God Always Initiates

The Triune God always made the first move and He continues to make the first move. He came to Adam, to Moses, to the people in Jerusalem, and to us.

Today’s reading

Exodus 25-26; Matthew 21:1-22

Selected Verses

 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

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

Reflections

Although it is humanity that has rebelled and offended God, it is God who initiates reconciliations and makes the way for people 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 humility riding a donkey.

In Jerusalem, crowds gathered to see the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee as He rode into the city.  They spread their cloaks and tree branches in His path and acclaimed Him, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  They recognized Him as the heir to the throne of David, the kingdom that would last forever.

The Triune God always initiates. He always made the first move and He continues to make the first move. Adam hid from God.  God sought him anyway.  He came to Moses and met him above the mercy seat of the ark in the tabernacle.  He came to Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and healed the sick.

Think about it

He comes to us. He graciously makes the move to restore us to Himself, though we deserve nothing but judgment, punishment, and eternal death. We have tried to hide from Him.  We naturally flee His holy presence, not willing to admit that 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. Will we to whom He has come imitate His grace and reach out to those who need forgiveness and good news of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Think about it

 

Good Intentions Gone Bad

My failed good intentions show I need someone to bail me out. But I do not deserve it.   Only God’s grace through Christ’s offering can save me.

Today’s reading

Exodus 22-24; Matthew 20:17-34

Verse Selections

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.” 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

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

Reflections

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 (emphasis mine).

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. Motivated by pride and ambition, they were certain they could handle the cost of drinking the cup, but when it came time to sip, they fled with the rest and left Jesus alone.

Think about it

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. I am 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 bad.

Who Would Begrudge Grace?

Who would begrudge grace? Doesn’t everyone sing “Amazing Grace” with much gusto? Apparently not, as Jesus demonstrates in an alarming parable.

Today’s reading

Exodus 19-21; Matthew 20:1-16

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

In today’s reading in Exodus, God gives His law to Moses for Israel.  This law includes moral, political, and ceremonial aspects.  Can you find any indication of grace in this law system?  Yes, but it can be easily overlooked.  The ceremonial law established  a priesthood and offerings for sin, to atone for the breaking of the law. It points to a need for a permanent offering for sin.  It anticipates the grace of God that would be revealed in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the tone of the law sounds like justice, equity, and being responsible to do what is right.  The political or civil law designated proper responsibilities for restitution to injured parties, ethical treatment of slaves, and so forth.  It is easy for those under law to get a mentality of doing what is specified and no more.  The minimum required tends to become the maximum rendered.

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

Accordingly, Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard show how God pours His grace 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.

Think about it

Who would begrudge grace? Those who see themselves as righteous, not needing grace.  Resentment toward God for His grace toward others indicates never having received His grace.  Be warned.  Seek the God of grace who in Jesus Christ, His Son, kept the law perfectly and made an offering for sin that covers all who turn to Him in faith and repentance.

Leave all; Plod on

Jesus Christ calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  Are His promises and presence enough to keep you plodding on to the end?

Today’s reading

Exodus 16-18; Matthew 19:16-30

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

God calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  The Israelites experienced hunger, thirst, and war after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.  Their faith faltered.  They thought about the comforts and delicacies of Egypt.  Selectively, they remembered the good times and tasty foods in Egypt and forgot  the daily quotas of brick production, the scrounging for straw, and the beatings by the taskmasters.  They filtered out the bad memories and complained about present conditions.  That was their default position.

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.

Think about it

How do Jesus’ promises sound to you?  They sound sublime to me.   Can we plod on another day, maybe many more days?  I think so.  Whatever it takes.

Nah, I don’t miss Egypt.

Do you?

 

How to Know You’ve Learned

Like people in Bible times, we struggle to apply what we think we have learned in the past to current challenges. How can we tell we have learned?

Today’s reading

Exodus 13-15; Matthew 19:1-15

Selected verses

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

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,  but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:13-14

Reflections

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 saw God deliver them from Egypt by a series of plagues. Then Pharaoh’s army jeopardized their exodus and pursued them. They cried to God in desperation, and God delivered them again. They rejoiced as the cadavers of their enemies washed up on the shores of the Red Sea while they watched safely. Could God deliver them 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. Sure enough. They had forgotten the lesson of the Red Sea.

Jesus taught the disciples that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is a child (Matthew 18:1-3), but when little children were brought to Jesus those same disciples rebuked the parents who brought them. They forgot the lesson of the little child quickly.

Think about it

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 (Ephesians 3:20-21). 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.

Forgiveness: Pay It Forward

Today’s reading

Exodus 11-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Selected verses

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “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

And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:33-35

Reflections

God created time.  He also instructed His people to observe certain periodic days to remember important events and the 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 the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, our Passover lamb (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.  We are remembering the fulfillment of a greater Lamb whose offering made a once-for-all atonement for sin.

Think about it

Imagine being in an Israelite home in Egypt on the night of the Passover.  You have placed the blood of a lamb on the doorposts.  You wait inside trusting that the blood will protect your firstborn son from the angel of death.  What relief when the angel passes over your house and you are safe.  That is a graphic picture of what God has done for us who trust in the Lamb of God to take away our sins and deliver us from deserved death. Will we not forgive as we have been forgiven?   Paul admonished  the Christians in Ephesus:  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:32

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

Who’s the Greatest?

Today’s reading

Exodus 9-10; Matthew 18:1-20

Selected Verses

 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.  So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.

Exodus 9:34-35

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:1-3

Reflections

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?  the greatest celebrity? the most powerful leader?  the richest person? We may even ask, “who is the worst of all?” Maybe a notorious gangster or traitor comes to mind.

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.

What a contrast! The little child and Pharaoh.  The latter’s experience certainly demonstrates the destruction that comes to the proud, the hard-hearted, and 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.

Think about it

What categories of superiority do you value most?  Beware of idolizing that which has 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

Selected Verses

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

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.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  Matthew 17:5-6

Reflections

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 failed to produce gnats and concluded 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 these contrasting responses to displays of God’s power and presence? God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but does a gracious work in the hearts of the disciples. 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.

Think about it

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

How long, Lord?

Today’s reading

Exodus 4-6; Matthew 16

Selected verses

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.  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.  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

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

Reflections

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 that a day would come in which He, the Son of Man, would come with His angels in the glory of His Father. He would repay each person according to what he has done. That day has still not come. Meanwhile, those who follow Him are called to carry a cross. 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.

For now 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

Think about it

How long? The answer is “as long as God wills.” Even though we cry for His kingdom to come, we have His promises and His loving presence to sustain us till then. Are you carrying a cross? You aren’t the first.  So did Jesus. And His disciples. You are in good company. Press on.

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.