Common Errors about Heaven, Angels, and Truth

Today’s reading:

Mark 12:18-14:26

My Selection:

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”     Mark 12:24-27

Once again Jesus’ enemies, members of a sect called the Sadducees, attempted to discredit Him by finding a flaw in His teaching about the resurrection.  Jesus’ answer to them also corrects a number of other errors related to angels and truth.

The most important take-away

Perhaps the most important take-away from this selection is the challenge to flee from error through the knowledge of the Scriptures and of the power of God.  Over and over the Bible announces to us the importance of grasping its teaching deeply.  But understanding of divine revelation needs to be joined with a knowledge of God who is powerful.

Don’t fall prey to the common errors of ignorance and unbelief. Seek to know His word well and to know the Almighty who has come to us in His Son.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  Colossians 3:16

For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

 

 

Jesus Christ: Faithful to the Truth

Today’s reading:

Mark 10:17-12:17

My Selection:

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”

Mark 12:13-14

Jesus was faithful. He taught the truth and let the chips fall where they would.  Even those who were seeking to trick and trap Him recognized that He was not controlled by public opinion.  It is easy to admire our Lord for the clarity of His convictions and steadfastness to obeying His Father.

Kangaroo Court

Give thanks to God for giving us His Son and praise Jesus Christ for modeling uncompromising integrity in every area of His life.  No wonder they would have to bring in false witnesses to convict Him in a kangaroo court.

This is the Jesus I love.  How about you?

For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Heart Problems

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 29-30; Mark 16

17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. Deuteronomy 30:17

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. Mark 16:14

The problem of disbelief begins in the heart. This was true in the days of Moses and in the days of Jesus. It is still true in our day.

Moses warned the Israelites that their problem would not be that God’s law was too hard to understand. It was not too far above them to grasp. Their problem with the law was going to be a problem of the heart. Their hearts would turn away from God’s word. They would not love His law and that would result in their shutting their ears to it. This would not result in mere agnosticism or neglect of worship. They would begin to be drawn away to other gods. They would begin to serve those gods and not Yahweh, their true and living God who had delivered them by His powerful hand out of slavery in Egypt. Beware of your heart, Moses was saying.

On the first day of the week after Jesus was buried, several women went to the tomb with spices to anoint His body. They worried about how to get the big stone away from the opening. They were not expecting to find the stone rolled away and Jesus gone, resurrected, as they were told by a young man dressed in white. The women were afraid, but they didn’t doubt what they had seen. They told the disciples what had happened, but they got a disbelieving response. There was another sighting of Jesus by two disciples. Their report was similarly rejected.

Then Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples (the twelve minus Judas). He rebuked them for their “unbelief and hardness of heart.” Again it was a heart problem that accompanied their refusal to believe.

God’s truth revealed in His written word and through the living word, Jesus Christ, is not irrational. It is not hard to grasp with the mind. But to believe we need hearts inclined toward God. Pray that your heart will never be hardened or turned away from God’s word. Beware of heart problems.

The Father’s Delight in the Son’s Death

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 28; Mark 15:27-47

63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Deuteronomy 28:63

37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:37-39

Moses described the seemingly endless ways Israel would suffer if they disobeyed God’s law, if they were not careful to obey it all, and if they did not “serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart” (v. 47). Their suffering would be through loss of crops, famine, mental anguish of all kinds, national humiliation, family breakdown, and (shudder) cannibalism.

Israel did fail to obey God. Israel did suffer the consequences predicted. But the ultimate suffering was experienced, not by the nation, but by the Messiah, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who bore the full weight of God’s wrath for His people. Jesus suffered fully for sin. God the Father willed that His Son should bear this. It seems correct, although shocking, to say, based on our selection in Deuteronomy, that God the Father delighted to bring ruin upon His Son, thus vindicating His holiness and just wrath.

So fully did Jesus’ death satisfy the wrath of God that the temple curtain separating the people from the Holy of Holies, wherein was the mercy seat, was torn in two. In Christ, the way was made for all His people to come into God’s presence and to receive mercy.

What a great salvation Jesus’ death purchased for us! Let this truth grip you afresh today.

Were You There?

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 26-27; Mark 15:1-26

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:25

12  And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”  14  And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”  15   So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Mark 15:12-15

Moses instructed the Israelites to bind themselves to the law by swearing curses on themselves should they disobey it. This they were to do upon entering the land and arriving at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. One of the laws they swore to uphold was the law to administer justice and not to accept a bribe to shed innocent blood. Judges could be bought off by wealthy parties and the poor, innocent person would suffer even death. This was considered a great offense against God who made Man in His own image.

The ultimate violation of this law was committed when Jesus was falsely charged by the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and the whole council and turned over to Pilate for execution. Pilate saw that an injustice was being done, that it was pure envy that drove the Jewish leaders to accuse Jesus, but he was “bribed” by the desire to satisfy the crowd. So he released the criminal Barabbas, scourged Jesus, and turned Him over for crucifixion.

In all of human history, there had never before been another perfectly innocent man, only Jesus. In all of human history, there has never been a greater miscarriage of justice. There was broad support for this great evil act: the Jewish leaders, the crowds in Jerusalem for the Passover, the Roman governor, the Roman soldiers, even the disciples contributed by their absence.

The old Negro spiritual asks: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The correct answer is, “Yes, I was there. I was part of sinful humanity that brought down the Son of God for my sins.”

“Oh Lord, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Does it cause you to tremble? If so, thank God that you grasp what was done that day. Trust Him that though your sins are as scarlet, in Christ, you stand cleansed before Him.

Hope for Vow Breakers

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 23-25; Mark 14:51-72

21 “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23

72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72

The Mosaic Law held the Israelites up to high and noble standards of integrity and social concern. There were numerous laws protecting the needy from exploitation by the wealthy. Here we see a law applying to the making and keeping of vows. Vows were made freely, before God, but once made they had to be kept. People were not to swear casually, but to take seriously their commitments. Talk was not to be cheap. A man’s word was his bond.

Certainly we see the breakdown of this in our society. We have become a litigious society in which people have to sign a ream of legal documents to get a loan for a used car or to rent an apartment. Couples marry and divorce as if no binding vow had been made.

Peter broke his vow to Jesus, to stand by Him even if it cost him his life. He shamelessly denied the Lord. Peter was not the only one, but Mark gives us a close up of Peter’s cowardice and remorse. The grief Peter felt when he heard the rooster and remembered Jesus’ words is palpable.

Who of us has not broken a solemn vow of some kind? Who of us cannot identify with Peter’s rash vow of faithfulness and thoughtless lying to save his skin? Peter could not keep his vow, not even for one night. He needed an innocent lamb to die for his sin, the broken vow and a million other transgressions. So do we. Jesus did that on the cross.

Do not get stuck in endless remorse and weeping. Trust Christ, who bore our sins in His body on the cross, that, in Him, we might become forgiven vow-breakers and the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Courageous Soldiers; Fearful Sheep

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 20-22; Mark 14:26-50

2 And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people 3 and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, 4 for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ Deuteronomy 20:2-4

27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Mark 14:27-28

Moses instructed the people of Israel about the proper sense of confidence in the Lord as they prepared to go into the Promised Land and face entrenched enemies. He did not tell them it would be easy. He did not tell them they were the greatest army ever fielded. He did not tell them their enemies were a bunch of wimps. He told them the Lord their God would go with them to fight for them and to give them the victory.

The key to confidence in the face of battle is trust in the Lord, who is greater than any foe.

Jesus’ disciples also faced a daunting foe, those enemies of the Lord who had conspired together to arrest and falsely charge Him so that He would be put to death. Jesus told the disciples, they would fall away. He even showed them how their fleeing would fulfill Scripture. They were quick to contradict Him, Peter leading the chorus, asserting that he would die if necessary with Jesus. The rest of the disciples joined in agreement.

Of course, these were empty promises. But Jesus also pointed them beyond their failure, to His resurrection and His reunion with them in Galilee. This must have given them comfort even when they failed to stand by Him at His arrest and trial.

The key to remaining faithful under extreme pressure is to focus on God, His presence, His power, and His faithfulness.  He will be with us in the worst of trials. He will never leave us or forsake us. We may waver. We may fall away, like the disciples. But He will never fail us. He is gracious to His fearful sheep.

What scary trial do you face now? Are you confident of His presence? If you have failed to trust Him do you know that He welcomes back His frightened sheep?

As Paul wrote to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” 2 Timothy 2:1.   Be confident in Him. In Christ, there is grace to face your toughest battles and grace to forgive your greatest failures.

Jesus: Prophet, Priest, and King

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 17-19; Mark 14:1-25

18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. Deuteronomy 18:18-19

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Mark 14:22-24

In our reading today in Deuteronomy, Moses laid out some principles for the offices of prophet, priest, and king in Israel. Certainly, there had already been a great deal of law given about the priesthood, but now Moses also addresses the matter of prophets and kings, too.

In all three of these offices, God was to designate the occupants. No one was to assume the role of prophet or king. God alone had the right to name those who could serve Him as priests, as prophets, and as kings. Warnings were given to those who might assume the role of prophet and use that office to lead the nation astray to other gods. Kings were not to use their authority to lead the nation away from the Lord. Priests were also regulated under the law.

The people of Israel were under obligation to respect those in authority, duly chosen and installed by God. They might not disregard those anointed by the Lord.

The culmination of rebellion against the Lord’s anointed came when Jesus appeared. He was the fulfillment of the promise of God to raise up a prophet like Moses. He was the son of David to sit forever as King over God’s elect people. He was the great High Priest above the Aaronic priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. [ We will learn more about that in the Epistle to the Hebrews.]

He fulfilled all these offices perfectly, yet His people rejected Him. Judas betrayed Him. The Sanhedrin condemned Him. Pilate turned Him over for crucifixion. All seemed lost, but His broken body and poured out blood brought a new covenant of salvation to all who believe in Him.

There are no words adequate to express the immense wisdom and grace of God toward us in Christ, our prophet, priest, and king. Praise Him, though your words be feeble. Never lose the wonder of who He is and what He has done for us.

Watchfulness

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 14-16; Mark 13:14-37

9  Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. Deuteronomy 15:9

26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Mark 13:26-27

One of the functions of God’s word is to warn His people to be watchful and on guard. This need for watchfulness takes different shapes at different times.

In Ancient Israel, God instructed His people in how they were to manage their economy so that there would be no poverty among them. When a need arose, there were provisions for addressing it. If the people would obey strictly God’s law, there would never be an unmet need or a hungry family. But the Lord knew their hearts and warned them against trying to evade their responsibilities. If the year of release were near, a loan would be almost an outright gift.∗  He warned them not to take into account the coming year of release, as they were considering the needs of their poor brother. One might be tempted to ignore the appeal of the needy, but the Lord would hear his cry and bring judgment on the neglectful, unresponsive brother.

In Jesus’ teaching about the coming time of tribulation, He also warned people to be watchful, but for a different reason. The time of the coming of the Son of Man in power and glory was sure but it was not revealed. In other words, the exact time of His coming was unknown. In contrast to the year of release or the year of Jubilee that came around every seven years or every 49 years, the date of the coming of the Lord was and is unknown. It is much easier to be sleepy and unwatchful, thinking it will not be soon.

Believers should live each day as if the Lord could come. We ought not to think that today does not matter because final judgment seems to be delayed. Neither ought we to neglect our duties in this world because we are convinced the Lord will be here within hours. We are called to live watchfully, being faithful and obedient.

Do the things God has called you to do today. He knows your heart and watches your hand.

∗ See note in the Reformation Study Bible, page 275

True, Biblical Worship

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 11-13; Mark 13:1-13

8 “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, 9 for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 12:8

2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:2

The true worship of God is to be done according to His word, not based on the whims of the worshippers. This is called the “regulative principle.” Moses laid this down before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. They were going to find worship sites all over the land where offerings were made to the false gods of the peoples who were being driven out. God wanted those worship sites to be obliterated and for true worship to be done according to His law and in the place He would designate.

That place was Jerusalem, as we will learn later on.

But even though a temple would later be built according to God’s law, destroyed, and rebuilt in Jerusalem, Jesus told His disciples that temple would not last. Sure enough, history tells us that in 70 AD, the armies of Rome under Titus destroyed the second temple of Jerusalem. It has still not been rebuilt.

Old Testament worship pointed to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfills all the symbols of the temple and the priesthood. Paul wrote that God’s temple now is God’s people who gather around the world in all kinds of places and buildings (I Corinthians 3:16-17). He may be worshiped in truth without the need for a physical temple building, as long as Christ is central and God is worshiped in Spirit and truth (John 4:23,24; Matthew 18:20). Yes, the regulative principle still applies to our worship, but sincere believers differ as to how exactly that looks.

We ought to exercise humility and patience with one another as we differ on some aspects of corporate worship. Meanwhile, let us worship Him daily in our homes and weekly in our congregations with due reverence and awe.