I am a little behind posting the week's devotionals to the blog. You can find the week 3 devotionals below. Remember, the only way to receive these devotionals as they are written is to subscribe to my email list.
January 12, 2015
Today's Reading: Genesis 26-27 and Matthew 8:14-9:8
We are now midway through Genesis in this journey through the Bible. I hope you are enjoying Genesis as much as I am. It is a wonderful book for tracing God's purposes for His creation since the beginning. Our sovereign God reigns over the affairs of man. He cares for His people and is always faithful to His promises.
It is at this point in our reading that the first of the patriarchs, Abraham, has passed off the scene. We now turn our attention to his son Isaac and all of the shenanigans that take place with Rebekah and their two sons.
Remember the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." We saw that this promise briefly seemed to be in jeopardy because of Sarah's barrenness. Then God intervened miraculously in Sarah's old age and she conceived and bore a son named Isaac.
Though Isaac was not Abraham's only son, he was the son of the promise. He was the one through whom God would continue His promise to Abraham. God reaffirmed this promise to Isaac in our reading today. Genesis 26:4 recounts God's words to Isaac, "I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands."
We saw yesterday that there was only one problem. Rebekah was barren as well. The Bible tells us though, that Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife and she conceived. We are reminded once again through this that the plans and purposes of God do not fail.
Chapter 27 tells us of a fascinating story that takes sibling rivalries to a whole new level. Esau was the older of the two sons. Thus he would receive his father's blessing. Isaac gave Esau a series of things to do, and after he did them, Isaac would pronounce his blessing on Esau.
Well, Rebekah was nearby and heard Isaac's instructions to Esau. She loved her son Jacob and wanted him to receive his father's blessing. You will also remember that God told Rebekah before the boys were born, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23).
Rebekah came up with a plan for Jacob to trick his father into blessing him instead. As crazy as the plan seemed, Jacob went through with it. And it worked! Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau.
The thing that is so fascinating to me about this story is the way it fits into the purposes of God. There is no doubt that it was sinful for Rebekah and Jacob to deceive Isaac. However, it was God's purpose all along for Jacob's line to be the line of promise. It was God's plan for Jacob to receive his father's blessing. While not being responsible for man's sin, God took man's sinful choices and used them for His good purposes.
Isn't this what God does in each of our lives? Over the course of my life I can look back and see choices that I made that were extremely stupid and even sinful at times. Yet I can also see the sovereign hand of God directing my steps and bringing me to the place I am today, even using some of those stupid and sinful choices to accomplish His purposes. I expect if you look back over your life you can see the same thing.
I hope it brings you comfort this rainy Monday morning to know that the sovereign God of the universe is in complete control even when you mess up. He loves you and cares for you. You can trust in Him.
After spending some time thinking about God's direction throughout your life, allow your heart to overflow in thanksgiving to God. Give thanks to God for His guidance. Thank Him for bringing you where you are today. Trust Him with whatever the future may hold.
January 13, 2015
Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:1-29:30 and Matthew 9:32-10:15
Do you ever get the feeling as you read Genesis that the stories it contains would make good daytime television?
Just think of what we have seen so far. A sibling rivalry in Genesis 4 ended in murder. Abram told the Pharaoh that Sarai was his sister to protect his own life in Genesis 12. The rivalry between Hagar and Sarai in Genesis 16 was no small thing. Lot's daughters conceived children with their father in Genesis 19. Abraham once again told someone that Sarah was his sister to protect his own skin in Genesis 20. The dysfunction continued with Rebekah's successful efforts to trick her husband into blessing Jacob instead of Esau.
Today's reading is just another chapter in the ongoing dysfunctional story. Despite all of the dysfunction, we continue to see the purposes of God unfold.
After receiving his father's blessing, Jacob was sent to the home of his uncle Laban. Upon arriving, Laban's daughter Rachel caught Jacob's eye. This resulted in a deal between Laban and Jacob. Jacob would work for Laban for seven years. At the end of that time, Laban would give his daughter Rachel in marriage to Jacob.
So Jacob fulfilled his end of the bargain, only to be tricked by Laban when it came time for the honeymoon. Jacob got a little taste of his own medicine. The trickster got duped. Laban gave his oldest daughter Leah to Jacob. As you might imagine, Jacob was not too happy when he woke up next to weak eyed Leah.
But because Jacob was smitten with love, he agreed to work for another seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachel as well. At the end of another seven years, Rachel became his wife, and the soap opera was just getting started.
Why does all of this matter? As you will see in tomorrow's reading, God was using all of this together for His good purposes.
Leah gave birth to a baby boy named Judah. Rachel gave birth to a baby boy named Joseph. Do those names sound familiar? We will get to their respective stories as we progress through Genesis. It is enough now to say that both played crucial roles in the history of redemption.
But there is likely another issue that has been rolling around in your head. How can there be so much sin and dysfunction among those who are supposed to be the people of God? How can God be seen as sovereign in the midst of all that?
It is important for us to recognize that God does not lead His people to sin, nor is He guilty of their sin. He is perfectly holy, but He is able to take the worst of situations and use them for good. He is able to use Rebekah's deception and Laban's trickery for his sovereign purposes.
I think also the fact that the biblical characters are not presented as sinless heroes adds validity to the stories of Scripture. We know the human condition. We are all sinners in need of God's grace. It is good for us to look at the "heroes" of the Bible and see that they are just like us. Through all of the sin and dysfunction of Genesis, creation is groaning for a Savior. And God is seen throughout the book bringing about His good purposes to rescue His people to Himself through the one who would never sin.
Turn your attention today to this one, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pray that God would help you to see His sovereign hand throughout redemptive history. Pray that He would help you to delight in the one to whom all of redemptive history is leading. Will you find hope in Jesus today?
January 14, 2015
Scripture Reading: Genesis 29:31-30:43 and Matthew 10:16-33
In yesterday's reading we saw the context for today's passage in Matthew. Jesus sent out his twelve disciples, giving them authority to cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease and affliction. But before sending them out, He gave them some instructions.
The instructions he gave did not resemble the pep talks often given to Christians today when they are sent out to do ministry. Jesus spoke some very difficult words to His disciples. He first told them that they were being sent to the lost sheep of Israel. They were to tell these lost sheep that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
They were to do all kinds of ministry among these people, and were to do so without pay. Jesus told them not to take anything with them, as all of their needs would be provided for by the people to whom they ministered. "If anyone will not receive you," Jesus said, "Shake off the dust from your feet." It would be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for them.
Jesus then gave his disciples a very startling promise. It was not a promise of fruitful ministry or ease of travel. It was a promise of persecution. The one thing Jesus' disciples could count on as they went out was that they would be persecuted. "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub," Jesus said, "How much more will they malign those of the household?"
Jesus then speaks some words of comfort that do not feel very comforting. He tells them not to fear those who can kill the body only. They may lose their physical lives for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and most of them eventually would, but their enemies could not kill their souls.
Jesus is always downplaying the here and now and helping people to think about eternity. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Paul understood that the only way for his life to matter, was for him to live it in light of eternity.
I always find it difficult to think about persecution. I have never been persecuted in any meaningful way, at least not with regard to physical suffering. I do fear that a kind of persecution is coming to our country. It is a kind of persecution that maligns and demonizes those who would dare to articulate a biblical position on any of the pet sins of our culture.
But that is not where my heart is this morning as I write. I think of my brothers and sisters around the world who suffer daily for their faith in Christ. I think of Saeed Abedini or Asia Bibi. I think of countless unnamed others who live every day in fear for their lives because they dare claim the name of Jesus.
Jesus promised it would be this way. These dear Christians are taking His Word seriously. They believe Jesus' words in Matthew 10:32-33, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."
They know that there is only one choice, to stand firm in their faith in Jesus Christ. This devotional is not so much a call to do this or do that as it is a call to not forget. Do not forget our brothers and sisters around the world. As you read Matthew 10, know that Jesus' promise of persecution is taking place all over the world today. Do not allow yourself to detach from the suffering of your fellow believers.
Stand with them in solidarity.
Pray for persecuted Christians around the world. Spend time in prayer for specific situations of persecution. I have linked a couple above. You can also go to persecution.com and find many others. Jesus has called us to stand with our brothers and sisters. May we do so through prayer. May we mourn with those who mourn.
January 15, 2015
Scripture Reading: Genesis 31 and Matthew 10:34-11:19
The first half of Matthew 11 is an interesting passage of Scripture. We saw back in Matthew 3 that John the Baptist played an important role in preparing the way for Jesus. John came preaching a message of repentance, informing people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
John told the people, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry" (Matt. 3:11). John clearly knew that it was his responsibility to prepare the way for the Messiah, the one promised throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.
Then when Jesus came to the Jordan where John was baptizing, John declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Jesus asked to be baptized by John, and after some initial resistance, John baptized Jesus.
What happened next is stunning. When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to Him. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus' baptism, but none of them indicate that anyone could see or hear this other than Jesus.
In John's Gospel we see that John the Baptist witnessed at least the descending of the dove on Jesus. John the Baptist said, "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him" (John 1:32). Apparently God had already somehow told John that the one on whom the Spirit descended was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. This one was the Messiah.
John received visual confirmation himself that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah.
Now fast forward back to Matthew 11. John was in prison and possibly wondering why and how things had gone so terribly wrong. If Jesus was in fact the Messiah, what was John doing sitting in prison? So John sent word to Jesus through his disciples to find out if Jesus truly was the Messiah. They asked, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
Jesus responded by pointing to all of the miraculous things that he was doing. To us it seems like Jesus was simply saying, "Look at all the wonderful things I am doing. Of course I am the Messiah." But Jesus is saying more than that. He is pointing to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the identity of the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6). John would have known this when his disciples returned reporting all of the things Jesus was doing.
I think this passage is an encouragement to us. John the Baptist was the one set aside by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. He had earlier made a very clear confession concerning Jesus' identity. Yet now he finds himself in a very difficult situation and is beginning to doubt.
I think maybe you can relate to John. Maybe you too believe that Jesus is the Messiah and have been serving Him for a long time. But maybe doubt sometimes creeps into your mind. On the one hand, you can take comfort in the fact that the one of whom Jesus said, "Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist," also struggled with doubt in a very difficult time in his life.
But on the other hand, we should cling to the very same evidence that Jesus gave to John concerning His identity. He is the one promised throughout the Old Testament. He has fulfilled all of the prophecies given concerning the Messiah. He is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." May our doubt give way to faith in this One.
Pray that God would strengthen your faith in the midst of doubt. John's faith was not blind. Your faith does not have to be blind either. Pray that God would demonstrate Himself to you throughout the Scriptures, establishing faith in your heart.
January 16, 2015
Scripture Reading: Genesis 32-34 and Matthew 11:20-12:8
Today's New Testament reading contains some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture. Jesus spoke to the people and said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
We considered these words some back when we looked at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. They fit nicely with Jesus' instruction there concerning worry and anxiousness. I come back to them for today's devotional because I think they are important words for us to continuously consider.
If I am not careful, my inclination is to weigh you down. I can give you command after command from the Scriptures, hoping that reciting commands to you will produce spiritual fruit. Unfortunately, this is sometimes how I do sanctification in my own life as well. If I just try harder and do better I can be more like Jesus.
Even though I have discovered that this never works long-term, I foolishly keep coming back to this strategy. Oh, it works for a little while. Or at least on the surface it works. But it doesn't take long before I begin to feel burdened. It doesn't take long before I begin to feel weighed down.
This is why I need to be reminded of the words of Jesus here. I need to cling to the words of Jesus, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Some of you are like me. You want to be told what it takes to honor the Lord. You want to hear the commands of God and be challenged by them. You want to try your best to meet God's standard. But you are also like me in that you fail. Oh, you make it for a little while. But then you burn out. You get tired of all the hard work that your brand of sanctification requires and you quit trying.
I want to remind you that the yoke of Jesus is easy. His burden is light. He has already met God's standard on your behalf. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to add to the work of Jesus on your behalf.
Now let's be clear, that should not lead us to lawlessness. No, exactly the opposite. It should lead us to pursue Christlikeness by taking on the yoke and burden of Jesus. It should lead us to cling to Him.
As I have been reading Matthew's Gospel, I am struck by how Jesus goes from speaking hard words about persecution and forsaking family for the kingdom of God to talking about his yoke being easy and burden light. He obviously did not consider these different emphasis of His teaching to be inconsistent.
We are not promised in Scripture that life will be easy. In fact, we are promised exactly the opposite. The Christian life is hard. But Jesus promises to be with us and provide rest for our weary souls. We must learn to stop depending on ourselves and our own efforts. We must turn to Jesus and allow Him to produce His righteousness in us. If we abide in Jesus, He will abide in us.