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.

God’s Providence vs. Man’s Autonomy

No life is the result of personal autonomy or of random acts and choices. Rather it is God’s sovereign providence at work according to His eternal decrees.

Today’s Reading

Job 33-34; Acts 13:24-52

Selected Verses

 Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.  Job 33:29-30

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. Acts 13:48-50

Reflections

Elihu sets about correcting the faulty statements of Job and his three counselors. Elihu correctly emphasizes the justice of God in all His dealings and the way of God to use trials and difficulties to correct His children. This point has been mostly ignored by the three counselors with the exception of a brief comment by Eliphaz (Job 5:17).

In his account of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, Luke reports that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  Apostles proclaimed the gospel. Some believed.  Why?  God had appointed them to eternal life. Others rejected because they were not appointed for eternal life.   The difference is not in the words of the preacher. It is in the response of the hearer. That is the result of the sovereign work of grace in the heart of the hearer.

Think about it

Personal autonomy is an idol of our times, maybe the greatest idol. The doctrines of the sovereignty and providence of God thunder against that false god. Do you believe in the Lord Almighty Who rules over all things, even the hearts of people? If so, that would be a likely indicator that He has appointed you for salvation. If not, you are still called to repent and believe the gospel, but you cannot and will not in yourself, without His powerful working in you to bring a new birth (Mark 1:15; John 3:3).

Does all this stir in you sense of desperation?  Call on God to “be merciful” to you, a sinner (Luke 18:13). God has promised that He is “near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” and “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”’ (Psalm 145:18; Romans 10:13).

Setting our Hearts to Seek the Lord

Evil men take God’s resources and attempt to use them to oppose Him. Rehoboam and Judas exemplify this principle. But in the end, they die.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 10-12; John 13:18-38

Selected Verses

And he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord. 2 Chronicles 12:14

I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.”  I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

John 13:18-19

Reflections

The arrogance of mortal man is often astounding. Rehoboam grew up as a grandson of David and prince under his father, Solomon, during the glory days of the old united kingdom of Israel. For him it was easy to assume that nothing would change unless it was for the better. When he took the throne, Rehoboam rejected the wise counsel of his elders and followed the foolish advice of his peers. As a result, he lost control of the ten tribes of Israel and was left with only Judah and Benjamin. He failed to be a good king or a good spiritual leader to the nation. The Chronicler says, “He did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord.”

Judas accompanied Jesus and the disciples. Outwardly, he appeared to be one of them. When Jesus sent him out, no one thought it was unusual. No one suspected him. But what was in his heart was about to come out. He gave place to Satan and Satan entered into him. He, like Rehoboam, did not set his heart to seek the Lord. Like Rehoboam, God called his number. Judas died by suicide (Matthew 27:3-10; Acts 1:18-19).

Think about it

Whatever we do during our lifetimes, we do with God’s resources. We breath His air, we walk on His earth, and we depend on His sustenance and providence to keep us going. Then, like everyone else from kings to paupers, we die. What did we do and what did we stand for? Eventually the truth comes out.

Is it time for a heart check? Let us set our hearts to seek the Lord and pray for grace to keep that focus all the days of our lives. The heart that is set to seek the Lord will not be easily moved or inhabited by Satan. Are you in?

Stop Limping and Follow Christ

God calls us to follow Him but biblical history shows how some followed while others limped between the true God and impostors. Will you follow or limp?

Today’s Reading

1 Kings 16-18; John 1:29-51

Selected Verses

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.  I Kings 18:21

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  John 1:35-37

Reflections

Israel under King Ahab continued in the rebellious ways of Jeroboam.  God sent a prophet, Elijah, to proclaim a drought as a means of getting their attention.  This went on for three years, but the nation did not cry out to God.  They continued to put hope in the false god Baal.  Elijah called for a showdown, a battle of the gods on Mount Carmel.  As this definitive demonstration of the truth began, Elijah described the people as limping between two different opinions.  They tried to use the Lord and Baal to solve their problems, but the Lord would not allow this kind of syncretism.

We know from our reading how this turned out.  The Lord God of heaven and earth was shown to be the only one who could act.  Baal and his prophets were exposed as frauds.  Any reasonable person would give up following Baal and fully follow the Lord.

In Jesus’ early ministry, John the Baptist introduced Him to his disciples as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (vs. 29).  The next day, as Jesus walked by, two of John’s disciples heard him say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Maybe these two had thought about John’s comment overnight.  Maybe they had tossed and turned pondering what they should do.  Their teacher, John, was saying that this Jesus was greater than he was, One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  They must have thought, “It’s time to follow Jesus” because follow Him they did.

Think about it

God will not allow us to go limping between two opinions.  Are you following Him or the god of our culture?  Are you following the One who came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world?  Only He is more powerful than Baal.  Only He takes away sin.  Stop limping and follow Jesus Christ wherever He leads.

Born of God

Without a new birth, brought about by God, even the most informed people do not receive His Word but persist in all kinds of pagan abominations.

Today’s Reading

1 Kings 14-15; John 1:1-28

Selected Verses

They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.  1 Kings 14:24

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:11-13

Reflections

Solomon’s apostasy led to the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam and Jeroboam.  Neither of them was humble or repentant, but they continued in the path taken by Solomon.  The divided kingdom stayed at war during the lifetimes of these two kings.  They continued to worship other gods.  Their practices mirrored those of the peoples that God had evicted from the land when Israel entered.

When Jesus came, fulfilling the promise of a Messiah, He was not universally received.  The gospel records show that as His ministry unfolded official opposition increased culminating in His crucifixion.  Jesus came revealing the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.  Those who were sent to arrest Him said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).

But despite Jesus’ powerful words, the nation officially rejected Him.  Why?  They were not born of God.  Those who are born of God are children of God who manifest this reality by receiving Christ and believing in His name.  Everyone is God’s creature, made by Him, but not all who owe Him their existence are His children (John 1:3,10).

Neither severe hardship such as decades of war, nor mighty works like the incarnation of God the Son automatically results in faith and repentance in people.  It takes a new birth, a birth brought about by God, to turn the hearts of sinners to Himself and to make them His children.

Think about it

If you have been born of God, then you are His child.  Your home is with Him, not here. But you and I will be there soon.  Rejoice and be faithful as you await that day.

The Danger of Presumption

Presumption is behavior perceived as arrogant and disrespectful. Presumption may not be a common word, but today’s reading shows it is a common failure.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 27-29; Luke 17:1-19

Selected Verses

 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.”  I Samuel 28:15

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” Luke 17:10

Reflections

Presumption may not be a word you hear or use every day, so let’s start with a definition.  The Google dictionary says that presumption is “behavior perceived as arrogant, disrespectful, and transgressing the limits of what is permitted or appropriate.”  A person with presumption is presumptuous.  Here we meet some presumptuous people and learn an important lesson.

Saul was facing a military crisis.  He had failed in all his attempts to find and kill his perceived rival, David.  Now the Philistine army was amassing on his border, ready to strike.  Saul had a long history of presumption.  He took matters in his own hands ignoring God’s law and Samuel’s instructions.  God had left him, but Saul presumptuously continued to seek God’s help and direction.  When he could not get an answer from God, he turned to a medium and sought the departed Samuel for guidance.  Samuel merely reiterated the judgment that he had already pronounced on the king, that he would lose his kingdom.  Samuel now added a timeline onto this verdict.  Saul would die, with his sons, the next day.  Saul was foolish to the end.  His foolishness showed itself in presumption.

Jesus told a story about a hypothetical servant whose master waited on him rather than observing the normal division of labor.  If that were to occur, we would charge the servant with being presumptuous, arrogantly accepting service from his master instead of respectfully offering service to him.

In another incident, Jesus healed ten lepers, an unheard of miracle.  Yet only one of the ten thought to return and thank the Lord for His mercy to him.  The nine were presumptuous.

Think about it

Presumption shows itself in our expectations, as if God owed us something.  It shows itself when we fail to be grateful for all our undeserved blessings.  It shows itself in failure to confess our sin and repent before God, asking for forgiveness of our presumption.  Let presumption not be common in your life.

A Warning about Causing People to Sin


God will not overlook the evil of causing others, especially His people and little children, to sin.  Here is a serious warning to heed.

Today’s reading

Numbers 30-31; Mark 9:30-50

Selected Verses

 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”  So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.

Numbers 31:1-3

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42

Reflections

God’s final assignment to Moses was to bring judgment on the Midianites for the way they had seduced the Israelites into sin.  Indeed, as we saw in our March 1 reading, the Israelites paid a severe price for their foolish sin, but now God sends Moses to repay their tempters for causing His people to sin.

The disciples were beginning to show their true colors as the thought of Jesus’ death dawned on them.  They began to jockey for positions of leadership and wanted to curtail any would-be competitors that they had not authorized.  In a forceful statement, Jesus warned them of the danger of defiling little ones who believe in Him.  The Reformation Study Bible note explains that the phrase “little ones” may refer either to children or to those who are “insignificant believers.”  So the warning has broad application.  The disciples saw those who were not following them as insignificant and worthy of rebuke (Mark 9:38).

Think about it

Who are the little ones in your life? Are they children? Are they just the so-called insignificant believers? Remember that God holds them in high esteem.  He gave His Son for their salvation. Beware of causing others to sin who look up to you either because of your age or status. Treat them all as children of the King for, as believers, that is what they are.  If you have failed in this regard, repent of all known sin, confess to God and those offended.  Seek the Lord’s grace and forgiveness through Christ.  God has promised: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9.

Do Jesus’ Parables Teach Salvation by Works?

In light of Jesus’ parables, we might wonder if He is teaching that we are saved by our own merits. Did Jesus teach salvation by works?

Today’s reading

Leviticus 4-6; Matthew 25:1-30

Selected Verses

And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. Leviticus 4:20b

And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew 25:30

Reflections

In today’s reading in Leviticus the phrase oft-repeated is “he (or they) shall be forgiven.” In yesterday’s reading the emphasis was on “a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” The sacrifices described in Leviticus resulted in God being pleased and the worshipers being forgiven. God does not merely show restraint in not punishing the sin of true believers, He forgives them and He is pleased with the offering they make.

Of course we know from the New Testament that these offerings all pointed toward Jesus Christ, the final and complete offering for the sins of His people. In Him, God is pleased and we who believe in Him are forgiven.

So what does the parable of the talents in Matthew have to do with this? Here we see God’s judgment portrayed on one who failed to invest his talent for the master’s benefit. He is not forgiven. In fact, he loses the one talent he had and is cast out of his master’s presence. A similar judgment falls upon the unprepared virgins.

In light of these parables, we might wonder if Jesus is teaching that we are acceptable before God based on our works or personal preparedness. In fact acceptance before God depends on faith in the offering for sin made by Christ. On the other hand the reality of our faith is demonstrated in fully employing the talent or gift God has given us and in having an expectant attitude about the Lord’s coming in power and judgment.

Think about it

Many trust in their own good works for salvation, only to be lost in the end. Others believe that their trust in Christ only needs to be demonstrated once through repeating a prayer, being baptized, or some other outward profession. These self-deceived people fail to show the fruits of faith in their lives.  According to the Bible they will also be lost in the end.  Jesus never taught salvation by works.  Rather He taught that faith bears observable fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Ground your faith in Jesus Christ’s offering for sin. But be sure your faith shows itself  in your life by diligent use of the means of grace (God’s word and prayer and the sacraments) both personally in your home and corporately in your local church.

Why is God so Good?

Today’s reading

Genesis 42-43; Matthew 13:33-58

Selected verses

He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” Genesis 42:28

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.  Matthew 13:57-58

Reflections

“Why does God allow so much suffering and pain in our lives?”  It’s a question I hear.  And we might more wisely ask, “Why does God allow so much goodness and pleasure?”  Before there can be salvation from our sin, we must recognize that we are guilty and deserve punishment.  Joseph pushed his guilty brothers to show repentance for their sin toward him.  When they did, he showed them mercy by providing the food they needed and returning their money to them.  Joseph literally saved his evil brothers from death at no cost to them.

Jesus graciously came into the world to save sinners.  He warned of coming judgment.  Yet it was in His hometown where He had the most resistance.  Those who had seen Him grow up there were perplexed by the authority and wisdom of His teaching, but, instead of submitting to Him, they took Him to be some kind of upstart. They took offense at Him.  The consequence of this was He did not do many mighty works there.

Paul wrote to the Romans “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2: 4).  In God’s plan before there can be forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation, there must be recognition of personal responsibility for sin leading to repentance.

Think about it

Have you seen the goodness of God toward you or do you get stuck on all the suffering you have experienced?  Joseph’s brothers got it and received salvation. The people of Nazareth didn’t.   Are you more like those repentant brothers or like the resistant Nazarenes? Ask God for a heart changed by Jesus Christ, so that you do not take offense at Him but rather bow before Him in contrite faith.

A Call to Repent

Today’s reading:

Genesis 9-11; Matthew 4

Select verses

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Genesis 11:8

 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   Matthew 4:17

Reflections

Following the flood God commands Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply.  And multiply they do!  You might get dizzy reading all the names of their descendants.

But some things never change. In the midst of these generations of human beings who are listed for us, the cosmic battle between sin and righteousness continues.  It divides the sons of Noah with blessing on Shem and a curse on Canaan.  Mankind, united by one language and forgetting the lessons learned from God’s judgment through the flood, seeks to unite and build a tower of rebellion against God and for self-glorification.  Again, God acts in judgment creating division through language differences.  The spiritual hostility is not eliminated but it is hampered as God creates the boundaries of culture to point Man to Himself (Acts 17:26-27).

We should not conclude that God’s promise to defeat the serpent has failed.  Rather, His plan of judgment and redemption has not completely unfolded.  In Genesis 11, we meet Abram.  Soon we will see what a pivotal role he plays in God’s plan.  Through Abram will come Jesus Christ and blessing to the whole earth.

In Matthew, we follow the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry.  He proclaims the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  “Repent,” He commands, “for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).  The same God who acted in judgment is calling all to come to Him in faith and repentance beginning with the Jews, but (as we shall see) extending to all nations, tribes, and languages.

Think about it

God deserves praise. Praise Him for His wisdom in planning the redemption of His people.  Praise Him for His sovereignty in carrying out this plan over the millennia of history.  He will surely bring it to completion at the end of time.  Praise Him that we can know of our adoption as His children and of the assurance that He will take us all the way home. His eternal purposes will be fulfilled though we pass through dark and difficult times on our journey through life.  Meanwhile, let us repent of our sins and believe in His salvation.