I have a confession to make. I really don’t like conflict and because of that I don’t always confront situations or people as I should or as is necessary. Now thankfully the Lord is growing me in this area because the reality is confrontation and conflict is necessary. Actually the New Testament teaches that there is a time and place for believers to hold each other accountable with regard to sin. Many Christians and churches struggle with this. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and scary yet our Lord himself exemplified this in today’s chapter of Matthew 23 (read Matt. 18.15).
Seven times in Matthew 23 Jesus says “woe to you” with reference to the Pharisees. “Woe” is a prophetic denunciation that the prophets in the Old Testament used to warn people that their behavior was not pleasing to God and if they didn’t correct their actions God’s punishment and judgement would come.
The crime of the Pharisees was that they were so caught up in religious activities that it compromised true obedience God really desired. Jesus loves and forgives but he will not tolerate empty obedience and religious service. He will not be sweet to that which God hates and opposes. Likewise as followers of Jesus we must strive to become like him in all respects including standing up for the truth even when that means calling out sin and that which God hates.
This must be done with great wisdom and care and love. I’ll include passages that speak to this theme. I’d encourage you to read them and get exposed to this New Testament teaching. We as Christians have a duty to lovingly hold other believers accountable with regard to sin.
Passages for further study:
.I Cor. 5.1-5
.I Tim. 5.20
Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Matthew 23 and Luke 20-21.
Matthew 8:1-13 & Luke 7- Jesus heals a man with Leprosy
Before we get into today’s story, we need to understand the Old Testament law dealing with leprosy. Leviticus 13:1-46 talks in great detail about leprosy. There, we find that leprosy is a skin disease that is more than skin deep, it’s highly infectious, it defiles a person, anyone with leprosy must cover their mouth (this sounds like a mask), be separated from other people (social distance), live outside the town (this sounds like isolation), wear torn clothes, and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!”
In Matthew 8, we find the story of a man with leprosy. Instead of staying away, we’re told, “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him [Jesus] and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” I believe this man had great faith. He knew Jesus could heal him, he just didn’t know if Jesus would be willing to. And he violated the law so he could get close enough to Jesus to find out.
Matthew 8:3 says, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” I find this very moving. Jesus demonstrated how much he cared for this man by not just healing him – which was astounding enough. Jesus also touched him. By touching the man, Jesus would have become defiled – made unclean himself. And remember, since no-one could touch a leaper, who knows how long it had been since this man had someone actually touch him. I can’t imagine what that touch meant to the man.
Matthew 8:4 goes on to say that Jesus told the man, “See that you don’t tell anyone…” We find this same story in Mark, and we’re told in Mark 1:45, “Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
In this story, I see that leprosy compares well with sin. Sin runs more than skin deep, it is highly infectious, it defiles a person, and whether we admit it or not, it makes us unclean, and separates us from God. When Jesus went to the cross, he took our sin on himself, causing him to be defiled. But he demonstrated his obedience to God and his love for us by doing this anyway. But Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing for us unless we each have faith in Jesus, come submit before him, and ask to be healed (forgiven). Are you willing to get close enough to Jesus to find out what he can do for you?
Finally, at the end of the story, the man disobeyed Jesus’ direct command to him to tell no one. Jesus commanded us to tell everyone. How are you doing with that?
In Jerusalem there was a pool, called Bethesda, where blind, lame, and paralyzed people would gather. My Bible has a footnote that says John 5:4 isn’t in the most reliable manuscripts. John 5:4 says “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.” If this verse isn’t legitimate, the rest of the story doesn’t make sense, so I’ll assume it is valid.
Anyway, there was a man there who had been an invalid for 38 years. Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well. This seems like a strange question to ask someone who was an invalid. But who knows, maybe he was making a good income begging, and wanted to stay in his condition.
Instead of saying, “Yes!”, the man started making excuses – he replied that he didn’t have anyone to help him into the pool when the water was stirred, so he never got into the water first.
Jesus then told him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
This is a curious miracle. The man didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. The man didn’t have faith that Jesus could heal him – when asked, he didn’t even know who had healed him. Also, there were many sick people there, and Jesus only healed this one man. First, I do have to acknowledge this is a tremendous example of grace. But I do have to wonder, why did Jesus heal this man?
If we keep reading the story, we find that instead of being happy for the man that had just been healed, the religious leaders criticized him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. He told them he was just doing what he was told by the man who had healed him. When asked who that was, he didn’t know.
Later, Jesus found him again and told him to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him. (We can assume Jesus meant the final judgement, but we’re not told.) After this, the man went back to the religious leaders to tell them Jesus had healed him – on the Sabbath.
Now, I think we are finally at the point of understanding why Jesus healed this man. I wonder if Jesus wanted to shake up the understanding of the religious leaders of his day, and this was a good way to get their attention. He told them, “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Notice that Jesus said “My father” instead of “our father”.
The Jews recognized that Jesus was telling them that He is the son of God. In this chapter, He also called himself the “Son of Man”, which they would have recognized as a messianic reference from Daniel 7:13l. They were furious that not only was Jesus breaking the Sabbath, he was claiming that He was (is) the son of God. And they made the mental leap to say that if Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God, he was claiming to be equal with God.
They studied the scriptures regularly, and thought they would “earn” eternal life because of that. Jesus pointed out, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t accept what He was telling them. Instead, they just wanted to kill Him. What about you? Do you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who will one day judge the living and the dead? To paraphrase James 2:19, the demons acknowledge this too – and shudder.
If you do acknowledge Jesus, what are you going to do about it? I would encourage you to take a cue from the man who was cured, and obey what Jesus said. No, don’t pick up your bed and walk – instead read your Bible to understand all Jesus taught about, and obey all of that. Finally, we should all take to heart Jesus’ warning to the man, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Because, as we’re reminded in John 5:28-29, “… for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 5
Tomorrow we read Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3, and Luke 6 as we continue in our Bible reading plan.
Why is it that older churches and cathedrals seem to have an aura about them that is missing from newer Christian constructions? There is a special reverence that is shown to these historical places of worship, but why? They appear to be more “holy” than modern church structures–are they really or is it just perception?
In our reading today, we get more details about the temple complex being shown to Ezekiel. As I mentioned yesterday, one intention for the prophet in giving specifications to all of Israel was so they could imagine what it would be like. Another reason, which flows from first is to draw attention to God’s holiness and, in turn, Israel’s sinfulness. But why would imagining the temple lead to recognizing sin? This question and the ones in the above paragraph are tied together.
The idea of holiness in the Bible is connected with being different, set apart, or sacred. The God of the Bible is called holy; He is without sin, He is all powerful, He is worthy of worship and adoration. Yahweh is distinct from His creation. Though humans are made in His image, they have sins which separate them from God, showing Him to be holy and people common. When humans encounter God’s holiness, it leaves them in awe of His majesty and with awareness of their own sinfulness (see Isaiah 6). When you see a dirty object–even one you think is clean–held up to something that is flawless, every little blemish is revealed. That is what happens when humans meet God.
When we see older churches or cathedrals, we are looking at something different, uncommon, a building designed to be set apart from other constructions. Older places of worship are usually taller, more distinctive, and, dare I say, were built by people more reverent than us. They have brilliant stained glass, magnificent architecture, and invoke a deep sense of beauty. Modern churches, by contrast, aren’t much taller than most middle-class housing and, in most cities, are located every few blocks. They look dull in comparison, with nothing extraordinary to offer. Older churches appear more holy because they stand out more, while modern ones seem all too common.
Older churches and cathedrals were built as the place where humans go to encounter God, much like Jews viewed the temple. Many modern Christians understand they don’t have go to a building to worship God, but for most of Christian history the church building has been the place where followers of Christ have gathered to worship their creator, which is why those older churches were so grand. They wanted the building to reflect the holiness of the God they worshiped. God’s holiness causes people to recognize their own sinfulness. It’s no wonder that the dulling down of Christian architecture has mirrored a more laissez-faire attitude towards sin.
What should we do then? Should we go back to designing and building grand places of worship?
No. When Jesus left the curtain torn, the separation between the holy God and sinful humanity was broken. This means striving after good works and the sacrificing of rams and bulls is not the way to achieve holiness. Instead, we put our faith (believe) in the one responsible for ripping the veil in half and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Because of the righteousness of the Messiah, we can be holy and the spirit of God can dwell in us, as we live as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).
God’s holiness still causes us to recognize our own sin, but we don’t have to go to a grand building to see it. We encounter it through scripture, reading about God Himself or His son who reveals so much about Him. We see it in nature, looking through binoculars, telescopes, or with the naked eye. We see it when the Church (the people, not the building) acts as it was intended to. Thankfully God’s holiness doesn’t just reveal our sinfulness, but His love for us and willingness to forgive those who ask for it. What a holy, loving, and awesome God we serve!
– Joel Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 42-43
Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 44-45 as we continue on our
Isaiah 59 describes what it is like to be separated from God as we are now. Our sins are responsible for the barrier between us and God. Because of this barrier, there is sadness, there is depravity and there is a hope for something that cannot be attained. Everything in this world is touched by this separation. Our attempts at justice are a pale reflection of the true justice that God promises. In the American courts for example, there are instances where innocent men are punished, and guilty men go free. This is not justice, but it is the closest that we are able to get to it because of our human nature. We try to imitate true justice as well as we can, but we will always fall short. We even fall short in our pursuit of truth. Even when truth is proclaimed, there will be some who accept it and some who won’t. Truth is meant to have the power to convince anyone.
The following chapter speaks of what it will be like when that barrier is broken down, when God establishes His perfect kingdom. Everything that we love now, that brings us joy, will be replaced with something better. It says, “I will bring gold instead of bronze and silver instead of iron, bronze instead of wood and iron instead of stones.” If you had no possessions and someone asked you if you’d like $20, you would be excited and would gladly accept it. But if you knew that later someone was going to give you $1000, you would be grateful, but not nearly as excited. This is the way it is in God’s perfect kingdom. When thinking about the coming kingdom, we often lament the things that we will miss doing in our current lives if Jesus were to return today. “I can’t wait for the kingdom, but I’d like to finish college first.” Or, “I’d like to have children first.” There are so many things that we look forward to in this life, but here it says that the good things will be replaced with something better, and more than that, we will still have some of the good things that we already enjoy! It says that iron is replaced with silver, but also that stone is replaced with iron. When we think about our future in God’s kingdom, it can be hard to imagine, but we have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and that he will give us something so much better than all of the good things we have now.
As we turn back to Isaiah in our reading, we read about the judgments pronounced upon Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. At the end of Isaiah 27, God had given the Israelites a picture of their hope – to return to Jerusalem. However, in Isaiah 28, we turn back to the reason why the Israelites had to be removed from the promised land in the first place.
When I was in high school, every student that drove had to take a driver’s education class before they could get their parking pass. I was standing pressed against the glass at the DMV the day I turned 15 (the age we could get our learner’s permit), and I knew that I would do whatever it took to be able to drive to school as soon as I could. Along with the videos of car crashes and the several hours driving with the instructor, one activity we had to do was put on a pair of beer goggles to show the effects of driving under the influence. With the vision of someone who had way too many beers, we were supposed to catch a tennis ball. As you can imagine, almost all of us dropped the ball as we stumbled and swayed with the goggles on our face. With our vision clouded, there was no way that we were able to complete the task that we were given.
We’ve been looking at the effects of idolatry over the previous days. This was not the Israelites only sin though. In Isaiah 28, God turns to focus on Ephraim’s drunkards and says woe to them. These priests “stagger because of wine and stumble under the influence of beer. They are muddled in their visions, they stumble in their judgments. Indeed, all their tables are covered with vomit; there is no place without a stench” (Isaiah 28:7-8). This presents a dire picture of priests turned alcoholics, which means they can’t do much good for anyone. We know how alcoholism and drunkenness itself can be dangerous, but what is so striking to me in this description is the way that it shows a parallel to all sin. All sin clouds our vision and judgments. All sin realigns our priorities. Ultimately, all sin separates us from God and leaves our lives defiled.
When we are living under the influence of sin, we miss out on God’s purpose for our lives. The priests in this chapter were supposed to teach the people how to seek after God. Instead, they stumbled over their words while they instructed and caused their people to stumble in their everyday walk with God. Where do you see the effects of sin goggles in your life? Where can you take off the sin in your life so that you can have a clearer vision for how to serve God better?
~ Cayce Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 28-30.
Isaiah was a prophet in Israel during some very difficult times due to the fact that Israel had to a great extent departed from the true worship of God and were not keeping the commandments as God instructed. Due to rebellion Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom was referred to as Judah in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. These two divisions were adversarial toward each other. Isaiah was a prophet in Judah over 700 years before the birth of Jesus. It might be mentioned that Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah later over 600 years before Jesus. The sinful departure from serving God continued during the times of both prophets. Perhaps the sinful conditions then were much like and to the degree of the sinfulness that is prevalent in today’s world. God through these prophets warned Israel that there would be serious consequences of their sin, but they would be greatly blessed if they returned to faithful service to God. Unfortunately, Israel did not heed the words of the prophets and made bad choices by continuing in their sinful ways. Indeed, there were serious consequences resulting from their sinful behaviors. We also have to make similar choices almost daily. There are blessings when we make choices pleasing to God. As previously stated, the sinfulness of Judah continued until about 600 years before Jesus. God withdrew his protection and they were attacked by the Babylonians. About 606 BC the Babylonians conquered and took the entire population of Judah from their homeland to the land of the Babylonians where they were to be servants of the Babylonians for 70 years. After the fall of the Babylonian Empire they were permitted to return to their original homeland and to restore their worship of God.
In spite of all the sins of Judah, God never ceased to love them. In Isaiah 27 God promises a brighter day for Israel when they will no longer be divided and when they are turned from their sinful ways to serve and obey God. These blessings will happen after Jesus returns and establishes the Kingdom of God.
We can learn much from the experiences of Israel. We all have sinned and that includes everyone. Yet, God loves mankind so much that He gave his only begotten son as a sacrifice for our sins, John 3:16. Today we live in a world with many problems and challenges. This week we are not at FUEL because of a very serious and deadly virus. There is strife and unrest in our nation often leading to violence. There are a number of wars in the world. Although we live in difficult times, we like Israel are confronted with choices. God has something better ahead for us if we choose to serve him today and accept his son Jesus – The Wonderful Kingdom of God is promised for us!
While Gideon is presented as a mighty warrior earlier in Judges, his legacy becomes more muddled in today’s reading. When you first learned about Gideon in Sunday School, your teacher probably didn’t tell you about his seventy sons (one of whom killed nearly all of his brothers) or the ephod he made out of gold.
If you’re like me, you’re asking Siri right now what an ephod is, but let me save you the trouble. An ephod is a sacred, decked-out, garment worn by the high priest that hung from his neck, similar-ish to a vest. After the Israelites invade the Midianite camp, Gideon requests that everyone bring him a gold earring from their share of the plunder. From the forty pounds of gold gathered, Gideon makes an ephod. He’s not Israel’s first leader to build something grandiose out of gold (we’re looking at you, Aaron).
Unfortunately, like Aaron’s golden calf, the Israelites begin worshipping Gideon’s ephod, which resided in his hometown. I’m not exactly sure why Gideon made the ephod, perhaps to mark Israel’s victory or assert his dominance as a leader. At any rate, I don’t think Gideon’s intent was to make something for the Israelites to bow down and worship. After all, he had just told the Israelites that there is only one king: God.
I think there are two valuable lessons we can learn from Gideon’s mistake:
1. You can hurt people even when you don’t “mean to.” Whenever I got in trouble as a child, my go-to phrase was, “I didn’t mean to.” However, even if I didn’t mean to hit my brother, he still had a bloody nose. My intent wasn’t to make my brother’s nose gush uncontrollably, but that was the impact of my actions. In the same way, Gideon didn’t intend to build something that would create a rift between the Israelites and God, but it did. It is important to take responsibility for our actions, even when they’re not premeditated. With urgency, deal with the hurt you may have caused.
2. Watch out for snares! The author of Judges describes the ephod as a snare to Gideon and his family. Be on guard, avoiding traps that try to rip you from God—maybe it’s a lie that keeps running through your head, a movie you know you shouldn’t be watching, or a friend who pressures you into something you’re uncomfortable doing. Also, be proactive in looking for snares that could trip up a brother or sister in the faith; the church works best when we look out for each other. If your roommate struggles with pornography, don’t let them sit alone on their computer. If your friend is a recovering alcoholic, don’t take them to the restaurants covered in beer advertisements. If your classmate is tempted to cheat during a test, cover your answers.
In a world where sin is often celebrated, let’s make sinning as difficult as possible.
Chapter 12 records all of the Kings the Israelites defeated in taking back the Promised Land to this point. They did it with God’s help of course. Chapter 13 then describes the land that was still left to be taken. But they would not need to fight for some of that remaining land. God would do it for them.
A commentary on easyenglish.bible.com says, “This is like the Christian life. Jesus has defeated the enemy for us. He did this when he took the punishment for our sins on the cross. God still has other good things for us. He wants to give them to us. God promises all these things to us, my dear friends. So we must keep ourselves morally good. We must keep away from things that make our bodies or our thoughts morally bad.”
Thank goodness that Jesus removed the enemy of sin, so that we may be forgiven. And he will ultimately defeat the enemy of death once and for all as well. That will permit his followers to live forever with him. But we need to be free of a lifestyle of sin in order to inherent that gift.
Verse 13 of Chapter 13 says, “But the Israelites did not send away the people from Geshur and Maacah. And so these people still live there among the Israelites.” We know that God’s people had trouble down the road because they allowed traditions and religious symbols of other peoples to mix with their own. They did not completely eradicate the things God had wanted them to, and paid the price later. Similarly, we as Christians must defeat all of our enemies, namely sin in its many forms, in order to enjoy the full blessings of God. Strive every day to do just that.
Encouraging verse of the day:
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.
What we’re pulling out of this text today and applying to our lives today may at first seem contradictory, but I don’t believe that it is.
Throughout these chapters, we see the phrase, “purge the evil from among you.” In fact, many of the instructions God gave to the Israelites were for this very purpose.
Purging implies a complete eradication. If my kids had lice, my goal would be a complete purge. Mostly gone wouldn’t cut it. That’s how God sees sin.
Purge sin completely
Paul gives a great analogy in 1 Corinthians 5, comparing sin among the body of Christ (the church) to yeast,
“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”
And in Ephesians 5 he uses that analogy again, and gives even more instruction on choosing God’s best (living by the Spirit) instead of choosing what comes naturally (the sinful nature).
Let’s come back to that thought after we look at our next principle. Exclusion.
Come to the Table
In Deuteronomy chapter 23, we’re shown a list of those who are to be excluded from entering the assembly of the LORD. Those of certain ancestry, illegitimate birth, or certain physical deformities were forbidden.
Instead of applying this principle directly to believers today, what strikes me is my gratefulness that Jesus changed all of this for us.
In Matthew 22 he tells a story of a banquet that the invited guests have declined to attend. The host decides to invite everyone, even the ‘undesirables’.
“So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Paul addresses this as well in 1 Corinthians 6 when, after listing all of those who will not be a part of God’s kingdom….the sexually immoral, idolators, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards and more… he says to the church,
“And that is what some of you were.”
You might be thinking that these two principles give counter instructions. After all, how can we “purge the evil from among us” if we are not excluding the wicked and sinful people?
Simply put, we are the sinful people. God invites us to the table despite our wickedness, despite our illegitimacy. Once invited, the banquet changes us. As we indulge in the presence of God’s pure holiness, we are called to purge sin from our life and from our church body. But let us never forget, like Paul writes in 1 Timothy, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.”