More than Forgiven

The Psalmist prayed for mercy and forgiveness, but God in Christ has given all that and much more. We are more than forgiven.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 79-81; Romans 8:1-18

Selected Verses

 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!  Psalm 79:8-9

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  Romans 8:3-4

Reflections

The Psalmist cries out for forgiveness for the sins of the nation that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. He laments their suffering but, even more, the disgrace brought on the name of God. The writer does not look for excuses, nor does he make promises to do better. He pleads for God Himself to atone for their sins. Truly, he grasps the seriousness of sin. No one is able to justify himself by turning over a new leaf. No one is qualified to repay the debt of offending our holy Creator and Lord.

Paul explains to the Romans just how God has answered this prayer of the Psalmist from so many centuries earlier. The law could only show us our sin, never save us. The law was weakened by the flesh, because our flesh is inclined to use the law as a springboard to rebellion. We do what the law says not to do (Romans 7:13-25).  He has freed us from the law of sin and death, that is, the law that says “you sin, you die.”

Think about it

As usual, God’s answer goes far above what the Psalmist (or we) could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). He has given His Spirit to those who are in Christ. Through Him we have life, peace, and guidance. Through Him we are adopted as God’s children and, so, we call Him, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-17). Sure, we suffer with Christ in this world, but we know that the glory to come far exceeds these present afflictions.

Does your sin and guilt weigh you down? Trust in Christ for the complete forgiveness of your sins. Rejoice that the law of sin and death is overcome, but more than that, in Him you have His Spirit and are adopted as His own child.

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!

Why did Christ Die?

There are several correct answers to “why did Christ die?” but one very wrong answer is “so we may sin freely.” Here is an important correct answer.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 75-77; Romans 6

Selected Verses

For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.  Psalm 75:6-8

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

Reflections

The Psalms frequently address the contrast between the wicked and the righteous.  The wicked are under God’s judgment although they may appear to be successful for a time (Psalm 73).  God is the One who lifts up and puts down people on earth.  He is a holy God Who will ultimately bring justice through His judgment.  There can be no escape from justice.

Jesus Christ came to bring grace and truth (John 1:17).  The truth is we are all sinners. We should drink to the dregs the cup of God’s wrath.  But the grace of Christ is that instead of us drinking the cup Jesus drank it for us (Matthew 26:36-46).  Now we, who believe in Him, have been buried with Him by baptism into His death.

Paul anticipated some readers thinking that they may sin to the max since they had been freed from judgment by Christ’s death.  That is to miss the message entirely.  Grace is given to us not so we may sin freely but so we may live in newness of life for God’s glory.  If we have died with Christ, His death is our death, and we are now freed from sin to live a life that reflects our belonging to Him.

Think about it

Are you learning to walk in newness of life as an obedient servant of righteousness?  Does your life show you are His and that you are grateful for what He did?  That is why He died, so take care how you live.

The Prayer that Never Fails

Do you know the prayer that never fails?  Paul knew it.  David knew it.  Jesus knew it.  It is a prayer that God always answers.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 28-30; Acts 21:1-14

Selected Verses

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!  Psalm 29:10-11

When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”  Acts 21:12-14

Reflections

The prayer that never fails, according to the fictional Father Tim of novelist Jan Karon’s Mitford series, is “Thy will be done.” This phrase was part of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples–the same words He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. Here in Acts, Paul’s friends prayed it also.  [See Matthew 6:10; 26:39-42].

In Tyre, concerned believers understood that Paul would suffer if he went to Jerusalem.  Luke tells us that “Through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (vs. 4). Agabus, a prophet, foretold Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem. Others in Phoenicia urged him not to go. It was hard for Paul to hear this, and it hurt him because it was going to hurt them. Nevertheless, he was determined to go to Jerusalem though it cost him his life. He had settled that matter. He believed it was what God wanted him to do. They resigned themselves with the words, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

But the Lord whose will they sought is One who presides over the chaos and turmoil of human life on planet Earth (not to mention the entire universe). As the Psalmist says, He sits enthroned over the flood. His reign never ends. His will is always done. He is the One who gives strength to His people so they may endure the trials He sends. He grants peace so that even in the face of sure suffering His servants know quietness as they pray the prayer that never fails.

Think about it

Must you see bright skies every day in order to have peace? Do you frantically seek to avoid any discomforting situations, much less, life-threatening ones? Make it your aim to be content as long as His will is done.

Strength for Today; Hope for Tomorrow

God, who is unchanging, gives His people strength to do His will today and hope that someday our struggles and burdens will end when we see Him.

Today’s Reading

Job 19-20; Acts 9:23-43

Selected Verses

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-27

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.  Acts 9:31

Reflections

Job continues his complaint against God in vivid terms. He has been abandoned by everyone he knows. But suddenly he seems to recall that he has a Redeemer, One who will save him. That Redeemer is alive and will reveal Himself after Job has finally died. God has stripped poor Job of every comfort and dignity of this life, but there will come a meeting. Job will see his Redeemer.

The church had been devastated with persecution, but God had turned it to good by sending out His people to proclaim the good news of Jesus throughout the nearby nations. Saul went after them but found Jesus himself. He then became a preacher of the gospel he had been seeking to silence. He had to flee for his life from his former allies. Meanwhile a measure of peace came to the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The church grew spiritually and numerically. The disciples were “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Think about it

No matter what your situation today, seek to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. If you are suffering, like Job, remember that your Redeemer is alive. He awaits you when this life is over. As the old hymn goes,

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

(from “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by T.O.Chisholm 1866-1960)

Wanted: Celestial Mediator

The dilemma of fallen man since the Garden of Eden is to learn how to be right before God.  Job called in agony for a celestial mediator. And God answered.

Today’s Reading

Job 7-9; Acts 7:44-60

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” Job 9:1-3

Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.

Acts 7:52-53

Reflections

Job struggles with the reason for his suffering while his would-be comforters heap accusations on him in an effort to explain the frowning providence of God in his life.  Job does not claim to be perfect, but he does not understand how his suffering is punishment that fits the crime.  He recognizes that a man cannot be right before God on his own terms.  But destitution, poverty, bereavement, and relentless pain seems over the top.  “There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both,” moans Job (9:33).  So here God is showing us through Job that there must be a mediator between God and man in order for reconciliation to take place.  That can only be God Himself, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.

As Stephen closes his defense, which could also be called a sermon, he indicts the Jewish authorities for their killing of that Mediator.  They have continued in the footsteps of their forebears, resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting the prophets, and, now, executing the Righteous One, the arbiter that Job longed for.  They prove Stephen’s point by immediately stoning him to death.

Think about it

Two men, Stephen and Job, suffer for their faith.  One is delivered by death almost immediately and the other is made to stagger on in suffering a while longer before experiencing relief.

God has different paths for each of His children to trod, but in the end, those who are His trust Him, do not justify themselves but seek the Arbiter whom the Lord has appointed, Jesus, the Righteous One, who alone can mediate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12).  Walk on trusting Him, my fellow disciple.

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.

 

Life in Christ: More than a Temple

The temple was glorious but when God took on flesh and dwelt among us in His Son, He gave us more than a building. He gave us Himself. He gave us life.

Today’s Reading

Ezra 3-5; John 20

Selected Verses

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.  Ezra 3:12-13

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:30-31

Reflections

The presence of God among His people, Israel, in Old Testament times was symbolized by the tabernacle and later the temple.  Because of persistent, unrepentant sin, God sent Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army to conquer Judah, capture the king, and destroy the temple.  Now, in our reading, God allows the returned Jewish exiles to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem under a grant by Cyrus, king of Persia, but their joy is mixed with bitter sorrow when the elders see how small the new temple is going to be.

When Jesus rose from the dead, He fulfilled His prophecy to do so and to do so in three days.   “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” He told the Jews (John 2:19).  He showed Himself again and again to the bewildered disciples and they began to understand and to believe.  “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” He said to Thomas, the famous doubter.  John says to all the world that he wrote his gospel so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.”

Think about it

The temple brought temporary joy mixed with disappointment. But it was never meant to be more than a symbol of God’s dwelling place with us.  God took on flesh and dwelt among us in His Son, Jesus (John 1:14).  In Him, we have life by faith.  It is real life that lasts forever because He finished the work of atoning for the sins of His people.  Believe and live!  We are nearing home.

What to do when obedience brings ridicule

The price of obedience to God can be extremely high.  Obedience must be by faith, because it does not always bring instant positive reinforcement.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 29-31; John 18:1-23

Selected Verses

So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.  However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.  The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.  2 Chronicles 30:10-12

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” John 18:22-23

Reflections

Hezekiah set out to turn Judah and Israel back to the Lord.  After cleansing the temple and consecrating the priests, his next step was to celebrate the long-neglected Passover.  The king sent out couriers to the northern kingdom inviting them to join in the feast, but it seems the typical response was to laugh them to scorn.

There were exceptions, of course, as “some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.”  Why did these few respond?  The next verse says it was the hand of God which “was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.”  It is God Who works in human hearts to bring about obedience and faith.  Otherwise, people mock and scorn the Lord’s messengers as they did the couriers of the king.

Jesus’ obedience was the most costly of anyone in all of human history.  In His trial before Annas, He was questioned about matters of public knowledge as they searched for grounds on which to charge Him.  Jesus spoke the truth but was struck for it.  This was only the beginning of the sufferings, mocking, and abuse He would receive.

Think about it

When you obey God and suffer for it, are you tempted to second-guess your action?  Do you expect to have your obedience to God instantly rewarded?  Neither Hezekiah’s couriers nor Jesus did.  Obey by faith and be ready to follow the steps of your Savior who suffered for you.  His reward was not instant, but it was great and it was eternal.  Your reward may be delayed, too, but it will come in God’s time.

Forgiveness for the Fickle

Here  we meet the contrasting examples of the fickle King Joash and the triumphant King Jesus.  We can trust in the One who overcame the world.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 23-25; John 16:16-33

Selected Verses

Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention.  2 Chronicles 24:17-19

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  John 16:32-33

Reflections

We humans are fickle creatures, easily swayed from apparently firm convictions by the changing circumstances of the world around us. But Jesus, unlike us, did not waver in the face of enormous opposition.  He overcame the world.

King Joash of Judah barely survived the assassinations committed by the wicked Athaliah. At age seven, after being hidden almost his entire life, the priest Jehoiada made an elaborate plan to install the rightful king. Jehoiada was a good and wise counselor to Joash, and Joash held to the priest’s advice. Then Jehoiada died. Joash did an about-face and abandoned the Lord for idolatry. He even killed Jehoiada’s son for attempting to correct his decisions.

Jesus told His disciples that there was trouble ahead. They continued to profess their allegiance, but He warned them that they would fall away and abandon Him. That would not be the end of the story for Jesus would remain steadfast and overcome the world not only for Himself but for all His elect people, flaky disciples and all.

Think about it

Do you struggle with falling prey to the circumstances of life, either being seduced by the glory of this world like Joash or terrified by powerful forces that threaten your life, like the disciples? There is forgiveness for the fickle, struggling believer in Jesus Christ. He overcame the world for you.