We groan, but does God know?

Today’s reading

Exodus 1-3; Matthew 15:21-39

Selected Verses

 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

Exodus 3:24-25

He healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:30b-31

Reflections

Exodus opens with an update on the descendants of Jacob (Israel) who by this time had remained in Egypt for 400 years. They no longer enjoyed favored status as they had in the days of Joseph. Their presence threatened the Egyptians who subjected them  to slavery. The authorities insisted that the midwives execute all male babies. Things got worse and worse and the Israelites groaned. Did God know?

Indeed, He did.  God heard, remembered, saw, and knew as the passage above points out. He had chosen Moses to deliver them. But first Moses needed to go through a strange training program. He was raised as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  Then, he spiraled down. His first attempts at leadership ended in his committing murder. He fled to the wilderness with this question ringing in his ears, “Who made you a prince and judge over us?” Forty years passed. Finally, God appeared to a now-insecure eighty-year-old Moses.  The Lord assured him that he would lead the Israelites out of slavery to the land of the Canaanites, a land that God had promised to Abraham. Israel would be free (Acts 7:30).

But that earthly kingdom of Israel would only be a shadow of the ultimate kingdom. Jesus came announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God. He set people free from the ravages, not of an earthly tyrant, but of the spiritual tyrant, Satan, through whom the world lived and lives in bondage to sin, sickness, and death. Jesus demonstrated His power as the king to liberate those who were bound. The eternal kingdom has already come in part, and we are promised that Jesus will come again to finalize its establishment. Meanwhile we pray, trust God, and wait confident that He knows our groaning, remembers His covenant, and will fulfill all His promises.

Think about it

Do you know that God knows your groaning today?  He does.  Trust Him. Deliverance is coming.

Looking for Loopholes in God’s Law

Today’s reading

Genesis 49-50; Matthew 15:1-20

Selected verses

 My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return. Genesis 50:5

For God commanded, “Honor your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.”  But you say, “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.” So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. Matthew 15:4-6

Reflections

Joseph had promised to bury his father, Jacob, in the land of Canaan. Upon his father’s death, Joseph asked Pharaoh for permission to return to Canaan and fulfill his commitment to Jacob. Permission was granted and Jacob fulfilled his promise.

Honoring one’s parents is the right thing to do both in life and at death. God’s law given later through Moses specified that all were to, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). There was a reward of long life held out to those who kept this commandment. Conversely, there is an implied threat of early death for not keeping it.

Yet in Jesus’ day, certain religious leaders gutted the original intent of that commandment.  They advocated the practice of withholding support to needy parents by designating resources as “given to God.” Jesus told His contemporaries that they were using their tradition to make God’s word void.  They had added tradition on top of the law giving them a seeming loophole to disobey clear commandments.

In a different context but in a similar spirit, the writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith warned those who because of the corruption of man are “apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder” their marriage vows for unlawful reasons (WCF Ch. 24 paragraph 6).

Think about it

Beware of seeking ways to skirt the clear teaching of God’s Word.  Avoid the ungodly practice of those who “study arguments to unduly” break God’s law.  Yet the good news remains that Christ died for the disobedient loopholes-seeker who repents. Trust Him for forgiveness and trust Him for strength and wisdom to walk in obedience to His Word.

Lessons about Time

Today’s reading

Genesis 46-48; Matthew 14:22-36

Selected verses

Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.  Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”  Genesis 48:21-22

 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.   Matthew 14:23

Reflections

Jesus, after hearing about the death of John the Baptist, sought to be alone , but crowds came seeking Him (Matthew 14:13).  He patiently and lovingly ministered to them including feeding 5000 with a couple of fish and some bread.  That work completed, He dismissed the people and sent the disciples off in a boat while He went alone to a desolate place.  Here are a few observations about these incidents:

  • Jesus took time to be alone.  Too often, people in Christian ministry become exhausted because they see their work as too important to take time for rest and prayer.  Jesus recognized His need for time alone.
  • Jesus accepted interruptions to His personal life.  When the crowds came, He served them postponing His time alone.  Too often, people in Christian ministry put their own needs above those of others and show no flexibility or sensitivity to others.  Jesus delayed His time alone.
  • Jesus returned to His disciples at their time of need.  Once His time alone was concluded, Jesus went right back to the twelve who were in the midst of a severe storm on the sea.  Too often, people in Christian ministry who take time to rest begin to enjoy it so much they never return to the work.  Jesus did not shirk His responsibilities by overextending His time alone.
  • Jesus had a sense of timing in His life and ministry.  He balanced private prayer and public ministry perfectly.  He did His Father’s will peacefully and confidently.

In our Genesis reading today, Jacob (Israel) also shows sensitivity to God’s timing in his life.  He anticipates his coming death and takes care of final matters.  Too many people act like they will live forever and do not take care of matters that will make it easier on their surviving family and friends when they pass away.

Think about it

Time is a gift from God. The length of our life is determined by Him.  Besides that, the happenings of each of our days are also determined by the Lord of All. We are stewards of our time who must manage it for His glory.

Are you developing a sense of God’s timing in your life?  Do you balance personal prayer and service to others so that both get needed attention?  Are you taking care of matters that need to be done by you before God calls you home?  Live wisely knowing that your days are numbered and you are a steward of them.

Big Boys Do Cry

Today’s reading

Genesis 44-45; Matthew 14:1-21

Selected Verses

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

Genesis 45:1-3

He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.  And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.   Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.

Matthew 14:10-13a

Reflections

In western society, we swing back and forth to extremes.  Decades ago, in my youth, we said glibly “big boys don’t cry.”   More recently, the “feeling male” has become the hero, or at least less of a villain than “Rambo” the earlier granite superhero stereotype of cool, hardness.

Once again the Bible shows a different perspective than we generally see in our culture.

John the Baptist preached against sin at the highest levels of society.  He paid for that boldness with his head. When Jesus heard the news, He sought solitude and a private place to grieve.  That time was interrupted by crowds who came seeking Him.  The Lord responded to them without delay, but notice that Jesus felt fully the pain of others, in this case, John the Baptist.

Joseph, too, was moved by the pain of his brothers, deserved though it was. They had suffered long the guilt of their actions toward him, but when he saw their grief he wept and immediately assured them of forgiveness. He even explained how they ought to look at what they had done as a series of events used by God to bring blessing to them all.

Think about it

Both Jesus and Joseph wept for the pain of others. Big boys do cry, but they aren’t crybabies nor whiners.  The Bible never portrays a godly man as cold and heartless.  But neither is he an emotional basket case unable to take necessary action in a timely way.  In today’s reading both Jesus and Joseph showed deep feelings, but both were able to function even with their emotions raw.  Let these examples instruct you in Christlike living.

Why is God so Good?

Today’s reading

Genesis 42-43; Matthew 13:33-58

Selected verses

He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” Genesis 42:28

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.  Matthew 13:57-58

Reflections

“Why does God allow so much suffering and pain in our lives?”  It’s a question I hear.  And we might more wisely ask, “Why does God allow so much goodness and pleasure?”  Before there can be salvation from our sin, we must recognize that we are guilty and deserve punishment.  Joseph pushed his guilty brothers to show repentance for their sin toward him.  When they did, he showed them mercy by providing the food they needed and returning their money to them.  Joseph literally saved his evil brothers from death at no cost to them.

Jesus graciously came into the world to save sinners.  He warned of coming judgment.  Yet it was in His hometown where He had the most resistance.  Those who had seen Him grow up there were perplexed by the authority and wisdom of His teaching, but, instead of submitting to Him, they took Him to be some kind of upstart. They took offense at Him.  The consequence of this was He did not do many mighty works there.

Paul wrote to the Romans “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2: 4).  In God’s plan before there can be forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation, there must be recognition of personal responsibility for sin leading to repentance.

Think about it

Have you seen the goodness of God toward you or do you get stuck on all the suffering you have experienced?  Joseph’s brothers got it and received salvation. The people of Nazareth didn’t.   Are you more like those repentant brothers or like the resistant Nazarenes? Ask God for a heart changed by Jesus Christ, so that you do not take offense at Him but rather bow before Him in contrite faith.

Providence and Human History

Today’s reading

Genesis 41; Matthew 13:1-32

Selected verses

And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”

Genesis 41:38-40

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31,32

Reflections

God’s providence controls all the events of history to bring about His eternal purposes, and, because of this, He causes seemingly insignificant things to have a completely unforeseeable impact.

For example, God used a chain of sad and painful events in Joseph’s life to bring an amazing outcome. His kidnapping led to his being sold as a slave.  As a slave he was imprisoned on false charges. But in prison he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s  baker and butler.  That resulted in his recognition by Pharaoh for his ability to interpret dreams and give wise advice.  Joseph ended up the second in command to Pharaoh.  From that position, Joseph was able to save Egypt and his own long-lost family from starvation. Jacob and all his family relocated to Egypt where, over a four century period, they would grow into a mighty nation.  Their descendants would be prepared to return to the Promised Land to conquer it for their homeland.

Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a man planting a tiny mustard seed in the ground.  The seed was hardly visible before it was planted, and, after it was planted, it could not be seen at all.  Yet that seed grew into a huge plant, the largest in the garden and able to provide a nesting place for the birds.

 

Think about it

How have you seen God bring about mighty outcomes from practically unknown people or unfortunate events?  How have you seen the kingdom of heaven manifest its greatness where it was previously tiny or even non-existent?

Praise God for His providence!  He does wondrous things as He grows His kingdom!

Jesus: Judge or Savior?

Today’s reading

Genesis 38-40; Matthew 12:22-50

Selected verses

 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.  But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.

Genesis 38:6,7

 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:30-32

Reflections

God reveals Himself in His Word as a holy Judge.  As Creator, He has every right over us and we have every obligation to serve and obey Him.  Does He not have the right to execute sinful and rebellious creatures?  Didn’t Jesus preach about judgment?

God brought the judgment of death on the sons of Judah, Er and Onan.  Jesus warned of judgment on those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.  He spoke of the day of judgment on which the people of Nineveh would rise up and condemn the evil, adulterous, sign-seeking generation of His day that refused a greater prophet than Jonah and a greater king than Solomon.

A common misconception is that Jesus never suggested that there would be judgment, that He only spoke of love and peace.  Not so. Rather, Jesus called His hearers to repent and believe the gospel.   He warned of a sin that would never be forgiven. He taught that there would be condemnation for careless words and that contemporary society of that day was worse than wicked Nineveh.

But Jesus also gave hope to repentant sinners who recognize their lost, hopeless condition, who receive the revelation of God in Christ, who don’t demand other signs, and who flee from the wrath to come.

Think about it

Jesus Christ is Judge of those who reject Him, but the Savior of those who believe in Him.  He came to save His people from their sin, but not all are His people.  In eternity, will you know Him as Savior or as Judge?  Make sure you know you are His.

 

Sons who Suffer for Others

Today’s reading

Genesis 36-37; Matthew 12:1-21

Selected verses

 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  Matthew 12:6-8

 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.  But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.  Genesis 37:3,4

Reflections

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came to earth through the sinfully flawed lineage of Abraham, Isaac and, Jacob and into a society steeped in legalistic fear.  He came not to merely make things better but to begin to bring the nations to His kingdom and under His lordship.  Not surprisingly, our Lord collided with the powers that were, including the Pharisees with their over-scrupulous preoccupation with law-keeping as they interpreted the law.  Matthew records two of these collisions here in which Jesus’ practice upset the status quo.

In the context of these incidents, Jesus teaches that He is Lord of the Sabbath.  He alone is qualified to interpret the true meaning of the Sabbath.  His teaching and practice shows that faithfulness to God’s law  means giving priority to mercy over sacrifice and the well being of Man not the satisfaction of arbitrary rules appended to that law.

The story of Joseph’s early life in today’s reading further demonstrates the depravity of man.  Jacob’s sons are from four different mothers which by itself lays the groundwork for discord.  Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph exacerbates the tension and competition.  Joseph is the favored son but he will suffer much for that status.

It is not hard to draw parallels between Joseph and Jesus.  Both are favored sons of their fathers. They suffer at the hands of their brothers.  Both remain faithful even in the face of undeserved mistreatment.  Their suffering ultimately results in the saving of those who caused their anguish.

Think about it

Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath, but not just the Sabbath, He is Lord of all: all things, all people, all of the universe.  Today we can see how this is demonstrated in Scripture and in human history.  Let us follow our Lord, through suffering if necessary, to the end when His kingdom will fully triumph.

 

God’s Election; Man’s Response

Today’s reading

Genesis 33-35; Matthew 11

Selected verses

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”   Genesis 35:2,3

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  Matthew 11:25-27

Reflections

God is sovereign over all things, including His call and election of people to Himself by grace through faith for salvation.  He hides truth from those who are wise and understanding in this world but reveals it to little children.  The Son has authority to reveal the Father to whom He chooses.

But this does not mean that there exist some who desperately want to be saved but cannot be because God turns them away.  Jesus makes this offer,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

God’s sovereignty in calling people to Himself is seen in the life of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The lives of all three show serious flaws.  Jacob, for example, tolerated his family members serving idols. None deserved God’s grace.  God chose them freely, not based on their merits.  Likewise, God did not choose people from cities like Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, even though Jesus had performed “most of his mighty works” there.  They refused to repent in spite of the compelling evidence that Jesus was the Christ. So they bore their own responsibility for their condition.

Think about it

Pride in one’s own wisdom is an insurmountable obstacle to faith and, thus, to salvation.  Pray for a childlike spirit, for grace to believe and repent.  Come to the One who will give your soul rest and your life a purpose, yoked with Him in His redemptive work.  You will discover His election of you to salvation.

Fearful Followers Reassured

Today’s reading

Genesis 31-32; Matthew 10:24-42

Selected verses

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps,  thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

Genesis 32:7-8

 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

Reflections

In both readings today, we meet people who are called by God to enter uncharted territory and are understandably fearful of what looms ahead.

Although Jacob has seen God grant him material success and a peaceful parting with Laban, he is more than a little anxious about meeting Esau after so many years.  A man appears to Jacob at night and wrestles with him.  We understand the mysterious, unnamed man to be the Angel of the Lord as clarified in Hosea 12:2-6.

God is gracious to Jacob to send His angel to bless him when he most needed reassurance.

Jesus also talks to His disciples about fear.  He is sending them out as His messengers, into a hostile world.  They will naturally tend to be fearful, but Whom should they fear?  Not someone who can only kill their bodies and then have no further power.  Not an Esau, who might be holding a grudge after 20 years.  Jesus tells the twelve to fear God, the One who has power over our eternal destiny.

Jacob learns that God is with him as he goes back to his home land and his brother.  The disciples learn that God will be with them and keep their souls even if their ministry arouses rejection and death.

Think about it

In a sense, every new day presents uncharted territory for us even when life seems predictable and routine.  How confident are you of God’s power to keep you wherever He sends you and in whatever He calls you to do?  Do not fear Man, not if by faith in Christ you have eternal life and you are ready to die. Don’t deny real danger but replace the fear of Man with the fear of God.  He will be with His own to the end.