Saturday, April 30, 2022

Seven Things God Hates

Proverbs 6:16-19

If you were to make a list of sins or wicked behavior that you found particularly offensive, what would be on your list?  I can think of several that would make the top five for me.  In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Proverbs, we find just such a list.  You might be surprised at what you find, and what you don’t find, on this list that is in God’s Word.

As our passage begins, we have a list compiled of seven things that we read that God hates, which He finds as an abomination and abhorrent in His eyes (vs. 16).  An abomination refers to anything that God finds personally disgusting.  Something that is abominable to God offends His character, and He takes particular exception to it.

Let’s look at this list, beginning with the first one listed - a proud look (vs. 17).  The Lord hates pride, when we place ourselves above others, in a position of superiority, and when we look down on others.  It was the sin of pride that brought Satan down.  He once was a high-ranking angel in heaven, but became filled with pride, and desired to sit on the throne of God (Isaiah 14:13-14).  A person filled with pride, who looks down on others, cannot truly love other people, which is what the Lord commands us to do (John 13:34; I John 3:23).

The second thing listed that God hates is a lying tongue (vs. 17).  There are different types of lies.  We all know about bold-faced lies.  However, half truths and exaggerations are also lies. Misrepresentation is a lie.  We can also include flattery, insincerity, false promises and empty commitments.  There are some people who have made lying such a habit that they only tell the truth if it will suit their advantage.  Because God is Truth, lying is the opposite of His character.  It is, though, in character with Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44).

The third one listed in the passage from Proverbs is hands that shed innocent blood (vs. 17).  God created human life, and we bear His image.  God values mankind so much that He sent His Son to redeem us.  Murder is an affront to the Giver of life.  We hear in news reports all the time of innocent people being killed through all sorts of acts of violence, and this is something God hates and will judge.  Most reading this have probably not actually murdered someone, but Jesus said if we hold unrighteous anger against someone, we are in equal judgment (Matthew 5:21-22).  That anger can develop into hatred, which can lead to actual murder.

Next on the list is a heart that devises wicked plans (vs. 18).  Nothing we do or say occurs unless it first takes root in the heart.  Wicked plans take shape in the heart.  Our heart should be a place for relationship with God, a place of worship.  Our heart should be where we talk with God, not where we plan evil against others  (Psalm 139:23-24).

Moving right along, we read of feet that are swift in running to evil (vs. 18).  This is speaking of walking in familiar paths of sin, of committing habitual sin.  This is when we become increasingly brazen, and less fearful of God’s judgment.  A person who is swift in running to evil has become callous, and his conscience is seared.  He no longer feels the pricking of conviction for the sins he is committing, and his heart is closed to the Holy Spirit.  God hates it when people have turned so far away from Him.

The sixth item on this list is a false witness who speaks lies (vs. 19).  This is someone who misrepresents facts or tells outright lies about another, especially, but not exclusively in court or public.  This would also include staying silent when one could rightfully defend the person who is being wrongly lied about.  These types of lies have caused innocent people’s reputations to be destroyed, and have sometimes caused them to go to prison or even execution.  Satan loves to drive Christians apart, and when we lie about others, we join with him.

The last on this list of what God hates is one who sows discord among brethren (vs. 19).  I’m sure we’ve all known some people in churches who just love to stir up strife.  They seem to love it when two people or two groups are set at odds against each other.  The more drama for them, the better.  God hates to see strife and discord in His house, among His children.  Are we reinforcing a division between others, or do we encourage reconciliation?  Are we encouraging others to take sides in disagreements, or do we help to bring people together?

This is not a list that we should ever want to be included in.  Let’s make sure that we don’t do anything to get close to any of these behaviors that God hates and finds an abomination.

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Only Eternal Scars

John 20:19-20

Many people have scars of one sort or another from accidents or surgeries.  I have two scars from surgeries to repair broken bones, along with a few other scars from various mishaps.  None of these are worrisome or disfiguring.  Other people have bigger scars that are disfiguring, and they do what they can to hide them, including sometimes plastic surgery.  For believers, we are assured that when we reach heaven, we will no longer have any of our scars.  There is Someone, though, who will have scars in heaven.  Who is that?  As we read our Scripture for today, we will see who that is, and why.

Our passage today is from the Gospel of John, and occurs on the evening of the Resurrection.  The disciples were together, hiding behind locked doors in fear of the religious leaders.  Those leaders had just put Jesus to death, and they feared they might be next.  Suddenly the risen Savior appeared in their presence.  Though several women from their company had testified earlier in the day that He had risen, they couldn’t believe their eyes.  Was this really Jesus, they must have thought.  Though it looked like Him, could they really be sure?

When police or others want to correctly identify someone, one thing they look for are birthmarks and scars.  Jesus had several scars which He had just recently received when He was crucified three days earlier.  There were the nail prints in each of His hands and feet, along with the scar on His side from where a soldier had thrust in a spear to see if He was really dead.  Jesus showed the scars to the disciples gathered there that evening.  These scars gave proof that this was really Jesus, and not just someone who looked like Him.

Now risen from the dead, Jesus had His glorified, resurrection body.  This is the type of body that each believer will receive in heaven, a body that will experience no more pain or sickness, won’t age, or have any more faults or failings (Revelation 21:4).  Someone may have been crippled while here on earth.  They won’t be in heaven.  No one will be blind, or deaf, or have any other physical challenges or failings.  Nor will they have any of the scars they had while on earth.  No one, that is, except the Lord Jesus.  Here, in front of His disciples, Jesus showed them the scars He had.  These scars remained on Jesus as evidence of who He is, and of the love He has given to redeem us from the penalty of sin.

Those scars speak a lot to us.  They are evidence of the great love that God has for us.  Many parents will do anything for their children.  If they see that harm is coming towards their child, they often will step in the way, and take the brunt of whatever danger was coming.  We sometimes hear of parents who go into a burning building to rescue their child trapped in there, and they might emerge with painful burns that leave scars.  Whenever that child would see the scars, they would know those scars were from their parent’s love for them.

Though not every parent has that kind of love, God reassures us that He, indeed, does.  As we read words from the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us that even if a mother would forget all about her baby, He will never forget about us.  We are engraved, cut or carved right into the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:15-16).  When we get to heaven, God will take away all of our emotional and physical scars.  However, Jesus will eternally bear the scars of our sins, scars that symbolize our rescue from hell.

Over the years there have been some imposters, people claiming to be the Messiah or to be the Savior.  If I were to ever meet one who claimed that, I would ask them to show me their hands.  The only true Messiah, the only true Savior, has nail prints in His hands, and a hole in His side!  Anyone else is an imposter!

The great 19th century American hymn writer Fanny Crosby became blind a few weeks after birth.  She knew that when she reached heaven, she would have her sight again.  In one of her famous hymns “My Savior First of All” she writes how she will know Jesus by those scars in His hands.

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,

When redeemed by His side I shall stand;

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,

By the print of the nails in His hands.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Divine Description

Revelation 1:5-8, 17-18

When we describe someone, we often tell what the person looks like, such as hair, eyes, weight, etc.  Often though, we might include other descriptions, including personality and accomplishments.  In our Scripture for today from the Book of Revelation, the evangelist John gives us a bit of a description of the Lord Jesus.  He doesn’t tell us what He looks like in this passage, but instead gives other descriptions of what He is like, things He has done, and things He will do.  Let’s take a look.

As our verses begin, the first thing that John mentions is that Jesus is “the faithful witness” (vs. 5).  He came to earth to more faithfully reveal the character and ways of the Father.  Everything that Jesus said and did was a reflection of God the Father (John 14:9).  As a faithful and true Witness, every word that Jesus spoke was truth.  There is no falsehood in Him.

Jesus is also “the firstborn from the dead”.  As Scripture testifies, Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, and rose again.  Though Jesus wasn’t the first to be raised from the dead, as He raised several people Himself, and Elijah and Elisha each raised some people from the dead, He is the only one who rose to never die again.  Of all who have been raised from the dead, Jesus is the preeminent one.  He is God’s rightful heir.  His resurrection proved that eternal life is possible for us, too (John 11:25).

As verse 5 continues, Jesus is “the ruler over the kings of the earth”.  He raises men to power and also removes them from power (John 19:11; Romans 13:1).   John also testifies to the love that Jesus has towards us, in that He shed His Blood to release us from sin.  Both the penalty and power of sin have been broken by His sacrifice.

As our Scripture continues, John tells us that through our union with Jesus, we become kings and priests (vs. 6).  We will rule with Him, and can freely enter God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19).  Believers are also a part of a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10).

John goes on to tell us that Jesus will return, and when He does, everyone will see Him (vs. 7).  This prophecy echoes Daniel’s prophecy from the Old Testament (Daniel 7:13).  These are not ordinary clouds, but clouds of glory, as when He returns, it will be in power and glory.  “They who pierced Him” are the Jewish people, who were responsible for His death (Zechariah 12:10).  Jesus’ second coming will be visible and victorious.  All people will see Him, and they will know it is Jesus.  He will conquer evil and judge people.  Mourning will take place because of the judgment Jesus will bring upon the world for its sin and shame.

More descriptions of Jesus come in verse 8, where John tells us that the Savior is “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End”.  He is the fullness of all knowledge, the A through Z of everything in an encyclopedia.  This also lets us know that God carries and goes with us from the beginning to the ending of life, and at all times in between, including all perils and troubles.  The God who was faithful yesterday will meet our needs today, and already knows our tomorrow.  Jesus is the eternal Lord and Ruler of the past, present, and future.

As we jump down to verse 17 John tells how when he saw the Lord Jesus, he fell down prostrate before Him.  John’s initial reaction to the vision that is described in the Book of Revelation was fear.  To fall prostrate is the only real response anyone would have when in God’s presence.

As our Scripture passage closes, we read that Jesus holds the keys of death and hell (vs. 18).  He, alone, can free us from eternal bondage to Satan.  He, alone, has the power and authority to set us free from sin’s control.  Believers don’t have to fear hell or death, because Jesus holds the keys to both.  Jesus decides who lives and who dies, and when that will happen.

Jesus entered death and came out on the other side so that we might no longer need to fear death.  Instead, we can find eternal life in Him.  Praise the Lord that He has conquered death.  Death is an enemy that Jesus has defeated!


Monday, April 25, 2022

A Steadfast Heart

Psalm 108

What is your heart set on?  The answer to this question can determine how one’s life is heading, and where one’s eternity might likely end up.  As we look into our psalm for this week, one that is not very familiar to many, and is often overlooked, we will read David’s answer to that question for himself.  In this passage from the Word of God, David also gives a figurative look at how God saw some of the pagan nations at that time.  Let’s look into our Scripture.

Psalm 108 is similar to two other psalms.  Verses 1-5 are quite like what we read in Psalm 57:7-11, and verses 6-13 are also like that of Psalm 60:5-12.  However both of these two other psalms are more of a lament, while today’s Psalm 108 is much more a psalm of victory.

As our psalm opens, David proclaimed where his heart was set.  The Hebrew word that we read as “steadfast” in verse 1, meant to be firmly established, fixed, and secure.  David was proclaiming that his heart was firmly fixed on God.  It wasn’t wavering.  David wasn’t going to be lured away from the Lord when something supposedly new and exciting came along.  What lures our heart?  What is it fixed upon?  Is it fixed on amassing a fortune?  Is it in living a life of pleasure?  God’s Word warns us to guard our hearts, because out of it comes what our life is made of (Proverbs 4:23).

David’s heart was fixed on God, and he proceeded to sing the Lord’s praise (vs. 1-5).  He wasn’t going to waste his day lying around in bed.  No, David said he would wake up early so he can get a good start on praising the Lord (vs. 2).  We don’t see God exalted on earth today (vs. 5).  However, He will be when Jesus returns!

One thing that David praised the Lord for was His mercy and His truth (vs. 4).  Both of these virtues are parts of God’s character, and David proclaimed that they were so vast and overflowing that they were higher than the clouds and sky.  Mercy can be defined in the Bible as God withholding the just punishment that we deserve.  He does this because of His vast love towards us, shown in the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf for our sins.  Jesus is mercy in living form.  He is also truth personified (John 14:6).

Right in the middle of our psalm we read a rather unusual and figurative description of some of the foreign nations that surrounded Israel at the time of King David (vs. 7-11).  Moab was the kingdom to the east of Israel.  The Moabites were descendants from Lot through incest with his eldest daughter, following their flight from Sodom at its destruction (Genesis 19:30-38).  The Kingdom of Edom was to the southeast of Israel.  The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.  Philistia, or the Kingdom of the Philistines, was to the west, southwest of Israel, along the coastal area of the Mediterranean. They were one of several Canaanite peoples.

Each of these nations were enemies of Israel.  Both Moab and Edom had refused any aid to the people of Israel following their departure from Egypt.  All three groups fought with God’s people from the time of Moses through the days of David.  Furthermore, they each had adamantly rejected Yahweh as the one true God, clinging to their worship of false idols.  Because of their national rejection of Yahweh, He would judge them.  Moab is pictured as a lowly servant, who would bring a washbasin.  Edom was also pictured as a lowly servant who retrieved cast off shoes.  And God claimed triumph over the Philistines.  Each of these nations have vanished into the dust of history.  Nobody today claims that they are Moabites or Edomites.

God did judge each of these nations because of their rejection of Him.  However, individuals always had the opportunity to turn and accept Him as their God.  We see that with Ruth, who was a Moabite woman, and was brought up worshiping the pagan Moabite gods.  Yet through the godly influence of her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi, she came to faith in Yahweh, and accepted Him as her one God.  Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and thus is in the family line of Jesus Christ.

God still judges nations today.  However, that does not mean that any individual from any nation cannot turn to Him for salvation, just as Ruth did.  God will always accept anyone, from any nation, that will accept His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Following God's Instructions

Acts 5:12, 17-29 

When we know we’re doing what we feel the Lord wants us to do, we might think that things should go smoothly.  We’re being obedient to His plans and will for us, so we should have a clear path.  We may think that, but sometimes that is not the case.  Sometimes when we are following the Lord’s clear instructions, we will still face opposition and problems.  This is the case with the early disciples in our Scripture today from the Book of Acts.  Let’s see what we can learn from this Scripture passage.

After the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles went throughout the city of Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel message of salvation, and performing various miracles of healing.  That is where we find ourselves as our passage opens.  One place that the disciples would often gather was Solomon’s Porch (vs. 12), which was a colonnade in the Temple’s Outer Court.  It was a large, open area where they could witness and teach the people about Jesus.

This was exactly what the Lord had instructed them to do right before He was taken back into heaven - preach the Gospel and bring others to a saving relationship with Jesus.  However, before too much time passed, the High Priest and other religious leaders became enraged about what they were doing.  They thought that once they had Jesus killed, that would have stopped all of His teachings.  Now His apostles were preaching that He rose again, and were continuing teaching His message.  People were flocking to them and getting saved.  This infuriated the High Priest and religious leaders, so they had them arrested and thrown in jail (vs. 17-18).

Most of us would probably find that very discouraging.  Here we are, doing what the Lord instructed, and being rather successful, and then the religious leaders throw us in jail.  However, God had plans, and they needed to trust Him to work this all out for His glory.  That very night God sent an angel to open the prison doors and set them free.  Their instructions were to continue to preach the salvation message of Jesus to the people (vs. 19-20).  They were not to alter their message to make it more pleasing to the High Priest and Jewish religious leaders.  They were not to placate them.  God instructed them to continue preaching “the words of this life”, the message that Jesus died for their sins, and only faith in Him will bring eternal life.  God did not break them out of prison so they could escape to safety.  He freed them so they could go right back to what they had been doing - preaching salvation.

The next morning the Sanhedrin planned on bringing these apostles to trial, and summoned them to be brought out of their cells and before them.  The whole counsel of the Sanhedrin was going to try them.  This was not going to be a little or minor trial.  They would stop at nothing to permanently silence the new Christians.  Imagine their shock when they found that the prisoners were not in their cells, yet the prison doors were still securely locked!  Minutes later they heard that the apostles were back outside preaching again (vs. 21-25).

Immediately the High Priest ordered the men quietly rearrested (vs. 26).  They didn’t want to look like they were making a big fuss in front of the crowds.  The Sanhedrin feared their reputation and standing in the eyes of the people, yet they did not fear God, whom they should have.  Once they had the apostles before them, the Sanhedrin commanded them to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus (vs. 27-28).  They did not want the crowds to hold them guilty of the Blood of Jesus, whom they had crucified.  Yet at His trial before Pontius Pilate a few months earlier, they had cried that His Blood should be on them and their children (Matthew 27:25).  Now, though, many people were turning to this new faith, and the council didn’t want to be held responsible.

Peter responded that they needed to obey God rather than man (vs. 29).  Peter was not sanctioning civil disobedience, as he made that very clear in his first epistle in I Peter 2:13-17.  Paul also stated that in Romans 13:1-7.  We are to obey civil government.  But when it goes contrary to the explicit commands of God, we must obey God first, and be ready to suffer the consequences.

The apostles and early disciples of Jesus were not afraid to spread the message of salvation, even if it meant persecution from others.  When we are convinced of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, and have experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we can have the confidence they did to speak the Gospel of salvation in Jesus.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Where We Should Set Our Mind

Colossians 3:1-4

Young people who are getting close to graduation from high school or college are often asked what their goals in life are.  What are they looking for or seeking in life?  What is their mind set on?  Such questions are not bad, as it is good to have some focus or goals in life.  In our brief Scripture passage today from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he gives some instructions to believers of what things we should be seeking and setting our mind on, things that should be different from the rest of the world.

As we open our passage, it should be noted that the word “if” at the beginning of the first verse would be better translated in English with the word “since”.  That is because the Colossians that Paul was writing to were believers, and believers are risen with Christ.  There isn’t a question whether those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus are risen with Him.  In Paul’s letters he is speaking to believers, not the lost, and believers are risen with Christ.

That being said, Paul urges believers that we should set our mind on things that are where Jesus is, in His heavenly kingdom, and not be focused on earthly or worldly things.  We need to strive to put heaven’s priorities into our daily practice. Paul instructed believers that we should be concentrating on things that are eternal, rather than wasting energy on what is temporal.  We should have as little desire for this world as a dead person would have.

As we learn here, and in other passages of the New Testament, those who have accepted Jesus as Savior have died with Him to sin, and are risen with Him to new life.  We have been united with Jesus in His death, where the penalty of our sins were paid.  When Jesus rose from the dead, we too rose with Him to new life.  Because of the believer's union with Jesus Christ, we have spiritually entered His death and resurrection at the moment we were saved.  We are now alive in Him, spiritually resurrected with Him.

Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God, the position of honor and majesty for the exalted Son of God.  Because of that, our goals, our focus, our mind and thoughts should be there as well, not dwelling here on worldly matters.  Paul urges us to set our mind on things above, to look at life from God’s perspective.  We shouldn’t become too attached to what is only temporary, but instead seek what God desires.  Just as a compass points north, the Christian’s inner disposition should point to things of heaven.

In light of these truths, what is the focus of our thoughts and goals in life?  Are they heavenly or worldly?  What we think about forms the type of person we are today, and who we become tomorrow.  We should focus our thoughts on things that honor the Lord (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8-9).  This isn’t a struggle that we have to face on our own.  Our Scripture says that our life is hidden with Christ in God (vs. 3).  What does that mean?  Just as something valuable is hid for safety, we are hid in Jesus Christ.  We are eternally secure in Jesus.  We are protected from all spiritual enemies, and have access to all of God’s blessings.  As we allow Jesus to live within us, He can shape us into what we should be.

We may wonder how, in the midst of the many problems we face every day, we can shift our focus off of those and on to things of the Lord.  Our difficult circumstances can seem to surround us, almost like a fog.  However, the Lord can enable us to rise above those circumstances when we set our mind on Him, and then we will find courage and calmness.  We can climb out of our misery and gloom, and have a mind full of heavenly joy.  Too many Christians are living as if Jesus had not risen from the dead.  They are going through life without joy or peace. The resurrection of Jesus is not just something that happened in the past.  It affects us today.  Claim the power of the risen Savior every day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Sharing And Seeking

Psalm 105:1-8

When someone falls in love with another person, often they will try and find out all that they can about that one they love.  What are his favorite foods?  What are her favorite flowers?  They seek to know all about them.  Another thing one often does is to talk all about the one they love.  As believers who claim to love the Lord, do we ever talk about Him to others, and are we seeking to know more about Him?  Let’s look into the first several verses of Psalm 105, and see what we can learn.

As our psalm opens, the author calls upon each of us to tell others what the Lord has done for us (vs. 1-2).  Many of us can recall hearing someone say that people should keep their religion to themselves, and that talking about God, including any personal testimonies, should be discouraged.  This is not what the Word of God tells us to do.  Despite many that say we should keep quiet about the Lord, and not upset the unbelievers, in our passage today we are urged to share with others the Good News about Him.

When a friend or relative helps you out in a significant way, perhaps they helped you with a big project you needed to get done, or maybe gave you a very nice and special gift, we often tell others about their kindness.  We even do that about a new restaurant, store, or vacation park we go to.  We tell others about it.  We don’t keep quiet.  Why should that be different when it comes to the many blessings we receive all the time from the Lord?  I’m sure that each of us can name many things the Lord has done for us in the last week, things that if they came from someone else we’d certainly be telling others about it.

Many of us have unsaved friends and family members which we would love to see come to faith in the Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit can use those times we share with them about how the Lord answered certain prayers, or when we tell of the blessings that He favored us with, and draw in them a desire to have God in their lives, too.  But that can’t happen if we never speak up.

Talking with others about God and what He has done for us will also help to build our own faith.  As the hymn writer said, we need to count our blessings, especially when things might be looking dark, and we are going through a difficult time.  That will help to renew a spirit of thankfulness in us.  Being thankful will transform us, and remembering what God has done for us shows us that He is near.

Our psalmist also urges us to seek the Lord (vs. 4).  Seeking the Lord about every problem is the only answer to any dilemma we face.  We need to learn more and more about Him.  God promises that all those who seek Him with all of their heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).  He also rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).  Jesus promised that if we seek, we will find (Matthew 7:7).

Seeking God will bring joy into our lives, and who can’t use more joy today?  This happens because we see all that He has done on our behalf.  One valuable way is to recount how He has helped us and others in the past.  In order to remember God’s works and wonders we must read and study His Word (vs. 5).

One thing that we will discover as we read Scripture is that when God makes a covenant or a binding agreement in the Bible with His people, He has always kept His part, even though the people repeatedly broke their part (vs. 8).  God now has a New Covenant with His people, the seed of Abraham (vs. 6).  Every believer, whether Jew or Gentile, is the “seed of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-9).  This New Covenant is through His Son, Jesus Christ, which the Old Covenant always pointed to.   The New Covenant is the everlasting covenant.  It will never be suspended or changed (Hebrews 13:20).

As we go out into our day today, let’s be sure we share with our friends and relatives all that the Lord has done for us, and to seek Him with all of our heart!

Monday, April 18, 2022

A Cause To Rejoice

Isaiah 51:9-16

Looking at the news headlines lately there wouldn’t seem to be much that one could be happy about.  There seems to be little cause for rejoicing, singing, or joy.  Our Old Testament passage for this first week following Resurrection Sunday reminds us that as believers, we always have a reason to rejoice.  Let’s take a look.

Our Scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah can be divided into two portions.  The first, from verse 9 - 10, are spoken from the people’s perspective.  The second, from verse 12 - 16, is spoken from God’s perspective.  As we begin, the people are crying out to God, remembering some of the great and mighty deeds that He had done in the past.  Things are not going so great in their lives, and that of their nation.  Where is God?  Why are these things happening?  It seems as if God is asleep.  Maybe we need to wake God up!  So they cry out to Him to awaken and show the power and strength He had done in the past (vs. 9).

The people sought to remind God that He had shown power and victory over Rahab.  This is not referring to the woman who had assisted the people of Israel in Jericho.  Instead, this is a term in the Bible referring to a mythical type of sea monster that wreaks havoc to mankind, and also is symbolic of Egypt in its pride and arrogance against the Lord God.  They recalled how the Lord was victorious over Rahab.  He was the One who dried up the Red Sea when the people of Israel fled Egypt and Pharaoh’s army.  As they remembered, God made a path, a road for the people to cross over on dry ground (vs. 10).

The people were afraid of enemies, both personal ones and also national ones, who were coming against them.  They wanted God to rouse Himself and come to their aid, just as He had done for their ancestors.  Today we might also have similar fears.  We might be facing literal enemies who are coming against us.  Or perhaps our fears are of other challenges, whether with our health, finances, or within our family.  Wake up, God!  Come and help us, we cry out.

In the second part of our Scripture the Lord God speaks to the people.  He tells them that they do not need to be afraid of any enemies.  He reminds them, and us, that we do not need to be afraid of any man, as they will all eventually die (vs. 12).  The people feared other men and human powers, but had not shown any true and godly fear of the Lord through the years (vs. 13).  We need to be sure not to misplace who we should fear and love.  We need to fear God’s power, and love His mercy.  Believers can either truly trust the Lord or fear man.  We can’t do both.

The Lord reminded the people that He, and He alone, was the one who made both heaven and earth (vs. 13).  With the power and glory to do that, do we, His Blood-bought children, really need to fear anyone or anything else?  No!  We do not need to be afraid of any type of oppressor that might come against us.

God has promised all throughout Scriptures that He will not leave comfortless those who have put their faith and trust in Him.  He always comes to us through His Word with words of hope and mercy.  His goal in allowing trying circumstances, and even hurt into our lives, is not to break us, but to teach us to draw closer to Him.  Our God is the same God who made a road in the depths of the sea.  His methods may change, but His love and care do not.

The Lord promises His redeemed children, those who have put their trust in Him, that they will return to Zion with singing and everlasting joy (vs. 11).  They will obtain joy and gladness, and all sorrow and sighing will flee away.  This is a promise the Lord gives only to the ransomed, those who have been redeemed through the Blood of His Son, Jesus.  The unsaved will not know this joy.

With so much sorrow, sadness, and grief in this world today, don’t you want to be one who will obtain joy and gladness?  The Lord Jesus purchased your salvation through His Blood.  Call upon Him today, and become one of the ransomed and redeemed, then you, too, will be able to obtain everlasting joy and gladness.


Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Women At The Tomb

Luke 24:1-10

Resurrection Sunday!  The greatest, most victorious, and triumphant day in all of history! As we read in our Scripture for today, Luke’s account of the Resurrection, the day wasn’t seeming to begin as a good day for the followers of Jesus.  The remaining 11 apostles, and the other disciples were all in hiding from the Jewish religious leaders who had crucified their Lord.  They were in fear for their lives.  It did not seem like a great or triumphant day for them.

In addition to the numerous men who faithfully followed Jesus during His years of ministry, there were several women who were also faithful believers.  Many of these women provided for the material needs of Jesus and the twelve (Luke 8:2-3).  They had followed Jesus, and they were present there when He was crucified (Matthew 27:55-56).  When His dead Body was removed from the cross, these women, along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, brought it to the grave.  Because it was almost sunset, and the beginning of the Sabbath, the women were not able to fully anoint the Body for burial according to the customs of the day.  All they could do was a quick, superficial anointing, and then they wrapped the Body with linen.  Jesus was then laid in the tomb.  These women loved their Lord, and wanted to perform a respectful and proper anointing and burial, so they waited for the Sabbath to conclude, and then they would finish the proper ceremonies.

Very early that Sunday morning, before the sun was even beginning to peek over the horizon, several of these women went to the tomb to finish the anointing.  Among them was Mary Magdalene.  Jesus had cast seven demons from her.  There is no mention anywhere in the Bible of her being a prostitute, though unfairly that rumor persists even to this day.  She was the very first to see the risen Savior (John 20:11-18).  Another woman mentioned was Joanna.  She was the wife of Chuza, who was Herod’s chief steward, the one in charge of managing his household.

When these women arrived at the tomb, instead of finding the Body of Jesus, they found two angels who questioned why they were looking for the living among the dead.  They reminded the women of the words of Jesus, and how He would rise from the dead on the third day (vs. 4-7).  Jesus had told His disciples several times what would happen to Him - His betrayal, crucifixion, and also His resurrection.  We see that recorded in Luke 9:22; 17:25; and 18:31-33.  The other Gospels give similar accounts.  Yet not one of the disciples comprehended or believed.  This all took them by surprise.

After word got out about the resurrection of Jesus, the religious leaders accused the disciples of stealing the Body of Jesus while the Roman soldiers slept (Matthew 28:11-15).  For years that was the Jewish belief as to what they said happened to Jesus.  However, not one single person in the several years after the resurrection was ever found who stated they had seen Jesus’ dead body in some other location.  Jesus had many enemies, especially among the Pharisees and Sanhedrin, yet none of them were ever able to produce a body, or even someone who could say they had seen the body, and thus truly refute the claim of the resurrection.

Other religions have some type of ethical system and religious writings, and some type of concept of an after-life.  Only Christianity, though, has a God who became human, literally died for His people, and was raised again in power and glory to rule forever!

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that death has been conquered, and all believers will be raised from the dead to live forever with Him.  No matter what may happen to us in life, the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for the future.  It also assures us that He is alive and ruling His kingdom.  Jesus is not a legend like Robin Hood or Hercules.  He is alive and real!


Friday, April 15, 2022

A Man Named Malchus

Luke 22:47-51 

Every person mentioned in the Bible has been put there by God for a reason.  Nobody is insignificant in God’s eyes, and if He put someone in His Holy Word, they are there for a reason.  As we finish up Holy Week, I would like to take a closer look at a very minor person mentioned in the Bible, and that is the man Malchus.  What happened to him is mentioned in each of the Gospel accounts, though his name is only given in the Gospel of John.  Let’s take a look at this person that most people have probably not taken much note of, and see how God’s immense love, mercy, and compassion is shown forth through him.

As our Scripture begins today, Jesus and His disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Several hours earlier He had held the Last Supper, and has now just concluded a time of prayer to the Father.  As we read in the Gospel, Judas arrived with a band of Temple soldiers sent by the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus (vs. 47-48).  When the soldiers began to apprehend Jesus, a rather serious scuffle broke out between the disciples and the soldiers and those with them.  One of the disciples grabbed a sword and started swinging it, and he struck one of the servants of the high priest, who had come along.  This blow with the sword was to his head, and managed to cut the man’s ear off (vs. 49-50).

We see here that the disciples were acting in a violent way to stop their Master from getting arrested.  Jesus put an end to that right away, reminding them that if He asked, God would have sent Him legions of angels to defend Him (Matthew 26:53).  Then Jesus reached over and touched that man, bringing healing to his ear (vs. 51).

Over the last several years Jesus had healed numerous people.  What made this one something to look into?  For one, at this moment Jesus was facing arrest, a mockery of a trial, scourging, beatings, carrying a heavy cross, and then crucifixion.  Knowing, as He did, that this was what He would shortly have to endure, why would He think about someone else and their needs at that moment?  How many of us, when we are in the midst of a problem of our own, take time to care for others and their problems?  Yet that is exactly what Jesus did.

In John’s Gospel we read that this servant’s name was Malchus, and that it was Peter who wielded the sword that cut his ear off (John 18:10).  Malchus was an enemy of Jesus right then.  Though we don’t know anything about him, it is fairly safe to assume that he didn’t mind being there, where the action was that night, and that he was no follower of Jesus.  The fact that Peter struck Malchus’ head indicated that Peter wasn’t intending to just wound him, but likely was trying to kill him.  Yet here we see Jesus healing Malchus, healing His enemy.

Imagine a possible scenario later that night.  Malchus returns home from that arrest at Gethsemane.  His wife and family ask him how his shift at work went, and then they see a lot of blood all over his robe.  They ask him what happened, and Malchus proceeds to tell them that there had been a scuffle at the time of the arrest of Jesus, and that his ear was cut off.  But wait!  They look at him, and both ears are on his head!  Yes, he tells them, Jesus touched him and healed his ear!  He took the time, right in the middle of His arrest, and healed him!  Jesus healed Malchus, one of the group trying to arrest him!

Before coming to Him for salvation we were all enemies of Jesus (Romans 5:8-10).  Yet God loved each of us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.  While we were still His enemies, Jesus died to make us whole.  He reached out with compassion and dealt with our sin-wounds, just as He did with Malchus.  For all who accept Jesus as Savior, He changes us from enemies to children.

What became of Malchus?  Did he become a follower of Jesus?  The Scriptures do not say what happened to him.  It is very likely that a few days later he heard the rumors that Jesus rose from the dead.  Perhaps, every time he touched his ear, every time he saw those blood-stained clothes of his, he sought out to find more about this One many claimed was risen again.  The fact that John knew his name many decades later when he wrote his Gospel, might indicate that Malchus became a Christian.  We don’t know for sure.  However, the important thing to see in this account is the deep love, compassion, and mercy of Jesus, that He would take the time to heal someone who was coming against Him, and that He had the love to die for us while we, too, were His enemies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Veil Of The Temple

Hebrews 10:19-23

Outside of family, only a limited number of people have direct access to a world leader, such as a president, the Queen, or the Pope.  Common, everyday folks, such as you and I, cannot just walk into the Oval Office or Windsor Castle to sit down and talk with the President or the Queen.  There is an invisible, but very real, barrier between them and us.  It is the same with other celebrities, such as movie, theater, and music stars.  They often hire security guards to keep the crowds away from them, and only a select few are ever allowed backstage to see them.  With the movie star, it is usually just curiosity or excitement that draws us to get close and see them.  However, sometimes we might feel that we have a real or pressing need to want to see a politician or religious leader, yet because of our status, it is usually not possible.  What about with God?  He, of course, is far greater and more powerful than the greatest of leaders we will ever have.  Can we ever have access to Him?  In our Scripture today we will find an answer.

Throughout the time of the Old Testament, and on into the days of the New Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was kept within a special place or room within the Temple called the Holy of Holies.  The Ark of the Covenant was an important symbol of faith and of God’s Presence.  It was so sacred, that only the High Priest could come into its presence within the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement.  In order to keep people away from the Ark of the Covenant, a thick veil was hung, separating everyone from its presence (Exodus 26:33).  This symbolized the holiness and sacredness of God.  He was not a God to be treated lightly or casually.

That veil kept everyone away from God’s presence because of our sins and sinful nature (Isaiah 59:1-2).  The only exception was the High Priest, and he couldn’t come near except on the Day of Atonement.  Then, and only then, could he approach God’s presence with the sacrificial blood to make atonement for the sins of the people.  That all changed, though, one Friday afternoon in springtime, on a small hill outside of Jerusalem.

On Good Friday, as we know, the Lord Jesus was crucified on the hill of Calvary, or sometimes called Golgotha, just outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus hung on the cross from approximately 9 am to 3 pm.  At 3 pm, when Jesus died, the veil in the Temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:50-51).  This was not just some accidental occurrence.  It had special significance.  First, this was not just some ordinary curtain.  It was quite tall, and very thick, not something any ordinary person could tear.  Most importantly, though, the miraculous tearing of the veil showed that the sacrifice that Jesus had just made, the shedding of His precious Blood, was sufficient atonement for our sins, once and for all.

Another important thing that the tearing of the veil in the Temple signified, was that the way into the Holy of Holies, into the presence of God, was opened.  Instead of being separated from God, all those who come into His presence through the Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, can come boldly, without fear, into His presence.  We now have personal access to God through Jesus Christ, and we can draw near to Him without any elaborate and restrictive system.

God is holy and perfect, and on our own we could never stand before Him.  But because of the death of Jesus upon the Cross, He opened the way for us to be forgiven, and have a new life with God.  Jesus made it possible for us to have a direct connection with God through Himself.  There is no longer any separation to keep us from God.  Jesus has completely eliminated any barriers that might hinder anyone seeking access to God, including our sin.  Jesus’ crucified Body has torn away all obstructions to God’s presence.  There is nothing that can separate a believer from experiencing the glory and love of God.

God delivers all who come to Jesus for salvation from a verdict of guilt, and removes our garments of shame.  We can now approach God’s throne with boldness, not shame.  We can come to God, through His Son Jesus, at any and all time, day or night, for whatever reason.  For anyone who has taken Jesus as their personal Savior, God is now our Father, and we are His children.

Monday, April 11, 2022

In A Miry Pit

Psalm 40

Have you ever had the misfortune to get stuck in the mud, perhaps with a car, or even worse, when out hiking?  I have seen some videos of animals who have found themselves stuck in a mud pit.  They struggle to get loose, but only make themselves stuck even worse.  If they are fortunate, some kind-hearted person comes around to help them get free.  In our psalm today, David speaks of being caught in a miry pit, and of the only One who could help him.  Let’s look over our psalm for today.

As we read through the Old Testament, we quickly see that David faced a lot of problems throughout his life, both before he was king, and also after.  Many of these problems were serious, and he felt like he was trapped in a miry pit, from which he couldn’t escape.  A wet and muddy pit is not a place you want to find yourself in.  You are exposed to danger.  Also, very importantly, the more you struggle to get out, often the worse stuck you become.  When serious problems come our way, we can feel like we are in a muddy pit that threatens to swallow us up.  The more we try to free ourselves, the worse things become.  We cry out, and if we are fortunate, someone might be able to help us out.  Often though, there is no one there, or no one who cares.  Perhaps someone tries to help us, but there is nothing they can do to get us out.

What did David do when life found him stuck in difficulties that seemed just like a miry pit?  He didn’t seek or depend upon any human to help him.  Instead, David called upon the Lord to help him.  He didn’t struggle and try and get out himself, only to get further stuck.  He waited for God to help him, and he waited patiently (vs. 1-2).  Like many people, I am not a very patient person.  And this is especially apparent when there is a crisis.  David recounts, though, that he learned when stuck the best thing to do was to cry out to the Lord, and then wait patiently for Him to answer.  Rather than getting angry or frustrated with God and any delays, he praised Him.  David said God gave him a new song of praise (vs. 3).  Through our times of waiting, we can develop the virtues of submission, humility, patience, joyful endurance, and persistence in well-doing.

David received some benefits from being willing to wait for the Lord to answer, rather than trying to work things out himself, and we can learn from this, too.  One was that when David waited for God, He lifted him out of his despair.  Problems can bring despair, especially if we can’t seem to get free, but if we wait for God, He will lift the despair.  When God answered David, He pulled him from the pit and put him on solid ground, something sturdy, like a rock.  Throughout the psalms we often read of being on a rock, higher than our enemies or problems, or of being hidden behind a rock, a place of safety.  Scripture sometimes compares God with a rock, Someone solid and secure, who we can go to in order to hide in safety.

Another benefit we have when we wait for God to answer, is that when the answer comes, we have a new song of praise for God.  We are called to rejoice and be glad in the Lord, and to have joy, especially when He has delivered us from the miry pits we find ourselves in (vs. 16).  Some may question how it is possible to be happy when we’re stuck in a pit.  How are those who are walking closely with the Lord able to rejoice and have joy during these times?  There is a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness relies entirely upon one’s circumstances.  When difficulties or pain arises, happiness leaves.  Joy is a gift from God.  It helps us find hope and peace, even when life is falling apart.   Having hope and joy doesn’t mean we ignore reality.  Having hope will acknowledge reality, but at the same time we acknowledge God’s sovereignty.  Our hope and joy cannot be tied to whether a circumstance or person changes.  It must be tied to the unchanging promises of God.  We have joy and hope for the good we know God will bring from our situation.

When sin or circumstances, either our own or someone else’s, leads us to end up in a muddy, mucky pit in life, we need to remember to call upon God for His help, rather than struggling to get out ourselves, only to end up further mired.  Call upon God for help, and then wait patiently for Him to respond.  When we do, He will lovingly lift us out and set us on good, solid ground.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Jesus - The Passover Lamb

 Exodus 12:1-14

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, where Christians recall the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, beginning with His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His crucifixion on Good Friday.  The setting for the first Lord’s Supper was the Jewish Passover meal.  For our Scripture today let’s look into the Old Testament book of Exodus, where we have the background and meaning of the Passover celebration, and see what God teaches us about what the Passover really means.

As our Scripture opens, God was preparing to liberate the people of Israel from years of slavery in Egypt.  He had just passed judgment on Egypt with nine plagues for their oppression of the Hebrews and as judgment on their idolatry and pagan gods.  There was one more plague to come, that of the slaying of the firstborn.  God gave some instructions to follow in order to escape from being victim of the tenth plague.  The members of each family were to kill a lamb for the Passover meal, and take the blood of that lamb and place it upon the doorposts and lintel of their house (vs. 7).  When the Death Angel passed through the land, when he saw the blood upon the doorposts and lintel, he would pass over that house (vs. 13).

This whole memorial celebration ritual of the Passover clearly pictures and symbolizes the Messiah Jesus and His sacrificial death for us.  The lamb that was taken and killed for each family was a sacrifice, a substitute for the person who would have died in the plague when the Death Angel passed through the land (vs. 3).  It was clearly understood that for them to be spared from death, an innocent life had to be sacrificed in their place.

Why a lamb?  The lamb represented innocence and gentleness.  The prophets often spoke of the tender compassion of God for His people under the figure of a Shepherd and the Lamb, such as in Isaiah 40:11.  God always used the lamb as an important symbol.  When John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the Jewish people, he called Him the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).  He recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of the symbolism of the Passover lamb.  It was a worthy symbol of the Savior, who in innocence endured suffering as our substitute (I Peter 1:19).  The Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 AD) said that it was customary in his day to kill the Passover lamb at 3 pm, shortly before sunset (vs. 6).  That was the time of day that Jesus Christ, the true Passover Lamb, was killed.

On the night of that first Passover, the family had to be sure that they took some of the blood and applied it to the doorposts and lintel in order to be spared from death coming to the family.  The firstborn son of every family who did not have blood on their doorposts was killed.  That blood symbolized the Blood that Jesus, the Lamb of God, would shed upon the cross at His crucifixion.  His life was sacrificed, His Blood poured out, for our sins.  Whoever accepts the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior, which in a real sense is applying His Blood to their hearts, will not suffer eternal death and damnation for eternity.

The lamb had to be partaken by every member of the household (vs. 4,8).  The same is in regards to salvation.  Just because one member of a family is saved, even if it is the head of the house, doesn’t mean everyone is.  Each must come to Jesus for themselves.

The lamb had to be killed in order to get the blood that would protect them.  This foreshadowed the Blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave His Blood for the sins of all people (I Corinthians 5:7).  The blood that was applied to the doorposts and lintel was a real symbol of substitution of one life given for another (Leviticus 17:11).  A ram caught in a thicket was substituted for Isaac (Genesis 22:13-14).  Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22; I John 1:7).

On the night of the first Passover, as the Death Angel went through the land of Egypt, he passed over all houses that had the blood applied.  That was all one had to do in order to survive.  The angel didn’t look inside the house to see if they had done good deeds or were worthy.  He just checked for the blood on the doorposts.  The same is true today to see if one will spend eternity in heaven with God.  God checks for the Blood of His Son Jesus, and whether it has been applied to our hearts.  None of us are worthy.  Only the Blood of Jesus can cover us.  Have you applied the Blood of Jesus to your soul?  If not, do not hesitate to call upon the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior today, for tomorrow may be too late.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Parable Of The Wicked Vineyard Workers

Luke 20:9-19

How do we react when we hear words of correction, especially if they are given rather sternly?  Do we heed the corrective message given to us, or do we become angry?  And if we become angry, does our anger turn to rage, wishing we could clobber that person, and somehow bring him down?  In our Gospel Scripture for this week, Jesus gives one of His final messages to the crowds, a word of correction, in the hopes of turning some hearts around from their continued rejection of God and His ways.  Let’s look at His message, the reaction He received, and how we might apply the message to ourselves.

As our Scripture opens, we are in the last week of Jesus’ life.  A few days earlier He had entered Jerusalem upon a donkey to the cheering crowds.  Now, within a day or two, He will be betrayed, given a mockery of a “trial”, rejected by the crowds, and taken out of the city to be crucified.  With only a handful of hours left, Jesus told His last parable to the crowds.  His audience that day included both Pharisees and other religious leaders from Jerusalem, along with the crowds in the city, many who had come to celebrate the holy days of the coming Passover.

The parable told the story of a vineyard owner, who had planted a vineyard and leased it to vinedressers or tenant farmers, and then left the country for a while.  When it was time to bring in the harvest, the owner sent some servants to collect some of the fruit.  However, the farmers abused and harmed those messengers.  The owner sent more messengers, who were treated similarly.  Finally he sent his son, thinking that he would be respected.  On the contrary, the farmers took the son out of the vineyard and killed him.  Jesus ended the parable by saying that when the owner of the vineyard returns, he would take the vineyard from those tenants and give it to others, to which His audience gave a horrified response (vs. 9-16).

Why did the people listening to this parable of Jesus give such a shocked, and almost angry response?   It was because this time they understood exactly what Jesus meant with this parable, and they did not like the meaning of it.  The owner of the vineyard represents God the Father.  The vinedressers were the Jewish people.  The servants and messengers were God’s prophets, many of whom the Scriptures record as being shamefully treated, beaten, and even killed by both the Jewish religious and political leaders.  Lastly the son of the owner represents Jesus, the Son of God.

The people of Israel were given the responsibility to follow God and be His light, His messengers to the rest of the world.  Yet when He sent His prophets and preachers to them, how were they treated?  The Old Testament records over and over again that most were rejected, and many even abused or killed.  Now Jesus, God’s Son, has come, and He knows that within a couple of days He will be taken outside of Jerusalem and killed, prophesying His death.  The kingdom and all the spiritual advantages that had been Israel’s would now be given to “others”, symbolizing the Church, which consists primarily of Gentiles.  The Church is the channel through which God has been operating since the days of the New Testament up through today.  Israel will be restored to full fellowship with God when Jesus returns.

Jesus continues His teaching in verses 17-18, where He quotes Psalm 118:22.  The chief cornerstone represents Jesus the Messiah, who the religious leaders and majority of the people have rejected.  Ignoring a cornerstone is dangerous, as a building will topple, tripping or crushing people, picturing judgment and punishment.  Jesus is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to these and all unbelievers (Isaiah 8:14; I Peter 2:7-8).

The horrified and angry response in verse 16 was because Jesus indicated that the rebellion of the people in the vineyard was to be punished, and they would receive their just reward.  The audience realized that the people, religious leaders, and nation were at the brink of reaping their consequences.  This would occur when Jerusalem and the Temple would be completely destroyed in 70 AD.

Today, just as in Jesus’ day, many people do not want God’s plan and ways in their life and for this world.  They want their own way.  They reject God, and they reject His messengers, often with harsh and vicious words and actions.  They do not want His Son, Jesus, in their lives, either.  What is your response to God, His Son, and His messengers today?  Have you received Him, or do you reject Him, like those in this parable?  Instead of saying “Certainly not”, meaning “God should not allow it”, this crowd should have been crying “God have mercy on us!”

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Keep Pressing On!

Philippians 3:8-14

Do you have a shelf of trophies at home, or awards of honor that you achieved by being the best, or top notch at something?  Maybe you achieved excellence in some sport or in an artistic ability, or perhaps some special recognition for outstanding work at your job.  There is nothing wrong with being reasonably proud of one’s achievements.  However, in our Scripture passage for today, the Apostle Paul speaks of how he felt about all of the spiritual achievements he had attained and reached before coming to faith in the Lord Jesus.

If awards and medals were given out for religious achievements, Paul would have had a trophy case full of them during the years he was a Pharisee in the Jewish faith.  He was a student of the great Jewish teacher and scholar Gamaliel, and was a scholar himself.  Paul was a very zealous Pharisee, who devoutly kept the law.  He also, with the full support and approval of the Jewish religious leaders, persecuted the followers of Jesus and the new Christian faith.  These were achievements that any devout Jewish man at that time would have been quite proud of.  However, as we read our Scripture verses, Paul said that he counted them as nothing, as garbage, compared to knowing the Lord Jesus as Savior (vs. 8).

A person’s relationship with Jesus is more important than anything else.  Since becoming a Christian, Paul lost many things, some things that many people might have thought important, such as his standing and position in Jewish society, his former friends, his wealth, family, etc.  However, he didn’t mind.  He counted all of that as garbage compared to what he had in Jesus.  Paul willingly renounced all of his earthly advantages and the religious privileges in order to attain salvation.  He knew that he could not trust in those accomplishments to be saved, and neither can we.  Any moral or spiritual achievements we might have attained will not bring salvation.

Paul described the righteousness he had before faith in Jesus as the “righteousness of the law”, which is proud self-righteousness of external morality, religious rituals and ceremonies, and good works.  These are produced by the flesh, and cannot save us.  Many people are sadly trusting in their religious rituals and good works to get them to heaven.  However, as the Bible tells us, only faith in Jesus and His righteousness can save us (vs. 9).  The righteousness which is by faith is made possible by the Cross, and is given to us by God as we trust what Jesus did on that Cross for us.

Paul knew that he wasn’t perfect.  None of us are.  We still sin and make mistakes, and will continue to do so until we reach heaven.  Paul, though, had a goal, and he pressed on towards that goal (vs. 12-14).  He knew he would never become completely Christ-like in this life, but that was his goal, to become more and more each day.  Just like a runner sees the end of the track, and pushes on towards it.  Or an archer continues to aim for the bull’s eye, we push on for the goal of becoming like Jesus.  We should not let anything take our eyes off of our goal of becoming more like Jesus.  We must lay aside everything harmful, and forsake anything that may distract us from being an effective Christian.

There are some things that can hinder us in pursuing this goal, and that is looking back.  A runner shouldn’t look back if they want to win the race.  They need to look forward.  As believers we can be tempted to look back at two different things.  One is past achievements and spiritual victories.  The other would be past mistakes, particularly big ones.  Paul had both.  He had established many churches, and led many to the Lord.  He also had some sins he could have let weigh him down, such as persecuting the early Church and even contributing to the death of some Christians, such as Stephen.  Paul said to forget those things that are behind (vs. 13), and instead press on.  Because our hope is in Jesus, we can let go of past guilt, and instead look forward to what God will help us become.  Also, believers should stop relying on past virtuous deeds and achievements.  God has more for you to do for Him today and tomorrow.

Like Paul, we need to press on towards the goal of the prize of becoming more like Jesus (vs. 14).  As we study these verses, we should ask ourselves whether we are putting anything above our relationship with Jesus.  Are our priorities correct or off?  What are we willing to give up in order to know Jesus better?  Paul counted all he had achieved before as rubbish, something he cast out of his life.  He also was not going to be burdened by the past, either the mistakes or resting on his past laurels.  Let’s keep pressing on!


Monday, April 4, 2022

Sow In Tears, Reap In Joy

Psalm 126

People can usually be divided into one of two groups.  Either they are optimists or pessimists.  The glass is either half empty or half full.  They either see all of the clouds, or they will notice the sun peeking from behind the clouds.  I, myself, tend to lean towards pessimism, and I have to be careful with myself or else I can easily become a “Negative Nellie”.   In our psalm reading today, despite anything that has happened in the psalmist’s past, he chooses to be positive.  Though a short psalm, it is a very uplifting one.  Let’s look it over.

The setting of this short psalm is likely following the Jewish people’s captivity in Babylon, written after they began to return to their Promised Land (Ezra 1), or following some other captivity.  Some scholars have suggested that it possibly could refer to when God delivered Jerusalem from conquest by Sennacherib, the Assyrian emperor who had defeated and overrun the northern kingdom of Israel (II Kings 19:20-35).   Whatever the background for this psalm is, the author and his friends are a joyous and praise-filled group.

As the psalm opens, our psalmist is proclaiming that the people’s release from captivity is like a dream come true (vs. 1-3).  They are laughing and singing for joy.  Some people only like to focus on the nightmares, not the good dreams.  Sure, they are being set free, but rather than rejoice over that, they prefer to harp on the bad time they had while in captivity.  They lost their nice home.  They had to work in a job they didn’t like over in Babylon.  The food was strange.  They didn’t know the language.  On and on they go.  They don’t see the good dream, the things to rejoice over.  They can only see the nightmare.

Unfortunately, this is also the case with some Christians.  They can only look on the dark side of everything.  They dwell more on their trials than on what God has done for them.  A spiritually healthy Christian will dwell on the honor of God, and how He has brought them out of a pit, and set them upon a rock higher than them (Psalm 61:2).  We do have afflictions in life, but God delivers us out of them.  The deeper our troubles , the louder our thanks to God should be.  As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus, our focus should be like these people in verse 3, focusing on what great things the Lord has done for us.  There is never a day that we cannot find many blessings that the Lord gives us, beginning with the greatest one, when the Lord Jesus set us free from the captivity of sin and Satan, and brought us salvation.

The psalmist then speaks of our sowing in tears, but reaping in joy (vs. 5-6).  The past sins of the people had brought about their captivity, which were years of tears for them.  However, when they turned their hearts around, returning to the Lord, they could reap His joy.  We also find hardships in life, along with pain and trouble.  Some of them are caused by our own actions, and some that just come upon us because we live in a fallen world.  For those who know and love God, our tears are seeds that will one day bloom into joy.  Our tears can be seeds that will grow into a harvest of joy, because God is able to bring good out of tragedy.

Verses 5 and 6 can also have another way of looking at them.  The Lord Jesus referred to the Word of God as being seed in His parable of The Sower (Matthew 13:3-23).  Many, many times we bring the Word of God to our lost friends and relatives, and others, yet they resist and refuse to listen or accept Jesus as their personal Savior.  This brings us heartache, sorrow, and tears.  Yet we should never give up witnessing and praying for them, as one day our witnessing may bear fruit and bring in a harvest.  The more we witness and pray in tears, the more we will return bringing our sheaves (the souls of the newly saved) with us.

God does great things in our lives, and we should be open and aware of them, acknowledging them with praise and thankfulness.  His power not only releases us from sin’s captive hold, but brings us back to Him.  Be patient.  God’s great harvest of joy is coming!