Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Read Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world–and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear….” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel–ourselves and through missionaries around the world–God is saving people and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalm 62

Read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalm 62

This devotional is about Exodus 14:10-15.

Although they saw the miraculous power of God repeatedly in the ten plagues, God’s people became fearful in this chapter when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them. Verse 10b says, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Their crying out, however, was not for his help or his power. That would have honored God. Their cries were cries of unbelief as you can see in their words to Moses in verses 11-12.

Moses’s answer in verses 13b-14 was magnificent. It radiated faith in God’s promises: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Despite this perfect response to Israel’s unbelief, Moses must have felt some fear, too. God rebuked him in verse 15: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” The Hebrew word translated “you crying out” is singular. In other words, God wasn’t saying, “Why are you Israelites crying out to me.” He was saying, “Knock off the praying, Moses, and get moving.”

Did you know that there are some things in your relationship with God that you shouldn’t pray about? Asking for God’s help, strength, favor or for his power to overcome your fear is always appropriate. It is never necessary, however, to pray and ask God whether or not you should do something he’s clearly commanded us to do. We never have to pray about whether we should share the gospel, for instance, or go to church, or tithe, or read his word. We never need to pray about whether or not to obey any of the Ten Commandments or any other moral command of God’s word. Asking God whether or not we should obey his commands is not spiritual; it is an act of unbelief. God requires us to obey his Word; there is no need for further discussion.

Again, we can ask God for his favor as we carry out his commands. We can ask for his help so that we have the courage to obey his commands. We can ask for him to comfort our fears as we carry out his commands. What we shouldn’t do is ask for an exemption from obeying his commands. That is the opposite of faith.

Is there any area of your walk with God where you’re procrastinating on obedience? Are you “putting out a fleece” (to borrow the words of Gideon) when you should just be doing what God said. Quit praying (about that thing) and just do what God’s word tells you to do. As Moses told the people in verse 13b, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you….”

Genesis 48, Job 14, Psalm 46

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. There are 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 in his kingdom (“I will be exalted, ” v. 10).

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.

Revelation 3

Read Revelation 3.

Years ago, when I was in seminary, I was in the driveway of my house, scraping the old grass off the bottom of my mower. A couple that lived a few doors down the street walked by on the sidewalk. They asked me if I was a minister; I said I was in seminary preparing to become a pastor. The wife said, “You need to come to our church and become our pastor!” I was startled by that and said, “What church do you go to?” “St. Matt’s” she said, referring to a church in our neighborhood, just around the corner from my house on the next block. They were walking home from a church members meeting at the time.

“Don’t you have a pastor?” I asked. “Yes, but all he does is tell stories about going to the grocery store and doing this and that. We need someone who will come and preach the gospel!” I was surprised by this conversation because the church she mentioned was part of a denomination that left orthodox Christianity a long time ago. I knew the church she was referring to had dwindled to only a few members and attenders, just like most of the churches in the denomination had. So, my surprise wasn’t that the preaching was unbiblical and weak; it was that there were members still there who knew the Lord!

That’s kind of what was going on at the church in Sardis that we read about in verses 1-6. The church was “dead” (v. 1b) and what little life remained was “about to die” (v. 2b). Yet verse 4 described a “few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.” Christ commanded the entire church to repent and hold fast to his doctrine (v. 3) but the promise in verses 4-6 was that those who truly did trust Christ would be saved, even if the church died around them. Verse 5 promises, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”

In New Testament times, there was one church at the most in every town. So, if your church was dying, you couldn’t leave it for a living, growing one. That’s what most Christians would do today but there is something to be said for those who don’t give up the faith or the fight for a faithful church.

This passage also underscores the importance of walking with God personally even if others around you are not. At the last judgment, you will stand alone before God and so will I. We will be accountable to him for what we believe and how we lived, regardless of whether anyone else led us properly or walked with us in a way that pleases God. It must be strange to be one of the few (or only) true believers in a church, but that is no excuse to stop seeking the Lord yourself. I hope none of us is ever in that position, but regardless this passage should encourage us and challenge us to be diligent about our discipleship. If there are people who keep seeking the Lord in a dead and dying church, how much more should we be faithful to walk with him when we have so many others to encourage us, lead us and teach us to follow God!

2 Kings 13, Micah 6, John 7

Read 2 Kings 13, Micah 6, and John 7.

This devotional is about Micah 6.

I was named (unjustly) in a lawsuit once in my life. The suit was withdrawn a few days later after the two main parties worked out a deal. Those few days when I thought I was getting sued were stressful, especially because the plaintiff suing us was a lawyer.

If you’ve ever been sued or even been on a jury or served as a witness, you know how stressful lawsuits can be. But imagine being sued by the Lord! That’s what’s happening here in Micah 6. This is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against his people. Verse 1 commanded Micah to initiate the lawsuit with the mountains serving as the jury. The earth was created before humanity was, so the mountains were personified in this chapter as witnesses to all that the Lord had done for his people (v. 2).

In verse 3 God asked the people of Israel why they have broken faith with him. The question in the second line, “How have I burdened you?” is an interesting one. It assumes that God’s people looked on his laws as burdensome and felt that serving him was difficult. God responded in verse 4a-b by reminding them that he relieved them of a true burden–the burden of slavery in Egypt. He also reviewed how he sent them leadership in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 4c-d). Then he told them again how protected them from the oracles of Balaam (v. 5a-c) and in their journey to the promised land (v. 5).

Israel responded in verses 6-7 like a defendant would in a lawsuit. The implied question of these verses is, “Okay, Lord; how much do you want to settle this out of court?” The offer kept escalating. Verse 7 says, “How about thousands of rams? No? Ok, how about 10,000 rivers of oil (v. 7b)? Not good enough? OK, then how about a human sacrifice (v. 7c-d)?”  

Verse 8 responds that the Lord wants a few basic things from his people; namely

  • justice
  • mercy and 
  • to walk with God. 

Justice is about doing what is right and fair to others regardless of whether they are rich or poor, family or enemy. Mercy is about showing kindness to people who deserve justice but are repentant. It also means showing kindness to people in need even though you don’t have any legal or family obligation to them. Walking with God means loving him, worshipping him daily, and following in his ways.

The concepts outlined in Micah 6:8 are easy; living them out daily is hard. It is hard because of our sin nature; we like to favor people we like or people who can help us. We like to punish people who have mistreated us even if they are repentant. We also like to, sometimes, ignore people in need. Finally, walking with God is tough because we are, naturally speaking, enemies of God because of our sin nature.

This passage, then, describes the absolute need we all have for God to save us. We can’t save ourselves; we are guilty and unable to give our way out of the guilt. In Christ, however, we have both the forgiveness of sins that the gifts described in verse 7 could never buy for us and the ability now to walk with God by faith and to do justice and show mercy.

2 Kings 10, Micah 4, John 5

Read 2 Kings 10, Micah 4, and John 5.

This devotional is about Micah 4.

Christians sometimes wonder what heaven will be like. It is not a great question, really, because heaven is not the final destination for believers in God–the New Earth is. Before the New Earth arrives, however, Jesus will establish his kingdom on this earth during the time period we call “The Millennium” (Rev 20). 

Micah 4 describes what that will be like. Verse 1 told us this will happen “in the last days.” And what will those days be about? Worship. Instead of flocking to Walt Disney World, “the mountain of the Lord’s temple” will be the greatest place on earth—“the highest of the mountains… exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.”

The attraction to the Lord’s temple will not be for Jewish people alone. Verse 2 said, “Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.’” These nations are those who survived the Great Tribulation. Some from them will believe in the Lord and will come to the temple to learn his word (v. 2). Others will be ruled by him (v. 3a) but in unbelief (verse 5a, Rev 20:7-9).

Because the world will finally be ruled by it’s rightful Lord, there will be justice (v. 3a), peace (v. 3b-c), prosperity (v. 4a) and security (v. 4b). This will be the greatest thousand years the world has ever known but (after some final judgments of Satan and the dead, 20:7-15), this golden era will be replaced by an eternal kingdom where we will reign with Christ forever.

That is what we are calling people to when we give them the gospel–to become followers of Jesus now and follow him right into his kingdom. This is what we are living for when we choose to invest our time and money in his work. This is what we long for whenever someone we love dies or when we experience suffering and pain in this life. Let this vision of a perfect life under the reign of king Jesus comfort you today; let it guide you in the decisions you make today and in days to come.

2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, John 3

Read 2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, and John 3.

This devotional is about Jonah 4.

Have you ever allowed someone to talk you into doing something you really didn’t want to do? My guess is that most of us have. We all are reluctant to do certain things. Either we don’t want to do the activity itself or we are unsure, skeptical even, if the activity will be fun or productive or helpful or produce whatever result it promises.

We also may be reluctant because we see real risks. We’ve all had that sinking feeling that happens when we are reluctant to do something, do it anyway, then see that the very thing we feared is happening.

Jonah could relate. The people of Nineveh were wicked people, which is why Jonah hated them and resisted coming to preach to them in the first place back in Jonah 1. When he did reluctantly arrive in Ninevah, Jonah came preaching God’s judgment and offering no grace, as we saw yesterday.

Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh because they were cruel to people they conquered and captured in war. Maybe some of Jonah’s friends or relatives had been tortured by them or maybe he’d just heard enough reports to know how violent they were. Regardless of the specific reasons why, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He did not want to preach to the people who lived in Nineveh. He did not want to see them respond well to his message. He did not want the king to repent in sackcloth and sit in dirt as he did in Jonah 3:6. Jonah was willing to die—“throw me into the sea“ (1:12)—rather than preach to the people of Nineveh. But God, in his inimitable way, changed Jonah’s mind and persuaded him to go to Nineveh–against his will–and speak against their sins.

Our reading today tells us why Jonah did what he did in chapter 1 and chapter 3. He went the opposite direction from Nineveh in chapter 1 and preached judgment without grace in chapter 3 because he was afraid the Lord would forgive the Assyrians of Nineveh: “He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’” (v. 2). In our language, Jonah was saying, “I knew it! I knew this would happen!” If you’ve ever regretted letting someone talk you into something, you know the feeling. But in Jonah’s case, it was the positive result that he feared. He did not want to preach to the people of Nineveh lest they repent and avoid God’s judgment. When exactly what he feared happened, his hatred for the Assyrian people turned into anger at God himself.

God dealt with Jonah by confronting his anger (v. 4, 9). He asked Jonah whether he had any right to be angry in verse 4. Jonah ignored God’s question and went outside the city to see if God’s judgment would fall on them despite their repentance (v. 5a). God was gracious to Jonah, giving him a plant to provide him shade (v. 5b-6). Then God took away the shade (v. 7) and turned up the heat (literally) on Jonah (v. 8). The shade and the heat were an object lesson about God’s grace. Jonah didn’t deserve or earn the shade, so he had no reason to be proud when he had the shade or angry when it was taken away.

After this object lesson, God asked Jonah again if he was angry (v. 9a); this time he got the answer–of course I’m angry (v. 9b). God then used this object lesson to show how self-centered Jonah was. He was concerned about the plant, but not about the vast number of children (“who cannot tell their right hand from their left”) and animals who would be lost if Nineveh were destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah style.

Verse 11 of our passage is the point of this entire book of Jonah. It was written to bring us face to face with our own poor priorities. We care passionately about things that do not matter at all and can be indifferent (or worse) toward people. This happens when we stop seeing people for what they are–eternal souls made in the image of God but bound as we once were by sin natures that distort everything.

When we start to think of people not as individuals but as groups–atheists, Scientologists, Hindus, or whatever–we might lose sight of the fact that they are people. People have strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, beliefs and doubts, parents and children. Generation after generation can be lost to the gospel if we assume that entire groups of people won’t listen to us, don’t care about God, are too proud to repent, or too sinful to desire forgiveness.

We notice when the comforts of life are gone and we regret their loss just as Jonah regretting losing his shade. But do we ever consider the eternal destiny of people in groups, especially people in groups we are inclined to dislike and avoid?

May God give us greater compassion for people and less dislike for people in groups we fear or dislike.

2 Kings 5, Jonah 3, John 2

Read 2 Kings 5, Jonah 3, and John 2.

This devotional is about Jonah 3.

Jonah’s message to Ninevah was simple: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” There is no call to repentance and no offer of grace to the repentant, for reasons we’ll see tomorrow.

Yet the people did repent, including the king of Ninevah (vv. 5-6). The king even issued a decree and explained why he called for repentance: “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (v. 9). And that’s exactly what happened: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” 

I have a couple of thoughts about all of this. First, don’t worry so much about having the perfect presentation when you give the gospel message or explain God’s truth to someone else. By all means do the best that you can, but understand that it is not your perfect presentation or your persuasive ability that will matter. If it is God’s message, God will use it to do his work. Just be faithful to what God has told us to say.

Second, repentance is always implied in any message of judgment God gives. The major and minor prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) exist is because God wanted to call his people to repentance. Though his words to them were direct, even harsh at times, they were designed to redeem people, not injure them emotionally.

Keep this in mind when the Holy Spirit brings painful conviction into your life or a friend (or even an enemy) brings an ugly confrontation to your door. If you receive truth and repent at the message, God’s forgiving and restoring grace is right there to meet you. 

2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 46, Mark 10

Today read 2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 46, and Mark 10.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 7.

Once he was crowned king over all Israel, David moved systematically to centralize Israel as a real kingdom. He took over Jerusalem from the Jebusites whom his tribe, Judah, had failed to dislodge. This was an act of obedience to the conquest command given to Joshua. It was also strategic; Jerusalem was a difficult city to defeat because it was built on a hill and surrounded by mountains. It was, therefore, an excellent capital city, which is what David did with it.

After securing a capital city for the kingdom, David consolidated worship in the capital by moving the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Now, here in 2  Samuel 7, David is settled for the first time in his adult life (v. 1). Given how much time he spent “roughing it” as a shepherd, then as a soldier, palatial life must have taken some getting used to. Also, given his heart for God, David must have visited the tabernacle often; some of his Psalms suggest as much. There must have been a big visual disconnect between the beauty of his newly completed palace and the tent that served as the Lord’s dwelling place on earth. In verse 2, David explained to Nathan the prophet how he was feeling about this and, in verse 3, Nathan gave him the go-ahead to build a temple for the Lord.

Nathan’s instincts were correct; David wanted to do something unselfish for God as an act of worship, so there was no moral reason to forbid him from building a temple. But God had other plans, so although David’s plans did not violate God’s moral will, they were not part of God’s sovereign will for his life. Nathan learned this in a dream as the Lord spoke to him (vv. 8-17). 

Notice how tenderly the Lord spoke to Nathan about his will. First he told Nathan to remind David that God had never commanded Israel to build him a permanent temple (vv. 5-7). Second, God reminded David that he chose him from a lowly position as a shepherd to become the king of Israel (v. 8). He also reminded David that he had prospered David in everything he did (v. 9a). 

Now God promised David greatness (v. 9b) and peace (vv. 10-11a) during his lifetime. Then, in verses 11b-16, God spoke about what would happen after David’s death. First of all, God would establish his son as king (v. 12) and would use his heir to build the temple that David desired to build (v. 13). Then God promised to love David’s son with permanence (vv. 12-15). Unlike Saul (verse 15), God would not remove David’s son as king, though he would discipline him when he sinned. Finally, in verse 16, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

These promises, taken as a group, are called “the Davidic Covenant” and it is one of the key covenants for understanding the Old Testament. The promise that David’s throne “will be established forever” (v. 16) foreshadowed the coming of Christ, the final Davidic king who will restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) and rule over it forever. This covenant with David is why both Matthew and Luke were careful demonstrate that David was an ancestor of Christ. 

When the book of Revelation describes Christ establishing his earthly kingdom in the future (Rev 20-22), it is this promise to David that Christ is fulfilling. The great thing about God’s grace is that Gentiles like us can be included in this promise by faith in Christ. This was always God’s plan as demonstrated way back in the Abrahamic covenant: “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3b).

Christ began the fulfillment of these promises; when everyone he means to saved has come to know him by faith, the process of ending the kingdoms of this world and replacing them with the eternal kingdom of Christ will begin (2 Pet 3:1-15, Rev 11:15). This is the message that we deliver in the gospel: Trust Christ by faith and God will include you in the kingdom that Christ will establish. This is the hope that we wait for (Titus 2:13). The Bible constantly reminds us not to forget that Christ is coming to establish his kingdom; it holds forth this hope to us not only to encourage us (1 Thess 4:17-18) but also to stimulate us to live for eternity instead of living for the sinful pleasures or the temporary comforts of today (2 Pet 3:13-14). So let the promises to David that read about today guide you and help you to live for Christ, our Davidic king, this week.

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, Mark 4

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, and Mark 4.

This devotional is about Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41).

The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25 uses a farm metaphor to demonstrate that failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers.

The parable in verses 26-29 also uses a farm metaphor to teach about the kingdom of God. In this parable, a farmer scatters the seed into the ground and…. that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.”

Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c says that the farmer’s planting works even “though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

A lot of effective processes work this way. You do not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works, nor do we need to do anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know… how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

Many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure.

But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come.

Are you planting anything?

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 36, Mark 2

Read 1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 36, and Mark 2.

This devotional is about Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God.

But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners.

But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.”

The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace-filled message of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along.

When we intentionally try to reach someone, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that is out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the many Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, Acts 22

Read Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, and Acts 22 today. This devotional is about Acts 22.

Yesterday we read in Acts 21 about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to placate the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest, which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted. Today’s chapter, Acts 22, is the written record of that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to the time in his life when he persecuted Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience.

The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ. A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here, so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old carjacker or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out, even, to help you prepare to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.