How to Know You’ve Learned

Today’s reading: Exodus 13-15; Matthew 19:1-15

23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”  Exodus 15:23-24

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, Matthew 19:13

Not much changed in people, even God’s people, from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus Christ. Not much has changed from those times until today. Don’t we struggle to apply what we think we have learned in the past to current problems and challenges?

The Israelites had seen God deliver them from Egypt by a series of plagues. Their escape was jeopardized when Pharaoh’s army pursued them. They were desperate, but God again delivered them. They rejoiced as the cadavers of their enemies washed up on the shores of the Red Sea while they watched safely. Can God deliver us from anything, repeat, anything? Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

But within hours they were complaining about the lack of water and then, when they found water, they complained that it was bitter. The lesson of the Red Sea had been lost already.

The disciples had learned that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is a child (Matthew 18:1ff), but when little children were brought to Jesus those same disciples rebuked the parents who brought them. The lesson of the little child had been lost already.

God is patient with us, slow learners and thick-headed disciples. We really don’t get it, do we? Let’s face it; we are often repeating the same foolish mistakes of the Israelites and the disciples. How many times do we need to be re-taught the same lessons of faith, patience, and prayer? How quickly we forget what He has done in the past and cave in to doubt, complaining, whining, and panic.

Trust Him to act. Call upon Him with confidence to do more than you can ask or think. Transfer what you learned before to the trials and uncertainties of today. Then, you will know that you have really learned.  Oh, and praise God for His patience. He has a bigger plan than we know.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating God’s Deliverance

Today’s reading: Exodus 11-12; Matthew 18:21-35

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Exodus 12:1-2

God, who created time, instructed His people to observe certain periodic days to remember important events and theological truths connected with those events. The Passover was one of those events. God commanded that it be observed annually and that it coincide with the New Year.

The Passover definitively set apart the Israelites from the Egyptians. The blood of unblemished lambs marked the homes of those who believed and distinguished them from those who did not. The blood protected the inhabitants of those homes from death. The lamb paid the price and the people were saved.

Christ, too, paid the price as our Passover lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7). Just as the ancient Israelites celebrated their deliverance from slavery by an annual Passover celebration, we as God’s people today celebrate corporately, by the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Communion, the fulfillment of a greater Lamb whose offering made a once-for-all atonement for sin.

Meanwhile, that deliverance and forgiveness which Jesus Christ obtained for us ought to be manifested in lives of forgiveness towards others. Let us be vigilant to show grace and mercy toward those who owe us, not as the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable.

Let us daily celebrate our deliverance by practicing Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Ephesus: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Who’s the greatest?

Today’s reading: Exodus 9-10; Matthew 18:1-20

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Matthew 18:1

A daily question in our society is “Who’s the greatest of them all?” The same question has these variations: “Who’s the greatest athlete? “Who’s the greatest celebrity? “Who’s the most powerful leader? “Who’s the richest person?”

The assumption is that superiority in certain categories like money, beauty, intelligence, physical strength, political power, and influence make a person worthy of fame and adulation. We honor those who excel in the areas we consider important.

On a number of occasions, Jesus’ disciples showed that they competed among themselves for superior positions. Maybe that was in the back of their minds when they asked Him the question in today’s reading.

Jesus showed them that the categories which are generally considered important by society are not the same ones that are important in the kingdom of heaven. Superiority in those categories is, therefore, meaningless. A little child showing characteristic humility is held above the proud and haughty. Pharaoh’s experience certainly demonstrated the destruction that comes to the proud, the hard hearted, the spiritually blind.  A Pharaoh may impress the masses with his power and prestige, but, without a change of heart, he will not even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less be assigned a place of honor there.

Beware of idolizing the values that have no importance in the kingdom of heaven. Pray that God may grant you the humility of a child and deliver you from the foolish, temporal values of this world.

Heart Responses to God

Today’s reading: Exodus 7-8; Matthew 17

32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. Exodus 8:32

5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. Matthew 17:5-6

The God of the Bible has revealed Himself in human history, but the responses are mixed. Some, like Pharaoh, harden their hearts. Others, like Peter, James, and John, fall on their faces terrified.

Pharaoh saw God’s power bringing plagues upon him and the nation. In the first two instances, his magicians were successful in reproducing the same results. With the third plague, the magicians fail to produce gnats and conclude that it is “the finger of God.” In the fourth case, there is no mention of the magicians even attempting to compete with God’s power. Despite the increasing intensity of the plagues, Pharaoh kept hardening his heart.

The disciples on the mountain with Jesus also saw wondrous things. Jesus was transfigured. His face and garments shone with intense light. Moses and Elijah appeared. Starring at this sight, Peter starts babbling about making tents for each of them. Then, he and the other disciples hear the voice of God. The starring and babbling ends and they fall in terror before God.

How do you account for the different responses of Pharaoh and the disciples to displays of God’s power and presence? God brings judgment on Pharaoh, but does a gracious work in the hearts of the disciples so that they fear Him. The latter response is totally appropriate. Believers in biblical history always fall before God’s revelation of Himself. Unbelievers, like Pharaoh, merely shrug off the evidence of God’s presence and power as if it were a mere coincidence. To Pharaoh, the plagues were an inconvenience, not a sign indicating that the eternal, omnipotent God was near.

How do you respond to God’s revelation of Himself? Do you fall before Him in fear? If you believe, you will have a proper fear of Him, not a fear that makes you run from Him but one that causes you to fall before Him in worship, awe, and reverence.

Fear God for His majesty and power in creation and providence. Fear God for, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 4) says, He is “a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Praise God if He has given you, not a hardened heart, but a tender, believing heart that fears Him.

Carrying a Cross

Today’s reading: Exodus 4-6; Matthew 16

6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” Exodus 6:6-8

27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:27

God’s promises are clear, but, from our human viewpoint, the fulfillment of those promises is slow in coming. It was true for Israel in Egypt. It was good news that God sent Moses to them with assurances that the Lord was going to deliver them from slavery and take them to the land He had promised Abraham, but in the short run all they got was more oppression. Pharaoh made them find their own straw and required the same daily production of bricks.

Jesus promised a day would come in which He, the Son of Man, would come with His angels, in the glory of His Father repaying each person according to what he has done. That day has still not come. We, no less than the Israelites, must wait in faith that the Lord Jesus Christ will come on His schedule and bring just and final judgment.

Meanwhile, we cry with the psalmist:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Psalm 13:1-2

The answer is “as long as God wills.” Even though we cry for His kingdom to come, we must hold fast to His promises and His loving kindness to sustain us till then. Are you carrying a cross? You are following Jesus.

Does God know?

Today’s reading: Exodus 1-3; Matthew 15:21-39

24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. Exodus 3:24-25

… he healed them, 31 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

Exodus opens with an update on the descendents 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. They had become a threat to the Egyptians and were subjected to slavery. Their male babies were to be executed. Things got worse and worse and the Israelites groaned. Did God know?

Indeed He heard, remembered, saw, and knew as the passage above points out. He had prepared a leader, Moses, to deliver them. Moses, however, went through a strange training program. He was raised as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but ,his first attempts at leadership were ill-conceived and rejected. He fled to the wilderness with this question ringing in his ears, “Who made you a prince and judge over us?” It took forty years (Acts 7:30), but God appeared to a now-insecure eighty year old Moses and assured him that he would lead his people out of their slavery to the land of the Canaanites that God had promised to Abraham. Israel would be free in a new land.

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 come in part, but we are promised that Jesus will come again to finalize its establishment. Meanwhile we pray, trust God, and wait knowing that He knows our groaning, remembers His covenant, and will fulfill all His promises.

Do you know that God knows your groaning today?  Trust Him.

Looking for Loopholes in God’s Law

Today’s reading: Genesis 49-50; Matthew 15:1-20

5 ‘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

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. 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, the original intent of that commandment had been effectively annulled through the practice of withholding support to needy parents by designating resources as “given to the Lord.” Jesus told His contemporaries,

4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 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

Beware of seeking loopholes in obeying God’s Word, but we have done so and we do fail to fully keep His commandments. For disobedient, loophole seekers Christ died. Trust Him for forgiveness and trust Him for strength and wisdom to walk in obedience to His Word.

Developing A Sense of God’s Timing

Today’s reading: Genesis 46-48; Matthew 14:22-36

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

Jesus, after hearing about the death of John the Baptist, sought to be alone (Matthew 14:13), but crowds came seeking Him. He patiently and lovingly ministered to them including feeding 5000 with a couple of fish and some bread. That work completed, He dismissed the crowd 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 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.

Are you developing a sense of God’s timing in your life? Do you balance personal prayer and public ministry so that both get needed attention? Are you taking care of matters that need to be done by you before God calls you home?

The Emotional Life of a Godly Man

Today’s reading: Genesis 44-45; Matthew 14:1-21

10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.  Matthew 14:10-13a

The story of John the Baptist’s beheading for his bold preaching against sin at the highest levels of society moved Jesus to seek private time alone to grieve. That time was interrupted by crowds who came seeking Him, but we ought to consider that Jesus felt deeply the pain of His people, in this case, John the Baptist, who was His cousin and the one designated to prepare His way among the Jews.

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 had occurred, a series of events orchestrated by God to bring blessing to them.

In western society, we swing back and forth to extremes. A generation ago a popular song informed us that “big boys don’t cry.” Since the 1990’s, the “feeling male” has become the hero, or at least less of a villain than “Rambo” the earlier granite superhero stereotype of cool, hardness.

The Bible does not portray real men as cold and heartless. Jesus was not. But neither is the godly man an emotional basket case unable to take necessary action in a timely way. In today’s reading both Jesus and Joseph felt deeply, but both were able to function even with their emotions raw. How do these examples instruct you in Christlike living?

 

Recognition, repentance, salvation

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Today’s reading: Genesis 42-43; Matthew 13:33-58 57 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.” 58 And he did not do many … Continue reading