Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March 30 - Deuteronomy 30, Luke 16

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 30:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 29, 2021

March 29 - Deuteronomy 18, Luke 15

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 18:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

March 26 - Deuteronomy 24, Luke 14

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 24:19

Big idea: Covenant blessings do not belong to us.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 25, 2021

March 25 - Deuteronomy 15, Luke 13

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 15:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

March 24 - Deuteronomy 9, Luke 12

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 9:5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

March 23 - Deuteronomy 6, Luke 11

 Key verse: Deuteronomy 6:5

Big idea: Obedience to the covenant begins with love. 

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

March 21 - Numbers 35, Luke 10

Key verse: Numbers 35:33

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 18, 2021

March 18 - Numbers 21, Luke 8

Key verse: Numbers 21:9

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

March 17 - Numbers 20, Luke 7

 Key verse: Numbers 20:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

March 16 - Numbers 16, Luke 6

 Key verse: Numbers 16:10

Big idea: God appoints leaders to move us forward.

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

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


The Luke 6 devotional can be found below.

Monday, March 15, 2021

March 15 - Numbers 14, Luke 5

Key verse: Numbers 14:8

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer focus: Lord, teach me to trust You.

Friday, March 12, 2021

March 12 - Leviticus 23, Luke 4

Key verse: Leviticus 23:2

Big idea: Both times and places can be holy.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 11, 2021

March 11 - Leviticus 19, Luke 3

 Key verse: Leviticus 19:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

March 10 - Leviticus 16, Luke 2

 Key verse: Leviticus 16:16

Big idea: Holiness comes from atonement.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

March 9 - Leviticus 12, Luke 1

 Key verse: Leviticus 12:8

Big Idea: Birth is a holy time of celebration.

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 8, 2021

March 8 - Leviticus 11, Jude

 Key Verse: Leviticus 11:44

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 5, 2021

March 5 - Leviticus 10, James 5

 Key verse: Leviticus 10:3

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

God is not an idolator. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 4, 2021

March 4 - Leviticus 9, James 4

 Key verse: Leviticus 9:7

Big idea: The priest must be holy to sacrifice. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

March 3 - Leviticus 7, James 3

 Key verse: Leviticus 7:20

Big idea: Fellowship follows holiness.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

March 2 - Leviticus 6, James 2

 Key verse Leviticus 6:5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 1, 2021

March 1 - Leviticus 1, James 1

 Key verse: Leviticus 1:3

Big idea: A sacrifice for sin must be holy.

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

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

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

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

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

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