Noah, who had experienced the grace of God, proved it by obeying.

It was no easy or rational task. Build a giant ark? There was nothing that Noah could see with his eyes or touch with his hands that suggested this was a good idea. But God told him to do it, and that was enough. He didn't need to understand or see the whole plan. Because he had been saved, he had a heart that yearned to follow God. And he did.

I think it would be a little hypocritical for me to try and spend a lot of words explaining the importance of simple obedience to you, so let me leave you with the words of Jesus (John 14:15 (CSB)): "If you love me, you will keep my commands."

Discussion idea: Why is simple obedience sometimes so hard?

Prayer focus: Lord, give me the wisdom to know what to do and the strength and courage to do it. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January 6 - Genesis 4/Matthew 4

- Sorry, I am not sure why this did not post yesterday. I saved it Monday night. - 

 Key verse: Genesis 4:10

Big idea: In the beginning, Abel's blood cried out for justice.

While Genesis 3 introduced us to sin against God, it would not be long until humanity began sinning against each other. When we have lost the proper center of our lives, everything else will crumble, but it often seems to begin with the most intimate relationships: families. Cain, the firstborn that Eve seemed to have hoped would fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:15, murdered his brother Abel. His jealousy and pride could not accept that Abel's offering of faith was accepted by God while his own self-righteous offering was not. So God announced that, just as they had been exiled from Eden, Cain would be sent further away from the place of God's dwelling and from Adam, Eve, and their next son, Seth. God said that the blood of Abel cried out from the ground; Cain's crime in demolishing an image-bearer of God demanded justice. 

Sin does require justice, and especially the heinous crime of taking another human life. And Cain would not be the last! Herod, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and Attila the Hun (among many others) have committed crimes that spilled innocent blood and leave a need for justice. But all of us have profaned the role God has given us, and our misdeeds cry out for justice. 

Thankfully, that is not the final word. Hebrews 12:24 says we have come "to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." While the blood of Abel cried out for justice, the blood of Jesus cried out for mercy. "Father, forgive them" is the prayer that we can hang all of our hopes on. The vengeance owed for the rebellion in the Garden, for Abel's murder, and every sin since was dealt with when the Son of God took our place on the cross. But His blood did not pass on the guilt to those who killed him but offered forgiveness to them and to us. 

Discussion idea: How does God justify the ungodly while remaining just? Do you know for certain that you have been forgiven?

Prayer focus: Think of some of your specific sins and the justice they would cry out for. Thank God for His mercy in Christ.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

January 5 - Genesis 3/Matthew 3

Key verse: Genesis 3:15

Big idea: In the beginning, God promised a Son.

In Genesis 1 and 2, we saw God create a world to be a sanctuary of His glory and gave humanity a special role within it as royal priests. Adam and Eve were given a special responsibility to represent God and tend to this garden-sanctuary on His behalf. In today's chapter, we see them abandon their rightful duties and choose to serve a different master. We see them bring their own lives down from the heights of fellowship with God and His glory to exile and ultimately death. We see the creation they were entrusted with placed under a curse. But why?

There are different kinds of consequences for our actions: arbitrary consequences and natural consequences. If I am driving my car too fast, an arbitrary consequence is a ticket. It is just but does not really have anything to do with the crime. A natural consequence of driving too fast is a crash. There, the penalty arises naturally from what I have done. Being grounded for not picking up your toys is an arbitrary consequence; seeing them ruined by the rain when they have been left in the grass is a natural one. God told Adam that if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die. This might seem arbitrary, but I think it is really natural. If they choose to sin, they cut themselves out of the presence of the Life. Death is the inevitable result of rupturing that relationship. They are given the life of God and fellowship with God to carry out their responsibilities as image-bearers and worshippers. When they abandon that responsibility, the resources which were given to support their work are withdrawn. CS Lewis put it this way: "God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." 

But if the consequence is not arbitrary, neither is the remedy. A man had lost the world and a Man would have to regain it. The first Adam had handed his descendants over to the dominion of sin, and a new Adam would need to be the spearhead of a new humanity. God did not intend to merely start over. He intended to rescue humanity from within, so He promised a Son. This Son would be human, to rightfully regain what was lost. He would take the penalty of that rebellion to finish it once and for all. But this Son would not fall into the same failure, because He would not be the Son of any human father, but of God Himself. For the rest of the Old Testament, we will work toward this promise, but over and over again, the Promiser will prove He is faithful. 

Discussion idea: Why did God choose to send a Son descended from humanity instead of starting over? What does God's commitment to His creation mean for us?

Prayer focus: Lord, I know that your promises often seem delayed and that our slavery to this world often seems never-ending, but I thank you for your faithfulness in sending your Son to rescue us, and trust that as surely as He came to redeem us, He will come again to restore us.

Monday, January 4, 2021

January 4 - Genesis 2/Matthew 2

Key verse: Genesis 2:18

Big idea: In the beginning, God made us to be together.

Ancient writers often told stories in circles, where they gave the big picture of an event and then later repeated a part of the story in more detail. That is clearly at work in Genesis 2, where some of the events of the sixth day in Genesis 1 are expanded and clarified. In the beginning, as we have seen, God made everything from nothing. He spoke, and the very fabric of reality obeyed. The animals were not formed ex nihilo (“out of nothing” in Latin) but were brought forth from the Earth. Yet, humanity is unique. We were not made as an entirely new thing but were formed from the dust like the animals. But God describes the next step in our creation in startling terms, which should be taken seriously, if not literally: God “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life.” The picture is like someone performing CPR, with their mouth against someone else’s, forcing their life into another’s lungs.

People are bridges, not exactly like God, but not exactly like the animals either. We are spiritual, with the very breath of God bringing us to life. We are physical, made of the same elements as the world, and destined to return to them when we die. So Genesis 2 tell us that when God made Adam, none of the animals was the right fit for him. He needed what the King James Version calls a “help meet for him.” The word “help” does not imply inferiority – it most often refers to God Himself! “Meet” is similar to our word “meeting,” where two people come face-to-face and it is most often translated “before,” in that sense. Adam needed someone to work alongside him, to serve God together. No animal would do.

Every part of the cosmos except God Himself could not fulfill its function alone: the skies needed the stars, the seas needed the fish, and the land needed plants and animals. Adam was no different: it was not good for him to be alone. So God created the woman out of the man. Not as a new creation, or fresh from the dust, but the very same nature and status as His image-bearer. Adam and his wife naturally exhibited different glorious truths about God; when they were together, they could glorify Him more fully and be more of the people they were meant to be. Depending on others is not weakness: it is design.

Discussion idea: Sometimes people call their pets their children. It is important to realize that people were given the responsibility for caring for the rest of creation, but can an animal ever be a fitting companion for a human being? How can we serve God best when we are together with His other children? How does this play out in a family? A church?

Prayer focus: Lord, break the arrogance that makes me think I can stand alone. Teach me to live in community, and to live as You have designed me.