Monthly Archives: July 2016

Today’s Scripture – July 29, 2016

Matthew 4:1 (NIV)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Some are amazed that God orchestrated Jesus’ testing in the wilderness.  They believe that it is God’s duty to protect His people from temptation, so that we won’t fall into sin.

But Jesus’ temptation, like the temptation of Adam and Eve, and like the temptations and times of testing that He allows into the life of every one of His people, has a purpose.

There were two levels of significance to this time of testing in Jesus’ life.  The first was primal:  the first Adam was tested and fell into sin, making the whole human race liable to sin and subject to death.  The second Adam, who was sent to save mankind from sin and death also had to pass through a similar time of testing and be victorious if His mission was going to be successful.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by that Spirit into the desert.  And in this lay the second level of significance.  The Israelites, the first people that God had called to be His own people, had been tested in the desert for 40 days while Moses was on the mountain with God, and they had failed the test.  They had fallen into the gross sin of idolatry with the golden calf.  That fall had planted the seed of idolatry deep into the hearts of the people, which then sprang up over and over again, even in the Promised Land, breaking their relationship with God repeatedly, and ultimately causing God to drive them out of the land.  By going through the wilderness test successfully, Jesus, unlike the Israelites, would be able to come out of the desert in power and victory, and would bear the seeds of a new, transformed people, whose hearts would be entirely devoted to God, without the generational taint of idolatry.

There were two factors that helped Jesus to stand firm in this time of testing.  The first was His assurance that the Holy Spirit dwelling in Him made Him more powerful than the tempter that would be assailing Him.  The second was the understanding of what was at stake in this time of testing.  Jesus knew who He was; He knew what His job was; and He understood that failure at this point would doom the whole enterprise.  And there was no way that He was going to let that happen!

Father, like Jesus, we have been given a mission to accomplish – not to give our lives for the salvation of mankind, but to take the message of that accomplished salvation into the world and lead people into Your kingdom.  In order to be successful in our mission like Jesus was in His, we too need to pass every testing time without falling, which would taint our lives and invalidate our message.  Like Jesus, You have given us the assurance that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is more powerful that the tempter that assails us.  (1 John 4:4 (NIV):  You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.)  Like Him, we must always keep in mind what is at stake every time we are tested.  We must know who we are in You:  a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that (we) may declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)  We must know what our job is:  to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything (Jesus has) commanded (us). (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)  And we must understand that failing when we are tested will damage our witness, and doom the whole enterprise.  I praise You, Lord, that You have already given us all the power we need to gain the victory whenever the tempter comes.  Now help us to use that power to make the victory real.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 28, 2016

Matthew 3:13-17 (NIV)

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

After the months-long overture of John’s baptism ministry, the curtain finally opened as Jesus stepped onto the stage of history for act one of His role as Messiah.  This was not the helpless baby of Bethlehem.  Nor was it the precocious 12-year-old boy who fascinated the teachers in the temple (cf. Luke 2:41-52).  This was Jesus, the Messiah, the Holy One of God, claiming His place in God’s plan by a simple act of obedience.

When Jesus was still in His mother’s womb, His mere presence had caused a reaction in the pre-born John (Luke 1:39-44).  Now, as Jesus approached John as a man, the same spark of recognition flashed between them.  Here was the One that John had been longing to see.  Here was the validation of John’s own calling, the validation of the Scriptural prophesies of the Messiah, the salvation of Israel and the world, standing embodied in the man wading out into the Jordan River to meet him.

The idea that he should baptize Jesus dismayed John.  He knew very well who was standing expectantly before him: the One that he himself had admitted to being unqualified to untie the sandals of.  And this living embodiment of the Most High, the One who had come to bring both blessing and judgment, was asking to be baptized by him.

But Jesus’ explanation, that this was what the Father had commanded, so it must be done to fulfill all righteousness, was enough for John.  He was God’s man, and had been since his conception.  His whole life had been lived in utter obedience to the God that he served.  So he baptized Jesus.

When Jesus came up out of the water, both John and Jesus saw the heavens open up, and the Spirit of God come down on Jesus in the form of a dove, and remain on Him.  For Jesus, this, and God’s own voice from heaven, were the stamp of divine approval for His obedience.  Though Jesus had no sins of His own to repent of or be forgiven for, His identification with God’s people was critical for the ultimate success of the mission.  For John these signs were a confirmation that the task for which God had sent him had now been accomplished (cf. John 1:32-34).

From that moment on, the focus of God’s plan shifted away from John and his work of preparing the hearts of God’s people for the arrival of Jesus, and onto Jesus Himself, and His work of opening the doors to God’s kingdom wide, and drawing people inside.  Although John would continue his ministry for several more months, with the appearing of Jesus, John’s light began to diminish, even as Jesus’ light grew in intensity and brilliance.

Father, it is amazing what happens when the paths of two or more people, all doing Your will completely, intersect.  That point is where You make Your presence known (cf. Matthew 18:19-20).  It is also amazing to see that even Jesus did not choose His own way, but fully obeyed Your commands and followed Your precise plan in every detail (John 5:19-20).  Help me, Lord, to be just like Jesus in this.  Help me to give myself entirely to Your agenda, to obey Your every command instantly and fully, so that Your presence can be fully manifested in my life.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 27, 2016

Matthew 3:7-12 (NIV)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John never stopped warning the people about the One who would come after him.  There were many, including the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to hear John preach, who believed themselves to be righteous before God by their adherence to the law, or by virtue of their position, and thereby having no need for repentance and baptism.  They were looking forward to the Day of the Lord, the day the Messiah would come and take over the nation, sweeping them along with Him to great power and great acclaim for their righteousness.

But John echoed the words of the prophet Amos to the self-confident Israelites and Judeans:  Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. (Amos 5:18 NIV)  John pointed out that the One to come would not pronounce His blessing on those who did not produce fruits of repentance.  Lineage, descent, sacrifices, and attendance at temple services would give no benefit when standing before the coming Messiah.  He would see into a person’s very soul.  He would be no respecter of persons, and would show no deference to those in positions of importance.

Jesus was not coming to just to bless all of the Jewish people, but to complete the process of sorting and purification that John had begun with His baptisms.  John’s ministry had already sorted out those who were aware of their own sinfulness and need for repentance from those who believed that they were good enough on their own.

Jesus’ presence and ministry would not only make those differences even more apparent, but would also bring judgment on those who showed their unrepentant hearts by rejecting Him and His disciples.  This action would be so definitive that John likens it to separating the wheat from the chaff, so that the wheat could be bought into the Lord’s barn, and burning up the chaff with fire that never goes out.

The coming of Jesus held no terror for those whose hearts were soft and repentant.  But for those who stubbornly refused to turn to God through repentance, the consequence would be terrible.

Father, we often picture Jesus as this meek and gentle man who was loved by everyone, and who would never hurt a fly.  And He was all of that to those whose hearts were soft, and who came to Him humbly.  But we can’t overlook the fact that He was perceived so differently by those who rejected Him, or who came to Him in self-righteousness, making demands of Him.  Those people faced a sterner Jesus, who warned them of the cost of rejecting Him.  Lord, help me to always keep my own heart soft and responsive to You and Your instructions, so that I can always walk in the presence of Your love and grace.  Amen.

 

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Today’s Scripture – July 26, 2016

Matthew 3:1-6 (NIV)

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

It had been around 30 years since the baby had been born in Bethlehem.  Ever since then, heaven itself had been holding its collective breath in anticipation.  Jesus had grown into a strong man in Nazareth.  He was by trade a carpenter, like His earthly father, and amazing for His piety, His devotion to God, and His knowledge of the Scriptures.

In those 30 years as God’s perfect timing drew near, it was almost like a bowstring being drawn tight, ready to launch Jesus on His mission.  If a person knew what to look for, they could almost see the tumblers starting to fall into place.

And then came John.  John came out of the Judean wilderness with a message that caught everyone’s attention:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  

Through the prophet Malachi, God had predicted that God would send a messenger to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, and why that advance preparation was so vital.

  • Malachi 3:1-4 (NIV):  “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
  • Malachi 4:5-6 (NIV):  “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

The messenger would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, boldly speaking God’s truth to shake His people out of their complacency, to point out the sins that they had to repent of, and to warn them of the impending approach of the Messiah Himself.

To Jesus, the news of John’s appearing was like a starter’s pistol going off.  It was His cue to set aside His life in Nazareth, and head south to launch His ministry.  To the people, John’s message was a wake-up call.  Many had been living their lives, only giving God a token nod once a week at the Synagogue service.  But John’s news was that the time had come.  The kingdom of God was upon them, and would appear soon.  And that news filled them with both hope and dread.

Father, we forget that Jesus’ coming was anticipated with more than joy at the fulfilled promise of the Messiah.  There was also an underlying holy fear, based on the knowledge that when the Messiah appeared, there would be, in a sense, a judgment.  His very presence would judge the hearts and minds of the people, and the purification that He brought would be by fire.  Those promises drove the people to make themselves ready for this unprecedented manifestation of God.  Father, help us who are called by Your name to be ready for a fresh coming of Jesus into our hearts.  Show us clearly where we need to repent, where we seriously need our hearts to be purified by the fire of Your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 25, 2016

Matthew 2:19-23 (NIV)

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

There are many people who bring God all of their crises in prayer, but don’t like to bother Him with what they call “the small stuff.”  Things like healing from cancer or accidents are brought to the Lord as a matter of course.  But there are few who seek God for His input on things like where they live, what jobs they should pursue or take, where to go on vacation, or what kind of car to buy (or even whether or not to buy a new car in the first place).

Many people don’t believe that God really cares about the mundane details of everyday life.  But He really does.  Especially with those who belong to Him, He has plans and callings that impact every area of their lives, the large details as well as the small ones.

Joseph and Mary were really good at relying on God’s direction, and at seeking His input at every juncture.  When God informed them through an angel that the coast was clear back in Israel because Herod had died, they immediately headed back.  But once they entered the land and heard that Archelaus was ruling in Judah (a man who was a cruel and harsh tempered as his father, Herod, had been), they were in a quandary as to where to settle.  They sought God’s will, and He directed them to head north and settle back in Nazareth, the hometown of both Joseph and Mary’s youth (see Luke 1:26-27).

Joseph could have chosen on his own to live anywhere – even to go back to Egypt where it was safe.  But he realized that, as far as God is concerned, there are no inconsequential details in a person’s life.  He did not realize it at the time, but God had actually spoken through Isaiah an obscure prophecy that pointed to the fact that the Messiah would come from Nazareth.  (Isaiah 11:1 (NIV):  A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Hebrew word for “Branch” is “netser,” which is very similar in sound to the place name Nazareth and the title Nazarene.)  Because Joseph was fully compliant to God’s will, that prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus.

Father, I must admit that I have sometimes believed that You were not really that interested in the mundane details of my life (or at least lived like that was my belief).  But I can see now that, as a person who was bought with the blood of Jesus, there are no mundane and inconsequential details in my life.  Every decision has potential to put me and keep me in line with Your will (to take me out of it).  Help me from now on to live this truth every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 24, 2016

Matthew 2:16-18 (NIV)

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

It is so easy to get caught up in the emotion of this event.  Young, innocent children being ruthlessly slaughtered by a crazed king bringing all of his resources to bear in trying to protect his throne and his dynasty from God and His agenda.

It is a horrific scene, one that can be easily imagined.  As we read the words spoken through Jeremiah, it is almost possible to hear the anguished screams of bereaved mothers, caught up in and crushed by events that were beyond their understanding.

But if we peer through the horror of that scene, we can see another scene being played out in the background.

Herod’s scheme utterly failed.  He didn’t succeed in killing the Messiah, who had slipped out of his grasp and was well on the way to Egypt before his assassins reached Bethlehem.  His failure wasn’t due to a lack of resources or power; it was because he had set himself against God and His plans.  And God’s plans will always win out.

This scene is a real-life example of the truth brought out in Psalm 2:1-6 (NIV):

Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
     and the rulers gather together against the LORD
     and against his Anointed One.
“Let us break their chains,” they say,
     “and throw off their fetters.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
     the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger
     and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my King
     on Zion, my holy hill.”

At many points in Jesus’ life and ministry people tried to stop Him, or kill Him, or move Him out of their way.  Bu in every case they failed miserably, because by resisting Jesus, they were resisting God; by plotting against Jesus, they were plotting against God.  And people who plot against God are doomed to failure and ultimate destruction.

Even today, as always over the last 2000 years, there are those who try to stop God’s agenda of bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.  The enemy has victories from time to time, succeeding in imprisoning or even killing those engaged in the work.  But they have never been able to put out the light of the gospel.  When it is squashed in one place, it merely rises even stronger someplace else.

The best efforts of the enemy to stop the gospel have always been futile, and always will be, because God’s agenda will be accomplished.  Those who fall fighting on the side of the gospel in the battle for the souls of men will ultimately be fine.  Their home will be with the Lord forever, and their victory over the enemy will be complete as He wipes away every tear of suffering and pain.

The picture painted by Jeremiah and Matthew is accurate and heart-wrenching.  But the rest of the story, the last word is found in Psalm 2, and in the first few words of Matthew 2:19 (NIV):  After Herod died…

Father, it is very easy to get caught up in the turmoil of our times, and to forget who You are, and what You are doing.  It is easy to count our defeats and to lose sight of the ultimate victory You have promised in Your word – a victory not for us personally, but for Your agenda, Your cause with which we have aligned ourselves.  Help me to live ever faithful to Your calling on my life, so that, even if I die, I will live forever in Your presence, and see Your final victory.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 23, 2016

Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV)

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 

Jesus, although God in the flesh, was completely helpless at this point in His life.  Later He would be able to silence His enemies, walk right out of hostile crowds, and know exactly where He should and shouldn’t be at any given moment.  But for now, He was a mere child who had no idea that death would soon be pursuing Him.

Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, had been in the habit of hearing and obeying God’s voice for many years.  So it was a simple thing for God to send His messenger to speak to Joseph and give Him instructions that would save both them and the child.

As was their habit, they heard clearly and obeyed immediately, even in something as radical as pulling up stakes and leaving the country.  They knew God’s voice, so they didn’t argue or ask for clarification or signs that would validate the message.  They simply got up in the middle of the night and headed to Egypt, trusting that God would provide everything that they would need, and that He would give them additional instructions whenever it was appropriate.

Of course, God had known that this journey would be necessary long before the earth had been created.  He had even inspired Hosea to write it down as a prophecy.  But Joseph and Mary didn’t require God to tell them everything that He had planned before they were willing to participate in what He was doing.  They were humble and obedient in everything, and they were willing to rely on God to tell them what they needed to know when they needed to know it.  They were exactly the kind of people that God chooses to do extraordinary things!

Father, I don’t ask for great things.  I ask that You help me to be simply humble and obedient like Joseph and Mary, so that You can easily use Me to work Your plan.  Help my trust in You to be so thorough and complete, and my relationship with You so strong, that I know Your voice well, and obey immediately whenever You speak.  Amen.

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