Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Testing of Abraham

Genesis 22:1-14

Being asked to give up something you love dearly can be very difficult.  Perhaps it is the house you have lived in for many years, with many happy memories. Maybe it’s a job you’ve really enjoyed, or a loved belonging you own.  But what if God were to ask you to willingly give up your most beloved and only child?  I have two children, and I can honestly say I don’t think I could.  In today’s Lectionary reading from the Old Testament, Abraham was given such a test. Let’s look at how he handled it.

As our passage begins we read in verses 1 -2 that God tested Abraham.  This was no ordinary test.  He was to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God.  God was examining Abraham’s heart - was it true, steadfast, and trusting in Him?  He tested Abraham to deepen his capacity to obey Him, and develop his character. Just as fire refines ore to extract the precious metals, so God refines us through difficult circumstances.  This test wasn’t to show God something.  He is omniscient, and knew Abraham and his faith better than Abraham even did. It was to show Abraham, his family (especially Isaac), and all of us who read this, the level of his faith.

Abraham’s obedience was immediate, complete, and unquestioning. He didn’t argue with God, or try to barter with Him.  It is approximately 50 miles from Beersheba, where Abraham was currently residing, to Mt. Moriah, which was near where the future city of Jerusalem would be.  When they arrived at the mountain that the Lord had told him of, Abraham told his servants to wait at the base, while he and Isaac would go up the mountain, and then they both would return (vs. 5).  Abraham was confident and could assure his servants of their both returning.  He had such trust in the permanence of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:17-19).  He believed that if Isaace were to be sacrificed, somehow God would raise him from the dead again, or He would provide a substitute sacrifice.

Why would God ask this of Abraham, especially since He vehemently condemned the pagan practice of human sacrifice (Leviticus 20:1-5)? God did not want Isaac to die, but for Abraham to sacrifice him in his heart.   Did Abraham love the gift of God, or God Himself?  God wanted Abraham to love Him more than he loved Isaac, or the promise of the long-awaited son. Abraham knew three facts.  One was that Isaac was the vehicle of God’s promise to him, so Isaac must continue to live.  Secondly was that God always keeps His promises. And lastly, in light of both of the previous facts, God’s power is absolute, even over death.

Verse 8 is the pivotal verse in this passage.  Abraham trusted God, and told Isaac that God would provide.  Little did he know how prophetic his words would be!  God would, indeed, provide a lamb for the sacrifice.  Not only did He provide one for a substitute for Isaac, but years later He provided a Lamb, the Lamb of God, His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the sacrifice for all of mankind’s sins.

Abraham, still not seeing, in light of this current command of God, how He would fulfill His promise to him, proceeds to build a rough altar, and tie up Isaac.  What must have been going through his mind right then?  Was there a battle raging between faith and fear?  There would have been for me! Thankfully in Abraham’s case, faith won out, for at the last moment God stopped the hand of Abraham from killing his son (vs. 11-12).  When we give to God what He asks, He returns far more than we could dream.

In verse 13 we see that God provided a ram to be the sacrifice.  This ram was a substitute for Isaac.  Jesus was offered on the cross as a substitute sacrifice for us.  God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, but He did not spare His Son, Jesus, from dying for us!  God will always provide!  We may not always understand how.  He may make us wait, but He will always provide exactly what we need when we need it (vs. 14).

Friday, February 23, 2018

Facing Temptations

Mark 1:9-13

Temptations come at us every day.  Whether it is to lie, break a traffic regulation, or even something more serious like dealing drugs or killing someone, everyone deals with temptations.  As our reading from the Gospel of Mark today shows, even Jesus dealt with temptations.  As we study this we can get some inspiration as to how to handle them in our own life.

Our passage begins with Jesus leaving Nazareth, the village He grew up in, and heading southeast to the river Jordan where John the Baptist is baptizing. Jesus requests to be baptized by John.  He would seem like any of the other dozens of people getting baptized by John that day until He comes up out of the water.  It was then that the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.  Also at that moment a Voice from heaven spoke out, and said to Jesus “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (vs. 9-11).  The Father proclaimed His approval of Jesus, the Son, and He sent the Holy Spirit in a figure as a dove.  All three members of the Trinity are represented here.

Immediately Jesus is lead by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He remains for 40 days in prayer and fasting, preparing for His imminent ministry.  It is here that Satan gives an all-out assault with temptation, as well (vs. 12-13). Mark’s account of the temptation is brief, with few details.  We can also read of Jesus’s temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-12, which give more details. Let’s look at these temptations and see if we can learn anything we can apply to our own lives.

The first assault of temptation that Satan gives Jesus is for Him to turn some of the large rocks around Him into bread, as He is hungry from long fasting (Matt. 4:2-4).  Because Jesus was hungry, he saw an opportunity where he could try to get Jesus to use His powers to satisfy and gratify a need.  In our life Satan can get us to doubt whether God will provide our needs.  Jesus responded to this with God’s Word.  He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3.  God’s Word is even more important than food.  It benefits us for eternity.  We should never satisfy a normal desire in the wrong way.

The second temptation that Satan launched against Jesus was to take Him to the pinnacle of the Temple, and dare Him to jump off (Matt. 4:5-7).  Then Satan quotes a Bible verse back at Him, (Psalm 91:11-12), saying in essence that God’s angels will protect Him, daring God to rescue Him.  Satan twisted the Scriptures to suit his purposes.  The intention of Psalm 91 is to show God’s protection of His people, not to incite them to use God’s power for sensational displays.  This temptation was for security, casting doubt as to whether God would protect. Satan does the same to us today.  Jesus responded that one is never to test God. Again, He used Scripture - Deuteronomy 6:16.  Don’t manipulate God by asking for signs.

The third temptation Satan used against Jesus was to promise Him all of the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him (Matt. 4:8-10).  It was a temptation of power, authority and significance, casting doubt in the mind as to whether God really does rule.  Satan exploits our human desire for quick per, easy solutions, and a human desire to be equal with God.  Jesus’s response was one of no compromising with evil, and again He used Scripture against Satan - Deuteronomy 6:13.  We read several times in the Gospel of John that Satan is called the “ruler of this world”, and thus has power in the world - John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.  Paul also calls him the “god of this age” - II Corinthians 4:4.

Jesus didn’t spend time arguing and debating with Satan.  He gave firm and authoritative responses, and always used Scripture to back Him up. Temptation is only a sin if we give in to it.  It is through inner testing that God strengthens our character, and valuable lessons are learned.  When Satan comes against us with temptation, remember how Jesus responded.  He used God’s Word, the Bible, against him and was victorious.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jesus, Our Ark

I Peter 3:18-22

Our New Testament reading from this week’s Lectionary is from the first letter the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians who were scattered around Asia Minor and elsewhere.  These new Christians that Peter was writing this letter to were suffering various degrees of persecution for their faith.  Some suffered from their families and former friends, whether Jewish or pagan.  Some suffered from the government and other municipal authorities, and these persecutions varied in intensity.  Whatever the source of persecution, or how strong it was, Peter wrote to encourage them to stand strong and to continue to share their faith.  This still holds true today.  Because Christ died for us, we should be ready to share our faith with everyone.  We should be ready, if necessary, to suffer for, or die for our faith.

Suffering can be discouraging, and Peter reminded his readers that even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered unjustly, which was God’s will, to bring salvation to mankind (vs. 18).  Jesus, however, triumphed to being exalted to the right hand of God.  The demons who were behind Jesus’s suffering are forever subject to Him.

The Jewish people, in their religious observances, offered sacrifices for sins over and over again.  These, though, could never take the sin away.  Jesus’s one sacrifice for sin is forever and eternally valid.  It was sufficient for everyone, and never needs to be repeated.  As Peter said in verse 18, Jesus “suffered once for sins”.

Jesus was sinless.  His death was substitutionary for us, as Peter said, “the just for the unjust”.  His death was an atonement for our sins.  Jesus never sinned, but nonetheless, He took our place, taking our punishment.  He satisfied God’s just penalty for sin, and because of that, He opened the way to God for all who repented and believed.

During the time between Jesus’s death and resurrection His spirit went to the realm of the dead to accomplish several things.  While we are not given specific details of what He did during this time, there are passages, like verse 19, which give us some hints as to what occurred.  One thing Jesus may have done was preach to and give the spirits of the dead, who had died before He had come to earth, the opportunity to hear and accept Him and His substitutionary atonement for their sins.  The other may have been to proclaim to the demons bound in the abyss that, in spite of the crucifixion, He had triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15).   These demons are fallen angels who were permanently bound because of grave wickedness.  All demons eventually will be sent to the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).  These demons are bound in the abyss since the days of Noah because of wickedness (vs. 20). They filled that era with their iniquity, evil doings, and rebellion against God. It was so bad that even with many decades of Noah’s preaching, he had not one convert.  Noah’s family were saved and spared in spite of the water of judgment.

An “antitype” is an earthly expression of a spiritual reality, a symbol or picture of a spiritual truth (vs. 21).  Eight people were inside the ark, and they went through earth’s judgment unharmed.  That is analogous to what Christians experience in salvation - being in Christ, the ark of our salvation.  We are united with Christ as an ark of safety from the just judgment of God.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, this shows that God accepted His substitutionary death for the sins of those who believe.  The believer who is “in Christ” are thus in the ark of safety, sailing over the waters of judgment, into eternal glory. Those in Noah’s ark who were saved from judgment prefigures those in Christ, saved from eternal damnation.

After Jesus’s death and resurrection, He entered back into heaven, to an exalted place of majesty, authority, and power (vs. 22).  We are saved, not by some external rite, but by agreeing with God that we need to “get into the ark of safety”, which is the Lord Jesus, by placing faith in His death and resurrection.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lord, Be My Guide

Psalm 25:4-10

One of the most famous landmarks in England is the Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminster in London, which contains the Houses of Parliament.  The Clock Tower is more affectionately known as Big Ben.  The sounds of the clock as it strikes the hours are perhaps one of the most familiar sounds in the world. What many might not know is that there are lyrics inscribed inside Big Ben that go along with the chimes notes.  They read:  “All through this hour, Lord, be my guide; And by Thy power, No foot shall slide.”  Those sentiments are ones that King David knew and could relate to, especially as we look into Psalm 25, which he wrote.

Verses 4 - 7 of our portion of this psalm is a prayer that David wrote, and verses 8 - 10 give a description of God, as David came to know him throughout his life.  Throughout the ups and downs of David’s life, he came to know that God’s ways are always better than his own (vs. 4-5).  We need to depend on God for direction and guidance. Going our own way, depending solely on our own thinking, can lead to trouble, sometimes quite serious trouble.  Turn to God for His leading and truth.  His ways won’t lead us into the mud and mire of sin if we follow Him.  Even if we do find ourselves there, if we call upon God, confessing and repenting of our sins, (vs. 6 - 7) He will reach down and help us (Psalm 40:2).  David experienced that several times throughout his life, and knew first-hand that following God’s ways are always best.

David saw God as always patient and willing to forgive sinners.  He helps repentant sinners to start over again (vs. 8).  God could have condemned David completely many times, just as He could us, as well.  Instead, He allowed David, and allows us to repent and relearn His ways.  We, as Christians, have the opportunity to be forgiven through the Blood of the Lord Jesus.

I’ve known some people who decided that once they got out of school, that was it, they were never going to learn or study another thing.  They rarely, if ever, willingly cracked open a book again.  That is sad, and makes for a very dull person.  It is always good to continue learning, and that is especially true in our Christian life, as well.  It is crucial, and so important to by faith accept Jesus as Savior.  However, we can’t just stay there.  We must allow God to grow our faith.  As David expressed in vs. 8 - 9, he wanted the Lord God to teach him. We can’t just learn religious concepts in a partial or half-way.  We must experience the truth of God’s Word in a total, transformational way.  As Christians, we should not just skim through the Bible, but study it, internalize it, and apply it to real life situations that we have.

Some of the paths that God has placed us on are rough ones.  They might not be ones that we would have selected ourselves.  If we faithfully trust and follow Him, we will find it is the right road after all (vs. 10).  Some of the most rugged hiking paths lead to the best views.  Our path may have many obstacles and rugged ruts, but trust God to lead you.  The end result will be well worth it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Promise Of The Rainbow

Genesis 9:8-17

When powerful thunderstorms come crashing in, they bring with them large, fierce, angry-looking clouds, strong winds, and plenty of lightning.  For some, like myself, these are fascinating to watch, and we go out on porches to watch them come by.  For others, though, they prefer to be inside, as far away as they can be.  Too much rain in a short period of time can bring much destruction and even death to communities in an area.  In our reading today, from the Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent, we read of the promise God made to Noah and his descendants.

Prior to where our account picks up, Noah and his family had lived through to the most powerful storm this world had ever seen.  There had never been rain before, let alone a terrifying storm.  Prior to the flood, Noah went through the world was watered by mist that came up from the ground (Genesis 2:5-6).  God had destroyed everything living with a flood, because of the immensity of the sin of man except for Noah and his family.  When Noah came off of the ark, he and his family were the only humans on earth.  That might have been a bit scary, and they might understandably have been afraid that there might be another massive flood.  God immediately set that fear to rest by making a covenant with Noah and to every one of his descendants, which would be all of us.

The covenant that God made with with Noah and all of his offspring had three parts.  The first part was that He would never again destroy the whole world, nor all of mankind, with another flood of water (vs. 11).  That was not to say that there wouldn’t be devastating and deadly local floods anywhere around the world, but there would not be one that would destroy everything, like the one Noah had just witnessed.  This covenant promise was an unconditional one, meaning that there is nothing we have to do on our part.  God has promised, and that is it.  There are also covenant promises that are conditional, meaning we have to fulfil our part, and then God will fulfill His.  This one, though, is an unconditional one.

The second part was that there would be a token of God’s promise as a reminder for all of us to see, and that was a rainbow in the sky (vs. 12 - 17).  The rainbow is a perpetual, symbolic reminder of this covenantal promise promise. The rainbow will be visible when it rains, as a sign of God’s promise.

After a storm, when the rainbow appears in the sky, God has said that He will look at the rainbow, and He will remember the promise He made to us (vs. 15 - 16).   As humans, we can be a forgetful bunch. Not only do we forget where we put our keys, or forget an anniversary, or an important appointment, but we often forget the promises God has made us.  Fortunately God has said that He will remember!  He remembers His commitment to keep the promises He makes.

The third part of this covenant promise is that the seasons will continue, unceasingly, as long as the earth remains (Genesis 8:22). There will always be a spring, summer, autumn, and winter.  The time for planting, and then for harvesting will always come.  There will always be morning and evening. Sometimes it seems that winter lasts so long and will never end, but God has promised that it will, as spring will follow.

Rainbows are usually only seen after storms and rain.  We love seeing the rainbows, but don’t like the storms that bring them.  In order to see rainbows in our life, sometimes God needs to bring us through the storms.  Every rainbow we see should remind us of God’s covenant.  All of His promises are equally unbroken and unending.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Transfiguration

Mark 9:2-9

Our Gospel reading for today gives Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  This event was mentioned in my previous devotional, as the Apostle Peter told how he was an eyewitness to this event, seeing the Lord Jesus in His heavenly glory, and hearing the voice of God the Father.  This event was one of the most singular moments in Peter’s life, one that he would never forget a minute of. Let’s take a moment to look at the Transfiguration, which happened about 6-8 months prior to the Crucifixion, and see why this is a pivotal moment in the Gospels.

The word “transfigured” comes from a Greek word meaning “to change in form” or “be transformed”.  At this moment, when Jesus was transfigured before three of His chosen apostles, He manifested some of His divine glory to them (vs. 2).  This was a glorious event to behold, and we might wonder why Jesus only chose three of His apostles, Peter, James and John, to witness this, and not all twelve, or even more of His followers.  No real explanation is given in Scriptures.  Perhaps because these three were one of the earliest disciples to decide to follow Jesus and respond to His call.  Peter, James and John are always the first three listed when the disciples names are given.  They also were present at some healings when the others weren’t (Luke 8:51).

Just prior to this event in the Gospels, Jesus and His disciples had journeyed to Caesarea Philippi, a city in the far northern parts of the Holy Land.  Peter had just given his declaration that he believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Now He brings the three, Peter, James and John, up on one of the mountains in the area.  While on top of this mountain, Jesus was transfigured, revealing His divine nature.  His clothes became brilliantly white and shining, more than any whiteness we have ever seen (vs. 3).  Matthew’s Gospel also records that Jesus’s face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2).  Light is often associated in Scripture with God’s visible presence.

Here on the mountain, two people joined Jesus while He was in His divine form.  These were Moses and the prophet Elijah.  Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the prophets.  The two important figures from the Old Testament, coming out of heaven to meet with Jesus, spoke to Him about His coming death (Luke 9:30-31), perhaps to give Him encouragement.  As we’re seeing here, Jesus was divine, but He was also fully human, and knowing that the crucifixion awaited Him, He would need courage.  Peter was so overcome with what he was witnessing, both seeing two of the greatest Old Testament personages, and also the Lord Jesus in His divine form, he wanted this literal mountaintop experience to go on forever (vs. 5-6).

While Peter was expressing his desire to remain here on the mountain, a cloud from heaven comes and covered them all, and God’s voice spoke (vs. 7).  The cloud was the cloud of God’s Shekinah glory, which appeared on many occasions in the Old Testament, particularly over the tabernacle.  Here God repeated His affirmation of Jesus that He had given at His baptism, that He was the Father’s beloved Son, and we are to listen to Him.  Listen, not just to hear, but to actually respond to and follow what He is saying.  Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament Law and prophecies.  He was not merely another great prophet.  As the Son of God, He surpassed both Moses and Elijah, and all other prophets in both authority and power.

As our passage concludes, Jesus didn’t want Peter, James or John to tell others about what the had witnessed until after the resurrection (vs. 9).  They would not fully understand.  After the resurrection they would know that only through dying could Jesus show His power over death, and authority to be king over all.

As God has said, “This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!”  He is the one we’re to listen to and obey!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Attacks From False Teachers

II Peter 1:16-19

Have you ever been at a big event, a one-time occurrence, whether it was something great or something tragic, and some other people deny your eyewitness account?  You were there.  You saw it.  You were an eyewitness. Now there are people going around saying that what you saw did not occur the way you recount, or didn’t even occur at all.  That can be very aggravating, even angering.   This is what the Apostle Peter was facing, and our Scripture passage for today is his answer to them.

After the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and His ascension back into heaven, Peter and the other apostles were spreading His message of salvation throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean world.  The good news of Jesus met with much opposition from false teachers and religious leaders wherever they went. One of the accusations they threw at Peter was their claim that the Gospel, or parts of it, were a myth, just like the myths of other false and pagan religions (vs. 16).  The false teachers tried to discredit Peter.  He was accused of making up fables and myths so people would follow him, and that way he could gain power, money, prestige, etc.  They claimed that Jesus was no more than an ordinary man, not the Messiah, and that He, and now the apostles, were spreading fables, nothing more than myths.

Peter’s response to them, and to those who were listening to their false message was that he and the Apostles John and James had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Approximately six to eight months before the crucifixion, Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, up a mountain, and there He was transfigured into His heavenly glory.  There He also met with Moses and Elijah, speaking with them about His coming death for the sins of the world.  This was one of the most dramatic events in Peter’s life, one that he would never forget, and now he is stressing this to those false teachers.  This wasn’t just a fable!  Also, it wasn’t just him, but James and John saw this as well.  Not only did they see this with their eyes, but they also heard the voice of God as He told them “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. (vs. 17 - 18).  God the Father affirmed the deity of the Son, Jesus Christ.

These false teachers had not been there on the Mount of Transfiguration to see Jesus’s glory, as Peter, James and John had been.  What they were saying came from the twisted lies and deception of the devil.  Peter and his companions had been there. They were eyewitnesses, just as they were of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Peter never stopped preaching this gospel because he knew the truth!  He and the other apostles knew that Jesus was not just an ordinary religious teacher and leader.  Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, not just a good religious leader, as many people today teach and believe.  Jesus is the only true religious leader, and He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6).

The eyewitness accounts confirmed Scripture (vs. 19).  Scripture ranks over any eyewitness testimony.  The Word is more complete, more permanent, more authoritative than anyone’s experience.  The Word of God is more reliable. Everything that Peter had been preaching, whether it was of Jesus’s death and resurrection, His second coming, or any other doctrine, his words were backed up by Scripture.  He wasn’t relying solely on his experiences, however all of his eyewitness accounts were backed up with God’s Word.

When false teachers bring their teaching, go to God’s Word to expose them, just as Peter did.  The light of God’s Word will shine into their darkness.