Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 14

Read 2 Samuel 6 and Ezekiel 14.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 14.

Risk is a problem for many people, maybe most of us. While we think we may be right about something, we also know that we’ve been wrong in the past. The question, “What happens if I’m wrong?” haunts us when we feel that something is risky.

Because of this, people do things to try to eliminate risk or, at least, decrease the cost of being wrong. Buying insurance for on life, for your home, or your car, or anything else is one way to mitigate risk. You buy that insurance but hope that you never actually need it. Insurance is one form of risk mitigation that we all use. People who invest a lot of money have ways of mitigating risk; so do some people who gamble.

Ezekiel prophesied God’s judgment on Israel for their idolatry, and, here in Ezekiel 14:1, it looks like the elders of Israel were trying to mitigate their risk. Verse 1 told us that they came to Ezekiel and sat down in front of him. It doesn’t tell us what, if anything, they said but in verses 2-3 God asked Ezekiel, “Should I let them inquire of me at all?” God’s question, then, indicates that the elders came to seek God’s revelation about something, probably the disaster that Ezekiel was predicting.

God was not flattered or impressed by their attempts to reach him through Ezekiel. The reason was, “these men have set up idols in their hearts” (v. 3). In other words, they were not coming to God in repentance, genuinely seeking truth from the true God. They were hedging their bets, trying to mitigate their risk. They worshipped false gods genuinely, from the heart; their interest in the true God was self-interest only. They came to Ezekiel only to try to get a good answer the question, “What if Ezekiel is right and God really does judge us?” They were like large corporations in our day who make campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans so that whichever party becomes powerful will not treat them like the enemy.

The judgment that Ezekiel prophesied would become a spiritual heart transplant for God’s people. “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols” (v. 5). This is what God wants from people; a genuine worship, love, and devotion to him. Anything we do to try to appease him or “cover our bets” spiritually is offensive to him.

In Christ we have new life and a heart that genuinely desires to know and love God. Anyone who has an idol of the heart, be it materialism, pride, desire for admiration, or whatever, needs the spiritual heart transplant of regeneration that God spoke of in verse 5. That comes as a gift of God’s grace and has happened when someone follows God’s command to “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6).

Still, even as genuine followers of Christ, we are tempted by idols. A passage like this one calls us to reflect on our lives and consider which idols we may be flirting with in our hearts then repent and ask the Lord to purify us so that we “will no longer stray” from him (v. 11).

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22, which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years, but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about, but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive, but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?