God’s Gifts and His Glory

Today’s reading: Exodus 36:8-38:20

Local churches around the world meet in a huge variety of structures. These reflect the financial resources of the congregations and the architectural styles of the culture, but they should also bring glory to God and represent the best we can offer to Him. Unlike in the case of the Old Testament tabernacle (and later the temple), God has not given His people a floor plan for the perfect building. We are free to create as long as God is glorified.

Of course, in Old Testament times, this glorification of God was done through the tabernacle by pointing in so many ways to the Messiah who was to come, the Lord Jesus Christ. Today our churches should point to Him, not through things like a bronze altar or a Holy of Holies but by the clear proclamation of the gospel and the right administration of the sacraments.

For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

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The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

Today’s reading: Proverbs 11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:33-58

28 In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death.                                        Proverbs 12:28

47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.    1 Corinthians 15:47-49

Thoughts of life and death are never far from the minds of mortal men. In Scripture, we are instructed in how to have not only the best possible life now, but, more importantly, how to have eternal life through “the second man,” Jesus Christ.

Proverbs talks about life, but life in this world, for the most part. There are numerous keys to a joyful, peaceful, prosperous life. All things being equal, these maxims hold true, but all things are not equal. So the Proverbs will not “work” 100% of the time. There are exceptions. Sometimes good, industrious people suffer setbacks despite their best efforts. Righteousness leads to life rather than death, but, in the short run, the only perfectly righteous Man who ever lived died a horrible death. More about that in a minute.

So Proverbs tell us how we ought to seek to live, being diligent in our work, kind toward others, speaking well of our neighbor, etc. These are good and right ways to live whether we get all the benefits promised or not.

But in the gospel we learn that our good deeds are not sufficient to save us from eternal death. Jesus taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of many, because there was no other way (Matthew 26:26-28).

Paul emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ, the second man, the One who, unlike the first man, did not come from the dust, but came down from heaven. He died and rose again. We now, by faith, are promised a future in which we will bear the image of the Man of heaven. His resurrection gives us assurance that we too will be raised to have new spiritual bodies.

Christ’s disciples certainly seek to be righteous in this world, but they do so knowing they are not earning life but demonstrating that they have it, by the grace of the Lord and faith in Him. If you know this hope of life, live righteously, but trust in the only Righteous One, Jesus. He will see us home and give us new spiritual bodies that cannot sin nor die. We will lose the image of the man of dust and bear the image of the Man of heaven.

The Grand Finale

God is worthy of all praise from all people, whether rich or poor, old or young, men or women, for His Son died to redeem sinners and is coming again to reign forever.

Today’s reading: Psalms 148-150; I Corinthians 11:16-34

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.  Psalm 148:11-13

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.    1 Corinthians 11:26

The Book of Psalms ends with a grand finale of praise to God. The writers have taken us through the valley of the shadow of death, described unimaginable agonies of body and soul, and cried out to God, “How long?” But now in this last section of five psalms, we break through all the darkness and emerge into the unclouded day of God’s majesty, power, and glory.

In this sense, the Psalter reflects our present life as well as our expectant hope for the joy that we will know when the Kingdom of God comes in all its fullness. Meanwhile, we walk by faith with our fellow believers in the Church Militant, that is, the Church here on earth awaiting the return of our Lord and King.

Paul guides the Corinthians who struggle with a number of problems while waiting for the Lord’s coming. They practice the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but fail to observe it in reverence. They desecrate it, making it a food fight. He rebukes them for their behavior and warns them that if they turn it into a gluttonous, drunken party they incur the judgment of God. In fact, he says, some have died already as a judgment of God on their sacrilege. There is a place for satisfying our legitimate need for food and drink, but it is not in the worship of God through the supper which Jesus gave to His disciples.

There are limitless ways in which we may praise God every day, in the mundane responsibilities of domestic life, in our work, in our driving, in our kindness and courtesy to others. Praise Him today whether you are in formal, corporate worship with His people, or in the trenches of every day existence. Praise Him for the cross of Jesus Christ, and praise Him for His promised coming in glory. It could be today, so be warmed up to sing His praise in the grand finale of victory.

Honoring the Name

Today’s reading: Leviticus 20-21; Matthew 28

6 They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. Leviticus 21:6

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

God revealed His name to Man. He directed the Israelites to worship Him and warned the priests not to profane His name. Jesus revealed the Father and sent His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, the name of God is to be hallowed. The name of God is not to be taken lightly or in vain. Those who are Jesus’ disciples go on His authority, not their own. They go with a purpose which includes making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Triune God.

This is serious business. Missionaries go. Churches send them and support them. Christians in every nation reach out with the gospel and seek to make disciples. All of this is because of the name of God who has revealed Himself beginning with the first man and woman to whom He promised a seed that would crush the head of the deceiving Serpent.

The priests of ancient Israel were careful not to profane the sacred name of God. We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, go in His name to our world, making disciples and calling them to be baptized in the holy name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Let us hallow God’s name and take this commission seriously.

Diagnosis: Spiritual Oblivion

Today’s reading: Leviticus 13; Matthew 26:20-54

6 And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean… 8 And the priest shall look, and if the eruption has spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous disease. Leviticus 13:6a, 8

33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

In our reading from Matthew, Jesus institutes what we now call “the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” or “communion” or the “Eucharist.” In doing so, He reveals the depth of His love for His own. He is about to give His body and shed His blood for them. Do they understand this?

No, because they are in oblivion. Their immediate and unanimous response is that they will stand by Him and die. He assures them that they will not stand by Him, rather they will all fall away. They repeat their assertions. Do they make good on their enthusiastic promises?

Not at all.

The disciples are like lepers who tell themselves they are clean when they are actually very sick with no possibility of healing. In ancient Israel, lepers and all who had skin eruptions had to consult with the priest or one of his sons. Sick people ran the risk of spreading disease among the members of the community.   They were not to be trusted to diagnose themselves. That was the responsibility of the priest.

So, too, Jesus diagnosed His disciples. Their own diagnosis was completely wrong, but Jesus told them the truth. They were cowards. They were liars. They could talk the talk, but not walk the walk. But they could not even recognize the depth of their sin and need.

That is precisely why He died. He died to save His people from their sin, which should have been as obvious as incurable leprosy, erupting on every inch of their bodies. But before they could be saved, they would need to see how utterly unworthy they were. They had horrific, spiritual leprosy coupled with serious spiritual oblivion. Is it bad? It is fatal. Eternally fatal.

Unlike the priests in the old covenant days, Jesus could not only diagnose the illness. He could and did cure it at the cost of His own body and blood.

Are you speechless? I am.

True Worship of the True God

Today’s reading: Exodus 31-33; Matthew 22:23-46

4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.

When Jesus was asked “which is the great commandment in the law?” He immediately identified it as wholehearted love for the Lord your God. That devotion toward God includes our hearts, minds, and souls, that is, our entire being.   It is both outward and inward. It involves our thoughts, our emotions, and our wills. Nothing that is us is left out. We may not reserve a corner of our hearts for another god, an idol of our own making.

The Israelites at Mt. Sinai showed the folly of attempting to create their own god. Aaron caved in to the fears and demands of the people to have some physical object to look at and worship. He seems to have been unwilling to fully renounce the God who had brought them out of Egypt, but he was willing to introduce gold calves as a means to worship the Lord.

We live in a pragmatic society whose methods and values too often seep into the church. Many worship practices are justified because “they work.” But in what sense do they work? They may work to make the “me generation” attend and give, but do they truly honor God? Do they conform to what God says in His word?

The reformers identified the marks of a true church as the accurate preaching of the Bible, the sacraments, and the right administration of discipline. Let us be sure our worship, whether corporately or privately, is of the one true and living God and according to His commands, with no eclectic golden calves permitted.

Water: Judgment or Deliverance?

Today’s reading: Genesis 6-8; Matthew 3

God exercises His power in judgment on sinful mankind with a universal flood. Even in the flood, He shows His grace and mercy by sparing Noah and his family along with a male and a female of each animal. Sadly, only this small group of 8 people believes and finds salvation from the waters. The rest are lost. So it will be in the final judgment. All will not be saved, but only those who by grace through faith believe in Christ (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Notice Noah’s immediate response to this deliverance. He builds an altar to the Lord and offers sacrifices in gratitude to Him.

Matthew tells us of the events surrounding the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist, son of the high priest Zechariah and Elizabeth, impacts the nation through his preaching and baptizing. Jesus comes to John for baptism showing His submission to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus will perfectly fulfill the law of God.

I Peter 3:18-22 ties both of these passages together showing that God’s mercy to Noah in the flood is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s deliverance of His people from the judgment for sin. The water of the flood brought God’s just judgment on mankind, but the water of baptism in Christ Jesus symbolizes cleansing from sin and the assurance of salvation to all who believe in Him.

Do you have that assurance? Give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ that He submitted perfectly to God’s law in His life and death and that through faith in Him, we are made righteous (I Corinthians 1:30) and because we are righteous, we, like Noah, are safe from the flood of judgment to come.