God’s Grace to the Nations

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 1-2; Mark 11:1-19

Turn northward 4 and command the people, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. 5 Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. Deuteronomy 2:3b-5

17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17

Woven throughout the Old Testament are indications that God has other nations in view as He brings salvation to the world through Israel. It is interesting to discover that God provided and protected lands for the descendents of Esau, who was not the chosen son of Isaac. The Lord also provided lands for the descendents of Lot, the Ammonites and the Moabites. He even restricted those lands from Israelite takeover.

Jesus clearly understood and taught this global perspective as indicated in today’s selection from Mark above. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all the nations. In Jesus’ day, Judaism had degenerated into a very inward focused religion, but Jesus was making disciples who were going to go to the Gentiles with His gospel.

Unless you can trace your ancestry back to Jews, you are, like me, a Gentile. You are, like me, a beneficiary of God’s grace to Israel, whereby came the Scriptures and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise God that He has seen fit to call to Himself a people for His glory from all the tribes and tongues of the earth. Be humbled by His amazing grace.

Law and Grace: a contrast

Today’s reading: Numbers 34-36; Mark 10:32-52

31 Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. Numbers 35:31

45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Under the Mosaic Law, a manslayer had protection and a right to a trial to determine whether he murdered intentionally or killed unintentionally. Life was precious, both the life of the one who died and the life of the one who killed him. Capital punishment was applied carefully after due process of law.

The guilty murderer, duly convicted, could not be ransomed. There could be no deal-making, no plea bargaining, no offering of an animal sacrifice to take the place of the convict. He must die, under the law.

What a contrast with the grace of God in Jesus Christ! Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for guilty people, many guilty people. I suspect that some of those guilty people had already died under the Mosaic Law, guilty of murder, but repentant and believing and saved by the grace of God and for the glory of God.

The guilty in this world still have to serve their sentences, even on Death Row, but they may be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to know God as Father in the eternal state to come.

How many, who could not be ransomed from their guilt under the Law of Moses, found redemption through faith in the Messiah, who gave His life a ransom for many?

Praise Jesus Christ, God’s Son, for His offering for sin!

The Rewards of Obedience

Today’s reading: Numbers 32-33; Mark 10:1-31

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. Numbers 32:16-18

28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10: 28-30

In two incidents separated by centuries, God’s people were called to leave their homes behind in order to obey Him. In the first case, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh requested permission to take possession of the eastern lands that were conquered before the nation crossed the Jordan. Moses warned them that they would discourage the other tribes and possibly bring judgment on themselves similar to what the nation experienced when the spies had discouraged everyone from entering the Promised Land forty years earlier. The response of the tribes was excellent. They committed to fight till all the other tribes got their territories also. Moses was satisfied. Stay tuned to find out how this turned out.

In the second case, the disciples of Jesus left their homes to follow Him. Peter sounds wistful, but Jesus reassures him that they will receive much more than they gave up.

What about you? How has a life of obedience to God been costly to you? Have you given up home, relationships, or career possibilities? Trust Him that His rewards to His faithful followers are blessings out of this world.

The Danger of Defiling the Little Ones

Today’s reading: Numbers 30-31; Mark 9:30-50

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” 3 So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. Numbers 31:1-3

The disciples were beginning to jockey for positions of leadership and wanted to curtail any would-be competitors that they had not sanctioned. In a forceful statement, Jesus warned them of the danger of defiling little ones who believe in Him. My study Bible notes explain that little ones may refer to children or to those who are “insignificant believers.” So the warning has broad application. Beware of causing others to sin who look up to you either because of your age or your standing in the church.

God’s final assignment to Moses was to bring judgment on the Midianites for the way they had seduced the Israelites into sin. Indeed, as we saw in our March 1 reading, the Israelites paid a severe price for their foolish sin, but now God sends Moses to repay their tempters for causing His people to sin.

Who are the little ones in your life? Are they children? Are they just so-called insignificant believers? Beware that they are held in high esteem by God who gave His Son for their salvation. Treat them all as children of the King, for, as believers, that is what they are.  If you have failed in this regard, repent of all known sin, confess to God and those offended and seek the Lord’s grace and forgiveness through Christ.

The Unfolding of God’s Covenant

Today’s reading: Numbers 28-29; Mark 9:1-29

4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Mark 9:4

40 So Moses told the people of Israel everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Numbers 29:40

The incident on the Mount of Transfiguration is not only another verification of Jesus’ authenticity as the Son of God, but shows how He was the fulfillment of all that Old Testament pointed to. Moses and Elijah, God’s servants who represent the Law and the Prophets, appeared with Jesus and talked with Him, but were not superior to Him. Jesus would fulfill the Law of Moses perfectly bringing justification to all His chosen people from every tribe and tongue. Jesus’ obedience would be credited to the account of His own.

Only Jesus’ atonement could purchase forgiveness for His people. There never would have been perfect law keepers, besides the Christ. He alone could fulfill the just demands of the law. The stony hearts of the members of the Old Testament church were unwilling and unable to obey the law and to receive the message of the prophets.

The Transfiguration points us to the unfolding nature of God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus Christ, is our eternal prophet, priest, and king.   May His kingdom come soon. Wait expectantly.

A Man in Love with the World

Today’s reading: Numbers 24-27; Mark 8:11-38

36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? Mark 8:36-37

3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. Numbers 25:3

God warns us frequently to beware of loving the world (e.g. I John 2:15-17). In today’s reading, Jesus asked “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Famous conquerors like Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Hitler gained large portions of the earth. In science fiction, evil schemers like Darth Vader or Lex Luther attempt to take over the world or the cosmos. They are Satan figures who repel us.

Even if a real, historic figure could find a way to take control of the world, he (or she) would do so at the cost of his soul. Balaam was a man in love with the world and he paid for it with his soul.

Balaam failed to curse Israel because God restrained him, but he thought of another way to bring God’s curses on Israel. He advised the Moabites to invite the Israelites to the sacrifices of their gods (Numbers 31:16). He knew that if the Israelites participated in what would end up being a wild orgy, God would unleash His wrath upon them. The scheme worked for a while, but the guilty were executed and God’s wrath was satisfied.

Let this be a lesson to us. Beware of what you love. Beware of loving the wealth, comforts, power, and prestige which the world affords. People in ancient Israel died because they failed to be vigilant against these temptations. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, we learn that none are innocent of these sins. Only by repentance of our spiritual adultery and faith in the One who died for His elect people can the sentence of death be stopped.

Love not the world. Love the Creator of the world, and of all things, and of us. He also came to stop the curse of death.

 

Why God was Angry with Balaam

Today’s reading: Numbers 21-23; Mark 7:14-8:10

20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Numbers 22:20-22

15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. Mark 7:15

Do you wonder why the Lord told Balaam to go with the princes of Moab and, when he did, God’s anger was kindled because he went? On the surface it seems like Balaam got punished for obeying.

This would seem to make God’s direction contradictory and duplicitous. We, who believe in a holy, just, and all-wise God, can never admit such a  possibility. The more likely explanation is that God was disciplining Balaam for an attitude of his heart to which we are not privy. As we shall see later in our reading, Balaam wanted to curse Israel and would have done so had the Lord not restrained him. Balaam was eager for the reward and the prestige of assisting the Moabites.

Outward behavior can look quite upright and proper, but God looks at our hearts. The Pharisees in Jesus day were focused on outward appearances of righteousness. Jesus told them that it was not what was outside that defiles them but what comes out of their hearts. He went on to elaborate, in verses 21-23, 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Balaam, most likely, had several of these attitudes in his heart that day when the Lord opened his donkey’s mouth to speak to him. Even so, he would later find a devious way to trap and hurt the Israelites. More later.

Beware of the sin lurking in your heart. Confess and repent. God could send you a talking donkey to get your attention.

Misuse of Authority

Today’s reading: Numbers 18-20; Mark 7:1-13

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! Mark 7:8-9

12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:12

In both readings today, we find grievous examples of the leaders abusing or misusing their authority for personal advantage. I’m sure some who criticize biblical faith will point this out as evidence that our faith is erroneous because some are hypocritical adherents.

Yet Jesus condemned those who tried to find loopholes in the law in order to avoid fulfilling their financial responsibilities to their parents. He told them they put their traditions above God’s law.

Moses used God’s power to gain glory for himself.   In striking the rock to bring water for the people, he failed to show that it was God’s work and he took the credit due to God. He paid the price of dying before the nation was able to go into the Promised Land.

All leaders are sinners, including Christian leaders. This does not mean they should not be respected and followed when they lead us in God’s ways. It does mean they need God’s grace and mercy just as much as other believers who have less visibility and prominence. James also warned would-be teachers that they will be subject to stricter judgment (James 3:1-2).

Support godly leaders through prayer, proper respect, and encouragement, but do not follow them blindly. They are able to err, and they may at times need to receive correction from those who follow them. Do not assume any mantle of leadership lightly. If you are a leader, be mindful of your responsibility before God.

God’s Fearful Presence

Today’s reading: Numbers 16-17; Mark 6:33-56

50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50

12 And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” Numbers 17:12-13

As we have seen, God who created all things also is in constant contact with His creation and with His creatures whether they are conscious of Him or not. In both biblical history as well as my personal experience, it is evident that we easily forget that God is there, all the time every day. We grow comfortable with attitudes of pride and acts of presumption as if there were no God to whom we must answer.

Korah and his party in the wilderness rebelled against God’s appointed leader, Moses. They had time to repent but no inclination to do so. They died a horrific death. Then God gave them another sign of His choice of Aaron to head the priesthood by making Aaron’s staff to bud as the staffs of the other tribes remained dead sticks.

The people of Israel finally recognized that they were “undone” that they were in danger of all perishing for their persistent rebellion. God revealed His presence and taught them to fear Him.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. The Lord immediately reassured them that it was Him. God again revealed His presence and taught the disciples to fear Him but also to trust Him.

The lesson of God’s fearful presence is one that the Israelites and the disciples would have to re-learn. I suspect that you and I will have to re-learn it too. Yet there is also comfort knowing that we who know Christ are His own adopted children and that He is merciful and gracious to us.

Be aware of God’s presence in your life today. Thank Him for His patience with us who must re-learn these lessons.

The Mystery of God’s Providence

Today’s reading: Numbers 14-15; Mark 6:1-32

15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ Numbers 14:15-16

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison… Mark 6:26-27

God threatened to destroy the entire nation of Israel for their rebellion and unbelief and to start over again forming a new nation with Moses. In a rather unique and wise prayer, Moses appealed to God to spare them on the basis of what would result in greater glory for the Lord. Certainly this was one of Moses’ best moments in which he showed more concern for God’s glory than for his own. So God spared the guilty Israelites once again.

In our reading in Mark, we come to the sad account of the hideous beheading of John the Baptist. John died because he dared to stand up to corruption in high places. It is not hard to surmise that Herod carried the guilty weight of this execution to his dying days.

In both of our readings, the providence of God is evident, but is not predictable. It is mysterious and complex. Although they suffered discipline and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord spared the guilty. On the other hand, the bold and faithful John died a horrible death.

God does not reveal all of His reasons for the providential circumstances He decrees for His children, but we see enough examples to know that it’s not about “karma” where every good dead gets rewarded and every bad deed gets punished.

Are you perplexed about some inexplicable event in your life? Do not despair even if you never understand it in this life. Trust God that He has a wise plan and ultimately will resolve all things for our good and His glory in the age to come.