Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Empty Tomb

Mark 16:1-11

It is Resurrection Sunday, and the three women in our Scripture passage go to, and return from, Jesus’ tomb with an amazing message for the disciples - Jesus has risen from the dead!  At first the disciples refuse to believe, but later they all come to find out it’s true. Have you ever had the experience of talking to family, friends, or co-workers about the resurrection, only to have them tell you it was a myth, a fairy tale, and that it never happened?  They might have given one of several frequently given explanations as to why they think the resurrection never happened, and why there is an empty tomb. Let’s look at a few of these, and how those who believe them are sadly mistaken.

The first excuse that many unbelievers give for the empty tomb is that Jesus never really died.  They try to explain that Jesus just passed out on the cross, and His disciples only thought He was dead, so they placed Him in the tomb. Laying there in the cool tomb for several hours revived Jesus, so He got up and left.  That couldn’t be true. Standing alongside the cross were several Roman soldiers who were quite familiar with death, as they had seen a lot of it, executing criminals.  These soldiers would frequently break the legs of those crucified in order to hasten death, but when they did this to the other two besides Jesus, they see that He was already dead, so they didn’t break His legs (John 19:32-34).  Instead one of the soldiers thrusts his spear in Jesus’ side. The fact that both blood and water came forth showed that the sac surrounding Jesus’ heart was pierced, and likely His heart, as well. He was dead. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, after hearing that Jesus was dead, questioned the soldiers himself, since He had died rather quickly.  The soldiers would not have risked lying to the governor (Mark 15:44-45).

Another excuse unbelievers give for the empty tomb is that the women made a mistake, and went to the wrong tomb.  That is not the case. These women had been there just that previous Friday, late afternoon, when they had assisted in removing Jesus’ body from the cross (Matthew 27:59-61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55).  They would have made careful note as to where the tomb was as they knew they would have to come back to give Jesus’ body the proper anointing. Also later on that Sunday, after the women had told the disciples, Peter and John ran to the tomb to check it out (John 20:3-9).  They found it empty, as well. They all didn’t make a mistake and go to the wrong place.

A third excuse many give for the empty tomb, and one that the Jewish leaders gave, is that the disciples came in the middle of the night and stole Jesus’ body out of the tomb (Matthew 28:11-15).  The religious leaders had heard Jesus repeatedly tell the disciples that He would be killed and on the third day He would rise again. They were afraid of that, so in order to prevent anyone from coming to the tomb and take His body, they obtained from Pontius Pilate several Roman soldiers to stand guard at the tomb.  They even had Pilate order the tomb sealed closed (Matthew 27:62-66). Would the disciples or anyone else be able to overpower several heavily armed guards, and then break into a sealed closed tomb? That would have been a suicide mission. And even if they managed to overpower the guards, once it was known, they would have had the whole army stationed in Jerusalem, which was a heavily fortified city at that time, down on them.  Furthermore, these disciples were so afraid for their own lives that they were in hiding behind locked and bolted doors (John 20:19). These were men who were scared for their lives, emotionally beaten down and feeling discouraged. They were not a group who felt confident enough to defy both the Jewish Sanhedrin and the whole Roman army!

The disciples did not remain scared and defeated men.  No! After they saw their risen Savior, they became bold witnesses, both to His life, death and resurrection.  The remaining 11 apostles, the women, and many others saw first hand the risen Lord Jesus. Paul states in I Corinthians 15:6 that over 500 saw Him before He returned to heaven.  The truth of the resurrection so emboldened these men, that they were willing to die for this truth.

The tomb was empty, but not because of any of these reasons we’ve looked at. Jesus had indeed died there on the cross, bearing our sins. The wrath of the Father against sin was satisfied, and Jesus rose from the dead.  We can rejoice because the tomb is empty!

* * *

I pray that you have enjoyed and benefited from these Bible meditations that I have written for this blog.   I hope you will prayerfully consider donating as the Lord might lead you. This blog is not run through a large ministry with a wide funding base.  I am an individual with limited financial resources.  Thank you and God bless.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Shepherd's Sacrifice For His Sheep

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12

As we conclude Holy Week, let us look at one prophecy from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, which speaks of the sacrifice and price that our Savior paid for our salvation, more than any other Old Testament prophecy.  Isaiah’s prophecy, written many hundreds of years before Jesus, speaks of the atonement He made on our behalf.

As Isaiah set out to give his report, his message from God, he knew that there were many that would not believe, nor accept what he was saying (vs. 1).  The same is true today. In spite of all the evidence we have for Jesus, and the truth of His Word, there are still so many who will not believe. Let’s open our hearts and minds as we look at this passage together, and accept the truth the Lord is telling us.

Most paintings that we’ve seen of Jesus dying on the cross seem to be fairly tame, not really depicting the horrendous torture of the events of Good Friday. Here in the opening verses of our Scripture passage, Isaiah states that what Jesus endured was so terrible He scarcely looked human (vs. 14-15). What Jesus went through was beyond comprehension, yet because of His obedience, He would be raised up and exalted (vs. 13).  The rulers of this world, who have scorned and rejected Jesus, will be speechless and in awe when the Suffering Servant returns, exalted and powerful (vs. 15). Jesus looked beyond the cross and what He was to endure, knowing what the end result would be (Hebrews 12:2).

As we read verse 2 we see that Jesus was a very ordinary looking person.  He did not have movie star or professional athlete looks. People were not attracted to Him because of His looks.  Rather, they were attracted to Jesus because of His Words, His healings, and His loving, merciful Spirit. As followers of Jesus, our looks don’t matter. Instead, we should be attracting people to the Savior by what we say and how we act. Jesus was despised and rejected by many people during His day. He is, also, by mankind today.  As Christians, we cannot expect any better treatment than Jesus received (Matthew 10:25).

All of the suffering that Jesus went through - the mockings, beatings, scourging, the crucifixion, that was all done for our salvation. Though He was sinless, He carried our sins to the cross. Yet the Jewish religious leaders who watched Jesus die, believed He was being punished for His own sins (vs. 4). They couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jesus was dying for their sins, for all of our sins.  Jesus died on the cross as our substitute (II Corinthians 5:21). He willingly died for us (John 10:17-18).  He was not captured and taken against His will.

We are like sheep (vs. 6).  Just like sheep we are not very bright, and are unable to take care of ourselves, defenseless against our enemy (Satan), and prone to wander into trouble.  Yet like the Good Shepherd He is, Jesus laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). Isaiah pointed out here in this verse that like stubborn sheep, we’ve turned to go our own way.  Why does everything have to be “our way”? That’s been the source of man’s problems for ages. Why won’t we learn and do things God’s way?

Throughout the farce of a so-called trial, the torture of His scourging and then crucifixion, Jesus kept silent (vs. 7).  He never spoke up in protest, but was utterly submissive in order to redeem us. The religious leaders wanted Jesus to have a disgraceful death (vs. 9). Crucifixion was a shameful death, with public humiliation. Jesus’ burial, though, was honorable. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who loved Jesus, gave Him his own nice tomb.

By His death, many have and will continue to gain eternal life and salvation (vs. 10-11).  Jesus would see this. In order for Him to see the fruit of His sacrifice, Jesus would have to rise from the dead, which He did three days later.

Who would ever have thought that God would save mankind with a Suffering Servant, rather than a glorious, powerful king?  Contrary to the accusations of many, who say that we have a weak God and Savior, Jesus showed His strength and power by being merciful, humble, and suffering for love of each of us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bow The Knee

Philippians 2:5-11

Our passage this morning is a very familiar one to many, describing the sacrifice that Jesus made for love us, to procure our salvation. Let’s look at several important truths about the Lord Jesus that are put forth in this passage.

The first is that Jesus always existed with God, and is equal to God because He is God (vs. 6).  He is not a created being.  Rather He is the Creator. John proclaims that in his Gospel (John 1:1-4).  Paul also states this in another Epistle (Colossians 1:15-19). Another truth contained in this passage is that even though Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, He willingly became a man in order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all people (vs. 7-8). Jesus didn’t just look like a man, He was fully man, though remaining fully God.  The Book of Hebrews clearly states this in Hebrews 2:14, also in Verse 17, and in 4:15.   Jesus became a man so as to identify with our sins and thus was able to become the perfect sacrifice for those sins.

Jesus was fully God, but voluntarily laid aside His divine rights and privileges out of love for the Father (vs. 8).  Jesus died on the cross for our sins so we wouldn’t have to face eternal death. Because of His obedience, Jesus was glorified, and God raised Him to His original position at the Father’s right hand, where He reigns forever (vs. 9-11).

As we contemplate these truths contained in today’s Scripture passage, it is amazing to wonder that Jesus would voluntarily become a man, and leave all of the glory of heaven that was His, all for sinful man.  This was more than just a type of “Prince and the Pauper” switch, as both characters in that famous story were humans, though one the heir to the throne, and the other a poor boy. There are cases where a wealthy person goes to live in poor conditions to help the people there.  How many people, though, would be willing to become another type of creature in order to save them? Would you become an insect in order to save them? The God of the universe stepped off of His heavenly throne in order to become a man, with all of their weaknesses and frailties, in order to save us.  He chose to do this out of love for us.

Not only did Jesus willingly become a man in order to save us, He went through the hurtful rejection from His own people, betrayal, brutal scourging, and then the torturous death of crucifixion, all for love of us (vs. 8).   This wasn’t a quick death like in front of a firing squad, it was torture that lasted many hours hanging alive on a cross until one died, usually of asphyxiation, bleeding and exposure.

Because of Jesus’ obedience and willingness to do this, God has exalted Him (vs. 9-11).  He is now seated on the throne of heaven, at God’s right hand. God has given Jesus a Name that is above every name, and a Name that everyone will one day bow to.  We certainly do not see that today. The Name of Jesus is mocked and blasphemed everywhere. Not all that long ago, even when I was younger, one would never have heard the Name of Jesus openly reviled on TV shows and in the media.  Now it is commonplace. There is even a growing ice cream chain that mocks His name and iconography on their products and in their advertisements. Businessmen, the media, and entertainment personalities scorn Jesus, laughing while doing so.

One day, though, everyone will bow their knee to Jesus!  There will be no exception. From the greatest emperor who ever ruled, the biggest billionaire on Wall Street, and the biggest rock or movie star, they will all bow to Jesus. Everyone who has ever lived will bow the knee and call Jesus Lord, that He, alone, has rule and authority over everything.

We should not wait for that day to submit ourselves under Jesus’ Lordship, where we will be forced to.  Since He loved us enough to come to earth and die for us, why not willingly give our lives into His loving hands?  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Enter The Gates Of Righteousness

Psalm 118:19-29

Today’s Psalm reading is a fitting one to follow yesterday’s Palm Sunday reading from the Gospels, with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Our passage from this psalm pictures an entrance through a city’s gates with joy and praise. Let’s look at it together.

The writer of our psalm seeks to enter through the gates of righteousness (vs. 19-20).  What are the gates of righteousness? They speak of more than just entering in through the city gates of Jerusalem.  The gates of righteousness are ones of justice, and being made morally right. It is an entry way which leads into the presence of God.  We cannot find or go through this gate on our own. We incapable of being righteous on our own. When we’ve accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf for ourselves, then we can ask for the gates of righteousness to be opened for us.  Through Jesus’ Blood we have the right to walk through those gates. Jesus spoke of this when He told us to seek to go through the straight and narrow gate, which leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).

Many people try to find a way to enter into God’s presence, and think there are many ways to get there.  However, there is only one way to get into His presence, only one gate, and that is through His Son, Jesus (John 14:6).  All other ways are the wide way that Jesus speaks of that leads to destruction.

Our psalmist wished to praise God for answering his cries for help (vs. 21). God had rescued him from physical, earthly defeat, as we read about earlier in the psalm, and also possible death.  He also praises the Lord for saving him spiritually. He does the same for us, as well. He will rescue us in our earthly distresses, but more importantly He will save us from spiritual death if we call upon Him. He is our salvation.

Verses 22 - 23  are prophetic, and speak of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus is the chief cornerstone. He is the chief capstone or foundation, the most important, vital part in God’s work for mankind.  There is no salvation without Him. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day, however, rejected Him as their Messiah, their Savior and Savior of mankind (Matthew 21:42).  The apostle Peter declared in his first sermon that God made Jesus, who they had rejected, who they crucified, both Lord and Savior (Acts 2:36). Though He was rejected by His own people, God made Him the chief cornerstone, and it is indeed marvelous in our eyes.  The day that the Lord made Jesus Christ His chief cornerstone, despite being rejected by the religious leaders, was a day for rejoicing (vs. 24).

Verse 24 is also a verse that believers can claim and hold on to when our own days are long and discouraging.  There can be times when even getting up and out of bed can be so difficult because of the problems we face. All we want to do is roll back into bed and pull the blanket up over our head.  If we have access to go through the gates of righteousness by having made Jesus our Savior, if we are on that straight and narrow path, and have taken Jesus as our chief cornerstone, then we can rejoice in the day the Lord has made.  We can decide to have a good day everyday, despite the problems we are going through. It’s a choice, a decision. We can decide yes or no. Will we go through the day, hand in hand with Jesus, or not? When we rise up in the morning, regardless of what we are facing, and especially if we are facing something difficult, we can recite this verse.  The Lord has given each day as a gift to us, and He will go through it with us. Rejoicing and giving Him praise puts all demons to flight, and will ensure a blessed day for us!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hosanna, Loud Hosanna Sing!

Mark 11:1-11

Today is Palm Sunday, and naturally our Gospel reading from this week’s Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer gives the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the City of Jerusalem.  Let’s look at the passage together, and see what messages the Lord would have for us.

As our account opens, Jesus and His disciples have been slowly making their way to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. Jesus knows, as well, that it is here, in just a matter of days, that He will be betrayed to the Jewish religious leaders, who will have Him executed.  His crucifixion will pay the sin-debt we all owe, the innocent sacrificed for the guilty. Jesus knows that the third day afterwards He will rise from the dead.  Meanwhile, at this time, Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. He sends a couple of His disciples into the little village of Bethphage, where He tells them that they will find a donkey colt, who no one has ever yet ridden on.  They are to untie him and bring him to Jesus (vs. 1-6). When the owners of the donkey colt see the disciples untying him, they naturally ask what they were doing. They answered that the Lord needed the donkey, and He would have it returned, so they then go with the animal. The owners of the donkey undoubtedly knew who the disciples were talking about. They probably knew of Jesus’ ministry, possibly having heard Him preach before. They most likely had heard that He had raised Lazarus from the dead, since that occurred in the adjoining community of Bethany.  Though they were not part of Jesus’ inner circle, they were willing to do what they could for Him, even if was just loaning Him a young donkey colt.

As Jesus seats Himself on the donkey colt and begins to ride into Jerusalem, the crowds start to gather.  They lay their cloaks on the ground, cut down palm branches which they wave and also spread on the ground, and shout their praises to Jesus (vs. 7-10).  This was all in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, given many hundreds of years before.

Many in this crowd felt that Jesus would be a king who would come in, kick out the Romans, and set up a restored kingdom of Israel, where they would have their own king and country, just like in David’s day.  These people misunderstood Jesus’ mission and timing of His kingdom. The crowds shouted “Hosanna”, which means “save us”. These people were not thinking of being saved in a spiritual sense. Rather, they wanted to be saved from the Romans. Spreading of clothes on the ground ahead of someone coming in triumph was part of an ancient practice of welcoming a new king. Palm branches symbolize joy and salvation, a future royal tribute to Jesus. Jesus did not come, this time, to be a king or claim a throne.  He came this time to be the sacrifice for our sins.  When He comes back again, at that time He will be coming as King and Ruler.  At this time Jesus chose to come riding a donkey, a humble animal, but one that symbolized His rightful royal status as the kingly Messiah and David’s heir.  He did not come riding a large, majestic horse. When Jesus returns in glory at His Second Coming, then He will be riding a horse (Revelation 19:11-16).

Many in the crowds that were there that day, singing praises to Jesus, would later in the week be screaming out for Him to be crucified.  People are often quite fickle. They shout one thing one day, and another thing the next day. Jesus knew their hearts; who in the crowds really meant what they were saying, and who were just parroting what they heard others saying.  For many in the group this was just an exciting parade. Later in the week, having fear of the religious leaders and the occupying soldiers, they would cry out for His death. Jesus really didn’t mean anything to them. There were a few who did truly wish to praise Him.   Some were grateful for their healing. Others had truly listened and accepted His words, and were acknowledging Him as the Messiah.

Which group would you belong to?  Do you just echo what others say at church, but the words are not from your heart, or you’re afraid to commit and stand for Jesus?  Are you perhaps an actual opponent of Jesus, like the religious leaders of the day? Or are the praises genuinely issuing forth from your heart?  Will you stand steadfastly with Jesus through His last week, through His betrayal, and through His crucifixion?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lifting The Message Of The Cross

John 12:20-33

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus is steadily making His way towards Jerusalem.  There, He knows that His enemies will gain control and have Him put to death. However, Jesus knows this is only temporary, as He will rise to life again.  Jesus has given out many references of this to His disciples, as He does in today’s reading, but they seem to be totally oblivious to the meaning of this.

As our passage opens some Greeks, most likely Gentile proselytes to Judaism, seek to meet Jesus (vs. 20-22).  They wish to talk with Him, to learn from Him. This stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ own people who would not accept Him, and who would shortly have Him put to death.

Jesus goes on to give a lesson to the disciples and the group gathered around Him.  He speaks of the hour of His death, which is now just a matter of days away (vs. 23).  How could Jesus refer to the hour of His death as one where He would be glorified? His death, though extremely brutal, would seem to be just like any other brutal execution.  This death, though, would bring glory to Jesus in that He obeyed His Father’s will, and paid the price for our salvation, and He would receive all glory when He returned to heaven.

Jesus goes on to give an example from nature to show how death can bring forth fruit to God (vs. 24-26).  Referring to His coming death, and our death, either literally or figuratively to self, can bring a harvest of life to God.  When a farmer sows a seed into the ground it simulates death. The seed has to be buried and the protective shell broken before the seed can grow and be what it is meant to be and bring a harvest.  Jesus would truly die, He had to die, to pay the penalty for our sins, and then bring a harvest of millions to salvation. His resurrection shows His power over death and now has eternal life. Jesus gives that same eternal life to whoever believes on Him.

Many believers are also called to sacrifice their life in service to God. When we read in verse 25 about hating our life, we should be so committed to living for Jesus that, by comparison, it looks as if we hate our own life.  This is not promoting anything suicidal or any destructive actions. It is meaning giving up our self-centeredness, releasing control of our life, and give it over to God.

As we continue on in verse 27, Jesus’ contemplating the upcoming crucifixion brought much anxiety and agitation.  Doing a personal study of exactly how brutal scourging and then crucifixion was like, one can understand why Jesus, in His human nature, was dreading the horror of it.  Jesus, though, knew that this was why He came. He knew that it was only through His sacrificial death that anyone could be saved and go to heaven.

In everything He did, Jesus desired to glorify the Name of God (vs. 28).  Is that the case with us? Do our words, actions, and behavior glorify God?  Though it may not appear that way, Jesus’ sacrificial death for our salvation would also bring glory to God.  God spoke back to Jesus, saying that He would glorify His Name through Jesus. There were two other times where the audible voice of God was heard.  The first time was at Jesus’ baptism, and the second time was at His transfiguration on the mountain. Now, a third time, God’s voice was heard. Some people heard and knew it was the voice of God.  Others heard and thought it was only noise (vs. 29). They allowed Satan to tune out the voice of God. How many today allow Satan to distract them from hearing God’s voice, and keep them from His Word?

The ruler of this world is Satan (vs. 31).  Satan is powerful, but Jesus in infinitely more so.  It may have seemed like Satan won the victory when Jesus was crucified, but in reality it was his doom.  Jesus’ resurrection destroyed Satan’s power.

When Jesus spoke of being “lifted up” in verse 32, He was referring to being lifted up when crucified.  He drew all people to Himself for salvation.  Salvation is open to everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or nationality.  We need to lift the message of the cross up, live the message of the cross in our lives each day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jesus - Our Great High Priest

Hebrews 5:5-10

Our New Testament reading this week comes from the Book of Hebrews, which was written primarily for the early Jewish believers in Jesus.  Many of them were suffering strong persecution for their faith, both from their former religious leaders, and from the government. Because of this, there were some who were being drawn to apostasy, to turn back to their former Jewish faith. The author was urging them not to fall victim this, that Jesus was the Messiah, and was superior to all in the Old Covenant.  In our passage today, the author is emphasizing that Jesus is the true High Priest, superior to the high priesthood of Aaron.

In verses 5 and 6 we read how Jesus was both God’s Son and His chosen High Priest.  The Old Testament references the author gives are from Psalm 2:7, and Psalm 110:4. Even though Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, not from Levi, He was chosen by God to be our High Priest, just as Aaron had been initially chosen.  In the Old Testament God had chosen Aaron to be the high priest, and only his descendants could follow in that position. Now God has chosen Jesus. He was divinely appointed. Jesus’ priesthood is superior because He is also a king, and has no earthly succession, just like Melchizedek, the king and priest of the city of Salem which was later to become Jerusalem.  (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7).

The high priests of the Old Testament performed sacrifices for their own and for the people’s sins.  Jesus, who had no sin of His own, was the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Though Jesus was God, the Second Person of the Trinity, He was also truly human.  His human nature dreaded the coming crucifixion, filling Him with natural fear. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane and all alone, His friends having fallen asleep, He prayed with tears, crying out to God (vs. 7).  Jesus was filled with anxiety and stress, causing Him to sweat blood, a condition known as hematidrosis. Facing the agonising torture of scourging and death by crucifixion, Jesus prayed to God to be delivered, but was prepared for that suffering by being obedient.  His example of suffering pain and humiliation, and being obedient can sustain and encourage us in our trials and difficulties. Jesus prayed in reverent submission, willing to do what God wanted. His prayers were heard because of His reverence and obedience to the Father.  God sent an angel to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).

In heaven, prior to His incarnation, Jesus had everything.  He was the second Person of the Trinity. However, Jesus emptied Himself and became man (Philippians 2:7).  He accepted the pain and affliction of the crucifixion (vs. 8). He suffered everything for us. Jesus is the Captain of our salvation, and was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).  We should not wonder if we are called to pass through suffering, as well. Jesus will give us grace to suffer for Him. Our afflictions which we suffer for Christ become jewels in our crown.

Because of His obedience in suffering death for our sins, Jesus can now offer eternal salvation to all who come to Him in obedience (vs. 9).   True salvation will show evidence of obedience to God.

Jesus was without sin, but He became sin so that we, who are sinners, could be counted as sinless, and thus be admitted into heaven and God’s presence (II Corinthians 5:21).  Man’s worst disaster is if they die in their sins (John 8:24), not accepting Jesus as their Savior and having their sin-guilt forgiven. If one dies in their sins, having never accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf, then there is eternal damnation.  Don’t let that be your fate. Instead, turn to Him today.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Price Of Sin And The Joy Of Repentance

Psalm 51

Can a believer in the Lord Jesus fall into sin?  The answer is yes. How about “big” sins, like adultery and murder?  Unfortunately yes, as well. Our psalm for this week comes upon the background of such a scenario.  It all started early one evening as King David was up on the rooftop terrace of the palace, possibly enjoying the cool evening breeze.  Looking down from the roof he spied a woman bathing in her pool in the adjoining yard (II Samuel 11). Rather than turn away, David sat there and let his eyes feast on what he was seeing.  His feelings quickly turned to lust and desire, and rather than flee the sin, he had the woman brought to him, where he succumbed to the sin of adultery. That was quickly followed by her pregnancy, and then the murder of her husband to cover his sin.

As a believer in Yahweh, David would have known God’s commandments, and would have known that what he was doing was wrong, but he wouldn’t yield to God’s will.  It took almost a year or more from that first night for David to repent of this sin, after a very brave man of God, Nathan, came to him and called him out for his sins.  David tried but couldn’t hide his sins from himself, others, or from God, and neither can we. As Scripture says, his sin found him out (Numbers 32:23). However, after Nathan came to him, David turned and repented.  This psalm is the record of his confession and repentance. He blamed no one but himself (vs. 3). True repentance involves confession, taking full responsibility, and not passing the blame or making excuses. It also must have complete honesty.

David desired to be cleansed from these sins (vs. 1-2, 7).  He knew that sin contaminates his soul, and it blocks up the path of fellowship he has with God. Hyssop was a shrub whose twigs were used for sprinkling in religious rituals of purification and cleansing.

We have a natural inclination to sin.  We are born that way since we are born with original sin, passed down from Adam (vs. 5).   David, though, did did not use that as an excuse, that he just “couldn’t help it”. He was honest about his sins, and truly repented.  

Even if our sins aren’t noticed by other people, or they are accepted by the world’s standards, sin does hurt us, and it is offensive to God. Once a person has come to the Lord for salvation, they can never lose their salvation, but they can lose their joy if they have unconfessed and unrepented sin in their life (vs. 12).  As we can read in the many psalms David wrote, he had much joy and praise in the Lord, and he did not want this lost in his life.  Joy in the Lord is a wonderful thing, so we should be sure that we don’t let sin block this from our life.

David knew that his sins would be forgiven when he confessed them to God. That is true in our life, as well. Sins will be forgiven, but the consequences are not removed, and sometimes those consequences can last years or even a lifetime.  Unfortunately David would find this out. His whole family fell to shambles. One son would rape his half-sister, and then another brother would kill that brother. Later that son would raise a rebellion against David, forcing him to flee Jerusalem and fight to regain his throne.  We could ask David if one or two nights of sin was worth the price he paid in his family, and for sure the answer would be no!

Some of you may think that your sin is just too great for God to forgive.  That is a lie of Satan. King David committed adultery, got the woman pregnant, and then had her husband, who was in his military, put in the front lines and the rest of the troop withdrawn, leaving him to die, meaning David had essentially ordered his murder.  God forgives when he sees true repentance and sorrow for sin (vs. 17). He forgives even if time has past since the sin. David waited a year or so, since Bathsheba’s baby had already been born when he finally fell before God in sorrowful repentance.

God saw David’s broken heart (vs 17).  He knew he was truly sorry for his sins. He will do the same for us when we turn to him in repentance.    When we fall into sin, don’t run from God. Instead run to Him.  He will uplift us as He did for David.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

What Is Written In Your Heart?

Jeremiah 31:31-34

For ages many cultures have regarded the heart as the source of where our feelings of love comes from.  When we love something very much we say our “heart is filled with love” for that person or thing. We say that he or she is “in our heart”.  We could also say that something we love is “written in our heart”. In our Scripture passage today the prophet Jeremiah speaks of something being written in our heart.  Let’s take a look at what he is talking about today.

The Lord God spoke to His people through the words of the prophets, and in our passage Jeremiah is speaking forth the Word of God to the people of Judah.  When God brought His people out from Egypt many hundreds of years prior to this time, He made a covenant with them, giving them His laws, and blessing them with the Land of Promise, (vs. 32).   He loved and cherished them just like a husband does for his wife. How did the people respond to this covenant that God made with them? They consistently broke this covenant, ignoring His laws, and running after other false gods, worshipping them.

What was God going to do?  As Jeremiah tells us, since the people kept breaking God’s old covenant, God says He is going to replace it with a new covenant (vs. 31).  Jeremiah tells the people that with this new covenant, God will write it upon our hearts, rather than the tablets of stone He used before. The people of Judah had been continually disobedient to the Lord.  Their sins had been engraved on their hearts (Jeremiah 17:1), as their desire and main love was to disobey God.

This new covenant would be different.  This covenant’s foundation is Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death for our sins.  He is the foundation of this new covenant (Hebrews 8:6). When we give our lives over to God, the Holy Spirit gives us the desire to obey Him. Rather than having our chief love being a desire to run from God, our love would be for Him, having it written on our heart.

The people failed to keep the old, Mosaic covenant.  God promised here, in this passage, a new covenant which brings the blessing of salvation to any who accept it.  Here we can have a personal relationship with God, with His laws written permanently on our heart.

One blessing that we have from the Lord God is that when He forgives us our sin, He remembers the wrongs no more (vs. 34).  As Psalm 103:12 says, when God forgives our sins, He removes them as far as the east is from the west. When we travel north eventually we get to the end of north, and then start heading south.  That is never the case when we head either east or west. You can never stop going east or stop going west. They never meet. That’s how far God separates our sin from us. He buries them in the bottom of the deepest sea (Micah 7:19).  God never uses past, forgiven sins to punish His people.

The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to when this covenant would happen, when Jesus would establish the new covenant.  This covenant is now in effect, since the death of Jesus for our sins, and His resurrection. We can now have a personal relationship with God.  Do you have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ? Is His Words written in your heart today? If not, do not let another day pass without asking Him to forgive your sins and come into your heart as your personal Savior.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Giving What We Have To The Lord

John 6:4-15

Today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, is one that is probably familiar to most Christians, one that many of us learned when we were children.  It is also the only miracle that Jesus performed which is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. Let’s take another look at this familiar story and see what we can learn.

Jesus had been on a hill with His disciples, teaching them, and He looked up and saw the huge crowds that had come together.  He knew the hours were passing, and that the people had not stopped to eat. Being one who is full of compassion, Jesus was concerned that the crowds would be hungry, so He asks the disciple, Philip, where they can get food to feed the crowd (vs. 5).  Jesus knew there was no human solution to His question to Philip. This would highlight the miraculous act He would soon do.

The Scriptures record that there was 5,000 men there (vs. 10).  This number does not reflect the many woman, and probably many children who would have been there, too.  Philip looked out over the crowds, and in response to Jesus’ question, he said that it would take over 200 denarii to buy food enough to give them all just a bit (vs. 7). One denarius was a day’s pay for a common laborer in Bible days. 200 denarii would be at least 8 months wages. The crowd was so large that even a significant amount would be needed to feed them all. Financial resources are not the most important ones. Our assuming what is or isn’t possible can limit God’s ability to work in and thru us. God will provide the resources.

In verses 8 and 9 we read that Andrew mentioned to Jesus that there was a boy, probably seated nearby them, who had a sack lunch of some bread and fish.  Perhaps the boy had overheard Jesus and the disciples talk about feeding the crowd, and how there wasn’t resources to feed them, and the boy spoke to Andrew, offering him his lunch to help out.  Andrew, not to shame the boy, tells Jesus, but his words lack faith. The boy gave what he had. It may have been little, but it made all the difference. If we don’t give what we have to God, He has nothing to work with.  God can take what little is given to Him and turn it into something great. God will multiply whatever we offer to Him beyond what we could imagine. He took the boy’s freely offered lunch of five small barley loaves of bread and two small fish, and multiplied it so that everyone ate till full, and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected (vs. 13).  If we make ourselves available to God, He will greatly use us for His kingdom.

Sometimes God will place a seemingly impossible task for us to do to see how we react.  Do we react in faith or in fear? He wants us to trust in Him, not in our own strength. The feeding of 5,000 men, not to mention all the women and children, was no problem for God. Since He can do that, shouldn’t we think that providing for our needs is any trouble for Him?

Are you facing a problem as big as what Philip and Andrew were seeing that afternoon, and all you have is equal to a small sack lunch?  We should not try to solve big problems by our limited human means. Jesus has a much better way. We need to remember to cast all our care on Jesus, for He cares for us as much as He did the crowds that day (I Peter 5:7).   God has a plan to bring us through every seemingly impossible situation. We need to to trust Him instead of ourselves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Faith, Not Works

Ephesians 2:4-10

Our Scripture today, taken from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, is a familiar passage to many people.  Many have memorized the salvation verses in verses 8 and 9. Let’s take a few moments to look at these verses together.

In the verses right prior to our passage, Paul was telling his readers how, before they came to Christ, they were deep in sin, following the desires of their flesh. Their path and life, and ours too, was all bad news. Then as verse 4 picks up we see the word, “but”. But God loved us, had mercy on us, and sent His Son to save us (vs. 4-5).  God takes bad news and turns it into good news. All of the bad in our life, the mess and sin, He changes.  That “but” turns the bad news into good.

We might wonder why God would save us.  We wonder what can we do to receive God’s love and mercy?  What can we do to get to heaven? So many believe that it is by merit that we are saved.  They have a check-off list of things one should do to merit heaven - being baptised, go to church, read the Bible, give a good amount in the offering, say special prayers, maybe even teach Sunday School.  Add to that being good to the family, neighbors, and the community at large. Maybe even if the opportunity arises doing some brave, heroic deed. Then also not doing certain things, such as murdering, adultery, cheating on the taxes, etc.

That is not what God’s Word says.  God makes it very clear in verses 8 and 9 that it is not by anything that we do that we are saved. Salvation is a gift from God to us, which we receive by grace through faith.  We cannot earn our way to heaven. If we could, then we would have something whereof we could boast. We could go around heaven boasting about all of the good works we did to get there. We could brag about all of the money we gave to such and such a church. We could brag about how we helped this little old lady out, and that poor dog we rescued. In reality, though, there is nothing we could possibly do to earn our way to heaven.  God is holy, perfect, and righteous, and even one sin is enough to keep us out of His presence. He says that all of our righteousness, that is our “good works”, are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  None of us have enough righteousness to earn heaven (Romans 3:10). That is why He sent His Son, Jesus, the only sinless One, to die in our place. That way all of our boasting must be of Him.

So where does good works play into the picture, all of those good deeds and nice things that we know we should do?  In verse 10 we read that once we are saved, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are not saved by our good works, but once we are saved, God wants us to walk in good works.  This is when our helping others, giving to our church, and other deeds step in. If we are saved and love the Lord, we will do good works in His Name, not to earn His love and heaven, but because of His love for us.

Verse 10 tells us that we are God’s workmanship.  Are we living our life for Him? If so, then we can be assured that He is building something wonderful out of our life, something beyond our understanding.  God will use all that we’ve been through, the good and bad, to construct His masterpiece if we trust and allow Him. In God’s hands the mistakes of our life can become His masterpieces.

In addition to becoming one of God’s masterpieces, we read in verse 6 that, if we have become God’s children through salvation in His Son, we are seated with Christ in heavenly places.  We are kingdom people. Instead of looking at our problems from an earthly perspective, we should look at them from a heavenly perspective - God’s perspective. If He loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, and to seat us with Him in heaven, surely He will take care of any problems we have here on earth.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Coming To God's House Rejoicing

Psalm 122

A number of Christians have had the privilege and joy to be able to go on a pilgrimage and see the sights of the Holy Land, to Rome, or a number of other locations.  King David, the writer of our psalm for today, was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate one of several religious festivals when he wrote this. This psalm is one of several that are called the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), which were said or sung as pilgrims made there way to Jerusalem.  It is called an “ascent” as Jerusalem is on a high hill. The city’s elevation is 2,474 ft. above sea level. Compare that to Jericho, only 16 miles away, but at an elevation of 846 ft. below sea level. So it was a steep hike going up to Jerusalem.

King David rejoiced, knowing he was going to the Lord’s house, the Tabernacle, God’s place of worship in Jerusalem.  It was also a chance for him to be together with other devout believers, worshipping the Lord together (vs. 1-2). Being a king, David had a busy schedule, with many claims on his time, but he didn’t look at this as a nuisance or religious drudgery.  He was glad to be able to go to the Lord’s tabernacle to worship him. He was thrilled, and grateful to have this opportunity.

How do we look at going to church?  Do we look at it as a chore or inconvenience, or as a pleasure?  If there is unconfessed sin in our hearts, or have drifted away from God and our love for Him has cooled, then often we aren’t so eager to go to church.  If we are close to God, though, we will desire worship and Christian fellowship.

Jerusalem is an ancient city, one that was captured from the Jebusites by King David, and then made his capital city.  The city of Jerusalem during the time of King David and King Solomon was not geographically large. As we read in verse 3, it was a compact one, one where the Temple in Solomon’s day, and the palace took up a large portion of the area.  The thrones of judgment mentioned in verse 5 are places by the city gate where the city elders would hear cases and give judgment. On some occasions King David or any later kings would sit to judge. Naturally God wanted the kings to give honest and righteous judgment. Unfortunately not many of the kings of Judah were godly men. King David was one, and following him, of the twenty kings, only five were good, godly, and righteous rulers.

As King David concludes this short psalm, he is praying for peace - the peace of the City of Jerusalem, of it’s residents, his friends, and fellow pilgrims (vs. 6 - 9).   This peace is more than just an absence of conflict or literal war. It is also a completeness, health, justice, prosperity, and protection. The world cannot give us this peace. This is the peace that Jesus spoke of, that He gives His followers (John 14:27). It is not something that we can find in the world, but only through Him (John 16:33). The peace which God gives us is peace of mind and peace with others (Philippians 4:7).

The name of Jerusalem means “City of Peace”.  Yet Jerusalem has had more wars and battles then just about any other city in history. Throughout its long history it has been besieged at least 23 times. It has been attacked at least 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times.  Jerusalem has been completely destroyed down to the ground at least twice in its history. Jerusalem will never experience true or lasting peace until it accepts the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the true Messiah and Savior.

Do you desire peace in your life, in your heart and mind?  The only way to have true peace in one’s life is by asking Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Savior.  Do not let another moment pass without making this most important decision.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Consequences For Defiance

II Chronicles 36:14-23

Have you ever had to deal with a hard-headed person, whether a spouse, child, co-worker, or someone else?  It can be very exasperating, especially if you know that the path they are taking is only going to lead to trouble.  This was the situation we find in the closing passage of II Chronicles between God and the people of Israel.

Throughout the history of the people of Israel, starting when they left Egypt, and continuing on all the way till the time of this passage, they were continually turning away from the one true God, Yahweh, and going after and worshipping the false gods of the nations around them.  As the years passed it wasn’t just the people who went after these other gods, but the priests and other religious leaders turned their back on God to worship idols, as well (vs. 14). They even went so far as to defile the Temple of God in Jerusalem with their idols.

One aggravating thing about dealing with hard-headed, wilful, and stubborn people is that they don’t listen, no matter how many warnings they are given. God faced this problem with the people of Israel. Year after year, century after century, He sent His prophets and messengers to warn the people that if they continued in this sin of worshipping false gods there would be dire consequences (vs. 15). He warned them because He loved them, and didn’t want them to get hurt. Sin and disobedience brings pain and suffering, and God wished they would listen and spare themselves this.

What was the people’s response to the messengers God sent?  The nation of Israel despised God’s Word, and they mocked the prophets (vs. 16).  They just tossed God’s Word to the side, and laughed and scorned those He sent. God continually warned the people about their sins, and He would restore them over and over again.  They never learned their lesson, and would turn away again and again. The day came when there was no remedy. They had gone too far. Repeated sin brings disaster, and judgment replaces mercy. Judgment is not far away when a people or culture continually mocks God’s Word and His messengers. This holds true today, just as it did back in the days of II Chronicles.

God’s judgment finally fell in severity upon the people, and the country was overrun and the people taken into captivity (vs. 17-21). This was a terrible time, with whole villages burned to the ground, thousands killed by the sword, both men, women, children, and babies.  No one was spared. Those not killed were taken hundreds of miles away into captivity. The Temple of God, which they had allowed to be defiled by false gods, was trampled to the ground.

In Leviticus 25:1-7, God had required that the land would rest every seventh year to restore itself.  Because of greed, the people did not do this, so now God would punish the people by letting the land rest for 70 years while they would be in captivity (vs. 21).  Everything was stripped away from the people because of their repeated sin. Everything, that is, except God. He was still there if they would only return to Him (vs. 22-23).

Let’s look into our own hearts.  Is there rebellion and stubbornness lurking in there?  Are we, whether individually or as a nation, so hard-hearted and wilful that we refuse to listen to God and His messengers when He instructs us in the way to go?  Also, how do we treat God’s messengers and His Word? As with the people of Israel, His mercy will only last so long, and then He will send judgment. He is there, waiting and calling us to return to Him so that He may pour out His love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Cleansing Of The Temple

John 2:13-22

The scene for our Gospel reading from this week’s Lectionary is set in the Temple at Jerusalem right before the feast of Passover.  The Temple area is crowded with multiple hundreds, with thousands of devout pilgrims come to celebrate the great religious festival.  They have come from all across the nation of Israel, and farther away. Many have come from Egypt and the north African coast. They have come from Greece and Asia Minor (Turkey), from the east around Babylon and Persia.  Some have even come from as far away as Rome, the capital of the great Empire. As we read in our passage, Jesus and His disciples are among the crowd that day (vs. 13).

As Jesus approached the Temple right before this special Jewish festival, you might think He would find a spirit of worship, praise, and reverence for God there.  Instead in the outer courts of the Temple, in the Court of Gentiles, He finds hundreds of sheep, oxen, and caged doves. He finds tables set up with money changers (vs. 14).  Because many who came to Jerusalem for the Passover came from a long distance, it would have been difficult for them to bring sacrificial animals with. Merchants set up stalls right in the outer courts of the Temple to sell animals at extremely high cost to take advantage of the people and gain a good profit.  Also at Passover the Temple tax had to be paid. It had to be paid in special Temple coinage. Many pilgrims came from foreign lands. Their money had to be exchanged. They could not use Roman money, which was the coin of the realm. Money changers didn’t make an even exchange, but charged an exorbitant fee, again taking advantage to make huge profits.

As Jesus approached the Temple and saw all of this going on, right in the Temple, God’s house of worship, He was filled with a righteous anger (vs. 15-16).  The people who had come a great distance in order to keep the religious festival were being essentially robbed of their money right in the Temple, under the eyes of the religious authorities, in order to properly worship God.  Jesus drove them all out of the Temple, saying that God’s house is to be a house of worship. He called them a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13).

This was not a tantrum or Jesus losing His temper.  The holiness of God and His worship was at stake. Jesus was not going to stand by and allow that. God’s holiness demands holiness in worship. What Jesus was seeing was a people whose religious worship had become materialistic, making money, and without a thought towards God. Furthermore, all of this was being done in the outer courts of the Temple, called the Court of Gentiles. This was the only place in the Temple area that Gentiles were allowed to come.  In essence, this was hindering any God-fearing Gentile from coming to seek and worship God. They were to be a light to the Gentiles, drawing them to come to God, not to block them from seeking Him.  This had become a mockery of God’s house of worship, and Jesus wouldn’t stand that.

The disciples then remembered a verse from Psalms (Psalm 69:9). Jesus wasn’t going to tolerate irreverence toward God. He had a zeal for His house, and defended His honor (vs. 17).  The people needed proper attitudes and holiness in worship. The disciples were able to remember this Scripture because they had spent time in the Word of God.  We have to have first read the Bible for God to use it in our lives, and have passages pop to mind at critical times.

The Jewish religious authorities wanted a sign, something to indicate Jesus’ authority for what He had just done (vs. 18).  The answer He gave puzzled them, though He was speaking about His future resurrection (vs. 19-22). Later, at Jesus’ trial, they used these words against Him, saying He threatened the Temple.

Many of the people at the Temple, along with the religious authorities who allowed all this to go on, didn’t care that God’s house was to be a place of worship, not a place to make a profit.  We should always make sure that our churches are a welcoming place of worship to everyone who comes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Struggles With Sin

Romans 7:13-25

I want to obey God, and I want to do right, but I keep messing up and sinning. Have you ever felt like that? Paul did, and he writes about that in our New Testament passage today, from his letter to the Romans.  I remember when I first read this passage many years ago, after I was saved, I felt like Paul was talking about me. Let’s look at this passage and what Paul wants to teach us.

After we become saved, our old nature, the flesh nature which is still in us, still seeks to rebel and be independent of God.  Sin contaminates and frustrates our desire to obey God, and we experience a battle between our desire to obey and serve God, and to follow after sin and our old nature.  This battle will continue on until we are safely in heaven.

The inward struggle with sin is a real one.  It was for Paul, and it is for us. Paul wrote that he wanted to obey God, and he hated his sin. He was humble, and knew that there was nothing good in his old flesh nature. Paul’s new, born-again self did not approve of the sin that still resided in his flesh, that came from the flesh.  This was a daily battle for him, and for us. Paul lamented as to how he could find victory. He longed to be delivered as a wounded soldier is pulled off the battlefield by his comrade. He no longer sided with sin, but with God’s Word; however the still-sinful flesh nature wages war against the desire to obey God.

The only way to gain a victory is to die to ourselves and let Christ live through us.  We need to submit to the Holy Spirit, and His wisdom and power. Becoming a Christian doesn’t eliminate sin and temptation in our life.  Never underestimate the power of sin. If we struggle against sin in our own strength we will not succeed. We cannot fight it in our own strength.  The power of Christ is available to us, though, and we should avail ourselves of it. If we are saved, the Holy Spirit lives in us, and gives us power.  We must depend totally on the work of Christ, first for our salvation, and then for victory over sin.

We must also remain very sensitive to sin.  When we first come to the Lord and are saved we are usually quite sensitive to even the slightest sin in our life.  We have a godly fear of offending God. Time in the world, and perhaps godless companions, will harden our once sensitive spirit, and we allow our heart to become calloused.  First we start to excuse the little sins. Slowly, by degrees, we allow more and more sins, thinking that it is nothing, no big deal. We toy with them, cover them up, call them by other, less offensive names then what they really are - sin.  To avoid falling back little by little, we need to take heed, and keep sensitive to sin. Because we tend to see our own sinfulness in direct proportion to how we view God’s holiness, we must also get a Biblical view of just how pure, holy, and righteous God truly is.

Though we do not have the power by ourselves to win over sin and please God, we need to remember that sin and Satan are defeated enemies.  Without Jesus’ help, sin is stronger than we are. However, Jesus conquered sin once and for all, and He will fight by our side.