Old Wine; New Wine

Today’s reading: Joshua 19-20; Luke 5:17-39

9 These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:9

39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:39

Law and order in society is a good thing, as long as one knows when to be flexible and receptive to something new.

In ancient Israel, the borders of the tribal lands were carefully specified. Those borders were not to be violated but kept as an inheritance for succeeding generations within each tribe. There was law and order with regard to the territorial borders of the twelve tribes.

Cities of refuge were designated to protect a person guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the killing of another person unknowingly or unintentionally. We might say “killing by accident.” There was law and order concerning involuntary manslaughter.

The Israelites in Moses’ and Joshua’s days were well-taught about the importance of keeping the law. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees taught and demonstrated careful adherence to the law, as they understood it. The problem was the Pharisees found it easier to stick with tradition than to consider the possibility of some new element being introduced into their world. They accused Jesus of blasphemy when He forgave a man his sins. They grumbled when Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. They questioned the piety of Jesus’ disciples because of their failure to fast often and offer prayers.

Jesus responded to their criticisms with explanations that showed He did not violate the law but did go beyond their traditional understanding of lawfulness. He had power to forgive sin. He came to call sinners to repentance. His presence in the world was like a wedding, not a funeral, and it changed everything.

Jesus told them that resistance to the new is natural and comfortable, but it is not always acceptable. Law and order is good, but sometimes receptivity and flexibility is needed because God was doing a new thing in sending the Son of Man. The law had only revealed the sinfulness of Man. Jesus brought the new wine of the gospel, forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Him.

Beware of the error of the Pharisees who extended faithfulness to the law beyond its limits and turned it into rigid resistance to the gospel and rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Two Musts for Effective Leaders

Today’s reading: Joshua 16-18; Luke 5:1-16

8 So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.” Joshua 18:8

15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16

Both Jesus and Joshua model how effective leaders handle high stress situations and high maintenance people. There are two important guidelines here for effective leaders.

1. Effective leaders empower people to solve their own problems, as much as possible. Joshua gave the responsibility to the seven landless tribes to survey the territory, to write a description of the remaining land dividing it in seven portions, and to report back to him for allotments. Earlier, Joshua told the tribe of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) to clear their land rather than asking for more territory.

2. Effective leaders take time for prayer even during high stress times. Jesus’ ministry was becoming more widely known and the crowds came with endless needs for healing and teaching. It was not a bad thing that they saw Jesus as the one who could both heal them and teach them, but there were limits to what one person, even Jesus, could do. Jesus modeled for us the need to take time alone in prayer.

In whatever leadership roles you fill, are you following these two guidelines as you face pressure and the expectations of others?  A mother recently told me how much joy she is getting from seeing her young son assume more responsibility for getting himself ready for bed. In our church, we are empowering gifted people to teach Sunday school classes and they and the class members are being encouraged.

The biggest danger is the tendency to operate purely on human wisdom and to fail to take time alone for prayer. Evaluate your life today. Make the needed changes so that you handle high stress situations and high maintenance people in wise and godly ways.

The Authority of God

Today’s reading: Joshua 14-15; Luke 4:33-44

12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” Joshua 14:12

36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” Luke 4:36

God rules over all people and all events in human history. This truth comes through in today’s readings as it does on every page of the Bible.

Caleb, who along with Joshua was one of two adult survivors of the Exodus from Egypt, appeals to Joshua to grant him the hill country of Hebron as his inheritance in the land. Caleb, demonstrating, not doubt but, humility and an unassuming air, expressed his dependence on the Lord to be with him so that he could be successful in clearing the enemy Anakim out of the territory he desired. The Anakim were a tall and frightening group of warriors whom the spies had met 40 years earlier when they went in to spy out the land. Joshua granted Caleb his request and blessed him. The effort was successful because the Lord had authority over the Anakim and all the other great pretenders of this world.

Jesus had authority over every kind of disease. He healed Simon’s mother of a fever so quickly and completely that she immediately resumed her duties as hostess and homemaker as if nothing had occurred. The townspeople lined up to have Jesus heal them, too. Whatever sickness they had, he graciously healed.  But what seems to have gotten their attention was his power over unclean spirits. A demonic man made a scene in the synagogue, screaming out his fear of being destroyed by Jesus. He even said accurately that Jesus was the “Holy One of God.” The demon threw the man down, but Jesus commanded him to be silent and come out of him, which he did. The crowd was stunned at this demonstration of power.

Do you have confidence in the power and authority of God over this world? The triune God has revealed Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons who rules over all the universe.  Through the grace of Jesus His Son, the Father gives His Spirit to live in His children.  All power and authority belongs to Him.   In Christ, you belong to Him who has power and authority over everyone and everything. Fear not. Trust Him who reigns over all.

The kingdoms vs. the Kingdom

Today’s reading: Joshua 11-13; Luke 4:1-32

10 And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. Joshua 11:10

5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”. Luke 4:5-7

To whom belong the kingdoms of the world?

In Joshua’s day, Hazor was head of several kingdoms. Joshua, with God’s leading and power, conquered Hazor and all the kingdoms of Canaan. The scripture tells us that God hardened the hearts of those kings so that they would fight against Israel and lose (Joshua 11:20). Those kingdoms came under the domination of Israel until the Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C.

Certainly the devil has some power in this world, but no more than God allows him. He tempts certain people with power and authority in exchange for allegiance to his evil causes and purposes.

Which people does he personally approach? We do not have a complete list, but in the Bible we are specifically told, the devil went after Adam and Eve, Job, Peter, and Jesus (Genesis 3:1-7; Job 1-2; Luke 22:31-34; Luke 4:1).

So Hazor had some kingdoms. Later, Israel had those lands. When Satan approached Jesus to tempt him, Satan assumed authority over all the kingdoms of the earth. In the final analysis, these earthly kingdoms rightfully belong to God the Creator and He providentially controls them. But the ultimate kingdom is not an earthly temporal one. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God.

What kingdom do you serve? God’s kingdom is forever. Live for that kingdom and that King, Who hardens the hearts of some kings and turns the hearts of others at His will (Proverbs 21:1). Pray that His kingdom may come in final triumph soon.

God’s Intervention in Human History

Today’s reading: Joshua 9-10; Luke 3

6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3:6

42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. Joshua 10:42

Luke quotes from Isaiah in introducing the ministry of John the Baptist. John was preparing the people for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah described one who cried in the wilderness, calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord. That prophecy was fulfilled as John, literally, preached in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Crowds came to John and sought baptism. He did not soft pedal his message, but warned them of the wrath to come and the need to make changes in their lives that reflected true repentance. Two groups were specifically mentioned: the tax collectors and the soldiers. John’s ministry was blessed by God so much that people thought perhaps he was the Christ, but later he clarified that Jesus was the One whose worth was far above his own and that Jesus would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Isaiah’s words came true that all flesh would see the salvation of God.

In our reading in Joshua, God was at work defeating the enemies of Israel. Certainly, the twelve tribes saw the salvation of God from those who had defiled the land with pagan worship. God blessed them with much victory using even hailstones and a suspended sunset to accomplish His purposes.

God intervenes in human history for the salvation of His people. Whether we see signs of miraculous intervention or not, He has promised to save those who come to Him through Christ. None of our enemies can stand before Him. He overcomes the sinful hearts of tax collectors and soldiers. He destroys the unrepentant, but saves His own. Look for His presence as you pray to Him today.




Light for the Gentiles

Today’s reading: Joshua 7-8; Luke 2:25-52

34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. Joshua 8:34-35

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

God’s focus, as we have seen before, includes not only the Israelites or the Jews, but all the peoples of the earth.

Joshua renews the covenant of God with Israel by reading the entire Book of the Law of Moses. The congregation gathered included not only the men of Israel, but the women, the children, and the sojourners who lived among them. Those sojourners I take to be not related physically to Israel, but merely living among them, perhaps as servants. It is important that they were not excluded from the reading of the law and the renewal of the covenant.

Simeon, who had waited all his life for the coming of the Messiah, met the infant Jesus in the temple. His long-awaited moment had come; he had seen the salvation of the Lord. That salvation was prepared in the presence of all peoples and would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles as well as a glory to God’s people, Israel. Certainly, there is a clear indication that Simeon understood the universal offer of salvation that was being extended to the entire world.

Praise God for sending His Son, Jesus, to save all who believe in Him from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Thank God for granting the sojourners amongst the Israelites the privilege of hearing the Word of God. Thank God for His grace to old Simeon, whose dream of a lifetime was fulfilled and who was allowed to leave us with wise words about the work of Jesus Christ which extended to all peoples, even you and me.

Whose Side is God On?

Today’s reading: Joshua 4-6; Luke 2:1-24

And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” Joshua 5:13b-14

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:20

In the Luke reading today, there is a curious irony in that Jesus’ birth is set in the historical context of the reign of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, and the Syrian governor, Quirinius, but the angels make the announcement to shepherds in the field who are watching their sheep. Shepherds in Bible times were low on the socio-economic scale. Their testimony in a court of law was inadmissible so unreliable were they.

Joshua meets the commander of the army of the Lord, very possibly a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God. Joshua has war on his mind as he and the Israelites are camped in the plains of Jericho about to face their first military test in the land. Naturally, Joshua wonders who this Warrior supports. “Us or them?” he asks, somewhat crudely. “No,” says the commander bluntly, ruling the question out of order. Joshua needed to learn that God’s army is independent of all secular authorities and rules over all other forces. God’s army advances God’s glory and purposes and cannot be marshaled by earthly rulers and captains for their goals.

God works in and through human history and earthly powers but He is subject to none of them, not Caesar Augustus, not Quirinius, not even Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, and certainly not any of the nations in existence today. God is on His own side, but He calls people to join Him on His side to serve and glorify Him.

May we be faithful to the Lord, to His calling to serve Him for His glory and submit our needs and goals to Him today and always. God can use a shepherd or an emperor for His purposes, but those He uses worship Him and ask, “What does my lord say to his servant?”




Whom to Fear

Today’s reading: Joshua 1-3; Luke 1:57-80

8 Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. Joshua 2:8-9

74 “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,” Luke 1:74

The theme of fear runs through today’s readings.

Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, makes a most eloquent statement about the Lord, the God of Israel, whom the people of her land have come to fear. They know how God has led the people for forty years out of Egypt and through the wilderness. The Israelites have had successful military confrontations. In vivid terms she describes the inhabitants of the land as “melting away” before Israel and their God.

When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s baby boy was born, Elizabeth announced that his name was John contrary to custom which stipulated that babies were always named for family members. Zechariah, still mute, wrote his agreement to the name on a tablet. Immediately, he was able to speak, but the people were overcome by fear. The hand of God was in this.

Zechariah, with his regained ability to talk, began giving praise to God. He prophesied about the ministry of his son in glowing but not exaggerated terms. God’s purposes were to deliver His people from their enemies so that they might serve Him without fear, that is, without fear of their enemies.

What place does fear have in your life? There is a proper fear of God which is, as the psalmist said, “clean, enduring forever” (Psalm 19:9).   God’s people fear Him in a reverent, healthy way, but they are not to fear their enemies whom He has defeated. After all, God has already decreed victory for those who are His. The places where the sole of Joshua’s foot was going to tread had already been given to him (Joshua 1:3). Fear God. Do not fear your and His enemies. The land is already yours. Serve Him today without fear.




The Everlasting Arms

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 33-34; Luke 1:24-56

26 “There is none like God, O Jeshurun,
who rides through the heavens to your help,
through the skies in his majesty.
27 The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
And he thrust out the enemy before you
and said, ‘Destroy.’ Deuteronomy 33:26-27

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; Luke 1:51

Both Moses and Mary express awe and reverence for the power and faithfulness of God.

Moses, in today’s reading, pronounces blessings on the tribes of Israel as he knows the time of his death is drawing near. Rather than express anger and disappointment that he has been denied entrance into the Promised Land, Moses takes the opportunity to give glory to God. His words of praise are both true and inspiring.

Moses could speak with the perspective of a man who for 120 years had seen the power of God in his life. God had protected him at birth, protected him from prosecution for murder, watched over him during his exile, called him from a burning bush, given him victory over the Egyptians, and guided him through the wilderness to the border of the Promised Land. Moses knew God. God had been faithful and God had been powerful on Moses’ behalf. What better way for Moses to say goodbye than to lift words of praise to God?

Mary, the young virgin engaged to Joseph, faced a completely unexpected life. Suddenly, the angel Gabriel broke into her world and told her what was to become of her. She would be the mother of the Son of God. Mary’s response is one of bewilderment which turns to submission and praise to God. She, like Moses, revels in thoughts of the powerful arm of God. God is able to do the impossible. God is going to do all His will. He turns the world right side up.

How have you already seen God’s power and faithfulness in your life? How do you need to remember God’s power today? “Do not be afraid,” the angel said to Mary (Luke 1:30). He is the God whose arm is strong and everlasting. Trust Him today. Underneath you are the everlasting arms.

A Dose of Reality

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 31-32; Luke 1:1-23

27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! Deuteronomy 31:27

20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” Luke 1:20

The Bible never sugar coats the reality of fallen human nature. People, even God’s people, are not viewed through rose colored glasses, but, rather, are shown to be sinners who never seem to learn from their mistakes and have a hard time believing God’s plain and clear word.

Moses had reassured the Israelites that God would be with them as they entered the Promised Land, but he also told them that he knew their hearts. They would abandon the Lord and go after other gods. Moses knew that they already showed this tendency during his lifetime and they would not improve after his death.

Of course all that Moses predicted came true. The people disobeyed the Lord, going after other gods.

In the case of Zechariah, the elderly childless priest who was assigned the duty of entering the Holy of Holies in the temple, he was greeted by the angel, Gabriel. As terrifying as this experience must have been and as startling as it must have been to hear that the old priest and his wife would have a son, Zechariah questioned the truthfulness of the angel’s words. He showed shameless disbelief and was struck dumb for his obtuseness.

Yet throughout the Scriptures, God shows His mercy, grace, and patience toward His people. He will not abandon those He has chosen for Himself. He is faithful, although they and we show stubbornness at every turn.

May God be praised for never leaving nor forsaking us sinners! How desperately we need His mercy anew every morning!