Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Matthew 13

Read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Matthew 13. This devotional is about Matthew 13.

The Parable of the Soils and Christ’s interpretation of it takes up most of this chapter of Matthew, from verse 1 through verse 23. In addition to that parable, we have:

  • The Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-43).
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 31-32).
  • The Parable of the Yeast (v. 33)
  • The Parable of the Buried Treasure (v. 44).
  • The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (vv. 45-46)
  • The Parable of the Dragnet (vv. 47-50).

The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Dragnet have the same message–many people who look like they belong in Christ’s kingdom and think they belong in it will be excluded from the kingdom at the judgment (vv. 40-43, 49-50).

The Parable of Buried Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price also have the same message and it is the one I want us to consider today.

These parables are straightforward: a man finds something valuable but under-appreciated so he liquidates everything he has–his house, his farm animals and equipment, his wife’s jewelry, the fillings in his teeth if necessary–to buy the valuable treasure or pearl of great price.

And he does it “with joy” (v. 44)!

Wouldn’t it be a pain to get rid of everything you own and be homeless with just the clothes on your back? Yes, it would, unless you were going to get something of greater value than all of that stuff.

This is what Jesus said the kingdom of heaven would be like. It is so priceless, such a treasure, that you and I should give up everything to get it. Of course, the cost of the kingdom is not paid to God. God paid the cost for your entry into the kingdom in Christ because you and I could not do it ourselves.

No, the cost Jesus is referring to here is the cost of not going our own way and doing our own thing. If someone gave you an all-expenses paid trip around the world for one year, the trip is a free gift. But to experience that gift you’d have to quit your job. You might have to sell your house because you wouldn’t have any income to pay the mortgage, maintenance, taxes, etc. You would also pay a non-financial cost of missing out on things at home while you are gone.

This is what Christians “pay” for following Christ. When we receive the free gift of salvation, we give up the right to direct our own lives. Jesus is now the boss; he decides what morals we live by and his kingdom dictates the decisions we make with our lives.

His lordship is what leads some people to literally sell everything and move to a different city or a foreign country to start churches. They understand the value of the kingdom and the joy and rewards that await, so they are less focused on accumulating some material things in this life and more focused on serving Jesus in this life in order to benefit the coming kingdom of Christ.

Maybe God has put a desire in your heart to serve him in some way, but the cost of doing so seems high. You know you’ll lose some free time that already seems in short supply. Or, you know that it will cost money or that you won’t advance in your career or whatever.

Christ here calls us to consider what is truly valuable. His kingdom, his work, is so much more valuable than the cheap plastic trinkets that seem so valuable to us now. Let’s take a few moments and re-assess what we’re living for, what is important, what is worth investing in, and what is worth liquidating for the greater value of serving our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Chronicles 11-12, Zephaniah 3

Read 2 Chronicles 11 and Zephaniah 3.

This devotional is from 2 Chronicles 11-12.

When God chose the tribe of Levi to serve as the priests, he decreed that they would receive no allotment of territory in the promised land. Instead, God wanted the Levites to be disbursed throughout the land of Israel in every tribe, every town, all over the nation. When it was time for their service, they came to Jerusalem to serve, but most of the year they lived elsewhere.

There were multiple reasons for this. First, God wanted them throughout Israel so that they could teach his law to all the people of Israel. Second, He also wanted them all over the area so that they could examine people who had skin diseases and homes that had mold (see Leviticus 13 for this exhilarating information).

The priests and Levites were paid from the offerings that were brought to the tabernacle and the temple and they used that money to buy land in the towns and villages where they lived. God did not forbid them from owning land; he decreed that they would not have a segment of tribal land in Israel. In addition to the money they earned serving the Lord, these Levites and priests had time to farm and raise animals like everyone else in Israel did, so many of them bought property among the tribes of Israel.

Israel rebelled from the heavy taxation of Rehaboam and Israel became two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom, led by Jeroboam, created idols and worship areas in the northern kingdom as we read in verse 15. That left the Levites and priests in these towns with a choice:

  • Would they conform and condone the idolatry of the northern kingdom and keep the land and relationships they had built in the 10 tribes of Israel?
  • Or, would they remain faithful to the Lord and abandon their land and their friends to continue to serve him?

The answer was given to us in verse 14: “The Levites even abandoned their pasturelands and property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them as priests of the Lord.” Although they did not leave their land and their homes, many in Israel continued to worship the Lord faithfully in Jerusalem as we read in verse 16: “Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their ancestors.”

This illustrates two important truths:

  1. First, in a pagan culture (which Israel had become), there is a cost to serving God and that cost may be very high. Although over time even the priests became wicked (as we’ve read in many of the prophets), many from the generation that saw Israel split were willing to sacrifice everything and start over in order to serve God.
  2. The second important truth is that when people reject the Lord, God’s word is withdrawn from them. Remember that one of the functions of the priests was to teach God’s word to Israel (Lev 10:11, Deut 33:10, Mal 2:7) and they were distributed within Israel to perform that work for the Lord. As these men and their families abandoned their land in the northern kingdom, access to God’s truth was also withdrawn from them.

Sadly, over generations the priests stopped teaching God’s law to anyone. God sent prophets call them to repentance and then sent his judgment on the people for their disobedience. These things all teach us to be prepared to count the cost of serving the Lord and to realize that we lose access to his truth when we refuse to accept it, believe it, and live by it.

1 Chronicles 5-6, Amos 4

Read 1 Chronicles 5-6 and Amos 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 5:1-2.

As you’ve already noticed, the book of 1 Chronicles begins with a massive genealogy that goes from Adam (1:1) through Saul, the first king of Israel (9:44). Here in chapter 5:1-2, the author of 1 Chronicles reminds us of Genesis 49 where we learned that Israel (Jacob)’s first born son, Reuben, lost his birthright because he had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives (35:22). Israel used that incident to justify giving the right of firstborn to Joseph’s sons (v. 2b).

Reuben’s sin was costly to himself but that cost was carried forward and passed on to the generations that followed him. Did Reuben think he would get away it? Did he think at all or just follow his impulses? I don’t know the answer but I can’t help but wonder if he would have sinned with his stepmother if he knew what the price would be.

That’s how sin works, isn’t it? It never tells us the price up front and, because we all find our fallen nature so persuasive, we seldom think about what the cost of sin might be for us. Sin deludes us into thinking that we’ll never be discovered. It is only after the pleasure is gone and the consequences are revealed that we see how foolish our sinful decisions were.

I wonder how many other generations, besides Reuben’s, throughout human history have been altered by the sin of one man like Reuben. I wonder how many of us are leaving a legacy of damage to our children and their children for sins that we commit.

Thankfully, one of Judah’s descendants would come along and make peace with God for all our sins. That descendant, of course, is Jesus. Through his loving sacrifice we have forgiveness by faith which keeps us from the ultimate consequences of our sin–the wrath of God. But even though God has removed the ultimate penalty for sin, sin damages us in this life and, at times, can have ripple effects throughout generations that follow us.

God has graciously given us, in his word, examples of how people sinned throughout history and how much that sin cost them. Do we believe God’s word and prepare ourselves to say no to sin when temptation comes? Are you moving toward a course of sinful actions in your life that could affect generations after you? Learn from Reuben’s folly and repent before the damage is done.

2 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 27

Read 2 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 27.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 20.

Joab was an outstanding military leader for David. Violence, however, was not just his thing on the battlefield; it was just about the only skill he knew. Earlier in 2 Samuel, his brother Asahel was killed in battle by Saul’s top general Abner (2 Sam 2:22-32). Joab retaliated by murdering Abner in a non-military setting (3:27). That happened early on in David’s administration as king of all Israel and he did not deal justly with Joab, though he did condemn his actions (2 Sam 3:29).

David paid a price for not dealing with Joab. In chapter 18 Joab killed David’s son Absolom against David’s explicit command and when Absolom was completely defenseless (18:9-15). As a result, David turned over leadership of his army to Amasa in chapter 19. As we read yesterday in 2 Samuel 19:13, David said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’”

Here in chapter 20 Amasa had an opportunity to serve David and demonstrate his prowess as a military leader. Sheba rebelled against David (vv. 1-3) and David commanded Amasa to get the men of Judah ready to fight against Sheba. Verse 5 told us, however, that Amasa failed to do what David commanded. “But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.” To keep matters from getting worse, David had to turn to Abishai and Joab used the uncertainty of leadership to reassert himself as Israel’s military leader again (vv. 9-10, 13-23a).

The lessons here are two:

  1. Procrastination is a costly error for leaders. When verse 5 says that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” I interpret that to be describing some amount of incompetence as a leader. David was an experienced fighter and leader; he knew how long it should take to muster the men of Judah and prepare them for battle. The fact that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” suggests either a lack of persuasion skills or (more likely) some amount of procrastination. Procrastination is a killer because it squanders opportunity. When you and I do other things to avoid the thing we should be doing, we are wasting time, energy, (possibly) money and opportunity. Except for money, all of those things are impossible to recover. If you’re going to be an effective leader, then, don’t be crippled by an inability to decide and take action.
  2. Effective people under your leadership may get the job done but at what cost? Joab was very successful as a military leader but David treated him as untouchable because of his great success. That was a mistake; David excused the unjust way Joab acted and it came back to hurt David in multiple ways.

As you serve the Lord in your daily work, don’t procrastinate; get to work ASAP and be effective at whatever you are planning or leading.

Similarly, if you are a leader with an employee who is effective but cruel to others, fire that person ASAP. It will be hard to do because he or she is so effective but it will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

Judges 2, Jeremiah 15

Read Judges 2 and Jeremiah 15.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah is set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment has been passed and the sentence is settled. Pain is on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there will be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it is too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was bringing to him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling him to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult word, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you. But if you don’t stand alone, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but they do provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36

Today we are scheduled to read Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36.

This devotional is about Psalm 36.

After we sin, and the pleasure of it is gone, and the price tag comes due, it feels pretty stupid.

Before we sin, however, sin seems like a great idea. We delude ourselves into the think that we won’t get caught or we justify our disobedience by telling ourselves that our case is exceptional. Or maybe we don’t even think very far beyond the moment; the promise of sin clouds our thinking and keeps us from counting the cost.

David had a message for us in this Psalm. Sin is not only stupid, it is arrogant. Verse 2 says, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” This is how our hearts deceive us. Your heart and mine tells you and me to ignore the truth of God’s word and the wisdom about life that is offered there and to trust our own judgment. When we choose to do wrong, we flatter ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out.

Verses 5-9 sing to the Lord, praising him for his faithfulness, his righteousness, his justice, his love, his abundance, his life, and his light. Believing these truths about God can cause us to make righteous choices in our lives. When I want to do wrong but choose to do right, it is a choice to follow God’s wisdom over my own. It is an act of faith, believing that God’s ways will be better than following my own ways–no matter how flawless my plans seem or how brilliant my evil heart tells me I am.

Verse 12 calls us to look at those who’ve come before us. They’ve already made the moral choices that we are tempted to make. They believed the lies of their sin-cursed hearts. What happened to them? “See how the evildoers lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise!”

Sin will please you for a moment and kill you in the end. God’s commands, however lead us to better things: “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (vv. 8-9).

Choose the light.