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 dailychapter.org 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.