Joshua 8, Jeremiah 2

Read Joshua 8 and Jeremiah 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 2:13.

This second chapter of Jeremiah began God’s complaint against his people. The immediate audience was the population of Jerusalem (v. 2a) and God recalled in glowing terms the exodus of all the tribes of Israel from Egypt (v. 2b-3). Starting with verse 4, God turned to the spiritual problems of his people; as usual, the main problem was idolatry.

Here in verse 13, God charged them with rejecting him and choosing their own way. He used an image related to water to visually describe his complaint. Forsaking him meant rejecting “the spring of living water” (v. 13c). This refers to the gift of spiritual life that comes from trusting God by faith. Jesus also used this image in his conversation with the woman at the well (Jn 4:14), promising that those who believed in him would never thirst again.

The other watery image here in Jeremiah 2:13 is in line d which says that they “…have dug their own cisterns.” Cisterns are holes in the ground that collect rain water and water runoff. In the desert, where lakes and streams are rare and and springs of underground water are hard to find, these cisterns are quite useful. The rain water they retain can be used to irrigate crops and hydrate animals and, if necessary, provide drinking water for people. But rain water lacks the good taste and refreshing nature of spring water. You might drink it if you had to, but you would long for spring water and look hard for it.

God used this image to tell his people that he offered them an endless supply of life and refreshment but they chose the dirty water left over from rain and runoff. This water could not replenish itself; instead, once the cistern was dry (from use and evaporation), it would remain empty until the next rain–which may not come soon in a desert climate like Judah had. The spiritual image here is that God’s people traded the life God gives to those who believe his word for spiritual leftovers gathered by human ingenuity. This water offered some refreshment but it was also contaminated and limited in supply. Furthermore, the collection methods people used to get it were flawed; verse 13e calls them “…broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Other religions teach some truths that God’s word also teaches. These religions may teach morals and ethics that our faith also teaches. They may offer the hope of life after death and may even hold to one God instead of many. Human philosophy and psychology also offer truths that correspond to some of the teachings of God’s word. But even when these alternatives to biblical faith are right, they are at best severely limited, unclean and even contaminated and ultimately unable to satisfy with eternal life. Yet this is what we imbibe when we look to political solutions to human problems or to psychology or to other religions, even those that claim association with Jesus.

Consider the sources of information you consume. How much of it is the collected runoff of philosophy or spirituality verses the genuine spiritual life God gives us by grace? Drink deeply from God’s word and let it refresh and satisfy your soul; don’t settle for the dishwater swill of this world.

Deuteronomy 27, Isaiah 54

Read Deuteronomy 27 and Isaiah 54.

This devotional is about Isaiah 54:9-10.

God made so many promises to Israel and, though he fulfilled many of them, many others were not fulfilled due to Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. After Jesus came and was rejected by most of Israel, God turned his attention to saving Gentiles. Although some Jewish people find eternal life in Christ by God’s grace, most are locked in unbelief, a judgment of God for rejecting their Messiah.

While God is busy saving Gentiles, does that men he is done with Israel?

No.

Most of God’s chosen people are unbelievers in this age, but God is not finished with his nation. Instead, this chapter re-affirms God’s plans to regather his people Israel from all over the earth and establish his kingdom among them, in Jerusalem, just as he promised.

Verse 9 of Isaiah 54 told us that, when God re-gathers his people Israel, that he will make a promise to them. This promise is like the one he made to Noah and his descendants (v. 9). Just as he promised never again to destroy the earth with water, he promised his people that, “‘I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

So does God have a future for the nation of Israel?

Yes.

He will gather them up, give them new life to believe in him, and then never cut them off in anger or judgment again. But verse 10e describes God as “… the Lord, who has compassion on you.” This is why Israel was not permanently cut off or rejected. God is compassionate and patient and gave them many opportunities to turn to him. Someday they will turn to him in faith and all will be right with the world.

Just as Israel struggled with unbelief, we too fail the Lord and need his compassion. God’s faithfulness to Israel and the way he repeated his promises to them should give us hope. None of us lives obediently to the Lord like we should. Sometimes that causes us to receive his discipline but it never causes him to withdraw his promises.

If you feel defeated by your own struggles and failures, take hope. We are accepted and forgiven in Christ; therefore, God can say to us, “‘my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

May this promise fill you with peace and hope today.

Deuteronomy 21, Isaiah 48

Read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

A few chapters ago, in Deuteronomy 17, we read about capital punishment and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him with rebellion in the presence of the elders of the town in verses 18-21.
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be… um… executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “…all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people–representing the entire community–could take part together in the execution.

Now, because God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13 so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 16, Proverbs 30, Psalm 102

Today’s readings are Leviticus 16, Proverbs 30, and Psalm 102.

This devotional is about Psalm 102.

The superscript to this Psalm, “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord,” describes verses 1-11 very well. The person who penned this prayer cried out for the Lord’s help (vv. 1-2), then described what his current life felt like in verses 3-11. In verse 10 the phrase, “because of your great wrath,” coupled with verse 16 seems to indicate that the songwriter was writing in response to the Babylonian captivity. He was distressed, then, because God’s judgment has fallen on Judah. Although it was a national event, it affected the Psalmist in a deeply personal way. He was emotionally devastated when he considered his circumstances.

In verse 12, however, he turned his prayer from describing his circumstances to describing God. Despite what had happened, he was confident that God was still ruling the universe securely from his throne (vv. 12, 15) and that he would be merciful and restore the nation (vv. 13-20). Someday, God would be glorified in the land among his people again (vv. 21-22).

The beginning of that restoration was 70 years away, however, and would probably be outside the remaining lifetime of this writer. What hope, then, could he have? Verses 23-28 answer that question. The Psalmist would not live to see the promises he wrote about in verses 13-22 but he still had hope. His hope was in eternity. Verse 26 told us that this world would come to an end but that would not be the end of God’s people. In verse 28 he wrote, “The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.” Given that these words came after the Psalmist described the end of heaven and earth, it seems clear that he is describing eternity with God.

Life in this world can be disappointing, even devastating, but this is not the only reality that exist. When we hope in God and believe his promises by faith, we can be confident that a perfect future awaits us in eternity. Let this hope encourage you today no matter what you’re dealing with now or what may happen today. God is still ruling and when this age is over, we will live eternally in his presence.

Why Easter Matters

Why Easter Matters

Does Easter matter? Why does it matter? Find out in this message. 

This is an Easter message, developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.

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Exodus 13, Job 31, Psalm 61

Today’s readings are Exodus 13, Job 31, and Psalm 61.

This devotional is about Exodus 13:19: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.’”

Around 400 years passed between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses. Joseph was certainly known among the Jewish people of Moses’s time; he was the father of two of the tribes of Israel, after all. But he was far from the forefront of anyone’s mind by the time the events of Exodus 13 happened.

All the best events of Joseph’s adult life happened in Egypt. In Egypt, he was wealthy and powerful. He was revered for saving the people from starvation even though his policies reduced them to slavery (Gen 47:21). Given all of this, it would be hard for anyone to criticize Joseph for not thinking of himself as an Egyptian. But 13:19 tells us that Joseph never gave up his Jewish heritage or hope. The fact that he commanded his descendants to dig up his bones and carry them to the Promised Land for burial shows you where his heart was. Joseph fully believed in the promises God had made to his family as this symbolic act demonstrated. Hebrews 11:22 referred to this verse and told us that Joseph’s instructions were an act of faith. Although God’s promises would be realized outside of his lifetime, Joseph believed firmly that they would happen.

In a sense, this happens to every believer in Christ when we die. Our hope is not just that we will live in heaven after death. Our hope is that all of God’s promises in Christ to us will be kept, including the resurrection he promised. We may not live to see the day that Christ returns but we will be raised again to reign with him if our hope and faith are truly in Jesus Christ.

Exodus 2, Job 19, Psalm 50

Today’s readings are Exodus 2, Job 19, and Psalm 50.

This devotional is about Job 19.

It is sometimes argued that the Old Testament does not teach an after-life. Job 19:25-27 is a clear text that contradicts that argument. This chapter continued the documentation of Job’s arguments with his friends. Although they came to him expressing a desire to comfort him in his sufferings, they made assumptions about Job and his morality and condemned him as a sinner by applying their incorrect assumptions to their simplistic theology.

Job, in this chapter, complained painfully about the words of his friends. He found their words to be “torment” (v. 2a) and begged them for “pity” (v. 21). Although Job was perplexed that God would bring this kind of suffering in his life, his faith in God’s existence and in life after death did not waver. In verse 25a, he affirmed his faith in God’s existence: “I know that my redeemer lives.” He went on in the latter half of that verse to state his confidence that, someday, God would walk this earth.

But notice verse 26: “And after my skin has been destroyed….” What destroys a person’s skin? Death. After a person’s body dies, it is buried to decompose. God created us from the dust of the ground and the earth reclaims its dust after we die. So Job here is acknowledging that his physical body will decompose. But notice that he said, “AFTER my skin has been destroyed, yet…. I will see God” (v. 26b). Job believed that there was life after this life is over and that in that life after death he would experience God personally and directly.

Notice the phrase I omitted, however, from verse 26b: “…yet IN MY FLESH I will see God.” This phrase shows that Job understood not only that he would meet God after death but that there would be a bodily resurrection that he, Job, would experience personally.

This is our hope as well. In Christ’s resurrection, we have been raised spiritually to walk a new life. But the curse of physical death is still upon us until the final resurrection. While we may fear the process of death, the pain and sadness that it causes, there is no reason to fear death itself. Because of Christ, we may have confidence that we will see God personally, in the flesh, at the final resurrection. That meeting will be a loving reunion between our Father and his children or a moment of final judgment for those who have rejected God and his word and his Son in this life. Put your hope in God, therefore, if you haven’t already. He will bring you through the process of death and safely into his kingdom for eternity.

No doubt about it.

Genesis 48, Job 14, Psalm 46

Today let’s read Genesis 48, Job 14, and Psalm 46.

This devotional is about Psalm 46.

The world is a dangerous place. The same natural environment that nurtures us with air, water, and food can drown us, poison us, strike us with lightning, and kill us in any number of other ways.

The people who live in this world can be dangerous, too. Although most people have no intent to harm, there are plenty who want to rob, rape, and even kill. Some of these people become world leaders which enables them to marshal resources to kill on a massive scale through warfare. Nations in this world, today, are at war or preparing for war. Innocent people will die because they were conscripted against their will into some man’s army or because that army will attack them and destroy their homes.

This is the world we live in. We feel secure most of the time, but that security is an illusion. If we paid attention to all the ways we could die, it would greatly increase our fears.

Psalm 46 invites us to contemplate a different world. It calls us to trust in God as “our refuge and strength” the one who is “ever-present” to help us in time of trouble (v. 1). This kind of faith gives us confidence, not fear, no matter what disasters happen around us (vv. 2-3).

But the world that the Psalmist envisions here in Psalm 46 is not a present reality yet. When God dwells in Jerusalem on earth (vv. 4-6), then we will see him protect us (vv. 7, 11), stop the natural disasters that kill (v. 8) and the wars that claim so many lives (v. 9). Instead, he will command the nations, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v. 10).

The vision of life presented in this song won’t happen until Jesus reigns on earth in his kingdom. When his kingdom has superseded all the kingdoms of this earth, when he has defeated his enemies, then there will be peace, prosperity, joy, and eternal life. But better than all of those benefits is the opportunity to know God (v. 10a). Everyone will know him and we will all worship him (“I will be exalted”).

This is the hope that God’s word sets before us believers while we live on this earth. We are citizens of that kingdom but in exile for now until he fully establishes that kingdom on earth. While we wait, Jesus gave us to the gospel to call people all over the world to know the Lord, worship the Lord, and wait for that coming kingdom with us.

If you are harassed, feeling helpless, discouraged by the problems of this world and wondering why life has to be so hard, be encouraged. Things are a mess because the rebellion against the true Lord of this earth has not been defeated yet. But, when that kingdom comes, the joys and pleasures of worshipping the Lord in it will far outweigh the problems we lived through to get there. So don’t give up your faith; it will be rewarded when the king comes.