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.

Paradise: Who Gets In?

The way to paradise is not through our own good works.  Rather, it comes by grace through faith to the repentant sinner even one dying naked on a cross.

Today’s Reading

1 Kings 8-9; Luke 23:39-56

Selected Verses

And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?” Then they will say, “Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.”  1 Kings 9:8-9

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42

Reflections

Above the euphoria of celebrating the completion of the Temple and the installation of the Ark of the Covenant, there was a certain ominous cloud, the possibility that the people of Israel might not be faithful to their God.  There still existed the allurement of other gods.  There was no guarantee that the nation would not abandon the God who had delivered their fathers from the land of Egypt and thus incur judgment.  That beautiful temple could end up a heap of ruins.

In fact, it did.

The kingdom would be divided; the kings and the people would incorporate pagan worship either in place of or alongside their worship of the Lord.  God would turn them over to foreign powers.  We will come to that later in our reading.  You see where this story is going.  We may as well rain on the parade.

Then we turn to Luke.  Jesus the Messiah has been officially rejected by the rulers, tried before them and the Roman governor, and crucified beside two criminals.  One of them calls out for mercy.  Jesus assures him, in those famous words, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Indeed, the initial excitement of the temple dedication would not last.  Israel made a mess of their worship and executed their Savior.  But God is able to do far above what we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21) and He made their greatest evil the ground for their salvation beginning with the repentant criminal.

Think about it

Who gets into paradise? Not one who puts hope and confidence in his own ability to be perfectly faithful to God.  The one who will enter paradise trusts in the only One who was perfectly faithful, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He ushered a guilty criminal into Paradise, and He can usher you in, too, by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8,9).

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

Handling Overwhelming Guilt

Who of us has not broken a solemn vow of some kind?  Where can we go with our overwhelming guilt?  In Christ there is an answer.

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 23-25; Mark 14:51-72

Selected verses

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.  But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin.  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

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

Reflections

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 concerning 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.  No cheap talk.  A man’s word was his bond.

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.

Think about it

Certainly we see the breakdown of vow keeping in our society.  We can’t trust each other. It’s easy to break commitments. We are quick to file suits but slow to keep promises.  Married couples divorce as if no binding vow had been made.

Who of us has not broken a solemn vow of some kind?  Who of us cannot identify with Peter’s rash vow 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. In Him we become forgiven vow-breakers. We even become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God’s Grace for Every Battle and Failure

Despite God’s promises and Christ’s warnings, our failure can be big. But bigger still is His grace toward us frightened and guilty sheep.

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 20-22; Mark 14:26-50

Selected Verses

And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people 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, 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

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.’  But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Mark 14:27-28

Reflections

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 that they were the greatest army ever fielded nor that their enemies were a bunch of wimps. He promised that the Lord their God would go with them to fight for them and to give them the victory.

Jesus’ disciples also faced a daunting enemy, those opponents of the Lord who had conspired together to arrest Him and put Him to death. Jesus forewarned the disciples that they would fall away. He said their desertion would fulfill Scripture. They objected.  Peter asserted that they would die with Jesus. All gave a hearty “amen.”

Of course, these were empty promises. But Jesus also pointed them beyond their failure – to His resurrection,  He would meet them in Galilee.

Think about it

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 and defeated children? 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 cover your greatest failures.

 

The Three Offices of Jesus

Jesus Christ fulfilled the offices of prophet, priest, and king perfectly.  So how can we understand His horrible crucifixion?  God had a plan.

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 17-19; Mark 14:1-25

Selected Verses

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. 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

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.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Mark 14:22-24

Reflections

In Deuteronomy Moses laid out principles for the offices of prophet, priest, and king in Israel.  Certainly, the law spoke much about the priesthood, but now Moses also addresses the matter of prophets and kings, too.

In all three of these offices, God alone would designate the occupants.  No one was to assume the role of priest, prophet or king. Warnings were given to those who might seek 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.  The law regulated the work of the priesthood.

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

The culmination of rebellion against the Lord’s anointed came when Christ Jesus appeared.  He fulfilled the promise of God to raise up a prophet like Moses.  Jesus inherited the throne of David to reign forever over God’s elect people.  He was the great High Priest above the Aaronic priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:9,10).

Think about it

Jesus Christ 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.

No words can adequately 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.