Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Perfect Sacrifice

 Hebrews 10:1-23

If you try something and you do not get the results that you desired, what do you do?  You might try again a couple more times, but if you still fail to get your desired results, you will stop and try something else, especially if that way is guaranteed to work.  We also usually like to choose the superior product over any lesser competitive products.  Go with the best, the proven product, the one that works, not with something else.  This goes for not only our material world, but also with our spiritual life, as well, as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote in our Scripture passage today.  Let’s look into God’s Word.

As our passage opens, the writer describes the sacrifices for sin that were made throughout the Old Testament.  Animals, usually lambs, goats, and sometimes cattle, were brought to the priests on a regular basis to be sacrificed for sin.  Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people of the nation to make atonement for their sins.  However, these Old Testament sacrifices could not remove any sins (vs. 1-4).  These sacrifices had to be repeated and repeated, as individuals would continually sin.  Also, the High Priest would offer sacrifices each and every year on the Day of Atonement.  The constant repetition was a continual reminder of the deficiency of these sacrifices to truly remove sin.  Animal sacrifices cannot take away sin (vs. 11).  They only provided a temporary way to deal with people’s sins until Jesus came.

If animal sacrifices cannot remove sin, what can people do?  What can we do, as we all have sins, and need help?  Where can we turn?  It is only through Jesus Christ that we can find permanent, powerful sin-destroying forgiveness for our sins.  Christ’s offering of His life was a once-for-all sacrifice for our sins (vs. 10).  His one-time death was sufficient to atone for our sins, and is superior to all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament Levitical system.  With Jesus’ death sin was removed, and God remembers our sins no more.

The Old Testament priests had to continually repeat their animal sacrifices as these sacrifices couldn’t remove sin.  Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all.  His sacrifice effectively cleansed us from the stain of sin, so it didn't have to be repeated over and over.  On the one hand is the ineffective, inferior way, the animal sacrifice.  On the other hand is the sacrifice of Jesus, His Blood, which is effective to forgive sins.  One works, the other doesn’t.  After accepting for ourselves the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, nothing else is needed to make us acceptable to God.  We become completely right with Him.  The way to please God is not by keeping laws, but by coming to Him through Jesus Christ in faith to be forgiven, and then following Him in loving obedience.

Through the Old Testament sacrificial system, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies behind the veil with the animal blood, and only once a year.  Individuals could not approach God directly.  However, because of the High Priestly ministry of Jesus, and His finished sacrifice, believers can enter boldly into the presence of God (vs. 19).  We can come into God’s presence with confidence if we draw near through the Blood of Jesus.  His death removed the curtain that divided the Most Holy Place.  Now all believers may walk into God’s presence at any time.

As our passage concludes, we are reminded that Jesus Christ is our great High Priest (vs. 21-22).  Not only did He make atonement for our sins with His own Blood, He is also in the presence of God right now, standing up in defense for us (Romans 8:34).  In the presence of God, in defiance of Satan, Jesus Christ rises to our defense.  He is our great High Priest and our Advocate.  As the closing verse assures us, we can trust Jesus, because the One who made these promises is faithful.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Under The Shadow Of God's Wing

 Psalm 36

As we enter Holy Week this week and all that this signifies, our psalm selection this week contrasts the wickedness of man and God’s holiness, love, and faithfulness.  Man’s wickedness was surely evident during the final week of Christ’s life on earth, and God’s love and mercy to us was equally evident.  In this psalm, Psalm 36, we have the comforting assurance of God’s love.  Regardless of the circumstances of life, God’s love is a beacon of hope.  It is our ever-present, inexhaustible source of strength and confidence.

As our psalm begins, David describes some of the characteristics of a wicked person, one who has not given their life over to Yahweh, who does not follow His ways or live for Him (vs. 1-4).  Nothing stops the wicked from sinning.  They just forge ahead because they have no fear of God.  The fear of God is a deeply reverential respect and awe for Him.  Those who show a fear of God, a respect and reverence for Him, will seek to obey His Word, and to live for Him.   The wicked today do not show any respect for God.  They are proud and conceited in their own abilities and desires.  As long as someone is proud, he cannot know God.  The wicked have a skewed view of God and of themselves.  The righteous fear God and recognize their dependence upon Him, whereas the wicked do not.  The wicked look to themselves as the most important reality in the universe.  They flatter and deceive themselves.  They fail to act wisely or to do good.  Not only do they spend their days following the paths of sin, but at night, as they lie upon their bed, they plan more wickedness, plotting and scheming against others.

As we continue on in the psalm, we read of David’s testimony that God’s lovingkindness is limitless.  His mercy remains eternally.  They are sharply contrasted with the sinful hearts of man.  Because of these loving and merciful attributes of His, God delays His judgment of the wicked to give them a chance to repent.  In spite of our sinfulness, God pours out His love on those who know Him.

God is our fountain (vs. 9).  When the world leaves us dry, we are refreshed when we go to Him.  He is living water, and the fountain of life (John 7:37-38).  God offers the only true life there is.  When we walk in His light, by His Word and the Holy Spirit, we can enjoy life to the fullest.

In his psalm. David compares God’s loving care of us with that of a mother bird, who gathers her chicks around her, protecting them from harm while under her wing (vs. 7).  When the shadow of a hawk passes over, a mother hen will call her chicks to her, covering them under her wing.  They will stay there until the danger has passed.  God wants us to come to Him for safety and protection, for Him to shelter us in His protecting care.

At one point during the week before His crucifixion, Jesus stood on a hill outside Jerusalem, looking down on the city.  He knew what lay before Him later that week.  He knew that the people of the city would reject Him one final time as they would shout out to Pontius Pilate to have Him crucified.  Jesus cries over Jerusalem and her people, saying that He wishes He could gather the people of the city in His arms, just as a hen gathers her chicks to her with love and protection, but the people have refused Him (Matthew 23:37).

How about us?  Will we come to Jesus for His loving care and kindness, for His mercy and protection?  Or will we be like those people of Jerusalem on that Good Friday, who rejected their Messiah and Savior?  The safest place for us is in the protection of the arms of God.  He wants to gather us like a hen with her chicks, but unfortunately so many are not willing.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Love Beyond Degree

 Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12

There have been many works of art done that show the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  In many of these depictions, though, the true horror of what Jesus went through has been sanitized.  In many we might only see a small trickle of blood on His forehead, just a slight trickle coming from His hands and feet.  However, what the Lord Jesus went through during the crucifixion, along with the scourging and mistreatment at the hands of the soldiers, was brutal.  In our passage from the Prophet Isaiah, we will see just a bit of what Jesus went through for us.

In this passage of Scripture, we are given incontrovertible proof that God wrote the Bible and that Jesus is the fulfillment of this Messianic prophecy.  The details are so precise that there is no way Jesus could have fulfilled them by accident or by coincidence, nor by some trickery and cunning.

The Prophet Isaiah begins this passage with three verses that show the humiliation and also the exaltation of Jesus (vs. 52:13-15).  As Isaiah described here, Jesus underwent such inhumane cruelty, to the point that He no longer looked like a human (vs. 14).  His appearance was so awful that people were astonished.  Through His crucifixion, Jesus performed the priestly work of cleansing the world of sin (vs. 15).  The rulers of this world will be speechless and in awe when they behold the once-despised Savior who is now exalted.

As Isaiah testified here, both Israel and the world at large have not believed Jesus and God’s Word (vs. 1).  This was true in the prophet’s day, at the time of Jesus, and is definitely true today.  Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would come from a humble human background.  This was true of Jesus, as He was born to a working class family, as His foster father, Joseph was a carpenter.  He did not come from an exalted background or royal family, as many of the Jews thought the Messiah would come from.  Nor was Jesus’ appearance distinguished or remarkable (vs. 2).

Jesus was hated and rejected by mankind (vs. 3). He suffered physical abuse, and also internal grief over the lack of response from those He came to save.  As Isaiah testifies, Jesus bore the consequences of the sins of men (vs. 4).  The Jews who watched Him die thought that He was being punished by God for His own sins, not realizing that it wasn’t His sins He was dying for, as He had none, but was for their sins and those of all mankind. Jesus was a “Man of Sorrows”, not just in the hours of crucifixion, or an hour or two earlier during the scourging, as horrific as those two events were.  He agonized in horror and grief the night before, during His time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-34).  All throughout His ministry, Jesus grieved over the unbelief of those He came to save.

Jesus did not suffer for His own sins, as He was sinless.  He was our substitute, and suffered the wrath of God in place of us (vs. 5).  He suffered the chastisement of God in order to gain our peace with God.  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our salvation and for our healing, both spiritual healing, also our physical and emotional healing as well.  Jesus’ death purchased the ransom for our life.  Those who believe have been set free from Satan’s control.  We have been delivered from the evil one’s power.  We need to get that truth into our minds.

God laid our sins on Jesus, and treated Him as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person, though He was perfectly innocent (vs. 6).  God did that so that His wrath against sin and His justice would be satisfied.  He could then give to the account of sinners who believe the righteousness of Jesus, treating them as if they were righteous, like Jesus is.

Throughout all of this torture and ignominious death Jesus uttered no protest, and was utterly submissive to those who oppressed Him (vs. 7).  He was the sacrificial lamb.  The Jewish religious leaders intended Jesus to have a disgraceful death, like a common criminal (vs. 9).  But instead, Jesus was given an honorable burial by the wealthy disciple Joseph of Arimathea.

How could the Son of God die for those who treated Him so badly, who despised and rejected Him?  Jesus did not deserve to die, but it was God’s will in order to procure salvation to anyone who believes.  His sacrifice satisfied God, and thus brings justification to all who believe.  That is amazing, divine love.  Love beyond degree.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Fruitful Seed

 John 12:20-33

Now that spring is upon us, many people are thinking about their gardens, and getting ready to plant their flowers or vegetables soon.  They will head off to the local garden center, and purchase the seeds they need.  Have you ever taken a good look at seeds?  They are lifeless little kernels.  You can set them on a shelf and they won’t do anything except lie there for weeks, years, even centuries if left alone.  But once you bury them in the soil they will grow into a beautiful flower or plant.  Something that is “dead”, when buried, brings forth life.  This is the spiritual truth that Jesus speaks about in our Gospel reading for today.

As Jesus was teaching His twelve apostles, and the other disciples and people who followed Him, He knew that the time of His death upon the cross was nearing.  No one would look forward to a tortuous death, and Jesus was no exception (vs. 27).  Yet He knew that this was why He came to earth, to pay the price for our sins, and bring salvation to mankind.  Just like a seed, some things must die in order to be productive (vs. 24).  Jesus knew His death would bring salvation to the world.  Unless a kernel or grain of wheat is put in the ground and “dies”, it cannot produce more wheat.  Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for our sins, and to show His power over death.  His resurrection brings eternal life.

When we become a Christian our sinful nature dies (Romans 6:6).  However, some sinful aspects of our character have not willingly gone to their graves.  If they are allowed to remain alive, they will stifle the fruits of the Spirit.  We need to allow Jesus to put those sinful aspects of our character to death.  Those times of brokenness hurt.  But it is during this time that Jesus does His greatest work in us.  A seed left alone on a shelf does nothing.  But when it is planted, and its protective layer stripped away, it grows into the plant it should become.  Jesus didn’t just talk about this example, He lived it.  We aren’t abandoned during this time while God is working on us.  We are going into a season of growth.

If our desire is to remain isolated, protected, and comfortable, we’ll never bear fruit for God.  It is in dying to self and being broken that we become fruitful and useful to God (vs. 24-26).  As followers of Jesus, we may have to lose our life in service and witness for Him.  The more we grow as Christians, our love and devotion to Jesus will grow, too.  Compared to that, everything else will look like hate (vs. 25).  If all we care about is this life, we will lose out on eternal life.

Though Jesus was fully God, He was also fully man.  The human nature of Jesus dreaded the coming agony and torture of the crucifixion (vs. 27).  His contemplation of taking the wrath of God for the sins of the world caused a natural revulsion, horror, and anxiety in Him, as we see during His time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-44).  His human nature wanted to be delivered from that horrible death.  However, Jesus also knew that the Father sent Him to earth to die for our sins.  Jesus said no to His human desires in order to obey His Father, and to glorify Him (vs. 28).  Jesus’ death ended the power of sin and Satan over mankind, and opened the door of salvation for people from every age and nation (vs. 31-32).  Jesus’ death was for “all people”, and salvation is open to “all people” (vs. 32), both Jews and Gentiles without distinction.  However, not everyone will be saved because not everyone responds and comes to Him.

God the Father responded to Jesus’ desire to glorify Him, and spoke His Voice from heaven (vs. 28-29).  Some people hearing the Voice said it was just thunder.  For many people Satan is so busy whispering in their ears, the Voice of God is drowned out.  Some can hear the Voice of God, while others hear only noise.  What are we hearing?  What are we listening to?  We need to tune out Satan and be listening to what God says.

When Jesus was lifted up upon the Cross, that opened salvation to all who accept Him.  We need to be lifting up His Cross as a witness to all we meet, so that people will also come to know Him.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

 Hebrews 5:1-10

When going through a rough or difficult time, it’s nice to know someone else who has gone through the same thing.  They know how you feel, having been through it themselves.  Someone who hasn’t been through a similar problem may say words of sympathy, but sometimes those words ring hollow, as they have no comprehension of your problems.  If Junior got an excellent paying job at Daddy’s company right out of school, he can’t begin to understand the struggle of unemployment, job interviews, financial struggles, etc.  The happily married woman can’t understand the heartbreak of a wife married to an abusive, cheating spouse.  To truly understand, one must have walked the same or very similar path.  In our Scripture passage today, the author of Hebrews  shows us how Jesus, our Great High Priest, can relate to the suffering that we go through, as He went through great suffering Himself.

As the 5th chapter in Hebrews opens, the author describes the Old Testament high priests, and the qualifications they needed to meet (vs. 1-4).  These high priests were to offer sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people.  They were to have compassion on those who sinned in ignorance, since they, too, were ordinary men.  And lastly, these men were called, or appointed high priests by God.  No one could just apply for the position of high priest, just deciding that was the job they wanted.  They had to be of the lineage of Aaron, and were appointed this position by God.

Jesus, our Great High Priest, met all of these qualifications.  He was appointed by God (vs. 5-6).  Immediately following His baptism, God spoke out from heaven that Jesus was His Son (Matthew 3:16-17).  God also proclaimed Him an eternal priest for His people (Psalm 110:4).  Jesus also had compassion on the people (Matthew 9:36).  All throughout the Gospels we read of how Jesus had compassion upon the people He ministered to.  Jesus also became the perfect sacrifice and offering for the sins of the people when He died upon the cross for us.

Jesus knew what it was like to go through a horrendously agonizing time (vs. 7).  He was in agony as He faced His upcoming torture and death while in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-44).  Jesus prayed to God to be delivered from what He would go through, as it was only natural that He would not want to endure such torture.  However, Jesus also wanted to do God’s will.  His obedience to God at all cost is our example to sustain and encourage us in difficult times.

In the dark valley that Jesus went through He was heard by God because of His reverential, godly fear (vs. 7).  Jesus was heard in His deepest trial, and so shall we be heard, as well.  Though God heard His prayer, Jesus was still obedient to God’s will, and it was not His will that some other way to procure our salvation be found, other than the shedding of His Blood upon the Cross.  Being obedient is not difficult when it is not costly.  But when it requires sacrifice, that is different.  Jesus gave up His glory in heaven to become a man (Philippians 2:5-8), and endured the pain and affliction of a human.  He sacrificed and suffered everything for us.

Jesus learned obedience to confirm His humanity and experience its suffering to the fullest (vs. 8). He made the will of God the Father His own.  Jesus chose to obey, even though that led to suffering and death.  It was necessary so that He could fulfill all righteousness, and thus be the perfect sacrifice to take the place of sinners.

Jesus was made perfect through suffering.  Therefore we who are sinful, must not wonder when we are called to pass through suffering, too.  Jesus shared our human experience completely.  He is now able to offer eternal salvation to those who obey Him (vs. 9).  Because Jesus went through suffering, He can have sympathy and compassion on us.  Because He obeyed perfectly, He can help us to obey God’s will.

Monday, March 22, 2021

God Is For Us

 Psalm 56

Sometimes in life we find ourselves in a situation where everyone has turned against us, and we are left all alone to fight the battle ourselves.  We find many who oppose us, whether at work, in a family situation, legal situation, or any other problem.  What makes it even worse is when all of the people we thought were our friends have disappeared or turned their backs on us.  How painful it is to realize that everyone is against us.  This is where we find David in our study today.  Our psalm for this week was written when David found himself in a dangerous situation where everyone around him had turned against him, and there was no one he could turn to for help.

The background of Psalm 56 is a time when David had to flee from the attacks of King Saul against him, and he sought refuge with King Achish of Gath, a Philistine city (I Samuel 21:10-15).  If you remember, several years earlier David had fought against the Philistines, including the battle when he killed their prized, champion warrior, Goliath.  King Achish welcomed David, allowing him to stay with him when he needed a safe place away from Saul to stay.  It is puzzling to think that Achish would let David live with him, but perhaps he thought that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  However, the men in King Achish’s court remembered all that David had done to the Philistines, and they spoke ill of him.  He soon found himself surrounded by those who sought to harm or kill him.  Yet if he returned to Israel, he was in danger at the hands of King Saul.  He couldn’t even turn to his own blood family, as they had never been very supportive of him. It was in these circumstances that David wrote this psalm.  David had to use his own ingenuity by pretending to be mentally ill and insane to safely escape.  As we see in this psalm, David learned he could replace deep fear with the peace of trusting in God.

As the Bible records, David was a skilled soldier and warrior, a tough young man, but he was honest with himself, and knew there were times when he was afraid.  How many times are we afraid?  Like David, we need to make a conscious decision to trust in God when fear comes (vs. 3).  We need to say, as he did, “I will trust in You.”   When problems arise we can either be fearful and wonder why this is happening, or we can trust that in the midst of this trouble God is doing something that, in the end, is for our best, even if it hurts.  With each worry, pray about them, and then ask God to replace each one with His confident peace (Isaiah 26:3-4).  We need to cling to Jesus, as He is our hope.

David came to realize that he really didn’t need to fear other people who were his enemies (vs. 3-4, 10-11).  They were only people, what could they ultimately do?  People can inflict pain, suffering, and even death, but no one can rob us of our souls and our eternal life.  We need to fear and trust in God, our Savior, who controls both this life and the next (Matthew 10:28).  If I trust God to take care of my eternal life, how can I possibly not trust Him to take care of all the smaller things in my life, too?  I can trust God today and always.

David was a tough and strong man, but he readily admitted there were times, either out of fear or sorrow, when he cried.  We all have.  In the middle of this psalm in Scripture we find a verse that I find very comforting and precious, and that is that God keeps a record of every tear that we have every shed (vs. 8).  When we feel alone and cry, God is with us, and He catches each tear, putting them in His bottle.  Sometimes I have felt that it would take an Olympic sized swimming pool to hold all of my tears.  Our tears are the diamonds of heaven.  God catches them as they flow.  When our fears prevent words, our tears are well-understood by God.

As we close this psalm we need to realize, just as David did, that God is for us, for those who have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ (vs. 9).   Through all of our struggles He is with us, by our side each step of the way.  The fact that we have made it safely to this day is only because God is for us.  When all seems dark, one truth still shines bright - when God is for us, those against us will never succeed (Romans 8:31-39).

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The New Covenant

 Jeremiah 31:31-34

None of us likes it when someone breaks a promise that they have made to us.  It is especially distressing when it is a solemn promise or a legal agreement that is broken.  In these cases we might even feel the need to go to court, seeking a legal remedy.  If we, as humans, dislike a broken promise or oath, we can imagine how God feels about it when we break a promise or vow to Him.  In our brief Old Testament Scripture for this week from the Prophet Jeremiah, we will read about how God, after His people’s constant failure to keep their covenant with Him, the sworn contract or agreement they had, He will make a new covenant with them.

When God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, when through the power of His mighty arm He brought them redemption from a life of bondage and servitude, He made a covenant with them.  This covenant was written upon stone tablets and then placed inside the Ark of Covenant, within the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle.  The Lord God never violated the covenant. However, the people continually, repeatedly broke their promise and vow to keep it, and frequently showed no sign of repentance.  Through the mouths of His prophets, God warned of coming judgment if the people refused to keep God’s Word.  In the midst of all of His warnings, though, God gave us a message of hope, a promise of a New Covenant that He would make with His people.

God promised a New Covenant, where those who know Him would participate in the blessings of salvation.  This New Covenant supersedes the old, and is open to everyone, not just to the Jewish people.  The Old Covenant was given following God’s redemption of the people from slavery in Egypt.  The New Covenant followed God’s redemption of believers from sin.  The New Covenant that God made with all of those who put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus cannot be broken like the Old Covenant was (Hebrews 8:7-8).  This covenant was mediated by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection (Hebrews 9:12-15; Hebrews 10:10-18).

The Old Covenant was engraved upon stone and put in the Most Holy Place.  The New Covenant God makes with believers is engraved upon their hearts.  Christians become like a living temple where the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within them and His Law is written on their hearts.  In Jeremiah 17:1 we read that the people of Judah’s sins were engraved upon their hearts.  They so habitually disobey God.  When we turn our lives over to Him, the power of the Holy Spirit gives us the desire to obey Him.

The foundation of the New Covenant God makes with us is the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:6).  Through this covenant we are offered a unique, personal relationship with God Himself.  With this New Covenant we can come boldly into God’s presence (Hebrews 4:14-16), not needing an earthly, human priest, but through Jesus, our Great High Priest.  Jesus’ Blood ratified this covenant, and made that privilege possible.

As the Prophet Jeremiah closes our passage today, he reminds the people that when we come to God in repentance, He will forgive us our sins (vs. 34).  When God forgives us our sins, He no longer remembers them.  They are cast into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).  They are separated as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).  As we all learned in school, those two directions never meet up together.  When we go south, eventually we come to a point where we start going north.  However there is never a point heading west where eventually we start heading east.  They never meet, and that is how far God separates our sins from us when we come to Him for forgiveness.  When God forgives, He remembers wrongs no more.  He refuses to use past wrongs to continue to punish us if we have come to Him for forgiveness through His Son Jesus, and His shed Blood.  When God forgives, it is forever.

Friday, March 19, 2021

God Multiplies What We Give

 John 6:4-15

“What can I do?  I’m only one person.”  Have you ever thought that when you and others were faced with some sort of a problem or need?  You felt that you, a small and very insignificant person, couldn’t make any difference at all.  This is a situation that was faced in our Gospel reading today, in this past week’s Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer.  Let’s take a look and see what the Lord Jesus can teach us.

As was frequently the case, large crowds of people had gathered to listen to the teachings of Jesus, and also bringing their sick to be healed.  After having been with Him for many hours of the day, Jesus knew that they would be hungry.  Jesus cares about all of our needs.  He knew that it was important to be physically fed, in addition to being spiritually fed.  Spiritual nourishment is most important, of course, but taking care of our physical body through proper nourishment is very important, too.  Jesus did not want to send the crowds away hungry.

As we read in the opening verses of our passage, we see that Jesus asked an odd question to Philip, one of His twelve apostles (vs. 5-6).  Jesus asked him where they could get food to feed the multitude.  This wasn’t just a classroom sized group, or even a mid-sized church congregation size.  As the Gospel record states, there were about 5,000 men in the group (vs. 10).  With women and children, the number was undoubtedly much more.  Thus, they would have needed a lot of food to feed them.

Philip answered Jesus with his doubts (vs. 7).  To buy lunch for multiple thousands of people would cost an extraordinary amount of money.  He looked at the huge group and saw the impossible, not realizing he was in the presence of One who can, and does, do the impossible.  We can limit what God can do in and through us by assuming what is and is not possible.  God sometimes sets a seemingly impossible task before us to test us and see whether we react in fear or faith.  Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see and do, to what He is able to accomplish.  God can do the miraculous.  Trust Him to provide the resources.

As we continue reading, the Apostle Andrew brought a young boy up to Jesus with his lunch box (vs. 8-9).  The boy might have been sitting up front and heard the disciples discussing the dilemma of lack of food among themselves.  Perhaps he came up to Andrew, tapped him and offered the lunch his mother had packed him to the apostle, telling him to give what he had to Jesus.  Andrew was skeptical, as we see with his comment, yet he had that mustard seed size faith, or else he would have told the boy to just keep his lunch and eat it himself.  Andrew felt that just perhaps Jesus could do something, so he brought the boy and his lunch to Him.

Do we feel that there is nothing we can do, nothing that we can offer, that will make any difference, so we just shrug our shoulders and give up?  Look at that impossible situation - over 5,000 hungry people.  What can I do?  Nothing.  So nothing gets done.  The boy gave what little he had, and it made all the difference.  If we offer nothing to God, He will have nothing to use.  God can take what little we have and turn it into something great.

When Andrew brought the young boy with his lunch box containing a couple of fish and some bread to Jesus, I’m thinking He smiled at the boy who had a big heart to give and a big faith to match.  Jesus then had the disciples divide the people into groups, blessed the food, and then gave it to them to pass out to the people (vs. 10-13).  God used that one lunch, given in faith, to feed the multitude.  God takes what we offer, whether money, time, or resources, and multiplies it beyond our expectations.

Do we view our life’s struggles with limited viewpoint, as Philip did?  Or do we view them based on what is possible when our Heavenly Father gets involved?  Remember, God tells us to cast all of our care upon Him because He cares for us (I Peter 5:7).  When things look impossible, let’s not wring our hands, fretting and saying “What am I going to do?”  Instead, look to the Lord and say “Lord, what are You going to do?”, and then wait for Him to move.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

God's Gift For You

 Ephesians 2:4-10

It’s your birthday, or perhaps an anniversary of some sort, and several people have given you some very nice gifts.  So what do you do?  Will you pull out your wallet and ask them how much you owe them for these nice presents they have given you?  No!  Of course not!  I have never paid anyone for a gift they gave me for my birthday, or any other occasion, and I’m sure you haven’t, either.  Neither do we ask the person who gave the gift how many hours of work do they want us to do, perhaps cleaning up their house, or working in their garden.  A gift is just that, a gift, freely given by one person to the other.  No strings attached.  In our Scripture reading today from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we read of a gift that God has given to us, and as it is a gift, we do not need to work for it.

Paul begins this passage teaching us that before we are saved we are dead in our spirit to God (vs. 4-5).  We were eternally separated from Him because of our sin nature.  We are guilty before the Lord God, deserving of eternal death.  We cannot change this by our own works.  The only thing that can change this condition is a new life and a new spirit, which God gives us when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.  The penalty of sin and its power over us were destroyed by Christ on the Cross.  Through faith in Him, we can now stand acquitted, not guilty, before God.

Before we accept Jesus as Savior, we are spiritually dead in our sins, as dead as anyone lying in a coffin.  The dead cannot rescue themselves.  We cannot earn our salvation.  However, because of the love that Jesus has for us, He brings to life what was dead.  God loved us when we were dead in our sins (Romans 5:8-10).  He paid the penalty for our sins, and raised us with Christ.  It is Jesus’ Blood that paid the penalty, not anything that we can do, as we are spiritually dead.

Salvation is a gift.  We don’t pay for a gift, or work for it.  If we did, it would be an earned salary, what we are owed.  However, it is a gift, freely given to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.  It is given to us freely, not in exchange for anything we do (vs. 8-9).  It comes from the love and the grace of God alone, not because of our merit, but because of His goodness.  He always operates on the basis of His grace rather than our works.  God knows who and what we are.  He offers only one way to be saved for all eternity, and that is by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.  There is no other way.

We can’t earn our salvation, which is based on God’s mercy, grace, and love.  However, it does matter to God what we do.  As Paul says later in this Epistle, we are to walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8-10).  Our behavior can grieve the Lord (Ephesians 4:30), and if we love God, it should matter to us, as well.  Just because we are saved by grace, and not by our works, doesn’t give us a license to sin.

As Paul continues on in verse 10, we learn that we are saved, and then are able to do good works for the Lord.  There can be no good works prior to conversion that would merit salvation.  Good works follow, they do not precede salvation.  Out of love to God for His gift, we serve Him in love and gratitude.

God’s handiwork, His workmanship in creating us and saving us, should then result in us doing good works, showing our restored relationship with Him, for His glory.  We aren’t saved by good works as we are so clearly taught in this Scripture passage, but those good works should, after our salvation, flow forth from us, bringing others to the Lord Jesus.  If we do the good works that God has prepared for us to do, with godly motives and for God’s glory, He has then promised to reward us.

Have you been saved by God’s grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son?  Or are you still trying to earn your way to heaven by your good works and religious rituals?  God’s Word has told us that we cannot earn our salvation.  Only the Blood of Jesus, shed upon the Cross, can pay the debt of our sin.  No amount of good works and religious rituals can pay that debt.   God’s gift of salvation was paid by Jesus’ Blood, and given freely to us, if only we accept and claim it.  Call upon Jesus today! 

Monday, March 15, 2021

A Heart For Worship

 Psalm 122

When Sunday morning comes around, what is our attitude about coming to church to worship?  Is our heart joyful and eager, or do we seek some excuse to not go?  How is our heart when we are invited to go with others and attend worship services?  Our psalm for this week speaks of those who are anxious and who desire to get together with other like-minded believers to go and worship the Lord God.  What about us?  As we read through this psalm and see the message the Lord has for us, let’s check how our heart is.

As our psalm opens, King David, the author of our psalm, had been invited by others to go with them to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord (vs. 1).  What was his reaction?  He had a heart to worship (vs. 1-2).  He didn’t make any excuses, didn’t say he was too busy, that he wanted to relax on his day off, that it was too far, too inconvenient.  No, David shares with us that he was glad.  Going to God’s house to worship Him can be either a chore that we avoid or are reluctant to do, or it can be something we are glad to do.  We are apt to avoid it if we have unconfessed sin, or if our love for God has cooled.  But if we are close to God and enjoy His presence, we will want to be there to worship and praise Him.

Why should a believer go to church?  We’ve all heard it said that we can worship the Lord anywhere, and that is true.  We can worship Him while out in nature, while on our job, and in our homes.  And there are some valid reasons why some cannot get together with other believers when they gather together at church.  Some people are ill or are shut-ins, or they are caring for these folks.  Some people’s jobs require working on Sundays, such as those who work in a hospital, or the police or fire personnel.  Or maybe there is not a good church nearby to attend.  But otherwise, why is church important?  We should obey God and His command to keep the Sabbath.  Christians from the days of the Apostles have kept the Lord’s Day of His resurrection as our Sabbath.  It is a good practice to have, as the Lord Jesus made it a priority in His life.  He went to His place of worship “as His custom was” (Luke 4:16).  It is important to have the fellowship, support, and encouragement that other believers can give us.  By ourselves it is easy to fall away, get discouraged and depressed.  As the Bible says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

King David had a heart for praising God (vs. 3 - 5).  It is always good to have a special time and place to meet with God.  He desired to be with others of like mind to give thanks and praise to the Lord for all that He had done for himself, personally, and for what He had done for the nation.

Our psalmist, King David, also had a heart for prayer (vs. 6 - 9).  One thing that he felt was important to pray for was his capital city of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, which means “city of peace”, has been fought over throughout history more than any other city in the world.  This prayer will not be truly answered until Jesus, the Prince of Peace, comes to rule there permanently. King David wasn’t praying for himself, but for the peace of Jerusalem, the City of God, the place where God had designated that the Temple was to be built.  Jerusalem was greatly loved by David because God revealed Himself there.

This peace is more than just an absence of conflict.  It also implies completeness, health, justice, prosperity, and protection.  The world cannot bring this type of peace.  It is found only through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He, alone, can give us this peace (John 14:27), and He, alone, embodies the characteristics of peace.

We, too, can pray for peace in Jerusalem, pray that the city would embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, as Savior.  We can pray that prayer for peace for cities and countries wherever we are, all around the world, that people would be at peace, and that they would accept Jesus’ peace in their souls, as well.

When the Lord God calls us to worship Him, let us answer that call, and be glad to join with others.  Let us have a heart to worship the Lord, to have a heart to praise, and a heart to pray.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Heed God's Warnings

 II Chronicles 36:14-23

How many times does someone give another a warning, before the punishment comes?  Sometimes the punishment comes right away.  The first time the person crosses the line, the punishment comes.  Often a person is given a second warning, though.  Parents usually give a child a second warning before they lower the boom.  Sometimes a lenient boss will, too.  Usually by the third violation the punishment comes.  We often use the baseball metaphor “three strikes and you’re out”.  In our Scripture passage for today from the Old Testament book of II Chronicles we read of God warning, and warning, and warning His people again and again, countless times, and yet they didn’t listen.  Let’s see what the Lord can teach us from His Word.

After Yahweh had brought His people out from captivity in Egypt, He gave them His Law.  This was not to make their lives burdensome, but to help them live good and wholesome lives, keeping them from sins that would hurt them.  He warned them not to follow the ways of the pagan nations around them, nor to worship their false gods.  However, as soon as they entered the land which Yahweh gave them, that’s the first thing they did.  The people of Israel and Judah, throughout the Old Testament, repeatedly broke God’s Law.  They worshipped false gods and set up their idols.  They mistreated the poor and were extremely immoral (vs. 14).

Like a parent does with their disobedient child, Yahweh sent warning after warning to His people through His prophets.  Year after year God’s messengers came with His Word, calling out their sins and imploring them to return to God’s ways (vs. 15-16).  However, the people refused to listen or heed the prophet’s warnings.  Instead they mocked them, and did not want to hear God’s Word.  They did not believe a word these preachers said.  They did not believe that God would judge them.  The people felt that since they were God’s people, He would not bring any punishment upon them, and they cast aside any negative message.

One law that God had set was that every seventh year the land was to have a Sabbath rest, where no planting would be done.  (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7).  This would renew the soil.  God promised to provide for them during the off year.  The people ignored this law, not trusting that God would care for them, and also wanting all that they could get from the land.  As God warned the people through His prophets, He punished them for all of their transgression, and set their captivity for 70 years (vs. 21).  This way the land could have all the rest it had missed.  The number of years of captivity corresponding to the amount of Sabbath year rests that had been missed would suggest that the Sabbath year of rest had not been observed since the days of the priest Eli, who had raised the prophet Samuel as a child.  He was priest from 1107 - 1067 BC, almost 500 years prior to this date.

God had warned His people what would happen when they disobeyed Him (Leviticus 26:27-45).  They took no notice, and did not care.  Many didn’t even believe God would bring judgment.  God does keep all of His promises, not only His promises of blessing, but also His promises of judgment.  Too many people today do not want to hear anything about any judgment from God, and preachers will generally only preach what they feel are positive, feel-good messages, nothing harsh or judgmental.

When we continue to sin, over and over again, and never repent, God’s judgment will replace His mercy.  Sin, often repeated, but never repented of, invites disaster.  When a society or people despises God’s Word and mocks and scoffs at his messengers, judgment will fall.

The solution is to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance, calling upon Him for forgiveness and salvation.  Then we need to read and study His Word, the Bible, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, obey the Word He has given us.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Jesus Cleanses The Temple

 John 2:13-22

When you picture in your mind scenes of the Lord Jesus Christ, what typically comes to your mind?  Often I picture an old painting I know of where Jesus is cradling a lamb in His arms.  We might picture Him gently touching a sick person, bringing them healing, or where He is feeding the multitudes.  Perhaps we think of Jesus at the Last Supper, or where He is pouring out His lifeblood upon the Cross.  In each case, His gentleness and/or love is evident.  How about when Jesus came to the Temple, made a whip of cords, and cast out the money changers and those who sold the sacrificial animals?  This might seem to be contrary to the meek, mild, gentle and loving personality we most associate with Jesus.  But an angry Jesus?  Let’s take a look at our Gospel reading today and see what we can learn about the holy and righteous anger that Jesus had.

The setting for this Scripture is in the Jewish Temple in the city of Jerusalem, with the holy days of the Passover about to occur.  Devout Jews would come from all over the world for the Passover feast.  Because of the great distance many of them would be traveling, they were unable to bring their own lamb, and would need to buy one at the Temple.  Also they would need to change their foreign currency to that of currency accepted at the Temple.  Because of this, many unscrupulous people set up businesses right in the Temple to change money and sell animals for sacrifice and the Passover.  The money changers and sellers of the animals took advantage of these travelers by charging exorbitant fees.  A lot of price gouging was occurring, charging high prices to these travelers who had no other choice but to do business with them.

The Temple had become a free-for-all rather than a house of prayer.  These sellers were defiling the Temple area by selling animals in a space where people were supposed to be able to pray.  All of these business booths were set up in the Court of Gentiles within the Temple, which was where non-Jews could come to worship the one, true God.  However, this made it almost impossible for them to worship.  These dishonest and dishonorable vendors were more concerned with making money, and they had contempt for Gentiles, anyway.  Worship was to be the purpose of the Temple.  These people were making a mockery of this holy place.

When the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, saw this happening, He became angry with a holy and righteous anger.  When the holiness of God and His worship was at stake, Jesus took fast and furious action.  He made a whip and drove them out of the Temple, overturning their tables and booths.  Jesus was not acting out of control, as some people have accused.  He was righteously upset.  Jesus was purifying a holy space, and also protecting people from exploitation.  He was setting a wrong right.  This was a flagrant insult and disrespect for God.

What Jesus did that day was an initial fulfillment of what the prophet Malachi had spoken of (Malachi 3:1-3), where he spoke of the Messiah’s purifying of the religious worship of His people.  The Apostle John, in writing his Gospel, quoted in verse 17 from Psalm 69:9.  Jesus would not tolerate irreverence towards God.  God’s holiness demands holiness in worship.

As we can expect, this action of Jesus was not well received by those money changers and sellers of the animals, nor by many of the Pharisees.  They demanded that Jesus show some type of miraculous sign that would indicate His authority for His actions (vs. 18).  They showed no sign of grasping their need for proper attitudes or holiness in worship.  Their unbelief only wanted miracles on demand, and within a short time they were back doing the same in the Temple, as Jesus needed to repeat His actions shortly before His crucifixion (Mark 11:15-19).  Jesus responded by saying that the miracle that would truly show who He was, that gave Him this authority, was if they destroyed the temple He would raise it up again in three days (vs. 19-22).  Jesus used the Temple as a metaphor for His Body and His future resurrection.

When we go to church, do we come in an attitude of worship?  Is our church sanctuary one that shows respect and reverence for the Lord God?  Or are we more eager to catch up on the latest news from our friends or selling our children’s school or sports team’s candy?  We need to remember that the Lord Jesus said that God’s house is to be a place of prayer.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

When We Fall Into Sin

 Romans 7:13-25

Have you ever tried to stop doing something that you knew was wrong, but you kept falling back into that sin?  I’m sure that has happened to every believer at one time or another, and for some of us, many times over.  We try to stop some type of behavior, perhaps cursing or using foul language, yet there we go again, letting another nasty word tumble out of our mouth.  Or maybe we have a problem with letting our anger get out of control, and try as we might, we lose patience and blow our top again.  We can look at any number of actions that we do, things that we know we shouldn’t be doing, but we keep falling into, and wonder what is wrong with us as Christians.  Why can’t we stop?  This is a question that even the saintly Apostle Paul found himself facing.  As we read our Scripture passage from his letter to the church in Rome, let’s see what he has to say.

In this segment of Scripture from Romans, Paul discusses the struggle that he, and all believers have.  He describes wanting to do right at all times, yet falling short, and going back into wrong behavior and actions.  Every Christian, even the most spiritual and mature, if they honestly evaluate themselves against the righteous standards of God, will realize how far short they fall.  Paul describes the experience of any Christian, struggling against sin and trying to please God by righteous living without the Holy Spirit’s help.

Becoming a Christian does not stamp out all sin and temptation from a person’s life.  Becoming like Christ is a lifelong process.  When we become saved, the sinful nature no longer controls the whole believer, as it does an unbeliever.  However, it will continue to frustrate us and our inner desire to obey the will of God.  Paul stated that his new, saved nature, his new inner self, no longer approved of sin, like his old self did (vs. 17).  Paul’s justified, new nature no longer sided with sin, but agreed with God’s Word (vs. 22).  However, the old nature still seeks to rebel and be independent of God (vs. 14-15).  Paul’s unredeemed and still sinful humanness waged war with his desire to obey God’s Word (vs. 23).

When we try to struggle against sin in our own strength, we fail.  We do not have the power by ourselves to do what pleases God (vs. 18).  Paul desired to be delivered from his sinfulness (vs. 24).  We find ourselves in the same condition.  As believers, we desire to follow the Lord and be free from the sins we continue to fall into.  We are like the soldier who falls wounded on the battlefield, and we need someone to come and pull us out.  Who can do that for us?  Paul gives us the answer in verse 25.  Only the Lord Jesus Christ can deliver us!

We cannot fight sin in our own strength.  We must take hold of the power of Christ who lives in us.  We must depend totally on the work of Christ for our salvation.  We cannot earn it by our good works.  And by the same token, we must depend totally upon Him for the strength to have victory over sin in our daily life.  Without Christ’s help, sin is stronger than we are.  However Jesus conquered sin and Satan once and for all.  It is a defeated enemy.  Jesus promises to fight by our side, so we need to call upon Him and rely upon His help.

We must die to ourselves so that Christ can live through us.  As believers, we must submit to the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and power.  No matter how hard we try on our own, we cannot change ourselves.  However, God is in the process of transforming us into the image of His Son (II Corinthians 3:18).  God won’t leave us in this desperate condition.  He has promised to finish the good work that He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). 

We can thank God that He has given us freedom through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The reality of His power can lift us up to victory over the sin we still battle in our lives.

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Heavens Declare The Glory Of God

 Psalm 19

In many countries around the world, in order for a testimony to be accepted as true, one needs more than a single witness.  Even the Bible itself testifies that two or more witnesses are needed before any legal testimony can be accepted (Deuteronomy 19:15).  If we have two independent witnesses we can accept their testimony.  In our psalm selection for this week we have two separate ways that God has witnessed to us of His Being.  Let’s look into this psalm from the Bible.

Today’s psalm was written by King David, and was one he wrote for his chief court musician to perform.  In this portion of Scripture David tells us that God reveals Himself to us in two very specific ways.  He reveals Himself through His creation throughout the world and the heavens (vs. 1-6).  God also reveals Himself through His Word, the Bible (vs. 7-11).   Today God’s Word is available in most places around the world, however where it might not be available to read or hear, or if people can’t or won’t read the Bible, there is God’s creation to testify of Him.  That is there for everyone to see, speaking loudly and clearly.

As God reveals Himself through nature we learn about His power and our finiteness.  Creation’s design, intricacy, and orderliness point to a personally involved Creator.  There are people who argue against God, and how it is not fair of Him to judge people who might never have been able to read the Bible or heard the message therein.  However, God has given testimony and witness of His Being through His creation.  The message of the created world extends everywhere, and people are without excuse in not believing in Him (Romans 1:19-20).

The testimony of the universe comes forth consistently and clearly, but sinful mankind persistently resists it.  David describes the sun and other heavenly stars and planets giving their testimony to the Lord God’s greatness.  It is as if they are God’s preachers in the sky who proclaim 24 hours a day the truth that God exists.  In this psalm of David, though, neither the sun nor the heavens are deified, as is the case in pagan nations.  Instead, we know that God is the Creator and Ruler over all creation.

As our psalm continues, we see that God reveals Himself through the Scriptures (vs. 7-11).  There we learn about God’s holiness and our sinfulness.  Here we read five different words used to describe God’s Word - law, testimony, statutes, commandments, and judgments.  God’s Word can convert us and make us wise (vs. 7).  It is right and true, it will enlighten us, and can bring us rejoicing (vs. 8).  God’s Word will endure forever (vs. 9).

Many people scoff at the Bible, and say that it is a book that only tells us a bunch of do’s and don’ts, trying to hinder one’s life and happiness.  God’s laws, though, are guidelines and light for our path, rather than chains on our hands and feet.  God’s Word points at dangers we can run into throughout our life, and will warn us.  It also points the way to find success, and will guide us if we are willing to follow the Lord.

As the psalm concludes, we read how God will work in our daily life, bringing us forgiveness and salvation if we turn to Him (vs. 12-13).  David knew all about falling into sin, and needing the Lord’s forgiveness.  God’s Word instructs us that when one does fall into sin, we need to deal with it and not deny that sin.   If someone is standing on the edge of a cliff without any barrier, they need to be careful.  It is best to not get too close.  The same goes for when one is getting close to some sinful actions.  It is best, too, that we not get too close to that sin, as we may lose our balance and go toppling in.  We may think we won’t fall, but we often do, with ruined lives as the result.

David closes this psalm with a prayer that we can also take for our own (vs. 14).  He asks that God approve his words and thoughts as though they were offerings brought to the altar.  We all should pray that our words and thoughts will be something we can offer up without shame to the Lord.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Ninth Commandment

 Exodus 20:1-17

Most people are probably familiar with the Ten Commandments, and many of us can recite them from memory.  At one time they were the bedrock of our society, and in the past the figure of the two stone tablets that God had written the commandments on, were often proudly displayed in courtrooms across the U.S.  Now, however, these days the Ten Commandments are for the most part ignored, or even outright disagreed with.  People don’t strive to live their lives by the Ten Commandments.  Many today feel everything is situational, and are moral relativists.  To them nothing is black or white, right or wrong.  Everything is various shades of gray.

As we scan down the ten different commandments, we can ask ourselves whether each one is being observed by the majority of people in any given country or community.  As I look through them, I have to say that with the exception of the 6th commandment, “You shall not murder”, the others are not generally observed. People take the Lord’s Name in vain all of the time (3rd commandment).  Some people may go to church on Sundays, but do they in any other way sanctify one day out of the week for the Lord? (4th commandment).  Take one look at the shows on TV and we can see how little parents are honored by their children (5th commandment).  The last four commandments are a hit or miss by most people.  Adultery is excused with “my husband treats me mean, and this other man treats me special” or something along that line.  People steal from their offices all the time, and think nothing of it.  And everyone looks at what their neighbor has and desires it.  It’s a sad world when these basic laws of God have been so casually tossed aside.

For lack of time and space, I want to focus on just one commandment, one that has been broken by probably everyone, often without even really thinking about it, and that is the ninth commandment (vs. 16).   That commandment reads “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”.  In other words, we are not to tell lies, especially when it will harm someone else.  Bearing false witness brings to mind a courtroom setting where someone is called in to give a witness.  Perhaps we don’t like that person.  Maybe he’s the loud-mouthed blockhead in the neighborhood, and we are loath to help him out, so we tell a lie when asked to witness, and he gets sentenced to a prison term falsely because of what we say.  Unfortunately that wouldn’t bother many people.  Good riddance they might feel.  The neighborhood is better off without him.  However, we have perjured ourselves, and God takes notice.  We’ve broken the 9th commandment.

False witness isn’t the only type of lie people can tell.  We should be honest in all of our private dealings, as well as our public statements.  False testimony or lying also includes leaving something out of a story, telling a half-truth, twisting the facts, as well as inventing a falsehood.  We often flatter others to their face, and then tear them up behind their back (Proverbs 26:28).  Our little tongue can inflict a lot of damage (James 3:3-6).

This 9th commandment relates to the sanctity of the truth.  To despise the truth is to despise God, whose very being is truth (John 14:6).  A genuine believer should speak the truth and honor the truth, as Jesus said that He is the Truth.  God does not lie, and neither should His children (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).

Lies destroy families, marriages, careers, friends, and reputations.  A lie is a lie.  Dishonesty is dishonesty.  God detests lying (Proverbs 12:22).  He has given His judgment against deception.  We need to avoid words that seek to do harm.  It is better to keep quiet than to fall into sin.  We can do this by setting a watch over our mouth to guard against lying (Psalm 141:3).

All of the Ten Commandments teach us how to live God-honoring lives.  We need to make Him our priority in our life, and by the power and strength of His Holy Spirit, strive to follow each of these commandments in our life.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Take Up Our Cross And Follow Jesus

 Mark 8:31-38

The world teaches us from a very early age that we should all be pursuing wealth, and that fame and fortune are goals we should achieve if we want to be a success in life.  Parents and schools strive to instill that in a young person’s mind, and we are offered classes, seminars and motivational speakers to help us achieve that.  At the end of life, society will review a person’s achievements and judge whether they were a success or not by how far they climbed to the top in their career, the size of their bank accounts, and their possessions and popularity.  What does God say about this?  Does He agree, or does He have a different message to give us?  Let’s take a look in our passage today from Mark’s Gospel to find His answer.

Our Scripture opens with words that Jesus spoke to His disciples about His approaching death (vs. 31).  The death of Jesus was not some unfortunate accident, where His enemies caught Him by surprise.  It was divinely ordained, though it was brought about by His rejection by the Jewish religious leaders.  Whenever Jesus spoke of His death, He also spoke of His resurrection, three days later.  It is a puzzle as to why the disciples didn’t understand or comprehend.

When Peter heard these words, it was something that he couldn’t understand or accept (vs. 32-33).  For Jesus to die this way would seem like a failure, not a success.  Peter spoke up, expressing his thoughts and the thoughts of the others. They could not comprehend a dying Messiah.  The disciples were trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross.  However, if Jesus did not die upon the cross, all of mankind would be doomed to an eternity of damnation.  This was exactly what Satan would want.  Peter didn’t consider God’s purposes, but only his own natural desires and purposes.  Jesus’ sacrificial death was God’s plan (Acts 2:22-23).  Whoever opposed it was, knowingly or not, advocating Satan’s work.  Do we try to stop the work of Jesus today?  Do we resist Him or quench the Holy Spirit?

Jesus continued on teaching His listeners to take up the cross and to follow Him (vs. 34-38).  Bearing our cross has to do with submission to Jesus Christ, not our own personal struggles.  We often hear some people moan and groan about this or that being “their cross to bear”.  That is not what Jesus was talking about. It is willing submission and voluntary servanthood to Christ.  We bear our cross daily in sacrificial service to God’s kingdom.  A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution.  Jesus used this image to illustrate the ultimate submission required of His followers.  We must follow Jesus, moment by moment, doing His will, even when it is difficult and the future looks bleak.

We cannot be a true disciple of Jesus unless we are willing to deny ourselves, to the point of death if necessary (vs. 35).  We should be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel because nothing can compare to what we gain with Jesus.  Those who pursue a life of ease, comfort, and acceptance by the world will not find eternal life.  Those who give up their lives, whether literally or figuratively, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will find it (John 12:25).

As mentioned above, the world and today’s society urges us to seek a life of pleasure, possessions, and power.  That is their definition of success.  However, those pursuits are worthless, and only temporary (vs. 36-37).  They cannot be exchanged for our soul and where we will spend eternity.  All of the world’s goods will not compensate for losing one’s soul for eternity.  The pursuit of God is eternal.

Jesus closes this passage with a warning (vs. 38).  We can reject Jesus now, and be rejected by Him at His second coming, or we can accept Jesus now and be accepted by Him then.  We need to take up Jesus’ cross and go with Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  Then one day we will exchange the cross for a crown.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

God Will Never Abandon Us

 Romans 8:31-39

Feeling like you have been abandoned is one of the worst feelings you can have.  It is very devastating when one’s spouse walks out on them.  A lifetime of traumatic emotions need to be dealt with when a young child is abandoned by their parents.  It is also very hurtful when your friends abandon you, especially during a time when you need those friends love and support the most.  Yet they have turned their backs on you.  So who can we trust to stand by us?  Who can we trust, that their love for us will remain steadfast and true, and not fizzle after a short time?  We seek a love and faithfulness that remains strong, despite any trials or hardships.  Can we find such a thing, or will we be abandoned yet again?  Paul gives us our answer in our Scripture passage today from the Book of Romans.

As Paul closes out the eighth chapter in his letter to the Romans, he gives us three assurances.  The first is that God will always meet our needs.  The second is that we are never alone.  God will always be with us.  And lastly Paul assures us that God’s love is eternal.

When we have accepted the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we are adopted into God’s family.  We have a more sure family than any earthly one.  God becomes our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus is our Big Brother.  For those who might have felt that their family never wanted them, or who were actually abandoned by them, this is a blessing.  God’s love is strong and true, and as Paul tells us, nothing can separate us from that love.  His love isn’t fickle, like so many found their spouse’s was.   God promises to stand by us, especially when the trials come piling upon us.  He will never turn His back on us, like a faithless friend might.

If God gave His Son for us, He isn’t going to hold back His love for us (vs. 32).  If Christ gave His life for us, He isn’t going to turn around and condemn us.  He will never withhold anything we need to live for Him.  Unlike faithless friends or family who may have abandoned us, Jesus is also our faithful Advocate, our attorney in defending those who have a saving relationship with Him (vs. 33-34).  He is in God’s presence, rising to our defense, offering intercession on our behalf.  It is Satan, not God, who accuses us.  Jesus is our Advocate.  With Him on our side, who can successfully accuse someone whom God has declared righteous?

Fears are numerous in life.  However, by God’s grace there is also hope.  Paul knew fears, but he was sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love, which is ours through Christ Jesus.  We will never be abandoned by Him, no matter what we are going through.  What we read in this passage isn’t just a list.  This was also a personal testimony from one who had personally survived assaults from these attacks, and through Jesus, he emerged victorious.  No matter what happens to us, or where we are, we can never be lost to God’s love.

We belong to God and He belongs to us.  Our work is to cast our care upon God.  His work is to take that care.  Through Jesus we are more than conquerors (vs. 37).  We conquer completely.  It is Jesus’ strength and His power that has secured our victory.  Don’t let events and circumstances in life spook us like a skittish horse.  God is with us.  He holds the reins of our life, and we can trust Him.

Nobody can take away the benefits we have received when we get saved and become a part of God’s family (vs. 38-39).  When we accept Jesus, He adopts us, and that family is truly a “forever” family.  It is not our grip upon God that keeps us safe.  It is the power of His grasp upon us.  No one can take us out of His grasp  (John 10:28-29).  Once we are in His hands, He will not let go.  We are doubly safe.  The Father has one hand and Jesus the other.

This is good news for all believers, and especially good news for those who have ever felt abandoned by anyone, especially someone who should have given us love.  Jesus suffered so that we will never have to experience separation from the love of God.   Nothing in life, from beginning to end, can separate us from Christ’s love.