The best movies are more than a fun way to spend a couple of hours, they leave us with something. And a film doesn’t have to be deep and dramatic to be able to find lessons in it. Analogies are everywhere. Learning can come from many places.
Our devotional trailer opens on a fleeing man, Onesimus, with the voiceover telling us, “Under Roman law, there were no limits to the punishment a slave master could inflict on a runaway slave….but sometimes redemption comes when we least expect it. ”
Onesimus somehow found Paul, and over time he grew a faith…and a friend, it seems. At some point, Paul sent a letter to Onesimus’ former owner, telling him he was sending the slave back to his previous master.
“I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you… If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”
Charge it to me.
Do you see how Paul is mirroring the story of the cross here?
In this story we are Onesimus. Like him, each of us deserves punishment. We owe a debt. And like him, someone offered to take the punishment on our behalf, to pay our debt.
Someone has given us a second chance.
Maybe you’ve never really been in the position of needing a true second chance. Or maybe you have and you’ve just forgotten how demeaning and low it can feel. The graciousness of Paul, to speak of Onesimus as ‘my son’, ‘my very heart’, and ‘a dear brother’ must have allowed Onesimus to hold his head high as he returned to his former home.
The account of Onesimus and Philemon may be a short one, but the way that Paul used this opportunity to illustrate the gospel story is pure genius.
Maybe, in Onesimus, Paul wanted each of us to know that we are beloved. That we are worth saving. We are worth sacrificing for.
Maybe he’s telling us that knowing our true value allows us to hold our heads high as we live in our ‘former home’ until our forever home is ready for us. We are Abba’s children. We are Christ’s dear brothers and sisters.
This would be one movie that would pack an emotional punch, and you could be sure you’d leave the theater changed…if you were really paying attention.
And speaking of paying attention—the next time you are unsure of your standing, remember that you have a letter in your pocket that says, “Charge it to me,” and lift your head a little.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to here at BibleGateway – Colossians 1-4 and the itty bitty book of Philemon
As the narrative in the book of Daniel has progressed, it seems like the focus has been stolen away from Daniel and put on Nebuchadnezzar. Could there really be redemption for the tyrant who besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the people of God into exile? The story up until now has given us the crazy idea that yes, redemption seems possible, although the pathway there for the king hasn’t been linear.
Nebuchadnezzar has now again been plagued by bad dreams, has again called his sages to interpret, and has again been disappointed by their inability to deliver. The man for the job is Daniel, clearly. So he tells Daniel of his dream of a big important tree that gets chopped down to the stump. Daniel helps us fill in some blanks. The tree is a representation of the highly powerful and influential king. But he is going to be driven away from society, go live with the animals, and be bathed by the dew until he learns a lesson. And when he learns that lesson, recognizing that God is sovereign, he can be re-established as king, extending again from the stump and roots that were left.
A year after having this dream, Nebuchadnezzar goes to his roof and delights in how powerful and great he is for creating such a beautiful Babylon. This is the perfect moment for God to come in and knock him off his high horse. If I may paraphrase God, he says, “I warned you this would happen.” And it seems like our creaturely ignorance requires him to say this a lot.
Just as he was warned, Nebuchadnezzar wanders off into the wilderness and lives like an animal, eating grass, getting all wet in the dew, growing his hair out scarily long and tangled, and letting his fingernails become like that of small velociraptor claws. But don’t worry, he is unable to open doors. I like to imagine that during this time, he also became the vocalist of a local metal band, but they had to let him go because of creative differences. It was like someone flipped his beast mode switch.
And then one day Nebuchadnezzar suddenly snaps out of this terrible phase, acknowledges the sovereignty of God, and has all his former glory restored to him. I love what he says to close out chapter four: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride.”
Amen to that. But the last part can sometimes be a hard reality to swallow. We’ve all heard that pride comes before the fall, and we’ve seen here one more example of how that pans out as a true proverb. Having healthy levels of self-esteem and confidence is a good thing. The kind of pride we saw in Nebuchadnezzar seems to be an amped-up and unbalanced version of this that made him believe he was all that. And when you prop up that delusion long enough, painful and humbling reality has to come out eventually.
So now we can add big bad Nebuchadnezzar to the long list of unlikely redemptions. I’m on the list, and so are you. Praise God that he seems to like orchestrating these all the time.
With Nebuchadnezzar ending his appearances on a high note, he has left a legacy in the air. He is an answer to the question of what can happen when God gets through to someone and they yield to him, however painfully. Enter Belshazzar. He is an answer to a contrasting question: What can painfully happen when you not only don’t yield, but also add a large amount of idolatry and blasphemy to the equation?
Belshazzar is in the middle of throwing a very well-attended and sexy drinkathon when he comes up with a great idea. He asks for the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar looted from the temple in Jerusalem, because he thinks it would be extra classy to drink wine from them. So that is what they do, along with worshiping gods of various metals and materials.
What happens next is what any reasonable person would expect. Of course, a disembodied hand writes on the wall. The terrified and probably self-wetted Belshazzar calls for his experts, but they are unable to figure out what the writing means. The queen knows just the man for the job.
Daniel agrees to help and even indicates he doesn’t want the rich rewards. But first he recounts the story of Nebuchadnezzar and how he humbled himself after his prideful fall. Belshazzar knows this story well, yet he has not followed his example and humbled himself before God. Daniel tells Belshazzar that “the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.”
The writing is on the wall. That’s right, the phrase we utter in the face of impending doom comes from this very story. If you are like me, you have read Daniel’s interpretation of “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” many times and not really understood how he got there. Somehow it means that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom are numbered, that he’s been weighed and found wanting, and his kingdom is going to be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. At least the Medes and Persians part seems to groove with the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare about the gold headed statue. But did Daniel skip a step on the board?
This is the kind of thing that would have been a little more obvious to the original audience, but gets totally lost in translation for us. To compound the confusion, Daniel maintains its reputation for being a weird book by being written partly in Aramaic (from the middle of 2:4 to the end of chapter 7). So you thought knowing Hebrew would get you out of this pickle? Think again. I know only English. This is where commentaries or the internet come in handy.
As it turns out, the words are all measures of weight: a mina (or 60 sheqels), a sheqel, and two half-minas. So the first layer of this is that you can take the succession of kings and plug them in according to their weight or legacy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king who humbled himself, is worth more, so he is the mina. Belshazzar is a joke, so he is like 1/60th of Nebuchadnezzar, or a sheqel. Then the two half-minas would be the decently presented Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian. But in this schema, they are each only half the man Nebuchadnezzar was.
Okay, this will work, but it isn’t the angle Daniel is taking. There is wordplay that hopelessly eludes us. Mene is interpreted as a similar word mena, a verb that refers to something like counting or reckoning. Teqel is interpreted as a verb meaning “to be weighed” but also it is interpreted as tiqqal (to be light). Belshazzar? Nothing to him. Daniel is clever and says Peres, which is the singular of Parsin (half-minas). Peres gets us to more wordplay since peras means assessed or divided. But to top it off, paras means Persia. Like I said, this all hopelessly eludes us as English speakers separated from the writing by more than two thousand years. The Bible is full of wordplay and puns like that, but sadly, we miss most of them. My apologies go to anyone who is actually familiar with Aramaic, as I’m sure my Jedi-waving over the vocabulary probably wasn’t adequate.
Belshazzar richly rewards Daniel for the interpretation and makes him third in rank in the kingdom. That night, Belshazzar is killed, and his kingdom is handed off to Darius the Mede. After all, the writing was on the wall.
Darius retains a very high rank for Daniel, which makes the satraps extremely jealous. They are unable to find any dirt on Daniel, because he lives with integrity. But they know Daniel prays, so they come up with a conspiracy to make it illegal to pray to anyone except the king for thirty days. The penalty is being demoted to Temporary Cat Sustenance Technician. This is always a demotion.
Daniel knows this, yet continues to faithfully pray, neither concealing nor broadcasting what he is doing. According to the satraps’ scheme, he is caught, and the king has no choice but to follow through with the punishment, since he signed the law, although he does not want to harm Daniel.
Here is another friendly reminder that doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee you anything. Maybe you will reap benefits. Maybe you will be granted protection. Maybe you will upset people very close to you. Maybe you will be hated and persecuted. Maybe you will be physically injured or even killed. Especially when faced with extreme situations like Daniel’s, the idea of doing the right thing might sound like it is not an option. But there is an option. It could be that the only thing you are guaranteed by doing the right thing is never having to wish that you had done the right thing. And that’s the right place to be, wherever it takes you.
In this case, where it takes Daniel is a miraculous deliverance much like his friends had just a few chapters ago in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. They have almost identical stories of faithfulness to God, resulting in peaceful noncompliance with the authorities, and ending with the miraculous skirting of the death penalty. Most of the time, you can be faithful to God and honor the authority of your Babylon without a conflict (Matt. 22:21, Rom 13:1), and even when faced with a conflict, for most of us in this modern world, the consequence for being faithful to God instead of the state doesn’t result in death. But sadly, persecution, violence, and martyrdom are still the fate of many of our brothers and sisters.
This next part is probably not mentioned or illustrated in the toddler bedtime bible, although kudos go to anyone with the audacity. Darius doesn’t let the satraps get away with their act of deception, so he orders them, their children, and their wives to be thrown in the pit. The lions tear them all to pieces before they even hit the ground. Barbaric and chilling? Absolutely. This is one of many examples that would earn the Bible an R rating for its content, if not worse. Anyone who thinks of the Bible as just a bunch of nice bedtime stories hasn’t read it. If you run across these types, it is probably best not to correct them, because if they knew what was in there, they might be offended and launch a campaign to have it banned. I kid, but only halfway.
Overlooking his feeding of the lions with women and children, Darius seems to be a decent king and understands how it works, without the same kind of power struggle and roller coaster that Nebuchadnezzar had. He orders that all the people tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, “For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Darius gets it. Way to be, Darius.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 4-6
Tomorrow we will read Daniel 7-9 as we continue on our
Genesis 1-11 details the heartbreaking story of a perfect world and people, created lovingly by God, turning away from him to pursue the desires of their heart. The consequences for this sin is great, but like the rainbow after the flood symbolizes, the redemption God provides is also great. In Genesis 3, God promises a future savior who will fight for and redeem mankind. In today’s reading, we see the plan set in place since the beginning start to take shape.
In Genesis 12, God tells Abram, a man from Ur (in Mesopotamia), “Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (vv. 1-3).
These verses are so important, because in them, we see the storyline of the redemption begin. God chose Abram, the man from whom the Jewish people would be descended, and made a covenant or promise with him. If Abram followed God’s plan, then he knew that he would be blessed by God. This covenant was built on and changed over the course of scripture, but ultimately, it is still being fulfilled even now through Christ’s death on the cross. Abram began the chain reaction that led to Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Because Abram listened to God, we are blessed through him.
Abram is a prime example of a faith filled life. He didn’t know anymore of God’s plan than just to go and leave everything that he knew. Despite this, he eagerly followed God. This pattern of obedience continues throughout the rest of his life. When presented with God’s new covenant, the promise of salvation in Christ, do we faithfully trust that he will keep his promises? Do we faithfully obey when we hear his call?
As we read through the Bible this year, keep an eye out for the word covenant. God continues to refer to both this first promise and the promises he made after this as he faithfully pursues his covenant people.
I love to look deeper into these verses in Colossians to fully understand what Paul was writing and why. Paul was poetic in his language and using wording that the Israelites used to describe the personification of wisdom. If you look through the Old Testament it is not likely that you will find the phrase “Holy Spirit”. You will however find the term “Spirit of God” which we discover is the same thing, God’s power within us. Likewise “word of God” is not seen in the Old Testament. Once there is a reference to the “word of the LORD” but the majority of the references toward the Word of God are seen describing this personification of wisdom. A different way of saying the same thing. Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word of God.
“He is the image of the invisible God” – Jesus is called the image of God in these verses and in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Hebrews 1:3 he is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Two truths are revealed through the first half of this verse: God has remained unseen “no one has ever seen God” John 4:18 and second, Jesus reveals the nature and character of God for he is the image of God in which humanity was originally created in Genesis 1:26. It is the image that we as the faithful will be transformed into upon Jesus’ return.
“The firstborn over all creation” – Paul borrowed from his Jewish upbringing; firstborn was a Hebrew way of saying someone was especially honored. The nation of Israel was called firstborn (Exodus 4:22), as was David (Psalm 89:27). The word, in these instances, did not refer to their physical birth but to their place of honor before God. So here Paul is saying that Jesus has a place of honor over all creation.
“By him all things were created” seven times in these verses Paul mentions “all creation”, “all things”, and “everything” stressing that the Christ is supreme over all through the power God granted him. The tense at the end of this verse was not translated correctly in the NIV, it says “all things were” however the original language was not past-tense “were” rather present “are”.
“Before all things” like with firstborn this does not speak of time but importance. The Christ is before all things in importance for it is only through him that all things will be restored.
“All things hold together” he will usher in a new age in which sinful man will be redeemed and united with our holy God.
This passage speaks of the importance of the Christ, the place of honor over all things that he holds. Additionally it points to both Jesus’ place of honor over the church and those who will be resurrected to eternal life as well as a chronological order. Jesus was the beginning of the church as we know it. And he was the first, and only one to this point, which God raised to new life. We the faithful will follow suit once Jesus returns.
“All (his) fullness dwell” (his) was added to many translations which adds to the confusion and skepticism that people may have concerning these verses. Before moving forward think about what happens to those who come to God through Jesus. We are filled with God’s spirit, His power and character, at least to a point. But Jesus was filled with the fullness of God, all power and authority were given to him. He also displayed the nature, character, and attributes of God. Paul also had another reason for his choice of words, “fullness” was a popular term among the Gnostics who used it to refer to the combination of all supernatural influences. So Paul used their own word to elevate the Christ above all other religious ideas and systems.
“To reconcile to himself all things” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection set the stage for not only the faithful to be made new but also all of creation. Unfortunately it does not mean that everyone will be saved from sin and ultimately death. We have free will and we make our own choices. But God does not give up on us. I believe that even those He has already seen reject Him are given daily opportunities for redemption.
It is important that we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and the reason that we need a Christ, Messiah.
To be continued… (by someone else)
(Editor’s Note – Thank you Jeff for finishing off the book of Proverbs with us this week, and giving us two free theme days to think on! Tomorrow we will begin looking at the book of Revelation – one chapter a day through the month of November. And in December we will finish off the New Testament with the book of Luke. So many precious things in God’s Word! Keep taking it in.)
Day 1 of your new Bible reading. You are psyched! You are committed. You brew a cup of coffee, clean off the kitchen table, and pull out a new set of highlighters. You grab your large-margined Bible and you open up to your first reading: Matthew 1. This is it. Your moment of great revelation, and then…you are instantly deflated. Genealogy. Blah. Wait…No…You are committed to do your reading. You have new highlighters after all! Okay. Here we go. A couple verses down, and…still nothing worth highlighting. “Maybe I will just skim this,” you say to yourself, feeling a compromise is essential to keep up your determination. The sea of names continues. Sigh. “I think I got the gist, I’ll just go to the end.” Although you made it through Chapter 1, you feel a bit defeated. No highlights; no underlines. You have made a royal mess of your reading.
So what is the significance of Matthew 1 anyways? Why not just hop into the Christmas story? The answer: context. This genealogy of Jesus through his earthly father, Joseph, is to establish the pedigree pointing to Jesus as a descendant of the ruling class of Israel. God’s so purposely positioned Jesus that there should have been no doubt remaining that Jesus is the Messiah or “The Anointed One”, the one who would reestablish the throne of David. A fact made instantly clear upon the arrival of the Magi and Herod’s petitioning to and response from the scribes (Matt 2:1-6). As much as God was at work in these plans, He did so in spite of many actions taken by those who make up the family tree.
How did the ancestors of Jesus depart from the ways of God? A few quick examples. Abraham laughed at God. Jacob, and subsequently his son, Judah, both betrayed a brother. David, God’s chosen King, is mentioned alongside his mistress (later turned wife), Bathsheba, and the man he murdered, Uriah. Among the other names are hidden even more wayward actions (idolatry, stealing, lying, etc.), culminating in Jeconiah, who did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 24:9), which leads to a curse that cuts off the line of David, seemingly forever (Jer 22:30).
If you only looked at part of their story, collectively, it would seem like a pretty hopeless lot. Thankfully, many of the these men and women wrestled with, fought for, and maintained their relationship with God. In the midst of sin, reputation, or nurture, they connected, repented, and praised God. They were a royal mess, a line of sinners seeking God and putting their hope in his promise of redemption and restoration. It is no surprise that we find many of their names in Hebrews 11, among those who are waiting to receive their promise (v. 39,40) of a hope and heritage found in Jesus Christ.
We are equally “messed-up” and have fallen short of the standards set by our King (Rom 3:23). When we struggle with sin, our history, or circumstance, it makes us feel unworthy of the faith and hope we have. Don’t give in. Remain Psyched. Wrestle. Fight. Maintain. You may be a mess, but you are a royal mess, an heir according to the promise, directly tracing your spiritual heritage (the only one that matters) to Jesus Christ.(1 Pet 2:9; Amos 9:11) Having these roots means, we receive a special connection to God through His Holy Spirit (John 14:16,17) and are covered by grace when we miss the mark (Eph 2:8,9). Today, spend some time examining the stories behind these names a bit more closely, but also look at your own faith story. Whether you relationship is God is slightly disharmonious, somewhat distant, or completely disconnected, you are not disowned; your heritage is Jesus Christ. He will restore the throne of David, and He will restore any mess appealed in His name.
Today’s chapter starts off with some details about how the tabernacle was set up. It gives some great descriptions of exactly what it would look like and makes it very tangible for readers. I love the little aside that the author gives at the end of verse 5 when they write “But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.” It makes me smile because I imagine someone who is so excited about sharing everything they have with the Hebrews, but has to contain themselves because they know they have more important things to discuss.
Now on to the “more important” things! At this point people would’ve known what priests had to do when going into the Most Holy Place and recognized the sacrifice that was required. The author here is giving the background information for the rest of the message to show the significance of Christ. It is explained that priests no longer had to go to a place made by humans that required continuing sacrifice of animals for forgiveness; Christ was able to enter the Most Holy Place by one sacrifice to obtain eternal redemption (vs. 11-12). This would’ve been a big deal in this time!
Verse 14 and 15 are great verses to meditate on for this chapter! “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” What a great verse to give us some perspective! We have a Savior who offered himself as a completely perfect sacrifice ONE TIME for the redemption of our sins that should’ve led to death. And why? So that we can not only serve the living God, but also so that we can be set free from our sins and receive eternal inheritance (vs. 15). That is simply amazing, friends!
There is so much more in this chapter that we could really unpack, but I don’t need to write a whole book so we’ll finish off with the final verses 😊
When we look at verse 27 there are two really big pieces that we need to recognize. The first is in verse 27 which reads “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” This key factor on the morality of humans is one of the many reasons Christianity differs from other religions. Here it says that people get one life to live, they die one time, and after will face judgment. The second piece shows me that people have a lifetime to seek forgiveness for their sins. It doesn’t say that we will face judgement after we do that one really bad sin, or that by the time we reach a certain age, etc. We will face judgment after death. With that in mind, we aren’t all guaranteed a long lifetime to seek that forgiveness. Are you living each day as if you could be judged the next moment? Are you continually serving the living God and asking for forgiveness when you fall short? Those can be some sobering questions to ask yourself.
Finally, in verse 28, we get a glimpse of that hope we have. “…And he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Jesus is coming again! I want to be one of those who are waiting for him, and I hope you all do too! Today, how can your actions, thoughts, words, and choices reflect that you are waiting on Jesus’ return? Or, how can you encourage a brother or sister in Christ and remind them of his second coming?
The ending of chapter 18 and the beginning of chapter 19 have an interesting parallel. Whereas the end of chapter 18 includes the story of Jesus curing a man of his literal blindness, in chapter 19 Jesus cures another individual, Zacchaeus, of his figurative blindness. However, there’s a reason why Zacchaeus is so memorable, and it’s probably obvious to those of you who’ve ever gone to Sunday school as a kid.
Zacchaeus is remembered as “the guy who climbed the tree”, and that’s not an insignificant detail of the story. In fact, (in my translation, at least), there’s nothing in the beginning of chapter 19 that necessarily states that the events of the two chapters happened in linear order. In fact, it could have been that Luke himself placed the story of Zacchaeus directly after the story of Jesus curing a blind man on purpose, and perhaps to indicate something to the reader.
My interpretation of why these two stories correlate together goes like this; Luke shows that Jesus was capable of curing people of their blindness. He shows us Jesus curing a man of his literal “blindness” to show Jesus’ ability to purify us. After this, he tells the story of Zacchaeus who not only received redemption from Jesus, but he had to exert a clear effort, (so much so that he had to physically and figuratively rise above the crowd), and from there Jesus was able to find him and make his way to him. What Luke seems to be relaying to us here is that Jesus has the capacity to redeem us, but that it’s not enough to know this. Having this knowledge is only the first part, and the second part for us is pursuing him ourselves. Whatever qualities Jesus has to purify us and turn our lives around, it is something that we must actively pursue before we’ll really be able to experience it.