Numbers 5, Isaiah 30, Psalms 51-53

Read Numbers 5, Isaiah 30, Psalms 51-53.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would God’s people respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer, then what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). Specifically:

  • “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b).
  • “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23).
  • “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help. Parents try to change their kids’ friends or activities instead of asking God to change their children’s hearts.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, Acts 11

Read Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, and Acts 11.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

Isaiah 24-25 are about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “… we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant.

In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not think about the majesty of the Lord. Thinking about the majesty of the Lord takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s Holy Spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

But, know too that a better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise–let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

Before that day comes, however, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Leviticus 6, Isaiah 1, Luke 21

Read Leviticus 6, Isaiah 1, and Luke 21.

This devotional is about Isaiah 1.

This book of prophecy was written to the “kings of Judah,” the Southern Kingdom after Israel divided during the days of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The Southern Kingdom was the “good” one of the two kingdoms, in the sense that it had 8 kings that “did right” in the sight of God during their reigns. Three of those good kings, Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah (v. 1) ruled during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. So, three out of the four kings who reigned over Judah did so during Isaiah’s life and ministry. Or, to look at it another way, 3 of only 8 kings who did what was right before God ruled during Isaiah’s ministry.

Yet, despite three good kings, Israel was a mess spiritually. Isaiah used very strong language to condemn God’s people for their rebellion (v. 2d) and for forsaking the Lord (v. 4e). But, within these words of condemnation are also strong words of promise. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (v. 18). As evil as the Judeans had become, God wanted nothing more than to forgive and restore them (v. 26). In fact, implicit in every judgment passage in the Bible is a call to repent. The terrible punishments that the Bible promises can be reversed because God is merciful. Nobody is too sinful to be outside the realm of God’s grace.

If you’re reading this but living in sin in someway, this is the promise for you. God will judge you for your sins and will punish you, but his mercy is there for the taking. Turn from your sin and ask God for his forgiveness.

If you’re walking with Christ today but fall into sin in the future, remember the lesson that God’s grace and mercy are there for you if you look to God in faith.

Exodus 39, Song of Songs 3, Luke 17

Read Exodus 39, Song of Songs 3, and Luke 17.

This devotional is about Luke 17.

Each one of us is responsible for himself or herself. When you stand before God, you will give an account of your life. You will not answer for the sins of others nor will you be able to shift blame to others for your sins.

But…

…none of us lives alone, unaffected by others or able to avoid affecting others. In verse 1a-b, Jesus acknowledged that: “‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come….'” The word “stumble” in verse 1 means to sin. The first part of verse 1, then, says that people cause other people to fall into sin. Just as Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, people continue do things that entice others to sin. Adam was responsible for his choice to sin but Eve was held responsible for her sin and her role in Adam’s sin. 

So, fact one is that sinners lead other sinners into sin. No one can make another person sin but we can cause others to sin by leading them into temptations that their sinful natures cannot resist.

When we do that–when we entice others to sin and they choose that sin–we’ve sinned, too. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “…but woe to anyone through whom they come” in verse 1c. Verse 2 goes on to say that there will be severe punishment for those who entice others to sin so, as verse 3 says, “So watch yourselves.”

One of the ways we entice others to sin is by sinning against others. If I insult you and you punch me, we’ve both sinned but my sin provided you with the occasion for your sin. But instead of choosing to sin when we are sinned against, Jesus taught us the right way to respond in verse 3b: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”

This, then, is how we should treat each other. Be careful not to put others in the way of temptation. Don’t recommend actions that cause others to feel tempted, don’t sin against them and give them the occasion to sin themselves. Finally, if someone sins against you, resist the temptation to sin yourself and, instead, call them into accountability and invite them to repent and receive your forgiveness.

It is impossible for anyone of us not to lead others into sin so the “woe” that Jesus announced in verse 1c applies to all of us. The word “woe” describes the kind of deep sorrow that comes from knowing you are under the wrath of God for your sins. Jesus told us, then, that we are in big trouble.

By God’s grace, however, Jesus is also the way out of that trouble. He took our “woe” before God by his death on the cross. We all can (and do) lead others to sin but in Christ, our sins are forgiven.

Now that they are forgiven, we have the power to deal with sin properly. We should think about how our lives might tempt others–our families, friends, co-workers, etc. By the power of God’s Spirit, we should strive to live a life that doesn’t trip anyone else up and we should deal with the trip hazards others put in front of us with loving confrontation and forgiveness.

Have you knowingly enticed someone else to sin? Have you seen in hindsight how your actions created a sin situation for someone even though you did not intend it? Seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with that person if possible. Then “watch yourself” (v. 3a) in the future.

Has someone put temptation into your pathway? Can you learn to bring correction to those who sin against you instead of justifying your sinful response?

These are challenging truths for us but they important ones for us to live by. Blessed is the person who is careful not to cause others to be tempted. Blessed, too, is the person who can resist temptation and restore to righteousness the brother or sister whose sin caused your temptation.

How much better would the world be if we disciples of Christ responded to sin in these ways?

Exodus 37, Song of Songs 1, Luke 15

Read Exodus 37, Song of Songs 1, and Luke 15.

This devotional is about Luke 15.

Luke 15 contains three parables of God’s love. They were motivated by the complaint of the Pharisees, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (v. 2). Christ explained to the Pharisees that God sees sinners like a shepherd who loses a sheep or a woman who loses a valuable coin. Rather than shunning the lost sheep or the lost coin or criticizing it for getting lost, God actively searches for sinners the way that a shepherd actively searches for his lost sheep and the way that a woman actively searches for her lost coin. Then, when a lost sinner is found, God cheers more exuberantly than the shepherd who finds his lost sheep and the woman who finds her lost coin. What an incredible affirmation of God’s love for sinners! I can never read this chapter without feeling very grateful and humbled by God’s saving love.

But, in verses 11-32, Jesus turned his thoughts back to the Pharisees. In the parable of the lost son (aka “the prodigal son”), Jesus compared God to a father who had two sons. One son rejected his father and squandered his father’s wealth with sinful living; the other son dutifully fulfilled his obligation as a son. When the prodigal son found himself in desperate need, he returned in humility to his father, hoping to be accepted as a slave. Instead, however, his father welcomed him back and threw a party in his honor because of his joy in recovering his lost son.

The other brother, on the other hand, was jealous and angry. He self-righteously condemned his father for celebrating the return of such a sinful, selfish son. In this way Christ revealed the heart of the Pharisee and the temptation of every self-righteous person who has ever lived. Instead of understanding the worth of a soul that has been saved, the self-righteous are angry at the Father’s grace to such sinners.

The other brother, in this passage, represented the self-righteous Pharisees, yet even genuine Christians sometimes struggle with the same self-righteous attitude.

One way might be our attitude toward world missions. If we believe that funding our own lives and even our own church is wiser than giving to people who are going to other parts of the world to reach people for Jesus, then maybe we have a self-righteous attitude. Or if we pray little for the missionaries we know or just other countries that are closed to the gospel, perhaps it is because we believe the people who live there are greater sinners than lost people in America.

As encouraging as this passage is when it describes God’s love, it should also make us pause and think: Do I get excited about the salvation of God’s lost sheep? Can I celebrate the salvation of others in other parts of the world or do I think they deserve judgment more than I do or the people around me?

Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, Luke 9

Read Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, and Luke 9.

This devotional is about Luke 9.

At the beginning of this lengthy chapter, Jesus told the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet” (v. 5).

Toward the end of this chapter, Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village “to get things ready for him” (v. 52). I take that phrase to mean that Jesus was sending some of the people mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 to prepare for Jesus’s arrival because he was going to stay and teach in that village for a while on his way to Jerusalem.

According to verse 53 here in Luke 9, “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” Angry, apparently, that Jesus would only stay the night rather than for an extended time of ministry, the Samaritans decided they’d rather not have Jesus there at all.

James and John were incensed by this rejection. Claiming the supernatural power that Jesus had conferred on them in verse 1, these two brothers “asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”

Their question demonstrated the wrong spirit toward those who had rejected Jesus.

When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet in verse 5, the reason he gave was “as a testimony against them.” It was for their warning and rebuke that Jesus commanded the disciples to do this, not because the disciples were angry or ready to send judgment on the towns that rejected them.

So, instead of saying, “Great idea! Let’s torch ’em!”, according to verse 55 “Jesus turned and rebuked” James and John instead of praising them or encouraging them in their anger.

The reason Jesus rebuked them was that James and John were not concerned about the lost souls of these Samaritans; they were ticked off at being rejected and wanted to show them some power!

Jesus surely will bring judgment on anyone who rejects him in this life. That is one of his promises and one of his roles when he returns.

But, until the day of judgment begins, Jesus calls us to show grace and mercy to his enemies, not to call for their destruction. We should keep this in mind when unbelievers mock our faith, or belittle us personally, or even persecute us. We should definitely testify to them about the judgment that Jesus will bring for these actions; that’s what he told the disciples to do in verse 5–testify against them.

But we should be merciful and plead with them as we talk to them about God’s judgment because we know that their eternal souls are at stake.

So consider your heart and attitude toward those who are hostile to righteousness, to Christianity, Christians, or Christ. Don’t hope for and call for God’s judgment; tell them of God’s judgment but in a way that shows them how much we want to see God’s mercy in their lives.

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Hebrews 12

Read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Hebrews 12.

This devotional is about Hebrews 12.

Like us, believers in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith. They did not know as much as we do, but they knew that they could not save themselves or atone for their own sins.

Unlike us, believers in the Old Testament learned about God in a more terrifying way. Here in Hebrews 12, verses 18-21 described God’s self-revelation to Moses and the people of Israel. God visually and audibly revealed his holiness to Moses and the people. He took the burning bush that Moses saw and magnified it by 1000 when he set Mt. Sinai on fire and shrouded it with darkness and storms (v. 18). His words were preceded by blaring trumpets (v. 19a) and thundered out loud from heaven (v. 19). God commanded them not to touch Mt. Sinai (v. 18a). If one of their animals wandered over and touched it, they must kill that animal by stoning it (v. 20b). The point there is that the animal was now holy, so they couldn’t even touch it to take its life; they had to kill it by touchless means. Even Moses was terrified by what he saw (v. 21).

That’s how God revealed himself to the people of Israel. We read and learn from that revelation, of course, but that’s not how God reveals himself to us.

Instead, God reveals himself to us with the promise of a heavenly city where he lives (v. 22a), occupied with joyful (not scared) believers in him (v. 22b). He reveals himself to us through the church (v. 23). Yes, he reveals himself as our judge according to verse 23b-c, but he is a judge whose justice has been fully satisfied by Christ (v. 24). Instead of crying out for justice like Abel’s blood did, Christ’s shed blood cries out that justice is satisfied and God’s mercy may be extended to us (v. 24).

So, we worship and serve the same God as the people of the Old Testament, but the God we share in common with them has revealed himself in love and acceptance. He remains holy, just as he was in his Exodus revelation, but by his grace we are welcomed as his friends through Christ.

Based on all this, what should we do with God’s word? Does the grace of God revealed to us mean that we can be casual or selective in our reception and obedience to God’s word? No. Verses 25-29 tell us not to be careless with God’s word. Instead, knowing how fearful God’s revelation in the Old Testament made people, and how fierce his punishment was to those who rejected his word (v. 25), we must be all the more diligent to receive and obey God’s word (vv. 26-27). Just as he judged the unbelieving in those days, he will also judge us if we do not believe his word today (v. 29).

But, our response to God’s revelation should not be dominated by fear. Moses and the Israelites were dominated by fear when they received God’s revelation (vv. 19-21), but not us. Instead, we should be thankful for all God has done for us while we worship him in reverence and awe (v. 28). We must not forget that God is holy, and just, and powerful. But, because we have received the promise of eternal life (the “kingdom that cannot be shaken,” v. 28), our worship should be both thankful and reverent. We should be grateful for all God has done for us and has promised to us in Christ, but we must always remember that he is forever holy and commands us to be holy as well (v. 14).

Are you thankful for the salvation you have in Christ? Are you learning to love God’s holiness and justice as you grow in your faith? Do you have a greater desire to be holy yourself and do you find yourself growing in holiness–by turning away from sin–more and more in your life?

All this is accomplished by receiving God’s word in faith and obeying it. That’s what the writer of Hebrews means when he says, “do not refuse him who speaks” (v. 25a). When you read God’s word and hear God’s word, search your heart and mind and actions for motives and thoughts and acts that displease God. Then, ask for forgiveness and for help to obey going forward in your life. This is the proper response that people who have faith in God will have to the revelation of God’s holiness, grace, and justice.

Genesis 44, Job 10, Hebrews 2

Read Genesis 44, Job 10, and Hebrews 2.

This devotional is about Hebrews 2.

The book of Hebrews is an impassioned attempt by an unknown author to persuade his fellow Jews who have professed faith in Jesus not to abandon their profession of faith and return to Judaism. The book argues that Christ is superior to anything else that can be offered to them religiously speaking.

Hebrews 2:1 opens this chapter with one of many pleas in the book to tend to their faith: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Most of chapter 1 argued that Christ is superior to angels. Chapter 2:2 picks up on that theme and reminds the readers that when angels spoke to people, what they said was God’s word. It was, therefore, required that the people who heard the word of God through angels believe and obey that word. How much more important, then, argued the author of Hebrews, that believers not drift away from the word of Christ since through him we have salvation (v. 3) and his message was authenticated by miracles (v. 4).

Verse 5 began to turn the thought to a much more personal connection between believers and Christ. The author of Hebrews quoted Psalm 8 and referred to how God has “put everything under” the feet of humanity, but that this claim has not been realized yet. However, Christ has been crowned with glory and honor (v. 9) and his death on behalf of humanity makes him “the pioneer” of humanity’s salvation (v. 10).

And what was the purpose of this salvation?

Verse 11: “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Of the many reasons why Christ became human and died, one of the main reasons was personal—he wanted to join the human family so that, though his redemption, we could join his family, the family of God.

What an incredible expression of the grace of God!

God would have been enormously gracious to simply send Christ to atone for our sins, then annihilate us instead of sending us to hell. That would have rescued us from eternal punishment which is more than we sinners deserve.

But instead of merely rescuing us from eternal torment—as merciful as that was—Christ wanted to make us his brothers and sisters! That truth helps us when our minds question God and our faith is weak. Jesus came into the world, taught us the meaning of salvation, performed miracles to attest to the validity of his claims, then became the pioneer of the redeemed human family, subjugating all creation to himself, then calling us his family so that we can reign with him by grace.

This is a truth–one of many–that should keep our faith going when the going gets tough. Whatever you’re facing today, know that Christ has won the ultimate victory and we will participate in it by his grace when God’s decreed time comes.

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Matthew 20

Read Genesis 29, Esther 5, and Matthew 20.

This devotional is about Matthew 20.

Jesus told some very odd stories and Matthew 20:1-16 contains one of them. It started out unsurprisingly enough: A farmer needed harvesters for his vineyard. He went where the unemployed workers hung out and hired a bunch of them. They agreed to work all day for 1 denarius. That was the standard amount paid for one day’s work in Jesus’ time.

At noon, he hired more guys; their wage was ambiguous: “whatever is right” (v. 4). That equals more than zero, which they would have received for standing around the rest of the day, so they agreed.

The same thing happened at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., he hired even more guys.

A few hours later as darkness fell, each worker was paid. The farmer instructed his foreman to start with the last guys in, pay them first, and pay the first guys last. The foreman paid 1 denarius to the guys who started working at 5. In other words, they made a full day’s wage for one hour of work. Nice work if you can get it!

The guys hired at 3 got their denarius, and so did the guys who clocked in at noon. The guys who had worked all day eagerly looked forward to their paychecks. They reasoned: “This crazy landowner is paying a day’s wage to guys who worked for 1 hour; how much will he pay for those of us who worked 8 hours?” The answer:

One denarius!

Just as they had agreed in the morning. No bonus money for working all day. No tips, either.

Although the all-day workers agreed to that amount from the beginning, they were unhappy. They were unhappy even though it was a fair wage for a fair day’s work. They were unhappy even though they had agreed to that amount in advance. Despite the objective fairness of the situation, those who worked all day felt it was unfair to pay the last workers as much as the first workers made (v. 12).

When they complained that these were unfair labor practices, the farmer told them, “Hey, it’s my money! I can do with it whatever I want! And, what I want is to be crazy generous to those who only worked an hour.” That’s my paraphrase, but it is an accurate description of verses 13-15. Jesus concluded the story in verse 16 by saying, “So the last will be first and the first will be last” (v. 16).

This is a parable about justice and generosity. It is a parable about God and, specifically, how he treats people in his kingdom. The lesson taught in this parable is that God is generous in his kingdom; he does not operate in typical human ways. If you follow Jesus for 50 years or for 1 day, you receive the same blessing of eternal life, the same gift of God’s love, the same adoption into God’s holy family.

Do you ever feel a sense of inferiority as a Christian? If you were saved as an adult, do you think that people who were saved as children are more loved by God or more capable of serving him effectively?

Or do you suffer from superiority? Do you look down on other believers because they lack a Christian heritage or don’t have the fund of Bible knowledge that you do?

Let this parable correct your thinking about God and his ways. God is generous with his grace. He makes the same promises to everyone who calls on him. So enjoy and marvel at the grace of God and don’t look at any other Christian as more or less blessed than you are.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones,” whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Matthew 15

Read Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Matthew 15.

This devotional is about Matthew 15.

Not too many people have the guts to correct Jesus.

And, for good reasons! Being the God-man, he never makes mistakes and, therefore, never needs correcting.

But here in Matthew 15 Jesus was corrected by a very unlikely person in verses 21-28.

First of all, she was a woman (v. 22). Although Christ himself talked directly to women and treated them with the same dignity he gave to men, that was not customary in his society. Many in Jesus’ world would have ignored or even rebuked her for what she said.

Second, she was “a Canaanite” (v. 22). Since Jesus was in the Gentile land, “the region of Tyre and Sidon” (v. 21) it is not surprising that there were Gentiles around. But Jewish people did not ordinarily mix with Gentiles and they certainly didn’t have religious dialogue with them.

But the woman in this passage was on a mission! Despite her background, she came knowledgeably to Jesus calling him, “Lord, Son of David” (v. 22c). Clearly she had not only heard about Jesus, she had some insight into who he was.

I wrote earlier that she “corrected” Jesus and we’ll get to that in a minute. As you know, many times correction comes with a side order of superiority. People correct others often because they think they’re better informed or smarter or just better in some way than the one they are correcting.

This woman did not have that spirit at all when she corrected Jesus. Instead she came pleading, “have mercy on me!” (v. 22). She later kneeled before Jesus before correcting him (v. 25). As we’ll see, she had a deep, appropriate sense of humility in her approach to Jesus.

But she did correct him. Jesus did not respond to her request to deliver her daughter from demon possession (v. 23a). So, the disciples were quite annoyed with her (v. 23b) and wanted Jesus to get rid of her. Instead of rebuking her or continuing to ignore her or send her away, Jesus tenderly told her that his mission prevented him from helping her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). 

His response did not dissuade her one bit. Instead, she kneeled and asked for his help (v. 25). Jesus responded with a proverb, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (v. 26). This is where she corrected him: “‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’” (v. 27). What a quick, agile mind she had! In an instant, she grasped the significance of Jesus’ enigmatic proverb, embraced the implications of it, and responded in kind. Let me break that down for you:

  • She grasped the significance of his proverb. Jesus used an analogy that elevated Jewish people and denigrated Gentiles. The “children” in this analogy are the children of Israel. So Jesus’ proverb was an indirect way of saying that she had no right to ask for his help since he was sent to Jews not Gentiles. Her response in verse 27 showed that she understood his meaning.
  • She embraced the implications of his proverb. Dogs were not thought of a great pets in Jesus’ day; instead, they were considered vile, scavenging creatures. That’s who Jesus compared her to–filthy, disgusting (from their perspective) dogs. She understood that this was a put-down.
  • She responded in kind. What I mean is that she entered into the proverb and, in her response, she showed Jesus how his own analogy proved that he could help her if he wanted to help her. Sure, the dogs don’t sit at the table and eat off the good plates like the king’s kids do. But the kids are sloppy and drop stuff on the floor and dogs are quick to scarf up whatever they drop. So despite what Jesus said, the dogs do get to eat. They don’t eat in the same way that the king’s kids do, but those who are quick and crafty can benefit from the excess that the kids don’t eat.

When she “corrected” Jesus, she was not rebuking him or pointing out that Jesus had made some kind of error. Instead, she was showing her faith in the deep mercy of God. Throughout the Old Testament, some Gentiles experienced the overflow of God’s grace:

  • Naaman did when Elisha healed him of leprosy.
  • Nebuchadnezzar did when God restored his sanity.
  • The people of Nineveh did when they repented at the preaching of Jonah.

Whether she knew any of these examples or not, she had deep faith in Christ and it showed in every bit of her response to Jesus. Jesus acted the way that he did toward her so that her faith would be seen by all. Her example was a preview, a foretaste, of God’s saving grace to us Gentiles.

This passage, then, should lift our hearts to worship God for his amazing grace and mercy. Although there was no covenant reason (like the Jews had) for Christ to offer us salvation, he intended for you and me to sit at the table with Abraham and his descendants and receive God’s kindness in salvation. This passage should also remind us that there is nobody on earth who deserves salvation less than you do. None of us deserves salvation; since we have received it by God’s grace, we should eagerly offer it to everyone, whether we think of them as dogs or as children.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, Psalms 4-5

Today read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalms 4-5. This devotional is about Psalm 5.

In Psalm 5, David cried out to the Lord for help and waited “expectantly” for the Lord to answer (vv. 1-3). His reason for expecting the Lord to answer his prayer was God’s righteousness (vv. 4-6). He is displeased with wickedness (v. 4a), does not welcome evil people (v. 4b), won’t let the arrogant stand (v. 5a), hates all who do wrong (v. 5b), destroys liars (v. 6a), and detests the bloodthirsty and deceitful (v. 6b). In just a few verses there David cast a very wide net, ruling out answers to prayer for all kinds of sinners.

Of course, David was a sinner himself. So how could he be so confident that God would answer his prayers while refusing everyone else? The answer is in verse 6: “But I, by your great love, can come into your house.” Very simply, God had graciously chosen him. Because God chose to love David, David could come before the Lord in prayer and in worship.

God’s electing love was not restricted to David. It is the sole reason you want to know God. Whenever you pray, or gather for worship, or observe the Lord’s supper, remember this: It is not your perfect performance of righteousness that causes God to hear your prayers, welcome your worship, or receive you at His table. In reality, you and I are as guilty before the Lord as any of the sinners David mentioned in verses 4-6. But, because of God’s great love, we are forgiven in Christ, welcomed in Him, and loved. Let this grace of God encourage you today as you pray and as you seek to live for Him.