Amazing grace, indeed!

God controls history including every large and small event, every good and bad situation. Those who trust Him can rest that His grace will get us home.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 7-9; Galatians 4

Selected Verses

 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:6-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6

Reflections

King Ahaz was in a tizzy.  He saw Israel joining with Syria against his kingdom, Judah.  God sent Isaiah to him to reassure him that all would be well, that, in fact, Israel and Syria were the ones who would go down.  Ahaz resisted the message and even turned down the offer of a God-sent sign.  Isaiah gave him a sign from God anyway, and what a sign!  The sign was “the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”- God with us (7:14).

The sign had an immediate fulfillment, but it also pointed ultimately to the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary.  He would be Immanuel in every sense of the word.  While the immediate fulfillment of the sign of the birth of a son to Ahaz would show assurance of deliverance of a short term military threat, the ultimate fulfillment would bring deliverance from the guilt and curse of all those under the law.  But not only that, this Son and Redeemer would bring adoption as sons of God, who would send His Spirit into the hearts of His people.  Spirit-possessing sons would cry out “Abba, Father” and not live in fear of any army or any future legal process resulting in their conviction and sentencing.

Think about it

Let this truth sink deep in your heart.  God sent His Son, a sign of His grace for guilty sinners.  Amazing grace, indeed!

Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of our sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe. It’s heart check time.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

Selected Verses

Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.  Isaiah 5:15-16

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.    Galatians 3:13-14

Reflections

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts.  It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day.  It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one.  The people were living in denial.  They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God.  It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them.  They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1).  At the same time, they needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5).  They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20).  We do too.

The Galatians situation is even more perplexing.  Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers were turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope.  Paul is astonished.  Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem.  It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God.  This attitude comes from either not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin.  Usually both.

Think about it

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death.  He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse upon us through the law.  Do a heart check today.  Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.

Legalism Dies Hard

Eternal salvation is no do-it-yourself project. The gospel tells us that the law was given to point us to Christ, never to save. Why does legalism die hard?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 1-3; Galatians 2

Selected Verses

 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.  Isaiah 1:11

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:19-21

Reflections

Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah.  Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing.  God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices.  But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses?  Yes, but they were missing the essential part.  The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin.  These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition.  God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed.  He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).

In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring.  The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God.  Paul grieved deeply (Galatians 1:6-9).  His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error.  To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.

Think about it

Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation?  Perhaps, as justified people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness.  Beware of straying from the basis of our justification, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not our faulty lawkeeping.  Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness.  Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity: the Macedonians

Here we meet a group who did not let their desperate need stop their generosity. How God is glorified by such people who give despite their circumstances!

Today’s reading

Proverbs 30-31; Second Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.  Proverbs 31:20

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

Second Corinthians 8:1-2

Reflections

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them and reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

Think about it

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.

A Warning to Gentiles and a Promise to the Elderly

God uses two trees to give a warning and a promise about our relationships to each other and to Him.  Expect fruitfulness.  Beware of arrogance.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 90-92; Romans 11:1-21

Selected Verses

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psalm 92:12-15

Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Romans 11:19-21

Reflections

Psalm 92 compares God’s righteous people to a palm tree planted in the house of the Lord.  What is the function of this tree?  It is to flourish, grow, and bear fruit.  What fruit does it bear?  Not dates or coconuts, (it is an analogy, don’t forget!), but the fruit of a clear declaration “that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”   This promise of fruitfulness is directed to the elderly.  They will continue to bear spiritual fruit into old age despite the decline of their physical strength.

Paul addresses something that must have been bothering the Christians in Rome. There seems to have been an issue (or, at least, a potential issue) of Christian Gentiles looking down on unbelieving Jews for rejecting Christ.  The Apostle explains that this rejection (anticipated in the Old Testament) benefited the Gentiles who were then coming to Christ.  Ultimately, we can expect a positive reaction among the Jews when they turn to the Lord.   “Be humble about your acceptance before God. He could cut you off and restore the natural branches,” Paul warns the Gentile Christians.

Think about it

God has securely grafted us who believe in His Son into His olive tree whether young or elderly. But it is not our own doing.  It is by grace through faith, not by any merit on our part. We ought to maintain a humble, grateful attitude.  As part of the tree in the house of the Lord, He planted us to bear fruit.  God’s grace will sustain us all the days of our lives as we keep declaring God’s righteousness. So expect fruitfulness and beware of arrogance.

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!

God’s Delight in Your Prayer

God’s children have special access to Him in prayer.  But do you know that He delights in those who are His and who come to Him with their requests?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 17-18; Acts 19:1-20

Selected Verses

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.  Psalm 18:18-19

And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.  Acts 19:17

Reflections

The Psalms are filled with exclamations of praise to God for His power and goodness to His needy people. Psalm 18 lists many ways in which the Lord delivered David. Appropriate praise is offered, but then we see this curious line, “he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” David grasped something about God that is often overlooked. God is not annoyed with us when we come to Him seeking help, strength, wisdom, deliverance, etc. God is not merely putting up with us. David understood that the Lord delighted in him.  The Almighty is not bothered that one of His children should come incessantly asking for things. God delivered David because He “delighted” in him.

By contrast, there are several incidents in the book of Acts in which unscrupulous opponents of the gospel attempt to obtain the Holy Spirit for money or to invoke the name of Jesus for personal gain. In Ephesus, the seven sons of Sceva attempt to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name.  They fail as the demon overcomes and possesses them. The incident brought a wave of fear to the population. They realized that they may not trifle with the name of Jesus. God does not delight to hear the prayers of those who are not His.

Think about it

You know that God is all-powerful, omnipotent, and sovereign. He controls all things. You probably believe He can do whatever He wishes to do. You don’t doubt that there is no problem too big for Him. Like the people of Ephesus, you grasp the sanctity and power of the name of Jesus. But do you believe that He delights to hear your prayer and rescue you? How confident are you in His loving kindness, His tender care, His infinite love, and His pleasure in responding to your requests? Think about God delighting in you the next time you ask Him for something you desperately need.

 

Salvation Belongs to the LORD

God is sovereign over salvation. He uses means, such as gospel preaching but also works directly opening the hearts of His own so they hear and believe.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 1-3; Acts 16:1-15

Selected Verses

Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Psalm 3:8

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.  Acts 16:14-15

Reflections

The Psalmist was in dire straits. According to the title of Psalm 3, David wrote this during his exile from Jerusalem while his son, Absalom, briefly overthrew his father’s kingdom. David turned to God in the crisis, recognizing that only the Lord could save him. “Salvation belongs to the LORD,” he affirms. Absalom had skillfully won over the people of Israel to support him. David fled Jerusalem. But it seemed inevitable that David would be assassinated and Absalom would take firm control of the kingdom.

Yet, “salvation belongs to the LORD.” David held to that truth, and, against all odds, Absalom listened to David’s planted advisor, Hushai who purposely gave him bad advice. Absalom followed it, and died in the ensuing battle (2 Samuel 17-18). God saved David’s life and kingdom. The odds set by probability cannot limit God.

Lydia was a worshiper of God, a Gentile woman who believed in the God of Israel and the moral law of Moses without adopting the dietary and ceremonial laws. Luke tells us that the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul said. Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, neither a Lydia nor anyone else is able to hear and believe the gospel (Jeremiah 13:23; John 6:44, 65; Romans 9:16; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9-10).  God saved Lydia spiritually. [1]

Think about it

God saves kings and Gentile women, like David and Lydia. How does the truth that “salvation belongs to the Lord” affect your prayer life and your daily confidence in Him? Can you lie down and sleep, knowing the Lord will sustain you? Trust Him when in danger for He saves.  Proclaim the gospel to others knowing that God opens hearts as He wills and saves lost people.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible notes p. 1945

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.

 

Means of Grace in a Hostile Place

God sends us into a hostile place, and He preserves us in it by the means of grace: His word, the sacraments,  and prayer.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 26-28; John 17

Selected Verses

In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord—this same King Ahaz.  For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.  2 Chronicles 28:22-23

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  John 17:15-17

Reflections

King Ahaz rebelled against the Lord which led to defeat in battle and distress. Did he learn to turn to God through His failure? No. He took his disobedience to the next level and began worshiping the god of the Syrians. Some of the kings we have studied were corrupted by success. Others were corrupted by failure. In some cases, they turned to God in defeat and were delivered. The circumstances seem to be neutral factors. What is the difference? It is the work of God in the hearts of those kings that either turned them toward Himself or let them go on in apostasy and error.

Jesus knew the kind of world into which He was sending His disciples. He prayed for them and gave them God’s word. They were not perfect. But in the end they succeeded in proclaiming the gospel far and wide and laying the foundations for the Church.

Think about it

What do we need in order to stand firm in the faith in a hostile world? Like the Apostles, we need God’s word and we need God’s power sustaining us in the midst of adversity and spiritual danger. Do we have that? Yes, Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). He has given us His Spirit (Romans 8:1-17). We have the completed revelation of God in the Scriptures to equip us for every work He calls us to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We also need God’s people, those who identify with Christ and fellowship with Him through the Sacraments.

Do not fear the world, but do be vigilant of your heart that your distresses or your successes not turn you away from the Lord who keeps His own. Do not make a bad thing worse. Trust Him and make diligent use of the means of grace.