Sin–Why We Can’t See God

Sin is what blocks us from seeing and hearing God. He calls us to holiness, but we disobey especially in the area of sexual purity and love toward others.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 59-61; 1 Thessalonians 4

Selected Verses

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.  Isaiah 59:1-2

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Reflections

Sin has been the problem since our first parents listened to the serpent and ate of the forbidden fruit. What did they get? They got the knowledge of good and evil and with it death! We all find sin attractive, even irresistible. It may be as subtle as a snarky put-down or as grotesque as murderous rage, as imperceptible as a flirtatious glance or as devastating as serial adultery. Sin comes in many colors and shapes, all of them tempting and soul-killing but none of them truly satisfying. Worst of all, it results in our not seeing or hearing God. We tend to conclude He is not there.

Isaiah wrote to ancient Israel telling them that their sin was what was blocking their eyes and ears from seeing and hearing God. It was not God who was hiding from them. He is there in plain sight, seen and heard in His acts of Creation and Providence and in His revealed Word.

Paul admonished the church in Thessalonica with the words, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (vs. 3a). He then specifically mentions abstinence from sexual immorality for the next five verses, topped off with a paragraph about brotherly love.

In case they don’t see the urgency of this, he turns to the subject of the return of Christ, His descent from heaven, the cry of command, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead. When Christ returns, all eyes will see Him. There will be no vacillating. We will be exposed at last. The shouts of rejoicing will mix with the cries of remorse.

Think about it

Is there hope for sinners? Yes, indeed! For God has done what no human being could do. “His own arm brought him salvation” writes the prophet (Isaiah 59:16). In the end, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The dead in Christ will rise first followed by those who are still alive and “so we will always be with the Lord.” But the time is now. Do not assume there is no God. Assume that it is your sin that blinds your eyes. But He may be found because “all who call upon the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13). Call on Him, today.

Unquenchable Joy

Joy–not dependent on circumstances–springs up in the life of those who have God’s Spirit. Nothing and no one can steal that joy from us. It is unquenchable.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 10-12; Galatians 5

Selected Verses

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  Isaiah 12:1-3

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.   Galatians 5:22-23

Reflections

Judah and Israel were concerned about national security and relief from the oppressing nations.  Isaiah came to them to speak of a Holy God Whom they had offended.  He was justly angry with them.  Assyria would defeat Israel.  Judah was on probation.  But Isaiah also gave them hope of a future in which they would know God’s salvation.  They would be comforted in the knowledge that His just anger was turned away.

The sweet promise “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” brings to mind Jesus’ words in John 7:38, Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Jesus was describing the Spirit that all who believed in Him would receive.

Paul tells the Galatians that in Christ they have freedom: freedom from their sin, guilt, and condemnation under the law.  They have the Spirit of God and He bears fruit in their lives:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Think about it

There can be nothing to compare with the comfort which comes from being totally forgiven by God–that He holds no more anger against us.  If the Spirit of God lives in us, how can we not have a deep joy that springs up like water from a well?  Let the joy of your salvation fill you today. The joy He gives is unquenchable.

Wait till you hear this!

The story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is amazing and inspiring, but it’s nothing compared to what God did next. Wait till you hear this!

Today’s Reading

Psalm 78; Romans 7

Selected Verses

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.  Psalm 78:4

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. Romans 4:4

Reflections

With the perspective of the New Testament and the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we could say “Wait till you hear this!” to the Psalmist who reveled in God’s mighty works to Israel. God had done for Israel something unthinkable, unimaginable. He brought ten plagues on Egypt, delivered an enslaved people from that world powerhouse, led them out of the land loaded with spoils, opened up the Red Sea for them to cross, and drowned the pursuing army in the water behind them. This is a story that needs to be told generation after generation.  Pass it on!

But wait till you hear this!

In the New Testament we learn that God took on human flesh and lived on earth. We know Him as Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. His people rejected Him and crucified Him, but His death bought redemption from the guilt of sin under the law.  His death was not a terrible tragedy but the greatest victory ever accomplished.

How do we know?

He rose again from the dead. Since that time millions have believed in Him. They trust Him, not their own good works, for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. These millions understand themselves to have died with Him so that His death for sin serves as their death for sin.  They are free from any remaining condemnation because their debt was fully paid by Jesus. As a result, these believers from every nation and language in the world belong to Him and live to bear fruit for God.

Think about it

God delivered a nation of a million people out of Egypt, some 3500 years ago, but in the past 2000 years, right down to today, He has been delivering untold millions of people from spiritual death and slavery to become His fruitful people. Tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He is doing. Pass it on! Wait till they hear that!

Following Christ without Distraction

God calls people to avoid distractions and focus on following Christ through careful study and applying of His Word. But when we fail is there any hope?

Today’s Reading

Ezra 6-8; John 21

Selected Verses

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.  Ezra 7:10

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  John 21:21-22

Reflections

Peter was by nature an impulsive and fickle person. This is obvious from the various stories we read about him in the gospels. Remember his nervous response to the transfiguration of Jesus? On another occasion, He confessed Jesus as the Son of God, but moments later Jesus rebuked him for contradicting the Lord’s  prophecy about His death and resurrection.  Peter promised to be loyal to Jesus to death, if necessary, and followed that up with multiple denials that he knew Him.

Now Jesus speaks to him personally giving him the opportunity to confess three times his love for Christ. Jesus charges Peter three times: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.” Jesus then makes a reference to Peter’s future martyrdom and says, “Follow me.” But Peter, true to form, notices another disciple nearby (John) and asks what will come of him. Jesus gently tells him it’s none of his business and repeats His earlier command, “You follow me.”

Peter needed to take a lesson from Ezra, who “set his heart” to study, do, and teach the Law of God. Ezra focused on what God had given him to do and would not be distracted from it. Peter did indeed learn this lesson as we can tell from accounts of his later life in the New Testament about his service for Christ in the gospel.

Think about it

How about you? Have you set your heart to study, do, and teach God’s word? Are you single-mindedly following Christ? We can all improve in this. But the same Lord who was gracious, merciful, and patient with the Apostle Peter is the same toward us who struggle to be faithful to Him. Pray that you will be undistracted in your devotion to the Lord and His word.

 

Why Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

To know God is the supreme privilege and responsibility of mankind. But what if we fail? Can there be mercy greater than judgment?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 28-29; John 11:47-57

Selected Verses

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. 1 Chronicles 28:9

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. John 11:49-52

Reflections

David, in turning over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, charged him to know and serve God.  This was not merely good advice but an urgent mandate.  Solomon would rule over people, but they were God’s people not his.  His leadership would affect the population and be either a credit or discredit to their God.  The God that Solomon needed to know and serve is One who “searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”  He cannot be manipulated or fooled.  He knows not only the actions of all people but their hearts and thoughts as well.  To fail in this mandate is to incur eternal judgment.

Caiaphas was high priest of Israel in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He stood as the highest authority among the Jews who lived under a Roman governor in that day.  Like Solomon, Caiaphas held an obligation to know and serve God, but he failed to see that the Son of God was among them making the Father known (John 1:18).  So the high priest proposed Jesus’ execution  and unwittingly decreed the offering of the true Passover Lamb who would die for God’s elect people both in Israel and throughout the earth. His words had one meaning to him but another in reality.

Think about it

Solomon did fail to fully serve God and so have we. We all deserve to die. But “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God gives the promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him.  Praise Him that the promise of mercy triumphs over the warning of judgment because Jesus died in our place (James 2:13).

Two Unlikely Converts

God saves people from every nation, tribe, and tongue who come to Him by faith. Here we meet two unlikely converts: a social outcast and an army general..

Today’s Reading

Second Kings 4-5; John 4:1-30

Selected Verses

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.”  2 Kings 5:15

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”  They went out of the town and were coming to him.  John 4:28-30

Reflections

Naaman, a Syrian general who came down with leprosy, learned from his Israelite servant girl that there was a prophet in Israel who was known to perform miracles. Certainly Elisha’s record is comparable to that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Among other things, Elisha raised a dead boy and fed a large crowd with a small portion of food. The details are interesting, but, suffice it to say, Naaman was healed and learned that there was not merely a miracle-working prophet in Israel, there was a God in Israel, One who is uniquely God in all the earth. Naaman was not just healed of a deadly disease. He became a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar. The conversation is fascinating and reveals so much of the love and wisdom of Christ. At the conclusion of the discussion, the woman leaves her water pot and heads off to town to tell everyone about the Jewish man whom she suspects to truly be the Messiah. The whole town turns out to meet Him.

Think about it

God saves the most unlikely people, a Syrian general and a Samaritan woman with a bad track record for marriage. Are you another unlikely convert? If so, give thanks for His mercy to you. Do you know anyone who needs Christ but seems to be a hopeless candidate for salvation? Do not lose heart or stop praying. God is able to save whomever He calls to Himself.

The God Who Surprises Us

God often surprises us by His decrees and His ways. Read on to find out how God stunned a king and a social outcast with His grace and mercy.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 7-9; Luke 19:1-28

Selected Verses

You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! II Samuel 7:19b

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:9-10

Reflections

David experienced great military success as king of Israel.  He reached the point of being able to rest from the continual battles he had experienced most of his life. His thoughts turned to building a house or temple for the Ark of God.  Nathan, the prophet, initially saw this as a good thing until the Lord revealed another plan for David and his dynasty.

David would not build a house for God, but God would build a house for David–not an earthly house but an eternal throne with an eternal ruler, not a throne over Israel but over all mankind.  From the New Testament, we understand that covenant pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ who has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father and rules forever.  God’s plan for David was far greater than a mere earthly temple.  Is it too much to say that David was stunned by the gracious covenant which God made with him?

Our Lord surprised many of His contemporaries by His welcoming outcast sinners like the tax collector, Zacchaeus.  Jesus Christ came as the fulfillment of the covenants with Abraham and with David, and He came to seek and save lost people both within and without the nation of Israel.

Think about it

What a surprise that a holy God would take on human flesh and live among us not to reject and condemn us but to seek and to save us! God surprises us and the gospel tells us how good He is to all who believe in His Son.  Are you surprised by His love and mercy to you?  Isn’t His grace truly amazing?

Give praise to Him.  As the psalmist wrote: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103: 10).   That more than surprises me. It blows my mind.

 

Mercy for Limping Cross Bearers

Can we ever hope to be accepted by a holy God?  Not on the basis of our perfect lives but there is acceptance for believers in the One who is Perfect.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 15-16; Luke 14:25-35

Selected Verses

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” I Samuel 15:26

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27

Reflections

God is merciful, but that quality must not be allowed to eclipse His holiness.

Saul persisted in disregarding the commands of God.  In the battle with the Amalekites, he spared the king and the better animals rather than carry out the orders given by God through Samuel.  When confronted by Samuel, Saul shifted the blame to the people, making his sin even worse by failure to own up to his responsibility.  He showed his lack of heart toward God by referring to the Lord as “your” (Samuel’s) God.

Jesus called people to follow Him and to be His disciples, but He was not so desperate for followers that they could come on their own terms.  He told them they must hate their relatives and even their own lives if they would follow Him.[1]  Those who follow Christ carry their cross, ready to die for Him at any time.  This would not be an easy road and one ought to count the cost before setting out.

Think about it

But is there no mercy and grace for our failure and sin?  Yes, of course there is. Jesus showed mercy and grace to Peter who denied Him at the time of His arrest.  Are disciples of Jesus in danger of rejection with no appeal for forgiveness?  No.  The Lord is forgiving and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  But remember Whom you serve.  He is perfectly holy and we need to take seriously our walk with Him.

Christian brother or sister, learn from Saul who barely confessed his sin after repeated promptings by Samuel.  Confess sin fully.  Receive mercy and grace to go on.  You get a fresh start each day.  Jesus paid for your sins.  Believe Him and keep limping on carrying your cross.

[1] “[Jesus] teaches that being His disciple means loving Him so unreservedly that all other loves seem to be hatred by comparison.”  Reformation Study Bible page 1818

Old Wine, New Wine, & the Problem of Receptivity

It is natural and sensible to prefer the old to the new when it comes to wine.  But this is not true when it comes to the Messiah and the Kingdom of God.

Today’s reading

Joshua 19-20; Luke 5:17-39

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

In ancient Israel, the law of Moses included strict borders for each tribe and designated cities of refuge to protect people from retaliation for involuntary manslaughter.  There was law and order as there should be in any peaceful society.

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. These religious leaders 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 the scribes and Pharisees 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.

Think about it

Beware of the error of the Pharisees who extended faithfulness to the law beyond its intended limits and turned it into rigid resistance to the gospel and rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But we could also be in danger of being receptive to the latest trends of our culture that says what Jesus claimed and did is outmoded.  Faithfulness to Him and His gospel is the key.

 

Keeping Your Soul

Spiritual leaders give careful instructions and urgent warnings to their disciples.  Moses did.  Jesus did.  Will we learn from them?

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 3-4; Mark 11:20-33

Selected Verses

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.  Deuteronomy 4:9

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. Mark 11:25

Reflections

Moses, in his final instructions to the Israelites, reminded them of God’s great power and deliverance on their behalf, beginning in Egypt right up to the end of Moses’ life on the threshold of the Promised Land. He warned them to keep their souls diligently, not forgetting all that God had done for them. He told them to pass these lessons on to their children and grandchildren. This was no idle command because their faithfulness to the Lord would be tested soon and often.

Jesus’ gave instructions to His disciples near the end of His earthly life and ministry.  He told them to take care to resolve interpersonal conflicts.  They were even to interrupt their prayers to forgive others, lest God not hear their requests for forgiveness.

Think about it

Here are two ways God’s people in all ages need to keep their souls diligently. One, we need to give thanks for God’s power which He displays before us for good every day in countless ways.  That same power may be unleashed against us for discipline when we forget Him and follow after other gods. Two, we need to beware of the danger of holding grudges against others for real or imagined offenses.  Don’t forget. We need God’s mercy and forgiveness continually no less than they.

Keep your soul diligently. Remember God’s power. Cultivate gratefulness.  Praise God for His mercy.  Show the same to others.