God’s Initiative

Today’s reading: Exodus 25-26; Matthew 21:1-22

22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. Exodus 25:22

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,

‘Behold, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” Matthew 21:5

Although it is Man that has rebelled and offended God, it is God who makes the way for Man to find Him. It is God who gives Moses a plan for a tabernacle and an ark upon which the Lord promises to meet with him and speak with him. All of the rituals of the tabernacle would point to Jesus Christ, God’s anointed One, who came to Zion in humble form riding a donkey.

It is always God’s initiative. He comes to us. He graciously makes the move to restore us to Himself, though we deserve nothing but punishment and rejection. He has always made the first move and He continues to make the first move. We are dead in sin without Him. We cannot respond until He breathes into us and gives us new life that inevitably results in faith and repentance.

Praise God for reaching out to His own people, for grasping hell-bent sinners and rescuing them from His just wrath. We, who know Him, will imitate His grace toward us and reach out to those who need our forgiveness, too.

Good Intentions Gone Awry

Today’s reading: Exodus 22-24; Matthew 20:17-34

7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24:7-8

22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” Matthew 20:22

Here we see a clear parallel between human nature under the old covenant and the new covenant. In both cases, people swore to do certain things: to be obedient, to drink the cup of suffering with Jesus Christ. In both cases, as we will see, they failed to live up to their promises and good intentions. They fully intended to carry through. There was not a trace of doubt in their minds or voices. “We will be obedient, we will do ALL the Lord has spoken,” they said.

The Israelites were moved by the thunder and lightning and smoke and trumpet sounds on Mt. Sinai as the Law was given. They trembled. Motivated by fear, they were willing to promise anything, but their good intentions proved insufficient.

The sons of Zebedee, James and John, had aspirations to a place of honor in the coming Kingdom. Their mother supported or, perhaps, instigated this appeal. She asked for this honor to be assured by the Lord. The three were certain they could handle the cost of drinking the cup, but when it came time to sip, they all fled and left Jesus alone.

I am not very different from the Israelites or the Zebedee family. I, too, have had great intentions of serving God, of obeying Him, of doing all that He has commanded, of drinking the cup of suffering with Him, but my follow through has fallen far short. How about you?

What does this tell me? It tells me I need forgiveness. Like the Israelites, upon whom the blood of the covenant was sprinkled, I have broken His covenant and stand guilty as charged. I need someone to bail me out, but I do not deserve it and I cannot earn it. It is by grace alone that God Himself would make atonement for my sins.

The Apostle Paul wrote, that in His Son, we have “…redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:7). This forgiveness covers our empty promises and every other failure to do and be what we should do and be. Think about that. If you know this applies to you, praise God for His forgiveness of your good intentions gone awry.

Law and Grace

Today’s reading: Exodus 19-21; Matthew 20:1-16

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. Exodus 21:1

15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ Matthew 20:15

In today’s reading in Exodus, God gives His law to Moses for Israel. It is a comprehensive law including moral, political, and ceremonial aspects. Is there any indication of grace in this law system? Yes, but it is easy to overlook. In the ceremonial laws, a priesthood is established and offerings are to be made for sin, to atone for the breaking of the law. It points to a need for a permanent offering for sin. It points to the grace of God that would be revealed in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the tone of the law is one of justice and equity, doing what is right. The political or civil law designated proper responsibilities for restitution to injured parties, proper treatment of slaves, and so forth. It is easy to get a mentality of minimal compliance, that is, we do what is required but never any more.

As John 1:17 tells us, “…the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard show how this grace is poured out on some. The master of the house paid the early workers their due but the later arriving workers got the same amount. The former complained about the disparity. They show they do not understand nor accept the graciousness of the master.

The law was given to show us our sin (Romans 3:19-20), but, having seen it, we are called to seek God who deals with His children with grace, giving what we have not earned nor deserved.

Resentment toward the Master for His grace toward others is a sure sign of never having received His grace. Be warned. Seek the God of grace who in Jesus, His Son, kept the law perfectly and made an offering for sin that covers all who turn to Him in faith and repentance.

Leaving it all; Plodding on

Today’s reading: Exodus 16-18; Matthew 19:16-30

3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:3

27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Matthew 19:27

God calls His people to leave all and follow Him. The faith of the Israelites was tested as they experienced hunger, thirst, and war after their exodus from Egyptian slavery. They selectively remembered the good times and tasty foods in Egypt and forgot the oppressive slave masters, the scrounging for straw, and the daily quotas of brick production. The tendency to filter out the bad memories and complain about their present conditions is a constant problem for the Israelites.

Jesus, too, called His disciples to leave all behind and follow Him. Peter waxed nostalgic, it seems, as he pondered the cost of following the Lord. “What then will we have?” he asks.

Jesus is quick to reassure him. What will they have?

  • A new world where Jesus Christ will sit on His glorious throne.
  • Thrones where the apostles would have power and authority to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • All that they had given up 100 times over.
  • Eternal life.

How does that sound to you? It sounds great to me. I think I can plod on another day, maybe many more days. Whatever it takes. Nah, I don’t miss Egypt.

Do you?

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.