PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a teacher of His Word, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a husband and father of three.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Bible, as well as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Deuteronomy 17, Isaiah 44

Read Deuteronomy 17 and Isaiah 44.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 17:2-7.

Do you believe in the death penalty? I do; God established it as the first principle of human government in Genesis 9:6 which says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Prior to this revelation, God dealt directly with human sin; he confronted Cain directly after Cain killed Abel and he send the flood during the days of Noah to punish the world for its wickedness–violence in particular (see Gen 6:11).

So, the death penalty, aka capital punishment, is a biblical method of dispensing justice. But is the way we practice capital punishment here in America biblical? If you think so, perhaps today’s scripture reading will be enlightening to you.

God’s law commanded death for a number of moral infractions. In this chapter it was for idolatry (vv. 2-4) but the conditions for imposing the death penalty spelled out in this chapter would apply in an death penalty case. And what were those conditions? They are simple:

  • There must be two or three witnesses who testify against the accused.
  • Those witnesses must be the first people to use the lethal weapons that would kill the person they accused.

Those are simple conditions but they require a very high standard of proof. Two or more witnesses to any crime would be extremely difficult to find. The judge who listened to the case against someone would question and cross-examine them to be sure that their story was consistent and, therefore, true. Any serious inconsistency would be a reason to acquit the accused. This two or three witness standard is higher than our nation’s “reasonable doubt.” It would be difficult to convict anyone except for the most unapologetic sinner.

Furthermore, those who accuse a person must be “the first in putting that person to death.” If you were called as a witness in such a case, would you think more carefully about your testimony if you had to be the person who threw the switch to the electric chair, or had to push the plunger on a needle administering lethal injection? What if we required the jury that convicted a person to administer the death penalty? What if we made the police officers who investigated and arrested a person be in a firing squad to kill that person when he was convicted? What if he had to be the first to fire?

In our country, people are sentenced to capital punishment often by circumstantial evidence only. DNA evidence and programs like The Innocence Project have demonstrated that some convicts on death row, and others who were already executed, are not guilty. These cases are a serious miscarriage of justice and offensive to God who made us in his image.

So, yes, the Bible teaches the death penalty but it was to be used only in the clearest of cases and only after great care has been taken to ensure justice. As citizens, we should expect our lawmakers, law-enforcement officers, and the justice system to follow biblical protections when biblical capital punishment is in play. If you find yourself on a jury in a capital case, remember that God holds you to a greater standard of proof than the legal system does and act accordingly.

Deuteronomy 16, Isaiah 43

Read Deuteronomy 16 and Isaiah 43.

This devotional is about Isaiah 43.

In this chapter God calls his people to follow him. He promised his presence with them and urged them not to fear (v. 1). He said that he would preserve them through problems and trials (vv. 2-3). He told them he loved them (v. 4) and reminded them that they were witnesses to the world that he was the true God in opposition to other so-called gods (vv. 9-13).

Despite all of this grace, God bemoaned the fact that his people did not worship him (vv. 22-24). Instead of “burdening” God with worship, God told his people that, “you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses” (v. 24). All of this demonstrates how deep our depravity is. God pours grace after grace, promise after promise on us; instead of smothering God with praise, thanks, and worship, we prefer idols and weigh the Lord down with our sins.

Thankfully, verse 25 reminds us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is the most immediately important promise for us in this life. Despite the weight and enormity of our sins, God graciously forgives them all. And why does he do this? Because of his love? Yes, but in the immediate context he told us that forgiveness is granted “for my own sake.” It is part of the immutable nature of God to be compassionate and forgiving. When God forgives us, he doesn’t demonstrate weakness; he shows us the enormous strength of his character.

What is the worst sin you’ve ever forgiven someone for? What about the worst sin that God has ever forgiven for you? Does God’s forgiveness open your heart to him in thanks and worship?

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Read Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That was sufficient justification tome to do nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people, like my wife, are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Deuteronomy 13-14, Isaiah 41

Read Deuteronomy 13-14 and Isaiah 41.

This devotional is about Isaiah 41.

Verse 1 speaks to “you islands” and verse 5 also makes reference to “the islands.” Commentators say that the islands are a way of speaking about all the nations on the whole earth. If the islands are doing something against God, the argument goes, then the larger, more populous countries must have an equal antagonism against God, or worse. So this chapter challenges all the nations and people of the earth to a direct confrontation with God. As verse 1b put it, “Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.”

So how do the gods of the rest of the nations on earth fare against Israel’s God? Not well; according to verses 2-4, God has easily defeated the nations and their kings and, in verse 5, they fear God as a result.

Still, people don’t want to give up their false gods so instead of repenting, they redouble their efforts and try to psych each other up. In verse 6 they tell each other to “be strong” and in verse 7 the craftsmen who make idols encourage each other. Just to be on the safe side, they nail down their idol “so it will not topple” (v. 7e). Israel, on the other hand, has a special covenant with God (vv. 8-9) and, therefore, should not fear (v. 10). Their enemies will be defeated (vv. 11-12) because “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” This contest between the gods of every nation–including the islands–and God is no contest at all.

Although we are not Israel, we’ve been graced with Israel’s God as our God through adoption. The nations of earth are still every bit as hostile to God; their gods are still every bit as weak, too. Though the tides of politics and culture may have turned against us, God commands us not to fear. He is greater than all other gods; his plans cannot be foiled or defeated. So don’t let the hostility of unbelievers or of the world’s system in general scare you or wear you down. Trust in the Lord; lean completely on him. He will defeat his enemies and ours; we have nothing to fear.

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31).

But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “…rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

Deuteronomy 11, Isaiah 39

Read Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

This devotional touches on both Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

In Isaiah 39 a delegation from Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. Their mission was was peaceful and was designed to create goodwill between the two nations (v. 1). Hezekiah was eager (probably too eager) to welcome them and he showed them all of the material blessings God had given him (v. 2) making reconnoissance easy for the Babylonians who would soon become Judah’s enemy.

God used the occasion of their visit to send a message through Isaiah prophesying of the coming Babylonian captivity (vv. 6-7). Hezekiah was untroubled by the prophecy because it would be fulfilled after his death. As verse 8 said, “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” His viewpoint was self-centered and short-term in its focus. Instead of being concerned about Judah receiving the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel for many generations, Hezekiah only cared to know that there would be tranquility during his kingdom and lifetime.

Contrast Hezekiah’s attitude with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 11. While Moses was certainly concerned with the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the current generation (vv. 8-18), he also urged the current generation to pass on what they had seen and learned about God to the next generation (vv. 2, 5, 19-21).

All of us who love the Lord here in the church age should think this way, too. Unfortunately, many Christians do not and some of the common problems churches experience are the result of short-term thinking like Hezekiah’s. The more mature you are in Christ, the more you should care about the salvation and spiritual growth of young people. Of course the church should minister to every age group, but it should focus most on ministry to families. When you are a child, a teen, a young adult, and a parent with children, the church should be optimized to to minister to you. As your children become adults, they should, by God’s grace, be moving more and more toward leadership and service in the church. Then, the older you get, the more your growth in Christ and personal maturity should point you toward reaching and discipling the next generation.

Often, though, there becomes inter-generational conflict in the church. This is where some of the “worship wars” come from but also the inability of the church to prune ministries that once were effective but are now no longer serving a good spiritual purpose. A church can easily be born, grow strong, and then decline (or even die) in a 20 year span because it only ministers to one generation. People in that generation are content, even complacent, that the church offers “peace and security in my lifetime” (Is 39:8b) and so, like Hezekiah, they are unconcerned about what will come after them.

When you think about our church, are you looking to see if young people coming through our youth group stick around and get involved as young adults? Does it give you joy to see those young adults marry, have children, and raise them in our church? Are you praying that some of them will become elders in the days ahead? Are you looking to be involved in some of our ministries to children or young adults so that you can pass on what you’ve learned in your walk with God to others who haven’t seen what you’ve seen?

Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 38

Read Deuteronomy 10 and Isaiah 38.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 10.

Moses’s history lesson ended here in Deuteronomy 10:11. The rest of the book will focus on teaching God’s laws again to this new generation and urging them to follow the Lord in faith and obedience.

To that end, Moses began with an exhortation to God’s people to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (vv. 12-13). Note that in verse 13 Moses said it was “for your own good” to fear, obey, and serve the Lord. Then in verses 14-22, he gave God’s people some reasons to follow God. These are all reasons based on God’s grace–grace that they had already received. Those reasons to follow the Lord are:

  • God’s electing love (vv. 14-19).
  • God’s miraculous power which he used on Israel’s behalf (vv. 20-21).
  • God’s preservation of Israel and how he prospered them with population growth despite being slaves in Egypt (v. 22).

As part of his discussion of God’s electing love in verses 14-19, Moses explained that despite God’s awesome greatness (v. 17), he is just and kind to those who are weak, specifically widows and foreigners (v. 18). Following God’s example, then, Israel was “to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Although few if any of us were literally foreigners like the Israelites were, it is also true that most of us were not very remarkable when God’s grace came to us in salvation. God was merciful and chose us even though we were ordinary or average at best. God’s compassionate nature toward the weak and exploitable as detailed in this passage should cause us to look out for and show compassion for the weak and exploitable people around us. We

have some ministries in our church, such as our benevolence offering which we receive on communion Sundays or our food pantry, where you can help people in need. But God wants us to develop an awareness of others around us who have these kinds of needs. Some needy people are obvious but many fit into the background of our lives, overshadowed by our own needs, problems, and concerns.

Let’s ask God to give us a greater perception of people who need help or someone to champion them in their plight. Then, as we see them, let’s do what we can to help. This is one way in which we emulate the grace and mercy of God our Father.

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Read Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises–his covenant love–for these people: v. 26b: “…your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed…”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us.

Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?

Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149

Read Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 8.

I have heard people who are encountering difficult times in their lives refer to that difficult period of time as “wandering in the wilderness.” That phrase is a metaphor drawn from Israel’s 40 years of literally wandering in the wilderness. Moses talked about that here in Deuteronomy 8. In verses 2-3, he described the reasons for that wilderness wandering. Those reasons were:

  • to humble the Israelites (v. 2b)
  • to test the Israelites in order to reveal whether or not they would keep God’s commands from the heart (v. 2c).
  • to teach the Israelites to rely on God (v. 3d).

If we think of times in our lives as wilderness wanderings, do we think about these purposes? Many times when we suffer we think that our suffering is has no purpose or we have a vague sense that our faith is being tested. These verses would challenge us to think more deeply about these problems. While this passage was not given to say that every problem or trial in life is like this, God’s ways do follow similar patterns. So it is appropriate, when we are suffering, to think about God’s reasons for bringing this suffering into our lives along the lines described in verses 2-3–to humble us, to test us, and to teach us.

Let’s focus on that third one, “to teach us.” Verse 3d tells us that God wanted to teach a very specific lesson which was that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This phrase relates to God’s miraculous gift of manna (v. 3b). The point of the lesson was that God would provide for his people if they trusted him and obeyed his word, even if they didn’t know how he would provide.

I am sure that it is hard to trust God when you have a credible fear of starving. With no food or access to the usual sources of food, a person may be tempted to curse God, to jettison faith, or to conclude that God does not exist. God and Moses wanted people to know that they needed to trust God to stay alive more than they needed everyday sources of food.

Israel wandered and suffered in the desert. Jesus also suffered in the desert. His suffering lasted 40 days rather than 40 years but he countered Satan’s first temptation by quoting this passage, Deuteronomy 8:3d. He knew well that it was more important to trust God the Father than it was to provide for his daily needs by any means necessary. When he refused to sin by turning stones into bread, he was depending on the promise that God the Father would provide for him if he trusted and obeyed God’s word.

Have you experienced a trial in your life that taught you to trust God and the promises of his word? If so, then you’ve seen him provide for you, not the miracle provision of manna but in some way showing himself faithful after you obeyed his word.

When we are tempted to sin, we need this message just as Jesus used this message when he was tempted to sin. Giving in to temptation might meet a need, relieve a problem, or satisfy a desire, but it is the opposite of trusting God. If you face temptation today, remember this–God has allowed this into your life to teach you to trust him. If you will trust him, he will provide for you just as he provided manna for Israel and angels to meet Jesus’s needs.

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths, that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10) were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people. Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.