Monday, December 30, 2019

God Is Mindful Of You

Psalm 8

Many of you will be reading this devotional on the last day of the year, the last day of the decade.  For some, a New Year’s Eve tradition is to be in a gathering outside somewhere for the midnight countdown.  Others might gather with friends at one or another’s home. When it’s time to go back to your own home, it’s late and dark.  Perhaps, if it’s a clear night, you may look up and see a star-filled sky. David had many opportunities throughout his life to sit and look at the stars and planets.  As a youth he spent years outdoors, watching his father’s flocks, including at night. Then there were many years he spent out in the wilderness fleeing from King Saul, again sleeping outdoors.  In our psalm today, we can see that David didn’t just blindly stare off into space without giving it any thought. Nor did he just casually look at the creation around him. Thoughts about creation and God were constantly spinning around in his mind.  Our psalm for today is a short one, but it expresses some of the thoughts that David had as he beheld God’s creation.

Throughout his life, David spent many nights sleeping out under the open sky.  As he looked up, he couldn’t help but notice how vast and huge the night sky and the universe is, and this was before the invention of any type of telescope, or binoculars.  David also knew that God is greater than even all of that. God is so much greater than the whole universe as He created it with His fingers (vs. 3). Perhaps you’ve seen some science shows on TV where they show the planet earth in comparison to our solar system.  It’s quite small! Then they zoom out and show the solar system compared to the Milky Way galaxy. Our solar system is just a speck! Then they zoom out even more, and our galaxy is just one of countless in the whole universe. Even on our own planet earth, each one of us individually is only a little speck.  How much smaller when thinking of the whole universe? Like David, we can truthfully say “What is man, that You are mindful of him?” (vs. 4).

When we see what would look like an unmatched marriage or friendship, we might wonder what the one person sees in the other. That is a bit like what David was thinking.  What does the Almighty God see in sinful man that would draw Him to love us? Looking at the vast expanse of creation, it’s a wonder that God would be concerned for people who constantly disappoint Him.  Yet we were made in God’s image, a little lower than the angels (vs. 5). We bear the stamp of our Creator. He considers us highly valuable, and gave us the responsibility to watch over and care for all creation (vs. 6-8).  He loved us enough to send His only Son, Jesus, to die for us.

Throughout various times in David’s life, he must have been around young children.  Perhaps, since he was the youngest of several children, they were his nieces and nephews, and then later his own children.  He observed that young children are often able to trust and praise God without doubts or reservations (vs. 2). As we get older, we sadly lose that ability.  We allow the cares and worries of our life to dampen our praises to God. Though his own life certainly had many problems and concerns that he dealt with, David tried to make sure that praise and thanksgiving were a top priority, as his many psalms attest to.

David closes Psalm 8 just as he began it, by praising the Name of the Lord (vs. 1, 9).  God’s Name is awesome. It is majestic. God’s name encompasses all of His attributes. Everything about God, His character, actions, thoughts, desires, words, and works are all praiseworthy and perfect. We may be just a speck in all of God’s creation, but He places His love on us, and that, alone, is worthy of giving God praise.  This is something that we all should make a priority in this new year and new decade.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Moses's Request To God

Exodus 33:18 - 34:8

Have you ever wanted to catch a glimpse of someone famous or important, some celebrity?  Many people love trying to get a look at someone famous, often standing for hours along a street or sidewalk if they know the person will be passing that way.  How about if you could see God? There are a few people who claim they have seen God, but I don’t believe that for a minute. In our Scripture passage for this morning we will look at Moses, one person who had as close a relationship with God as anyone who ever lived, and read of when he asked to look at God.

In the Book of Exodus we read how Moses was brought up in the royal courts of Egypt, in Pharaoh's household.  He then fled the country, living as a shepherd in exile for many years. When Moses returned to Egypt he was a strong and fearless believer in Yahweh.   He led the Israelites out of bondage, seeing the hand of Yahweh perform many miracles in the wilderness. Prior to where our passage begins, Moses had received the 10 Commandments and confronted the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf.  God had wanted to smite all of the people for that grievous sin, and raise up a new nation from Moses, but instead Moses interceded for them, and God relented. Now, as he continues to pray and converse with God, Moses asks to see God, to behold Him in His glory (vs. 18).

Moses wanted to see God’s face, to see His glory.  He wanted assurance that God was with him, despite the recent sin of the people in making and worshipping the golden calf.  Because we are finite and morally imperfect, we cannot see God as He is, and live (vs. 20). God was willing with Moses to place him in a crevice of the mountain he was on, and then pass by, putting His hand in front of Moses so he would not look straight on God.  Then when He had passed by, Moses could see the backside of God (vs. 21-23). Moses saw God’s back. To see God’s back was to see where God had passed by. We can only know God by what He does and how He acts. We cannot comprehend God as He really is, apart from Jesus Christ (John 14:9).

As our passage continues, God gave Moses a second set of the 10 Commandments, the first set having been broken when Moses reacted in anger towards the people and their idolatry (vs. 1-4).  God then descended in a cloud of glory, and passed by Moses, as Moses had requested (vs. 5-7). God’s glory is His character, His nature, His way of relating to His creation. God gave Moses a vision of His love, not of His power.  God’s glory is revealed in His mercy, grace, compassion, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice.

Verse 7 can sometimes be confusing and troubling to some, and merits a closer look.  Sinful tendencies are often passed down from generation to generation. A parent who abuses his child will often produce a child who will grow up and abuse his own children. Drunkenness often follows generation after generation. If a child observes her parents shoplifting, she may grow up to do the same. Selfishness and greed can be passed along, as well. The consequences of sin are not limited to the individual family member. We should not treat sin casually. The only true cure for this is to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus, taking Him as one’s Savior.

Though no one has ever actually seen God, many people make their own image of Him, whether it is in a carved idol, or in a painting, or just how we imagine Him to be.  Exaggerations or distorted images of any of God’s attributes is not right. God is not just an angry and demanding judge. Nor is He someone who will turn a blind eye to sin.  He is merciful and gracious, but also just in punishing the guilty. We must avoid portraying God as having only our favorite attributes. We must worship all of God, not just what we personally like to see.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Holy Innocents

Matthew 2:12-18

For churches and denominations that follow the liturgical church calendar, the 28th of December is the day that remembers the Holy Innocents, those young boys living in and around Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, who were put to death by order of King Herod the Great.  Let’s take a look at this tragic event and see what the Lord might teach us through it.

The narrative of the birth of Jesus is familiar to most of us.  Because of the Roman census Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.  Guided by the star which appeared at His birth, some Magi (possibly members of the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism from Persia) come to worship, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-11).  They believed the appearance of the star heralded the birth of someone of great, immense significance, and enroute they stop in Jerusalem to inquire about the birth. Their inquiry triggered murderous jealousy in King Herod, which he managed to hide while conversing with the magi.  Herod sent them on their way, with their promise they would return and tell him where they found the babe.

As our passage picks up, God has warned these magi in a dream to return home via a different route, and not go back to King Herod (vs. 12).  At the same time, God also warned Joseph in another dream to take Mary and baby Jesus, and flee into Egypt for their lives (vs. 13). Fortunately, each of these men obeyed God, as King Herod planned on killing the child which he felt was a rival to his throne.  There were Jewish colonies throughout the Mediterranean world, including some in Egypt, particularly in Alexandria, so Joseph and Mary would probably have gone to live among them.

When King Herod realized that the magi were not returning to give him information about the child they had sought, he was furious.  Herod was a violent and cruel man, frequently flying into murderous rages. He was also insanely paranoid about losing his throne, even executing Mariamne, one of his favorite wives, and two of their sons out of that fear.  Therefore, when he ordered the killing of baby boys two years old and younger in the environs of Bethlehem, it was not out of character for him.

Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem.  These would have been his own personal palace soldiers, not Roman soldiers, as this was not an order given by the Roman governor.  They were instructed to kill every baby boy under the age of two in the small village and surrounding countryside. Historians believe that the number would have been anywhere from a dozen to possibly a few dozen.  Bethlehem was not a big village, so most likely it did not have many boys who were between infant and toddler age. However, many children were killed, and even one would be one too many! Imagine soldiers bursting into your home and snatching your baby boy, running a sword through him!  This was unbelievable madness! The wailing grief that resounded through the streets of Bethlehem was heartbreaking. As Matthew wrote in verses 17-18, a prophecy of Jeremiah came true (Jeremiah 31:15). Rachel was the favorite wife of the patriarch Jacob, and mother of his favorite son, Joseph.  She had died and was buried in Bethlehem. The mothers of Bethlehem could not possibly be comforted when their babies were senselessly slaughtered.

What can we learn from these tragic events?  For one, God does not always intervene in the events that occur, and spare everyone from tragedy.  That does not mean that He doesn’t love us or care what happens.  Terrible things happen all the time around the world, and God does care.  His Son, Jesus, died to pay the price of sin, including such terrible sins as occurred that day in Bethlehem.  Though He may not always intervene, God is always in control, and He always knows what is best.

Another thing that we can learn is to be alert to the Lord speaking to us.  He usually speaks to us today through His Word, the Bible. The Holy Spirit can also speak to us quietly in our hearts.  God spoke to the magi and to Joseph through dreams. They were obedient to Him, were receptive to His guidance, and were able to save the life of the Baby Jesus.

Herod was afraid that Jesus, the newborn Son of God, would take his throne.  Jesus didn’t want Herod’s throne, He wanted to be king of Herod’s life. People today are afraid that Jesus will take things away from their life, when really He wants to give them abundant life.  Will we accept God’s abundant life? Are we listening for His guidance in our life? And do we know that in spite of tragedies that happen, God does care about each and every one of us individually?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Gifts For You From The Lord God

Titus 3:4-7

Christmas is the day when Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Young children can hardly wait to get up on Christmas morning in order to open their presents, and oftentimes adults are eager, too, to see what awaits them under the Christmas tree.  New toys, new clothes, books, and items related to our favorite hobbies are gifts we eagerly open. On Christmas morning God gave us the greatest gift of all, His Son, Jesus Christ. Along with the gift of His Son, there are many other gifts that come with and through Him.  As we take a close look at our Scripture passage today from Paul’s letter to Titus, we can see some of those gifts given to us from the Lord.

Wrapped up in the package of His Son, Jesus Christ, we see the gifts of kindness and love, mercy, cleansing from sin, regeneration and renewing through the Holy Spirit, justification, grace, becoming an heir, and of course, salvation and eternal life.  Let’s take a quick look at these gifts we receive from God.

Paul mentions in verse 4 that we receive kindness and love from God.  Both of these virtues are part of God’s character. Jesus is kindness and love incarnate, appearing in human form.  Everyone wants to have kindness shown to them, and certainly we all yearn to be loved. These are gifts that God bestows upon His children.  Kindness makes God’s goodness accessible to us. It is the patient love of God that is shown when He humbled Himself and came to earth to save us.

Mercy is withholding deserved punishment from someone when it is due.  Because of our many sins, we deserve eternal damnation. However, God showed us mercy when He sent His Son Jesus, to pay the penalty with His Blood for our sins (vs. 5).  There is absolutely nothing we could ever do to earn God’s love and salvation. He offers us salvation because of His mercy and grace which was shown on the cross. Salvation is not achieved by works.  It is a gift from God which we need to accept and receive.

When we accept the gift of salvation from God, given through Jesus Christ, we also receive cleansing from our sins, a thorough washing.  When we accept Jesus as our Savior He thoroughly washes us from our sins (vs 5-6). This isn’t like a quick wipe-down with a damp washcloth.  We are completely washed from the stain of our sins. All of our sins are washed away, not just some of them. We also receive a new life which is generated, empowered, and protected by the Holy Spirit.  God, Himself, indwells us through the Holy Spirit. Regeneration and renewal refers to the new life that we receive as a gift from the Lord when we receive as Savior. We are moved from a life full of sin to one led by the Holy Spirit.  It is His love for us that gave us the gift of a new nature and eternal life.

The gift of salvation is through justification by faith alone (vs. 7).  This is another gift that God has given us, but one that we each need to personally accept before it will be of any good for us.  When a sinner repents and puts their faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, God will declare them just, imputing the righteousness of Jesus to him.  They are given eternal life because of the substitutionary death of Jesus, which paid the penalty of our sins.

At salvation we also receive another gift, which is becoming a child of God, and a joint heir with Jesus (vs. 7).  We are no longer orphans, but a part of God’s own family. We are no longer outcasts. One of the privileges a child has is that they are heirs to what belongs to the family.  We have become joint-heirs with Jesus. We receive all the blessings of heaven as a child of God.

These are all some of the gifts that God has bestowed upon us.  Have you accepted these gifts that the Lord gave us through His Son Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas?  When we accept His gifts and are saved, we are abundantly blessed beyond measure.

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Look At Joseph At Christmas

Matthew 1:18-25

Today is Christmas Eve.  Many of you might have a small nativity set which you have set up sometime during this Christmas season.  My family has one made of china. Some of our Christmas cards may also have a nativity scene on them. As we look at the nativity scene, there is one character that often doesn’t get much thought.  We look lovingly on the Baby Jesus, and then upon His mother, Mary. We think of the shepherds who had the glorious news of the birth of the Savior announced to them by the angels. We look at the magi who came such great distances to bring their gifts to the Baby Jesus, bowing before Him as they worshipped.  Often, though, we don’t give much thought to Joseph. Oh yeah, he’s that guy standing in the background, over there in the shadows. I thought today, we could bring him out of the background, away from the shadows, and take a closer look at his story.

Joseph was from the genealogical line of King David, his family line given in Matthew 1:1-16.  Joseph was a humble carpenter, by no means a wealthy man. As our passage begins, we see that Joseph was betrothed to a young woman named Mary.  A betrothal was basically an engagement to be married. In Biblical times a betrothal was as binding as an actual marriage. Today people break off engagements with no problem, but in the past a legal divorce transaction was necessary to terminate a betrothal.

Joseph was probably looking forward to the coming marriage, when he found out that she was expecting a child!  (vs. 18). As one could imagine, this would have been a big blow to Joseph. He knew the child wasn’t his. Whose child was it?  The explanation that Mary gave was preposterous! An angel came to her! The Holy Spirit came upon her, and the child would be the Son of God!  That was too incredible to believe! Obviously she had been unfaithful to him.

Jews would stone to death a woman found committing adultery, and being unfaithful during the betrothal period was the same as adultery.  Joseph would have had that right. He was a very devout man who loved God and obeyed His Word. He was a man of integrity. What was he going to do?  Haul Mary out to the public square and have her stoned? Bring her to public shame as a promiscuous woman? Joseph was righteous, but he was also merciful.  He did not want to make Mary a public example. He wanted to do what was right, but also try to do it in the right way. The child wasn’t his, the promise seemingly had been broken, but deep down he must have known that Mary wasn’t an immoral woman.  He would end the betrothal, but not have her executed, nor put to public shame (vs. 19).

All of this stunning, unbelievable news, and what to do about it all, must have consumed Joseph’s thoughts day and night, and being a devout man, he must have brought it all to the Lord in prayer.  God responded by sending an angel to him in a dream, telling Joseph that what Mary had told him was the truth (vs. 20-21). The child she was carrying was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he was to go ahead and take Mary as his wife.

Joseph obeyed God, even though this would be at the price of his own reputation, as well.   Betrothal periods were usually about a year long, and weddings always very elaborate, well-planned events.  Theirs would have been a hasty, quiet one, and very soon it would become obvious as to why. People would soon be talking, not only about Mary’s reputation and shame, but his, as well.  Joseph placed God’s plan ahead of his own, even at the cost of his own reputation.

Joseph was told to name this child “Jesus”, which means “the Lord saves” (vs. 25).  Jesus came to save us, because we cannot save ourselves. Jesus was also called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (vs. 23).  Jesus is God in the flesh. He is both God and man. The infinite and unlimited God took on the limitations of humanity so that He could live and die for the salvation of mankind.

Out of the multitudes of eligible men at the time, God chose Joseph to be the foster father of the Lord Jesus, and the husband of Mary, His mother.  He was chosen for a reason, as God felt that he would be the best guardian and role model for Jesus as a child. So let’s move the figure of Joseph out from the shadows of the nativity, and praise God for using this godly man in the life and upbringing of Jesus.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Virgin Birth

Isaiah 7:10-14

One of the fundamental doctrines of faith in Christianity is that of the Virgin Birth.  What is the virgin birth? That is the doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by His mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit without a human father, while she remained a virgin.  In our Scripture for today, the prophet Isaiah spoke God’s prophecy that such an event would surround the birth of the coming Messiah.

At the time of this Scripture passage, Ahaz was the king of Judah, the southern kingdom of the Jewish people.  The northern kingdom of Israel, along with Syria, were threatening Ahaz, and despite Isaiah’s word from God that these enemies would not succeed in conquering, he was fearful.  To encourage King Ahaz’s faith God told him to ask for a sign. Ahaz, with insincere humility, said he would not ask for a sign (vs. 10-12). Isaiah, after hearing Ahaz’s refusal to ask a sign, spoke to the whole faithless house of David.  God was weary with them (vs. 13). God then chose His own sign for the Jewish people (vs. 14). It is here that we have the prophecy of the virgin birth.

As stated earlier, the virgin birth is a fundamental doctrine in the Christian faith.  Some people may wonder why it would be important to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that He had no earthly, human father.  The purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was to be the sacrificial Lamb of God. Just as lambs that were brought to the Temple to be sacrificed in the Old Testament had to be without any flaws, so the Lamb of God had to be absolutely perfect in order to atone for our sins.  Every descendant of Adam, which includes everyone ever born, carries with them the taint of original sin, passed down from Adam after the fall. Original sin is passed down from father to child. Because Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not through any natural act (Luke 1:26-38), He does not have the same sin nature as everyone else.  Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He does not carry the taint of original sin. That is why Jesus was able to take all of our sins and atone for them on the cross.

Some people also argue that the word “virgin” in verse 14 does not mean a virgin as we would think of one today.  They argue that the Hebrew word in the text “almah” could just as easily be translated as a “young maiden”. The word “almah” occurs seven times in the Old Testament.  In every instance the term implies a young girl of child-bearing age, who is a virgin. The event that Isaiah described was said to be a “sign”, so it had to be something quite extraordinary.  There is nothing extraordinary about a young maiden conceiving and bearing a child.  That would not be a sign. In Biblical times until just a few hundred years ago, women were eligible to be married as soon as they were able to bear children.  So a young girl bearing a child was a common, everyday occurrence. That would not be a special sign from God, as that happens hundreds, thousands of times every day.

When Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in the mid-3rd century BC, (known as the Septuagint translation), they translated the Hebrew word “almah” into the Greek word “parthenos”, which would only, ever mean a virgin, a woman who has never had any sexual relations with a man.  These were Jewish scholars who translated the Septuagint several hundred years before Jesus was born, so they had no bias either way, yet they used the word “parthenos”.

We can also believe that Mary was a virgin when she conceived the Lord Jesus by the reaction of her betrothed, Joseph.  We can know that the child was not his, that they hadn’t gotten together before their wedding, because when Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant, he was going to end the betrothal.  He knew the child wasn’t his. Neither did Mary ever protest that she had been forcibly assaulted by a Roman soldier or anyone else. Some groups have put forth both explanations, but they don’t stand up.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior, in just a few days, let us celebrate the divine sign that God gave to all of mankind, when the Virgin conceived, and bore a son, who is Immanuel, “God with us”.  God Himself came to dwell among us and save us from our sins.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Moments Of Doubt

Matthew 11:2-11

As we finish the 3rd week of Advent, our Gospel reading from the Lectionary takes us again to the life of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, the one who was to prepare the way for His coming.  Most of us are familiar with John’s ministry of baptism and fiery preaching of repentance. Today’s passage takes us to another chapter in John the Baptist’s life, shortly before his death.

As our passage opens John had been put in prison by King Herod Antipas.  This King Herod was one of several sons of King Herod the Great, the monarch who had met the Magi and ordered the killing of the baby boys in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Herod Antipas ruled the areas of Galilee and Perea, the area on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Herod had divorced his wife Phasaelis and then took Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, to be his own wife.  John the Baptist had spoken out and preached against this sin, angering both Herod and his new wife, and causing the king to arrest and imprison him. That is where we find John the Baptist as our passage today begins.

John the Baptist had spent his whole life following and serving the Lord, and the last several years in the ministry of preaching and baptising people who had come to the Lord in repentance.  Now he was sitting in a prison, possibly a dark, damp place, probably chained to the wall. John was human, and he was becoming depressed and discouraged. He knew that he could be executed at any moment, even without any sort of a trial.  He started to have doubts. John had felt the Holy Spirit lead him to point to Jesus as the promised Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, and since John had faithfully followed God all his life, how could this have happened to him? He wondered if he had been mistaken, and Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.  John sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus with a message asking just that (vs. 2-3).

In response, Jesus told the two messengers from John to look around and report back to him what they had seen Jesus doing and what they had heard him preaching (vs. 4-6).  The miracles they were seeing performed, and the Gospel message they heard, would be their answer to John’s doubts.

Jesus did not chastise John for having his doubts.  Instead, Jesus holds John up as a great man of God, one of the greatest prophets of the Lord (vs. 7-10).  John the Baptist truly fulfilled his God-given purpose. He had actually participated in the fulfillment of what the earlier prophets had prophesied.  However, believers today have a greater spiritual heritage, because we can know Jesus and His finished work on the cross (vs. 11). Believers today, because of the cross, can know what John the Baptist only foresaw in shadowy form.

Many of us have gone through some really rough and difficult circumstances in our life, and some might have doubts because of this.  Some may doubt whether God loves them, whether He forgives them, whether they truly are saved or not. Just like John the Baptist may have felt, if God really loved me, why would all these terrible things happen?  John did not have the benefits of any of the New Testament Scriptures, nor did the Holy Spirit permanently indwell him, as that did not happen for any believer until after the Day of Pentecost. We, though, do have the complete canon of Scripture, and the permanently indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

When circumstances in our lives cause us to have any doubts, we need to look to the Scriptures for answers.  John did the best that he could, by sending to Jesus to answer his questions. We should look to God’s Word, and come to Him in prayer for answers, reassurance, and the comfort and consolation of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t turn away from Jesus, turn to Him.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


James 5:7-10

Being impatient is a fault that many people have.  Children show impatience frequently at this time of year, as they await Christmas morning.  Adults are impatient, too, as they wait for news from work or from the doctor’s office. Many things we wait for just can’t be hurried along.  One has to wait nine months for the baby to arrive. It’s definitely not healthy to deliberately hurry that along! Cutting short the baking time of cakes can mean a failure.  In our short Scripture passage today from the Book of James, we read words that also encourage us to practice patience.

James, in his encouraging letter to fellow Christians, also speaks about being patient.  Many of the people he was writing to were going through various degrees of persecution, both from their families and other people they knew before they became Christians, and from people in their community, whether neighbors or municipal officials.  They were growing impatient for Jesus to return. Persecution at any level can be discouraging, and our longing for the return of Jesus to deliver us from this grows. James encourages us to be patient, and he gives us the example of the farmer, and the patience he must show (vs. 7).  A farmer will start planting his seeds in the spring, and hopefully within a few weeks little seedlings will start appearing. Then it takes time for the plants to grow before they are ready to be harvested. This is not something that can be rushed. Pulling up a plant before it is ready is useless, and only kills the plant.

In like manner we are to be patient and trust God through every trial we go through.  Being patient, especially waiting for the Lord’s return, means staying the course, and enduring.  Be patient and bear the offense and injuries of others, while staying away from rage. As we realize the glory that awaits us when Jesus returns, we should be motivated to patiently endure mistreatment by others.  Once we realize that every situation on earth is just temporary, it changes our attitude. We can then persevere through any difficulty. We can have patience towards others while practicing the fruits of the Spirit in our life.

Growing a crop takes time.  The farmer cannot hurry the process on.  In the meantime, after he has planted the seed, he doesn’t sit idle.  He waters the crop, and keeps weeds and insects out. He keeps his equipment in order, and plans for next year.  In like manner we wait for Jesus to return. We cannot hurry that day, but we shouldn’t sit idle either. There is work to be done for God’s kingdom right now.

We may feel like we are going to collapse under the weight of our trials and burdens, and especially if we are facing any persecution.  James encourages us to shore up our hearts with the hope of Jesus’ return (vs. 8). His return is imminent, it could happen at any time.  In verse 9 James compares Jesus to a judge standing at the door of a courtroom, ready at any moment to enter and convene court, so don’t grumble.

As our passage closes, James wants us to remember believers from the past who endured suffering while showing patience (vs. 10).  There are several examples of people who were persecuted in the Bible, yet showing great patience. Moses was persecuted by many of his own people, the Israelites.  Elijah was persecuted by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Jeremiah was persecuted by the king, political leaders, and the apostate priests. Daniel and his companions by the Babylonian political leaders.  And both Paul and Stephen from the Jewish religious leaders.

Just like the believers of the past, we learn more from times of adversity than in times of ease.  During hard times God can show us His power and love. He can teach us if we are willing and compliant.  Whatever God’s reason for taking us through a trial, He never means it for our harm. It is to benefit us so that we can become everything God wishes us to be, and so we can receive His abundant blessings.

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Solid And Unshakeable Rock

Psalm 144

Our psalm today is one that was written by King David.  The Lord has blessed each of us with some talent or ability to use for His glory.  David had many abilities. One gift he had was writing poetry and songs, and he used that to glorify God, writing at least 73 psalms, and possibly more.  He also could play some musical instruments, including the lyre, a type of small, hand-held harp. David didn’t use his ability to write bawdy songs to be sung at the local tavern or to earn himself fame.  He wanted to use his talents, which he knew came from God, to be a gift to give back to Him, and bring Him glory (vs. 9).

Another ability that David had was that of a great military strategist.  Before he was king, David and his companions spent many years fleeing from the hand of King Saul.  During this time he learned how to lead an army, and the military tactics which go with that. When he came to the throne, David led the armies of Israel against the enemies of God and His people (vs. 1).  Again, this was an ability that David used to glorify God, not himself.

This psalm of David’s is similar to Psalm 18, and like that one, was probably written under similar circumstances.  David wanted to praise God for delivering him from his enemies, possibly his predecessor King Saul, or an enemy king when he later came to the throne, or perhaps even his son Absalom, when that young man staged a coup against his father.

When great problems surrounded David, he discovered that God was all he needed, and that He would provide deliverance (vs. 2).  David’s poetic talent showed itself throughout this psalm, especially as he described God. God showed David loving kindness. He described God as a fortress and a high tower for him, a place of safety where he could go and retreat from the attacks and problems in his life.  David knew that his deliverance wasn’t going to come from someone else, or even himself. He knew that God was his deliverer. David knew that God would protect him from all harm, like a shield, and that he could turn to Him for refuge. Further in the psalm David described God as a heavenly warrior, who came to fight on behalf of him and His enemies (vs. 5-8).

Both during the years that David led men in fleeing King Saul, and then as king of Israel and leading the armies, he would have seen much death.  He knew that life was brief and very precarious. Even if a war wasn’t occurring, David knew that life was fleeting. He described it like a shadow, there one moment and gone the next (vs. 3-4).  The Apostle James said something similar, describing life as like a vapor, there and then vanished (James 4:14). We need to live for God while we have the time. David knew this. God is eternal.  Man is short-lived. Don’t waste time on things that have no purpose or lasting value. Only God can make our life meaningful and worthwhile.

What is our foundation?  What are we standing on? David’s foundation was God, who he found was solid and unshakeable, just like a rock (vs. 1).  When we trust in God for deliverance throughout our life, His blessings will fall upon our families and our livelihood, and bring us peace (vs. 12-15).  This Scripture passage tells us to rejoice in God’s care. Whether we are going through times of prosperity or times of trouble and adversity, we are blessed if we have put our faith and trust in God, becoming His children through salvation and faith in the shed Blood of Jesus.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Desert In Bloom

Isaiah 35:1-10

Deserts and the wilderness aren’t known for being places with much color or a wide variety of plants.  Driving through the desert you’ll see cactus, some scraggly bushes, and tumbleweeds, brown or a dusty green.  However, once in a while, after a good rain at just the right time, the desert blooms into a profusion of color.  The cactus and other plants blossom with bright and beautiful flowers. A place that seems lacking much life is now alive and brimming with color and song.  In our Scripture passage today from the prophet Isaiah, beginning the third week of Advent, Isaiah speaks of a day when the desert will come to life, and God’s blessings will come down upon His people.

The people of Israel were well familiar with deserts and wilderness, as just to the south and to the east of the Jordan River were many miles of barren wilderness.  And the farmers there, and everywhere around the world know that if the rains don’t come for a season or two, the once abundant fields will dry up and become barren.  Many prophets and spiritual leaders often spoke of how God frequently used drought as a punishment for His people when they sinned and when they turned to other false pagan gods in worship.  They also spoke of drought as an analogy of the spiritual condition of those who have strayed away from God and His Word.

Isaiah and many other prophets spoke of God’s coming judgment upon the nation of Israel, when they would go into captivity as punishment for their sins and idolatry.  The people would feel as dry, lifeless, and forsaken as a desert in the wilderness. And yet here in chapter 35, Isaiah prophesies of a coming day when the desert will blossom and bloom with life like a garden (vs. 1-2).  How our poor, ravaged earth would love to see this happen! When Jesus the Messiah returns on earth the whole world will become a flourishing garden. Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon, places Isaiah mentioned, were areas by the Mediterranean Sea that were very fertile.

The return of Jesus on earth, and the change it will usher in, will also bring much encouragement to the discouraged (vs. 3-4).  Isaiah is comforting us with a great truth in this passage. Christ has come for all. He is alive here and now for us. Jesus will bring us home to be with Him forever.  He has made a way, a path to the Father. God will save His people.

Jesus brought not only physical healing to the blind and deaf, which we frequently saw throughout the Gospels, but also spiritually opening of eyes and ears to the truth and salvation of God (vs. 5).   He brings a physical and spiritual restoration of all the afflicted ones who turn to Him (vs. 6). Gladness will replace all sadness (vs. 10). There will be a restoration brought to this earth, as well.  Isaiah shows this by describing water bursting forth in the desert. Fresh and clean water is a precious commodity, but at that time it will no longer be scarce.

There are roads or highways that go through desert and wilderness areas.  If one has to travel through the desert one had best stay on those roads, as it would be very easy to get lost, and that could prove to be dangerous.  Also, it is important to be sure that one is on the correct road to get where one needs to, especially in vast open wilderness areas, such as we have in the American Southwest.  In a wilderness it is easy to get lost. Isaiah speaks of a highway that will go through the wilderness called the Highway of Holiness (vs. 8-9). This highway is the way believers take.  It is found only by following God. Only the redeemed will travel God’s Highway. It is a way God has prepared for His people to travel to His home. He will walk with us, and no harm shall come to the redeemed.  The Highway of Holiness is the way leading the redeemed back to the throne of the Messiah when He reigns on earth.

This passage is a beautiful picture of the final kingdom in which God will establish His justice, and destroy all evil.  Life will be peaceful, and everything will be made right. When our life seems as dry as the desert floor, remember that God has not forgotten us.  Isaiah spoke God’s promise of the coming of Jesus, who is our Source of life. He gives living water to everyone who trusts in Him (John 7:37-39). When we turn to God, He will bring life to our desert.

Friday, December 13, 2019

John The Baptist

Matthew 3:1-12

Our Gospel reading for this week is from Matthew, and introduces us to John the Baptist, a man who dressed oddly, ate a diet that most would not care to touch, and preached a bold and fiery message that attracted some, but angered many.  Let’s take a moment to study his message, and see what our response will be.

John the Baptist was the son of Zachariah, a Jewish priest, and his wife Elizabeth, who was a cousin of the Virgin Mary, thus making John a second cousin to the Lord Jesus.  Growing up the son of a priest who served in the Temple, John’s family would have been fairly comfortable financially. Sometime in his adult years he was compelled by the Holy Spirit to leave that behind and go out deep into the Judean wilderness, east of the Jordan River, to pray and commune with God.  Sometime around 26-27 AD, shortly before the start of Jesus’ ministry, John reappeared near the Jordan River, telling all who would listen that they needed to repent, that God’s Kingdom was at hand (vs. 1-2).

Unlike many preachers, both back in Biblical times and especially today, John the Baptist wasn’t interested in the praise of the people, only in pleasing God.  He lived a life separated from the material world, and he practiced what he preached. Many people from all around Judea and Galilee flocked to hear him preach by the Jordan River, about 20 miles east of Jerusalem.  He told it like it was, both to religious leaders, politicians, and the common people (vs. 7-12). John criticized the Pharisees for being legalistic and hypocritical, following the letter of the Jewish Law, but ignoring it’s true intent.  He criticized the Sadducees for using religion to advance their political position. He called all, rich and poor, religious and nonreligious to repentance, to turn to God, and change their lives.

Repentance means to make a 180 degree turn from going your own way to going God’s way.  A person who has repented will stop rebelling and begin following God’s way of living as laid out in the Bible.  One must admit their sin and turn to God. God doesn’t expect us to clean up our lives before we come to Him. Only He can get rid of sin.  Genuine repentance will bring both a change in attitude and a change in behavior. Just feeling sorry for some wrong action is not real repentance.  There must be a change (vs. 8). John preached that faith is more than words or ritual. One must change their behavior. God looks beyond our words and religious activities.  Does our conduct back up what we say? Good works are the inevitable fruit of genuine repentance.

One thing that some of the religious people of his day said was that they did not need to repent from any sins, as they were “children of Abraham”, descendants of their holy father Abraham.  They felt that because of that they were exempt from any need for repentance. John preached that merely being a physical descendant of Abraham did not make one spiritually secure (vs. 9). Abraham’s real descendants are those who have repented and come to faith in Jesus.  Believers lives should produce a crop of good deeds. One who is a Christian in name only has no value to God.  People who claim they believe in God, but don’t live for Him, are like unproductive trees that will be cut down (vs. 10).  To be productive we must obey God’s Word, the Bible, resist temptation, serve and help others, and share our faith.

John preached of the coming Messiah, and how He would separate the wheat from the chaff (vs. 12).  In Bible times men would toss the grain into the air with a winnowing fan. This would separate the wheat and good grain from the chaff, the useless outer shell.  One day, God will do the same with people. Unrepentant people will be judged and discarded. Those who have repented and believe will be saved.

Matthew, our Gospel writer, quoted Isaiah 40:3, in reference to John the Baptist and his ministry.  John prepared the way for Jesus and His ministry of salvation. Today there are many people who need to be prepared to meet Jesus, as well.  We need to show them they need His forgiveness. Our lives need to show His teachings. We need to “make straight paths for Him” by correcting misconceptions about Jesus that have hindered their coming to Him.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Certain Hope

Romans 15:4-13

Often, especially at this time of year, we hear someone say that they “hope” they get this or that as a gift.  Or someone might say that they “hope” that they pass a test they weren’t too confident about. A high school girl may tell her friend that she “hopes” the cute guy in class asks her to the school dance, or the high school guy that he “hopes” he’s picked for first string on his sports team.  In these examples, we see the most common secular usage of “hope”, which is wishful thinking. There is no real confidence or certainty that one will get what one hopes for, one just wishes that they get a gift they want, that date, or that desired spot on the team. The word “hope” in the Bible, though, is different, as we shall see in our passage today from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Throughout his epistles, Paul used the word “hope”.  Just in this brief passage the word “hope” is used four times.  Paul says that the Scriptures will give us hope (vs. 4), that the Gentiles can have hope in the Messiah (vs. 12), that God is a God of hope, and the Holy Spirit will give us hope (vs. 13).  This hope that Christians have is not just some wishful thinking, hoping we get something, but knowing there is a possibility, a chance that it won’t happen. The inspired Word of God doesn’t use the word “hope” like most people today use it.  The Greek word that Paul used is “elpis”, which means “to anticipate” and a “joyful and confident expectation”. Paul knew that he could trust, emphatically, what God had said and promised.  There was no wishful thinking. If God said it, then Paul knew he could count and depend upon it coming to pass.

In verse 4 of our passage, Paul said that Scriptures, the Bible, will give us hope, along with giving us patience or perseverance in trials, and comfort.  Everything written in the Bible was written for that purpose. Everything we need to know regarding salvation, everything for how to live a godly life, and how to live victorious in the midst of trials, can be found in the Bible.  No other self-help book, or religious literature is necessary. Whatever we need, we can go to God in prayer, and He will teach us through His Word, the Bible. The more we know about what God has done in the past, the greater the confidence we have about what He will do in the future for us.  Studying the Bible will increase our trust in Him for our lives. God has given us very clear and certain promises. We read them in His Word. They give us hope, which the world cannot give us. The Bible is our anchor in the time of storm.

As Paul continues in our passage, he urges the believers in Rome to have unity between themselves (vs. 5-6).  One source of disunity and contention among believers in the early church was between Jewish believers and Gentile believers.  Many Jewish believers felt that the Gentiles needed to follow the whole Old Testament Law in order to be saved, with circumcision being a particularly contentious issue.  Some even felt that Gentiles could not be saved.

Paul used several Old Testament passages here to show that this was not the case, that God wanted the Gentiles to come to faith in Him.  The quote in verse 9 came from Psalm 18:49, and II Samuel 22:50.  Verse 10 from Deuteronomy 32:43. Verse 11 from Psalm 117:1, and verse 12 from Isaiah 11:10.  Paul quoted from the Law (Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah), and also from Psalms, all Jewish recognized divisions of the Old Testament Scriptures, proving God’s plan from His Word to them.  It was always God’s plan to bring both Jew and Gentile into His Kingdom.

As our Scripture passage concludes, Paul emphasizes that our God is a God of hope (vs. 13).  As we put our faith and trust in Him, He will give us joy and peace. How we respond to disappointments in life determine if we live in victory or despair.  God is a God of hope.  We can throw off despair and be filled with joy and peace.  Christian hope is not a vague wish. It is a sure confidence that we will receive what God has promised us.  Because God keeps His promises, we can live with joyful hope.  When we have faith in Him, nothing is hopeless.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Universal Reign Of Jesus The Messiah

Psalm 72

Our psalm selection this second week of Advent brings us to Psalm 72.  The psalm is attributed to King Solomon, the son of King David, and was written to be a prayer for the king’s son and his reign.  Solomon may have written this in anticipation for his son’s reign (King Rehoboam), or more likely, at the start of his own reign as the son of the great King David (vs. 1).  Solomon prayed for wisdom for himself as he began his reign (I Kings 3:4-14). He knew that if he was going to rule the people with righteousness and justice, he would need wisdom from the Lord.

Today we see the need for our leaders, whether in the political realm, business world, families, or wherever, to have wisdom from God.  As Solomon knew, they cannot effectively lead and govern without guidance and help from the Lord. This should not be a one-time prayer, either.  Solomon did seek the Lord’s help at the beginning of his reign, but as time went on he tended to follow his own carnal desires and wishes, and not the ways of God.  Solomon married many pagan women, who turned his heart away from God. This caused irreparable consequences for the nation. The Scriptures never record Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, seeking the Lord’s wisdom and guidance for his own reign.  He even rejects the wisdom of his elders. As a result the kingdom was split into two and Rehoboam was left only ruling the southern kingdom.

The psalm then quickly moves into describing the reign of the Messiah, the Son of God.  From verse 2 through to the end of the psalm, this is clearly seen as a messianic psalm, as it describes the reign of the Lord Jesus upon earth, and in several instances the description never fits any of the kings of Israel or Judah.  The psalm breaks down into five descriptions of the reign of Jesus, the Messiah. Verses 1-4 describe His reign with justice. Verses 5-11 His universal reign. Verses 12-14 describe His compassionate reign. Verses 15-17 describes His prosperous reign.  And in verses 18-20 Jesus’ glorious reign.

As we read throughout the prophets, the time of the Messianic reign of Jesus here on earth will be one of peace and harmony between people and all of creation.  When Jesus will rule with justice, mercy and care, the earth will radiate well-being (vs. 3-7). This is not something we see from earthly rulers, either in the past or today.  God cares deeply about the needy, the afflicted, and the weak (vs. 12-14). Many of the kings of Judah and Israel had no compassion on the poor, for which God spoke out against through His prophets.  Unfortunately we don’t see that too often from our rulers today, either. They make all of the promises during campaigns, but once in office it is quickly forgotten. This will not be the case during the millennial reign of Jesus.  Believers should follow the lead of Jesus, as well as our leaders, and be diligent in caring for the poor and needy.

Throughout history people have called out “Long live the king!” to their sovereigns.  Even in some eastern cultures the people would sometimes say to their king “Oh king, live forever!”  These were just sayings given in respect to the monarch. Though they may wish the king or queen to live many years, everyone knew that one day they would die, and someone else would come to the throne.  This is not the case with the Lord Jesus, however. The reign of Jesus will be forever (vs. 5, 7, 17).

During the reign of King Solomon the territory of Israel reached its greatest expanse.  However, it was certainly not world-wide, even with respect to the known world at that time.  Verse 11 shows that this is another point showing that this psalm prophesied the reign of the Messiah.  Solomon spoke that kings from the farthest nations he had contact with would come in worship of the Messiah-King (vs. 10).  Tarshish refers to the Iberian peninsula of modern Spain and Portugal. Sheba and Seba refer to the countries of the southern Arabian peninsula around modern Yemen and Oman, along with the countries of the Horn of Africa, around modern Ethiopia and Somalia.  Jesus will rule over all nations, and His reign will be one of righteousness and truth (vs. 11). One day every knee of rulers and citizens alike, will bow to the Lord Jesus Christ, confessing Him as Messiah and king over all (Philippians 2:10-11).

When we look at our earthly leaders, they should strive to follow the pattern set by Jesus, the pattern that Solomon prayed for himself and his son, to rule and govern with righteousness and justice.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Root Of Jesse

Isaiah 11:1-10

Like many people, I love animals.  We live about a five minute drive from a big zoo in the Chicago suburbs, and often go there.  My favorite animals to see are the bears and large cats, like tigers and lions. I would love to hug them, but I’m definitely not fool enough to climb over the fence to try it!  However, there will come a day when you and I will be able to do just that, as our Scripture passage today from Isaiah foretells.

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry began in the 8th century BC, and he died sometime during the 7th century BC.  This was prior to the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Isaiah knew, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that God was going to punish the nation of Judah, that the kingdom would end, and the royal line of David would be removed.  When this would happen the people would be distraught. There would no longer be a descendant of David sitting on the throne. It was like the giant family tree of David had been chopped down. Isaiah, though, brings a message of hope and good news.

In verse one we read of a rod coming forth from the stem of Jesse.  The word translated “stem” comes from the Hebrew word “geza”, which comes from the word meaning a cut down tree, a stump.  When we come across a tree stump, we usually think that’s the end for the tree. However, Isaiah says that a rod would come forth from this stump.  The word “rod” is translated from the Hebrew word “choter” which means a branch, twig, or rod. Isaiah prophesied that, though the people thought that the family tree of David (whose father was Jesse) was chopped down to a stump, God would bring forth a branch out of that stump.  This was a prophecy of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was from the bloodline of King David.

When the Messiah, Jesus, would come, He would have the Spirit of God upon Him, with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and knowledge (vs. 2).  These spiritual qualities, which Jesus has in full measure, enable Him to rule justly and effectively, unlike any earthly king (vs. 3-5). The way He sees and views the world, His perception of things, is holy, just, and true.

Isaiah proceeds with his prophecy, bringing a description and picture of a world that we do not see today (vs. 6-9).   His description shows a beautiful picture of peace that Jesus will bring when He returns. This peace will be all-encompassing.  It will be between men, between animals, and between men and animals. In our world today we do not see wolves and lambs peacefully coexisting, nor leopards and goats, cattle and lions.  Wild cats and wolves are higher up on the food chain, and prey upon animals such as sheep and goats. No caring mother would let her little child play near the nest of a venomous snake, as that could mean the death of her little one.  Yet in the world that the prophet Isaiah shows, the world that the Messiah will usher in when He returns to reign, we see wild animals dwelling together peacefully. Wolves, leopards, and lions living side by side with lambs, goats, and cattle.  Little children playing peacefully with cobras and vipers, and leading formerly dangerous animals like they would a pet.

One day this will be the type of world those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior will see.  One day God’s Word, the Bible, will encompass the whole world, just as thoroughly as the waters cover the sea (vs. 9).  In some places today, it is difficult to get a copy of the Bible, and one has to read it in secret if they are fortunate enough to get a copy.  In other places where the Bible is easily obtained, people just ignore it. That will not be the case when the Lord Jesus reigns. Jesus, the Messiah, the Root who came from the tree of Jesse, came not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles (vs. 10).  God’s love and salvation has always been for everyone.

Friday, December 6, 2019

As In The Days Of Noah

Matthew 24:37-44

Have you ever been the victim of a burglary, where someone broke into your home and stole from you?  Afterwards you might have felt that if only you had stayed home that evening it wouldn’t have happened.  Or if you weren’t such a sound sleeper, you might have woken up and the criminal might have run off. If only you had known ahead of time!  If only we were more alert, many things in our life might not have happened as they did. In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord gives us a warning to be alert, for our eternal future depends upon it.

Jesus has been talking to His disciples about the Last Days, what to be looking out for, and the need to be watchful and vigilant.  Jesus compares the Last Days to the days right before Noah entered the ark (vs. 37-39). Jesus speaks of Noah as an actual, historical person who lived, and the Flood as an actual event that occurred, not as a myth, legend, or fairy tale.  In the days of Noah, the people were living with no regard for God. They were drinking, partying. They were involved in any and every type of sin. Lawlessness was rampant.  Worship of false gods was probably prevalent, as well. They laughed at Noah and his family as they saw the ark being built, or else they just completely ignored him and his warnings.  They ignored the warnings! Then the Flood came and they all perished.

Not only were the people in Noah’s day wicked, as that was why God sent the Flood to begin with, but Jesus pointed out that they were overly preoccupied with the everyday matters of life - eating, drinking, etc.  There was no concern with God or spiritual matters at all. Then judgment fell, swiftly and suddenly. They had received warning by Noah’s preaching (II Peter 2:5). The ark itself was a testimony. They were unconcerned, and thus were judged.

The rich and poor, the learned and illiterate, religious and profane, old and young - they all came to the same fate.  Many had probably ridiculed Noah and his family. Now where were their words? God provided only one way of escape from the Flood - the ark.  He has provided only one way to escape the coming judgment.  It is only through His Son, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).

Jesus continues on, warning His followers to be aware, alert, and looking for His return (vs. 42-44).  Jesus will return at an hour we do not expect, despite some people spending hours making formulas and calculations to figure out the date.  No one will know the date or time before it happens. It will come unexpectedly. God acts in His timing, not ours. We need to always be prepared, and walking in the center of His will at all times.

As mentioned at the start of this study, no one knows when the thief comes.  If they did, they would stay at home or would stay awake, be ready with police to arrest the burglar (vs. 43).  Likewise, no one knows when Jesus will return. It will be swift and sudden.

We need to be alert and ready when Jesus returns, actively alert, actively looking. Not to the extent that we neglect our responsibilities and the work God has given us to accomplish here.  However, neither forgetting that Jesus might come at any moment and catch us unprepared. Don’t be too complacent, forgetting to look for His return! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Romans 13:8-14

One hears a lot about love in this world.  Most songs in the last 60-70 years have been about love in some way.  Hundreds of books and movies have a love theme. There is even a whole holiday dedicated to love.  God speaks a lot about love in the Scriptures, as well. God is love (I John 4:8; I John 4:16), so it is no wonder that it is very important to Him.  As we look into our passage today from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we will study how God wants us to treat each other and show love one for another, and see that it is not just a word in a song or a genre of books or movies.

Many people do their best to get out and stay out of debt, making sure all bills are paid on time.  As Paul begins our Scripture passage, he tells us that there is one debt that we always owe, and that is to love one another (vs. 8).   If we show honest, true love, caring, and concern for one another, there would be little, if any, breaking of the commandments (vs. 9). Paul repeats God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).  Just about everyone will do what they can to be sure they are well-fed, have decent clothes, and a reasonable home. They avoid being cheated or injured. This is the kind of love we need to show our neighbors. Do we see that they are fed, clothed, and housed?  Loving others as ourselves means to be actively working to see that their needs are met.

God is love, and all of His laws reflect His character.  To genuinely love others will lead us to fulfill the law (vs. 10).  If we truly love our neighbor, we will only do what is in their best interest.

Paul continues on in his letter to give instructions on how we, as Christians and believers, should be living.  Were you ever in class and a classmate, or maybe yourself, were dozing off? Then the teacher shouts out, “Wake up!”  Paul tells his readers here that it’s time to wake up! Pay attention! (vs. 11) A Christian who is asleep is in spiritual apathy.  They are unresponsive to the things of God. “Salvation” here is not referring to our justification, when we were saved. Here it refers to the final feature of our redemption and glorification, when Jesus returns, which draws closer with each passing day.  When Jesus returns, He wants to find His children awake and clean, both on the inside and on the outside (vs. 12-14).

As our passage continues, Paul contrasts night and darkness with day and light (vs. 12).  Night is equated with man’s depravity and Satan’s dominion. The day is equated with when Jesus returns and reigns.  Believers should be living lives that have cast off the things of darkness and evil, and putting on the armor of light, repenting and forsaking our sin.  We should be living a life pleasing to God. Show by our outward behavior the inner reality of a redeemed life. To do that we don’t live the type of lifestyle of those who are still in the kingdom of darkness (vs. 13).

Paul concludes our passage by using a metaphor or figure of speech, the act of changing clothes, taking old clothes off and putting on new clothes.  Few people would willingly go out , especially to an important meeting, in dirty, filthy, torn-up old clothes. Instead they would look for something nice, clean, and well-pressed, putting that on instead.  Paul tells us to take off the old lifestyle of sin, and put on the new life in Jesus Christ (vs. 14). Putting on Jesus is a phrase meaning the continual spiritual process where those who have been saved by faith are transformed into Jesus’ image and likeness.

When we put on Jesus, we are to pursue God’s will in our lives, which leaves us no room for the sinful habits that once held us in bondage.  Are we truly committed, wholeheartedly to the Lord, or are we still preoccupied with our sins? We cannot have both, because they are absolutely incompatible with each other.  We should avoid all places and temptations which will draw us away from the Lord.

How do we clothe ourselves with Jesus?  We publicly identify with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  We show in our lives the qualities He showed while here on earth - love, humility, truth, service.  In every situation that we are in, we should ask “What would Jesus do?”, and then do it.