Have you ever seen a street-corner evangelist shouting into a megaphone about hell? I recently saw such a guy carrying his cross down the sidewalk—literally—he was pulling along a giant cross on wheels. It’s easy to point fingers at these people and think that their tactics are the very opposite of what Jesus intended (and his cross definitely didn’t have wheels).
But what if it’s not just these people? What if my actions and attitudes are contrary to the very heart of Jesus?
In Acts 22, Paul shares his testimony to the crowd after his arrest. It’s a scary story:
“In one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you (Jesus). And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him” (Acts 22:19b-20, ESV).
Looking back at Saul’s life, it’s scary because of the heinous acts he committed, but even more so because he thought he was doing everything right. He thought he was carrying out God’s work; after all, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) and on fire for God. This facade crumbles when he hears Jesus’ voice calling him on the road to Damascus:
And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And I answered, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 22:7-8, ESV).
You and me are sometimes like Saul. We think we’re right, but maybe it’s more like self-righteous. Maybe our priorities are mixed-up. Maybe we’re quick to judge, hesitant to forgive, or eager to avenge. Are we accurate reflections of who Jesus is, or do we persecute him? Jesus’ harsh words to Saul are a warning to us, too.
Here are two ways to heed Jesus’ warning:
Get to know Jesus. Saul didn’t know Jesus for himself. He accepted what his circle of religious elite said about Jesus (and it wasn’t nice). Get to know Jesus personally—who he is and what he stands for. We get to know him through reading accounts in scripture, prayer, and worship.
Leave the Judgment to God. Saul got into trouble when he sought to avenge the supposed heretics. He relied on his own flawed and limited perception instead of God’s, the perfect Judge. Your job is to love and forgive; God will handle justice.
In what ways have your actions and attitudes “persecuted” Jesus? How can you be a better reflection of him today?
Saul’s transformation story is incredible! Is there anyone in your life who you’ve dismissed as being too far gone? God’s not done working!
In Acts 18 Luke mentioned several workers active in the Church with Paul, giving background for some. It may miss our attention at first, but we don’t know if Aquila and Priscilla were already Christian disciples when they were exiled from Rome (v. 2-3). They were not just fellow tentmakers with Paul, he highly praised them, and a church met in their home (Romans 16:3-5). We know that Egyptians and Romans were present for the Pentecost event (Acts 2:10), so we should expect that some from those areas were present at every festival Jesus attended and perhaps learned from him all along. Logically people from those areas were present during the time John the Baptist ministered as well. There could have been people with imperfect understandings of God’s plans scattered across the empire, and outside it, waiting to encounter disciples. Alexandria was the second largest city in the empire (next to Rome) and had a very large Jewish population. No Bible book relates events there, so it basically disappears from our awareness. Apollos, from Alexandria, knew about Jesus, his identity and resurrection, but he missed some details involved with serving Jesus – particularly not having been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Fortunately, Apollos met Priscilla and Aquila and they were able to take him aside and help him by explaining “the way of God more accurately.” This allowed Apollos to then be of great use to those who believed, through grace (v. 27-28).
It is hard to visualize quite what version of belief Apollos was getting by with before he met Priscilla and Aquila. He still valued his understanding as coming from God, and wanted to share it, as John the Baptist had done. We know he was teaching accurately “the things concerning Jesus,” but what does that leave out? Was he still depending on the Law to carry him along? He understood the idea of repenting, but did he have an idea of how he was supposed to arrive at forgiveness? Perhaps Apollos simply trusted God and moved forward, expecting things to become clear. We can be thankful that he did.
Dear Lord, thank you that as your servant I am not left uncertain about being forgiven. Please help me not to put any of the old weight of sin back on myself, let me accept that the past is in the past. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you, in whatever way it comes. Please help me to grow, not to accept staying as I am, but to seek to be more useful for you and for your people. Prompt me to accept the opportunities that come to me which are within my capacities. Help me to recognize your will. In the name of your son, Jesus, Amen.
What do you think it would mean for someone to try to live their life as a Christian aware of Jesus, and having repented, but without the Spirit? Do you think there is a limit on how long that would be able to last, or what a person could face and still attempt it?
Does it surprise you that Apollos was trying to spread the news he had, even though it was incomplete?
What do you see represented in the fact that Priscilla and Aquila “took Apollos aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately”? How do you visualize that event taking place? How long do you think it took, for example? How do you think they introduced themselves?
How often do you think about the fact that on a given day your situation may not be the most important, but someone else you are interacting with may greatly need your attention?
Do you think much about the idea that people today are trying to serve God with what they understand, and they are waiting to encounter someone willing to help them see the truth more clearly? Are you living in a way where you would feel open to speaking for Jesus if you meet one of those people?
(Sorry this wasn’t sent out til now…I thought it was posted this morning but it appears I shut my computer lid too quickly, or some other technical issue…here’s another try…)
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) This seems like such a simple verse, and yet how I misunderstood it for so long as I didn’t think of the LORD as the Father alone. It’s so important to first fear and love the LORD/YHVH, and yet so many believe in a twisted version like I did. I recently read the golden calf incident to our grandkids and was reminded that they called the golden calf, YHVH! And as the rest of the verse says, “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Many don’t want to be corrected for being wrong, I know I sure didn’t want to be at first. ☹ Fearing YHVH is just the BEGINNING of knowledge! We should continually be willing to learn wisdom and gain instruction no matter our age. “Fools hate knowledge.” (1:22)
“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD.” (1:28,29)
We must continue to choose to fear the LORD and not despise knowledge. I am encouraged in reading the Scriptures how it helps us by continually pointing us in the right direction.
Jesus’s goal was to fear the LORD. The chief priests and scribes sought to destroy him. “They watched him and even sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on his words, in order to deliver him to the power and the authority of the governor.” (Luke 20:20)
Jesus walked about in the streets of Jerusalem and here I am some years ago doing just that. All of our 5 children were born in Israel, four in Jerusalem and our first in Bethlehem (like Ruth’s first;).
“They could not catch him in his words in the presence of the people.” (Luke 20:26) “He taught the way of God in truth.” (20:21) Such fear of God he had, giving us an example and thus providing wisdom and instruction. How can we fear God more in our daily lives? And be more open for wisdom and instruction?
How can we fear God more in our daily lives? And be more open for wisdom and instruction?
In Jesus’ example and in his teaching how did he display and teach fearing God?
In order to have a proper fear of the LORD we need to have an understanding of who He is, what He does, what He desires so we don’t end up calling something the LORD/YHVH that isn’t. What do we learn about God in today’s passages? Why is the Bible the perfect place to find out who He is? What else is the Bible useful for?
1st & 2nd Samuel Introduction
The books of First and Second Samuel are named after the man Samuel – the last judge of Israel (1 Samuel 7:15), a prophet (1 Samuel 9:9), priest (1 Samuel 3:1), and kingmaker (1 Samuel 10:1; 1Samuel 16:13). Samuel oversaw the transition from Israel’s being ruled by Judges to it’s being ruled by a king. As a prophet, priest, and ruler, the man Samuel was a foreshadowing of Christ.
We don’t know who wrote the books of First and Second Samuel. But whoever wrote them clearly had inside information about Samuel, and Kings Saul and David, since the books record such detailed information about each, including what they were thinking, in addition to what they did and said.
From the time of Moses until Samuel, Israel was a theocracy – a nation ruled by God. 1 Samuel 8 details Israel’s rejection of God as king, when they wanted a king to lead them “like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5). God let them go their sinful way by telling Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:7, “…Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” God then led Samuel to anoint Saul as King. He was tall and strong – impressive from any human standpoint, and was just the type of king the people wanted. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow God wholeheartedly.
It wasn’t that God didn’t want Israel to have a king, it was just that the timing wasn’t right. God eventually directed Samuel to Jesse’s family to anoint the next king to replace Saul. 1 Samuel 16:6-7 records, “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” God then directed Samuel to anoint David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), to be the next king over Israel.
Some of the more familiar passages in 1 & 2 Samuel include:
1 Samuel 3 – God calling Samuel
1 Samuel 17 – David and Goliath
1 Samuel 28 – Saul and the Witch of Endor
2 Samuel 7 – God’s promise to establish an eternal dynasty for David
2 Samuel 11 – David and Bathsheba
2 Samuel 15 – Absalom’s conspiracy
2 Samuel 22 – David’s song of praise
Even though David wasn’t sinless (e.g. David and Bathsheba), he was called a man after God’s own heart because he put God first and sought to live for God. I challenge you to live your life like David, who was able to say in 2 Samuel 22:21-25, “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.”
Shalom! This is Stephanie Schlegel writing this week while my husband and youngest daughter are in Israel for a few weeks. 😊 We lived there for about 30 years and moved back to the States five years ago to care for his aging parents.
The passages for today are so fitting for my life right now, and I hope yours too. 😊 The Scriptures bring us so much hope and peace and sustain us, sometimes verses strike and encourage us more than other days. Overall, the faithful commitment in them isn’t disappointing!
When I met my husband (Bill Schlegel) in Jerusalem, he said he found his Ruth. A woman that would be willing to leave her home country and live with him in Israel where he wanted to stay. Both Boaz and Naomi call Ruth their daughter multiple times, and the LORD/Yahweh is acknowledged for having brought about events.
People and elders said, “The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two pillars who built the house of Israel.” (4:11)
“Because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman.” (4:12)
“The LORD gave her conception.” (4:13)
It is good to acknowledge that the LORD is the giver and sustainer of life. Ironically, these days I’m caring for my mother-in-law, like Ruth did. The women told Naomi “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative, and may his name be famous in Israel: And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” (4:14,15)
My mother-in-law has four sons, but she really needs a daughter-in-law these days, especially in rehab with three broken limbs, and I love her! Naomi had had two sons previously, but in her later days, she needed a daughter-in-law to care for her. In general, younger people (grandchildren) can be a restorer of life and nourisher in old age for the elderly. Maybe this week, think of an elderly person or relative you could visit and encourage them, even a neighbor. It can be a lonely time for them as they can’t move around as much. Hug them and speak words of encouragement to them in their days of old.
The passage in Luke 19 is also fitting! Jesus was in Jericho with Zacchaeus and walked up to Jerusalem. He walked past Bethpage and Bethany and came to the Mt. of Olives. Now when one reads those places it sounds fairly simple to walk them, but the walk from Jericho to Jerusalem, which I’ve done, is quite an incline! It took 8 hours to walk the 15 miles with a 3,400 ft elevation increase. Jesus probably walked this a dozen times in his life, including when he was a 12-year-old boy. So, I didn’t have much sympathy when our 14-year-old daughter texted me the other day that Abba (Dad) made her walk from Jerusalem up to the Mt. of Olives, which was less than a mile. Lol I told her Jesus walked multiple times from Jericho to Jerusalem, and not only that but all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, which is about 80 miles and would’ve taken about 4 days to walk. So, I didn’t want to hear any complaining about a little hike up to the Mt. of Olives. Here’s a picture of her smiling at the top of it. 😊
“Now as he drew near the city, he saw the city and wept over it.” (Luke 19:41) This would’ve been a similar view Jesus would’ve seen minus most of the buildings, and it would’ve been the temple instead of the Dome of the Rock. “And he was daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes, together with the leaders of the people sought to destroy him” (19:47)
So, despite difficulties we may have in our lives, seek the peace of God and reach out to the encourage the broken. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (19:38)
Think of an elderly person or relative you can visit and encourage. What do you think you would find helpful and encouraging when you are older than you are now?
How can you be a restorer of life? How is Jesus a restorer of life?
What do we learn about the LORD in our reading today? What do we learn about His Son Jesus?
The book of Proverbs is a collection of “sayings of the wise” which was mostly written by King Solomon. According to Proverbs 1:2-4, the purpose of the book is, “for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young.”
Spoiler alert: Proverbs 1:7 gives the answer right away, where it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Solomon gave advice on many topics, some of which include.
How to live life – Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Money – Proverbs 3:9-10, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
Hard work – Proverbs 6:6, “Go to the ant you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”
Alcoholism – Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
Compassion – Proverbs 21:13, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
Childraising – Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Revenge – Proverbs 24:29, “Do not say, I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did.”
Enemies – Proverbs 25: 21-22, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
Obeying God’s law – Proverbs 28:9, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.”
Defend the poor – Proverbs 3:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
As you read through Proverbs, I challenge you to consider how you can benefit from applying these proverbs to your own life.
(and I forgot to include Judges 21 yesterday, so you can finish that up today)
The story of the ten lepers is familiar to many of us. Luke 17:11-21 is often included in youth Sunday School lessons as a powerful tale of healing and to give thanksgiving. In the parable, we read about the ten men who were cleansed but learn that only one returned to give thanks to Jesus. Often, we use this parable to teach young children about the importance of giving thanks.
Though like many, I learned this tale in my youth, it wasn’t until my adulthood that I more fully understood the need for thanksgiving. Verses 15-16 of this parable are what jump out at me as an adult. “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.”
It’s interesting to me that it’s specifically pointed out that the man who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. This man had a double whammy in society! First, he had leprosy and would have been kept apart from others. Secondly, he was a Samaritan, considered less than desirable among people of Jesus’ time. In that simple phrase at the end of verse 16, we see yet again that Jesus’ ministry sought out and served the marginalized people. Healing and grace was for all people, not just an elite few.
That phrase jumps out to me, because at heart, I am a Samaritan. I’m one of the less desirable that Jesus came to save. As a youth, I didn’t have life experience to fully appreciate and understand the gift of God’s grace or the need for thanksgiving. As an adult, I have both the education of life and Bible study to have a full awareness of God’s grace and mercy. Just like the marginalized people that Jesus served in His day, I am in great need of healing and grace due to my sin.
Verses 15-16 also strike a chord in me because of the manner in which the leper gave thanks. Look at the way he praised Jesus! He used a loud voice and he fell on his face before Christ. He did not shrink in giving praise and thanksgiving because he understood the power of the healing bestowed upon him. He had a true gratitude to Jesus. Do we have a true gratitude for the way in which we have also been saved?
Oh, how I want to praise Jesus just like the leper who fell at his feet! He has given me much, so let me praise him much! In our lives, can we live out Psalm 117? “Praise the Lord, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! For his lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!”
Today, can you offer true gratitude for the mercy and loving kindness that God has offered to us through the gift of Jesus’ life on the cross? Can you share that mercy with others? As a church, can we seek out the marginalized people of our society and offer them the same love that Jesus lived in His ministry?
How can you (will you) offer true gratitude for the mercy and loving kindness that God has offered to us through the gift of Jesus’ life on the cross?
How can you (will you) share that mercy with others?
As a church, how can we (will we) seek out the marginalized people of our society and offer them the same love that Jesus lived in His ministry?
In our Bible reading today what do we learn about God? What do we learn about Jesus? Why do you think it says that as the cleansed leper was throwing himself at Jesus’ feet he was praising God?
The Book of Ruth is one of only two books of the Bible named after a woman. It takes place during the time of the Judges in Israel. It is named after the main character in the story, a Moabite woman by the name of Ruth, who became a believer in God, and followed her mother-in-law back to Israel. Because it mentions Ruth’s great-grandson, King David, the book of Ruth must have been written after David became King.
One of the most familiar passages is Ruth 1:16-17, which says, “…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
The Book tells about a woman, Ruth, a foreigner, born to a people with no relationship to God, who became a believer, and was richly blessed by God. Ultimately, she was listed in Matthew 1:5 in the ancestry of Jesus.
The Book of Ruth shows the incredible loyalty of Ruth to Naomi. It also shows the kindness of Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, as well as the kindness of Boaz to Ruth. These remind us of God’s kindness toward us. We are also introduced to the concept of a “kinsman redeemer” – a relative who will redeem someone when they can’t pay their own way. This reminds us of Jesus, our relative, who paid for our sins, because we couldn’t pay for them ourselves.
As you read the Book of Ruth, consider how God watches over and blesses those who follow Him.
Psalms 113-118 are known as “Hallel,” which means praise. These Psalms are recited, either in unison or responsively, in Jewish observances such as Passover and Hanukkah. This specific passage of Psalms is a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God for the blessings He poured out on Israel during the Exodus from Egypt. Though “Hallel” typically refers to Psalms 113-118, two other sections of Psalms are also referred to as “Hallel.” Thus, Psalms 113-118 are also specifically referred to as the “Egyptian Hallel” due to recounting of the Exodus story in Psalm 114.
In Passover remembrances, the Hallel is used within both the temple and homes. Before the Passover meal, Psalm 113-114 would be sung together. Most scholars believe that Jesus and his disciples would have sung these verses together while gathered for the Last Supper. When you read the verses of Psalm 113 closely, they seem a fitting hallmark to Jesus’ ministry.
In verses 7-9, we read, “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Throughout Jesus’ ministry, his work angered many because he focused on the ones that others forgot or ignored. Just like the words of the Psalm, he shook social norms. How many instances can we recount of him healing the less desirable, such as the woman at the well, or socializing with sinners, such as Zaccheus? Jesus acknowledged in words and actions that all will be made equals in God’s kingdom?
In today’s New Testament text, we read another example of Jesus lifting the needy, while others found fault. In Luke 13: 10-13, we read, “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God.” Later in the text, we read how the Synagogue leaders were indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, causing Jesus to rebuke them. He had once again turned expectations upside down.
While reciting this Psalm during their Passover meal, did any of Jesus’ disciples connect his ministry to the words they were singing? It’s also poignant to think that despite his imminent betrayal and death, Jesus could recite this prayer of praise and thanksgiving from the Psalm. “Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore!From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised!The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!”
When we are faced with trials, can we do the same as Jesus? These verses remind us that in all things, the Lord is worthy of continual praise. It does not instruct us to be thankful once. Rather, it is imploring us to offer thanks “forevermore.” God is unchanging and there will never be a time in which we cannot offer homage to Him.
My daughter’s teacher has her students complete a daily task in their agendas. At the end of each school day, the students are tasked with reflecting on the day and writing down two positives that happened to them. The teacher is striving to enable a mindset of gratitude and positivity within her class.
Could we take on the same task in order to offer continual praise to God? At the end of each day, let’s take time to reflect on that day. What can we praise God for? Perhaps your day at work was rough. But could you thank God that you had a job to go to that will provide for your needs such as food and shelter? This week, I challenge you to find at least two things in your day for which you can offer God praise and thanksgiving.
Jen Siderius is a member of the Fair Oaks Community Church of God in Virginia. She and her husband Dan live in Maryland, where she works as an elementary school media specialist. When she’s not busy being entertained by the antics of their 9-year-old daughter, she loves to read, run, knit, quilt and try new crafts.
Where do you see Jesus upsetting social norms? What was his purpose in doing so? Where have you – and can you – follow Jesus’ example?
How would you rank yourself in the thankfulness category? Do you daily praise God for what He has done and who He is? How can you work at increasing your spirit of thankfulness?
What did you see about God in today’s reading that you will praise Him for? What is Jesus revealing about His Father and God that we can praise God for?
In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples. He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and they were to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. They went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. That sounds amazing, but later Jesus explains that there is a lot more to being his disciple. There is sacrifice. We must be willing to offer up our own lives-our desires, our agenda- in the service for God. Jesus told them all that whoever wants to be his disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him. Notice that we do it daily. Our sacrifice is about gaining life, a better life, an eternal life. As Paul would write, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1) Jesus told them that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24 & 25)
Jesus assures us that what we are giving up and what the world offers us is nothing compared to what he has in store for us. Even though we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), Christ wants us to fully rely on him every day. May he give us the strength and encouragement to always Follow Him.
How can you proclaim the Kingdom of God and help heal the sick?
What have you given up in order to follow Jesus? What are you still hanging on to too tightly? What might taking up your cross daily look like today? And tomorrow? And Saturday? Etc…
What do we learn about who Jesus is in Luke 9? What did Peter not say? Why is what he did say important?
I love celebrating. Who doesn’t!? But my two favorite holidays are Christmas and Easter, and honestly the time leading up to those celebrations is as precious to me as the holidays themselves. The Advent of Christmas is all about preparing for the birth of the Messiah and the remembrance of that birth. And the only thing better than the birth of our Messiah, in my opinion, was his resurrection from death. This week we’ll be looking at Scriptures in the Gospels that tell the story of Christ and his followers and their days leading up to Christ’s resurrection.
And as we read along, we can prepare together for this special celebration.
Our first passage is Matthew 21. We see Christ and his disciples returning to Jerusalem. It’s packed with those who have traveled there to worship and partake in Passover, and Jesus is coming in on a colt that has never been ridden, fulfilling prophecy. And the people are celebrating! They are preparing the way for him, throwing cloaks and garments and palm branches down to create a path. Can you imagine being there? It’s packed with people and you are taking off your cloak and throwing it on the ground so donkeys can walk over them. It sounds so strange yet this was a sign of amazing respect and admiration. They were singing praises for this man who was entering in such a public, and yet very humble, fashion.
And the first thing Jesus does is ride right up to the temple and enter God’s Holy Place. And what does he find there? A market. A “den of robbers.” Have you ever been to a public, open air market? It’s loud. People are yelling to advertise, chattering, bargaining. It’s overwhelming and busy, full of animal noises and feces. This is what they have made out of God’s house. How can anyone come in prayer and worship and reverence in such a place? And Jesus cleans up in another very public display.
I love this entry. It’s full of this contrast of humility and power. It’s full of passion, from both the crowds as well as Jesus. And it’s such a perfect reflection of how I want to see Jesus coming into my life this week.
Take some time today and prepare yourself with me. Ask yourself:
How can I prepare my life and clear a path for Christ to enter into it this week?
What do I need to lay before him to honor him? My time? My focus? My attention?
How can I celebrate and praise him this week?
What, like that noisy marketplace in the temple, is creating noise and distraction in my life and in my mind?
What is dirtying up my faith and my prayer life? What do I need to oust and overturn?
My hope and prayer for you today is that Jesus enters your life in spectacular fashion and causes a stir in your heart just as he caused a stir in Jerusalem so long ago. Happy Palm Sunday!
Take some time with the questions in today’s devotion.
Throughout the week continue reading the Scriptures asking yourself, “Who is this Jesus?” and what is he teaching us about himself, his purpose and his Father?
Today we have three readings before us that seem very different from one another. They are different in many ways; approach, style, etc. but contain a similar message throughout.
The book of Deuteronomy details many hardships and troubles that God’s people faced. It also contains promises and hope. It reminds us that we have an active role in our faith. Our Heavenly Father did not create us with a certainty that we would listen and obey, that we would automatically choose Him. He created us with free will and allows us, each and every one of us, to make these life and death decisions on our own. He gives us all of the information we need and places the choice in our hands. To have life is to be with God. This book is about having an ongoing relationship with our loving God.
Psalm 76 is a song of victory of Israel over the enemies of God. Often times we see the rejoicing of the people and focus only upon the battle God won that led them to this point. He had delivered victory – that is evident to Israelite and Gentile both. There is more to it though, more here than a casual glance will reveal. The psalmist sings of weapons of war at rest. The Lexham English Bible says, the stouthearted sleep, both rider and horse slumber. Death is implied here but, in that death, God has brought peace. The slain, the peace of death, and for those who yet live peace through knowing Him, revering Him, “From heaven you pronounced judgement, and the land feared and was quiet.” Like with our overview of Deuteronomy, we see our need for a relationship with God, that life comes from Him.
And then we get to our final section of reading for today, as we finish 2 Corinthians with chapter 13 – which brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13 – the chapter all about love. From verse four through the beginning of verse eight, it details what real love is and what it is not. The first three verses are quite plain to say that what we do or say in this life matters little if it does not come from the type of love that God, and Jesus displayed for us.
We are merely messengers of the Gospel, the Good News. We are to ensure that others know of salvation through Jesus by our words and actions. It is not for us to judge one another or force a change. We are to faithfully bring the truth of God’s word to our family, friends, and acquaintances. It is that truth that will reveal both sin and the need for salvation, but it is still up to the individual to make that choice. If that choice is not to come to God through Jesus, then we are to still love them. We are limited to our knowledge of now, this moment, and even that is severely lacking. We do not know their future choices, so we love them. They are created in God’s image, so we love them.
Each of these sections of Scripture present the hardships that come with the choice we each face, to know and love God or deny Him. It is not just our choices though, but also those of everyone around us. We have this amazing knowledge of God, Jesus, and salvation. We, who have a relationship with Him through Jesus, have a hope beyond the troubles of this life. Loving God, and knowing His love, can comfort us in our most desperate moments.
We want that for others and sometimes get frustrated, angry, or hurt that they refuse to open themselves to this relationship. That is probably similar to how God felt about you and I before we made that choice. I believe that a huge part of our commission to go into the world to spread the Gospel is to love the sinner as God loves us who still sin. Be patient. Speak and live God’s word. That is what love is!
I love the book of Deuteronomy. Even though it retells many of the highlights of Exodus through Numbers, the tone of Deuteronomy is much different. Instead of just laying out the law as God had given it, and instead of just relaying historical facts, Moses was now encouraging the people to love and follow God- for their own good.
Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy just before his death. This was his last opportunity to encourage the Israelites to obey God wholeheartedly. When he wrote it, almost everyone was dead who had been an adult when the Israelites had left Egypt. As a result, Moses was trying to remind the new generation of all that God had done for them (and their parents), and was trying to encourage them to follow God – and not just obey Him, but to love Him.
Deuteronomy 10: 12-13 is an example of this, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
The book of Deuteronomy ends with Moses climbing a mountain, and looking out over the Promised Land – which he wasn’t allowed to enter because of one act of disobedience against God. And then Moses died. Can you imagine how disappointed Moses must have been, seeing the promised land, but not being able to enter? He had longed for this his whole life, and was finally denied entry.
This should be a warning to us. It reminds me of Luke 13:28, which says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”
I’ll close with Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
What do we learn from Moses and Paul about how to speak and live God’s word? How can you speak and live God’s word better than you have previously?
We all have choices to make. What choices have you made that have brought you closer to a relationship with God and the salvation he extends through His son? What choices have you made that have taken you further from God? What will you choose today?
What do you learn about God and His character in today’s Bible reading? Who needs to hear that and how will you share?
In Numbers 20-21 we encounter the Israelites at the end of their journey as they wrap up their years in the wilderness and prepare to enter the promised land of Canaan. Unfortunately, before they do that, we see a purging of a generation of people who had rebelled, distrusted, and quarreled with themselves and with the LORD. In Chapter 14 God had instructed them that only Joshua and Caleb would enter the promised land, and now we see God was serious. In Numbers 20:1 Miriam dies, in verse 12 Moses is told he will not be entering the promised land, and by the end of the chapter Aaron is dead. No special privileges here for being a priest, a leader, or related to a special someone who “was a really good person most of the time”.
In recent years I’ve heard more and more talk about generations. Terms like X, Y, Z’s, Millennials, Zillennials, Baby Boomers. All have their strengths and weaknesses, and since I fall right in-between two, depending where I am or what is being said, I might want to associate with one more than another. That is because there are stereotypes of generations, but none are always accurate nor are they particularly important or beneficial. No matter what, as a body of Christ, we are an intergenerational people, and research continues to show the benefits of multigenerational worship and education. The year of your birth simply does not have anything to do with who we are in Christ. What does matter is our faith in Jesus and being a follower of him. In today’s reading, we see a generation dying out who knew God, yet had managed to waste the better part of 40 years not doing much to please Him, but doing a great job finding things to fight and complain about. We are currently living in a world where fights and complaints are the norm, and also one where our life expectancy is dropping. Many people born in recent generations have a lower life expectancy than their parents did. We are on this earth for a finite time, and unless we live until Jesus returns, we will “rest with our fathers” the same way people have been doing since the days of Numbers.
But, the story of Numbers doesn’t just end with death and burials, and ours doesn’t have to either. Joshua and Caleb (and crew) did get to the Promised Land. And we see more symbolism again in this idea since Yeshua can be translated as Joshua in Hebrew (our OT character leading them to the promised land) and when translated into Greek/from Greek can be translated as Jesus (our NT character through whom we have hope of our promised land in the kingdom). There is lots more out there to learn about as far as name studies if that interests you which I’ve learned a bit more about through a friend who has “Yeshua is my king” stickered across his back window. I couldn’t help ask about that one the first time I met him!
Another thing I found interesting as I read Numbers 20-21 is that a lot of the pagan enemies they are fighting on their way to the promised land are their “relatives”. The Edomites come from Esau (who was later named Edom), the Moabites and Ammonites come through incestuous relationships through Lot, and for that matter, all of them go back to Noah’s three sons! But, it didn’t matter if you were a descendant of Abraham or a relative of someone who once believed in the one true God. The people who entered the promised land were those who trusted and relied on Him, humbling themselves to allow Him to lead. Everyone else who didn’t worship the one true God as he instructed them to, set apart and holy according to his expectations. . . they were enemies. It didn’t matter if they had heard YHWH, the God of Israel, was powerful and real and they were a little scared of him. It mattered if they honored and obeyed him, and they certainly did not. While family trees can be interesting, that is about all they are good for when it comes to things of eternal perspective. The fact that your great grandpa was an elder who walked 10 miles uphill to go to church every Sunday doesn’t matter, and whether or not your relatives called themselves Christians or you attended church as a kid does not matter for your future. What matters is that in your present, regardless of which generation you are from or how much longer you may have left on this earth, you humble yourself before God and let Him lead. The wilderness surrounds us, but the promised land to come is real.
Yesterday I ended with a verse I really liked about Jesus being the sacrifice for sins for all of us, for the whole world for all time. No more sacrifices required, and we are cleansed and forgiven. That is beautiful and true. But, the verse immediately following is too. It tells us how God expects us to respond to that gift and is a good way to wrap up our studies in Numbers this week I think.
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (I John 2:3, ESV)
What did this Israelite generation have going for them? What were strikes against them? What most important thing did they keep forgetting?
Right now, this week, have you been more like Joshua and Caleb – intent on trusting a great big God who saves and will lead you into the Promised Land – or the generation that will not survive the wilderness – losing sight of God’s greatness as you focus instead on complaining, arguing, living in fear and negativity and quarreling with the Lord? Are there any changes that need to be made starting today?
What does God reveal about Himself in the passages we have read from His Holy Word today?