Matthew 1

Happy New Year and welcome to our reading of the New Testament. These devotionals will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday. Reading God’s word is much more important than reading my devotional thoughts, so if you are pressed for time on any given day, read the scripture passage and skip the devotional. But I trust the combination of scripture and devotional will be helpful to your spiritual life.

If you read the chapter I link to each day, you will read through the entire New Testament.

A couple of quick notes before we get into it:

  • This reading plan does not go through the books of the New Testament in the order they appear in the New Testament. Instead, I have spread each of the four gospels out over the entire year.
  • When we read through the book of Acts, we will stop after some chapters and read one or two of Paul’s letters. This corresponds to the point in Acts where scholars think those letters were written. So be aware for changeups as we read through Acts.
  • Just one more reminder: This is a Monday through Friday devotional plan. You will not receive emails on Saturday or Sunday.
  • Let’s get to today’s devotional!

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Read Matthew 1 today.

When I was growing up in the church and in a Christian school, I heard preachers occasionally say that someone was “on the shelf.”

This phrase was used to describe a Christian who had sinned in such a way that God would not use him or her again. Usually the sin the preacher had in mind was either divorce or adultery but I’m sure murder would be included and maybe other sins, too.

The implication of this “on the shelf” language was that some sins were so bad that God would never use that sinner again. God wouldn’t “throw you away” in terms of salvation because salvation is permanent. But, the thinking went, God will put you away where you can’t do any good for him and hopefully won’t do any damage.

What garbage!

Here in Matthew 1, we have a record of the genealogy of Jesus. It is a record of many people we know nothing about and a few that we know a lot about from the Old Testament. But, in addition to being a list of names, Matthew 1 is a record of God’s grace. Several people on this list would have been put “on the shelf” by self-righteous people and the preachers I’ve described above, but God used them still. Here are some examples:

  • Abraham (1:2): He believed God but he also impregnated his wife’s servant to help God out. A lot of believers would put him “on the shelf” after his sin with Hagar.
  • Jacob (1:2): He stole his brother’s birthright and deceived his father to steal his brother’s blessing. Many would put him on the shelf.
  • David and Bathsheba (v. 6): Mentioning their names together reminds you that their relationship started in adultery. David also murdered Bathsheba’s husband, so God had multiple reasons to put him “on the shelf.”

I could go on, but you get the point. It is true that some sins disqualify people from serving as elders or deacons, but nobody who is in Christ is ever “on the shelf.” God can and will use you if you trust in him, even if you aren’t qualified for an official biblical office of service.

This chapter is more than a genealogy–it is a record of the grace of God. Every person listed in this chapter, except for Jesus himself, was a sinner and no sinner is truly worthy of serving or being used by God. But God is so gracious and so powerful that he chooses to use sinners for his purposes and his glory that others would put on the shelf.

Have you concluded that God can’t or won’t use you because of your past sins? Do you have present struggles that feel make you unusable for God?

Repent of those sins and turn from them if they are ongoing, then put those thoughts out of your mind. If murderers and polygamists and adulterers and other kinds of sinners can be part of the genealogical line of Jesus Christ, then any and every sinner can be forgiven and used by God in some way to glorify him.

2 Chronicles 34, Psalms 148-150

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Psalms 148-150.

This devotional is about Psalm 149.

I don’t get too excited when someone does what he or she has agreed to do. When I go to a store that carries an item I need, and the item is there for me to buy, I don’t jump for joy all the way to the cash register. Of course they have it; why wouldn’t they? It bothers me when a store does not have something I usually buy there, but it doesn’t thrill me when they have what I expect them to have. When someone meets our expectations, we may be thankful but we’re not especially impressed.

All of us have consistently failed to meet God’s expectations. The very best of us morally is far below what God created us to be morally and expects us to be. God in his grace redeemed us from the fall, but that doesn’t make our fallenness irrelevant or acceptable. If God were like us, he would not be impressed when we do what is right; he’d think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do; too bad you’ve failed me so many other times, though.”

Yet, that is not how God is. Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes delight in his people….” That’s a pretty astounding statement. Despite all the ways in which the people of God, either Israel or us, have failed him, yet God still looks on us with delight.

That delight is, of course, because of the perfect merits of Christ that he applied to us by faith. This is alluded to in verse 4b: “…he crowns the humble with victory.” It is our humility, expressed in repentance and faith, that causes God to delight in us. If you’re in Christ, do you believe that God delights in you? Do you understand that he is not frustrated or angry when you sin; that sin has been paid in full by Christ. And, God isn’t like an emotionally detached father who says, “Impress me;” Instead, he tells looks on us with delight, not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because Christ, his beloved one, did everything that was necessary to give God that delight.

Don’t live today under the burden or weight of guilt; understand that, because of Christ’s perfect life and his sacrifice, God is delighted with you. Your progress in becoming holy may be slow and frustrating to us at times, but nothing can separate you from God’s love and delight. Let this truth fuel you today as you live for him.

2 Chronicles 25 and Proverbs 30

Read 2 Chronicles 25 and Proverbs 30.

This devotional is about Proverbs 30.

This chapter was authored by “Agur” (v. 1a) We don’t know who he is, nor does anyone recognize “Ithiel” (v. 1b), the man to whom Agur wrote.

Agur’s words in this chapter, though, show us a man who is yearning for God. He told us in verse 3 that he had not “attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.” Consequently, he was “weary” (v.1c) and lacked understanding (v. 2).

In verse 4 he described the one he is looking for. Only God can gather up the wind in his hands and wrap up the waters in a cloak. Only he “has established all the ends of the earth” (v. 4d). All of this, and the parallelism that we find in poetry like these Proverbs, leads us to conclude that the one “who has gone up to heaven and come down” is also a reference to God. It is interesting, isn’t it, that when he asks God’s name he also asks, “what is the name of his son?” The phrase “who has gone up to heaven and come down” and “what is the name of his son” foreshadow the coming of Christ.

Verses 5-9 describe Agur’s life after he found God. He treasured the “flawless” nature of God’s word, it’s completeness (v. 6) and how he protects all who trust him (v. 5b). Instead of sin and wealth, Agur longed for God to protect him from sin (v. 8a) and from the false self-sufficiency that would come from wealth.

Although we are material beings and, therefore, need stuff to survive, what we need more than anything is God’s self-revelation and sustaining grace. Agur’s words remind us that we have nothing apart from God and that knowing him brings joy and satisfaction. These are important lessons at any time in our lives but as we give and receive gifts this Christmas, may the Lord cause us to yearn for him and find our satisfaction in his flawless words, including the “Word” incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14.

This devotional is about Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters is horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents will make life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone.

Although false worship will become widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5. They were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c).

As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

2 Chronicles 6:12-42, Revelation 5

Read 2 Chronicles 6:12-42 and Revelation 5.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 6:12-42.

Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple here in 2 Chronicles 6 gave great glory to God.

He began by praising God for his uniqueness and his faithfulness to his promises (vv. 14-15), then reminded God of his covenant with David by asking the Lord to complete it (vv. 16-17).

Verses 18-39 described different situations in which Israel could find itself in the future. Solomon described each problem God’s people could face, then asked the Lord to “hear” (vv. 20-21), forgive (v. 21b), act in justice (v. 23), forgive and return them to the land, (vv. 24-25).

When God dealt with sin through famine, Solomon asked God forgive but also to “teach them the right way to live” (v. 27b). When God disciplined his people using famine or plague, Solomon asked God to deal with them according to their hearts “so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you…” (vv. 30-31).

We talk properly of God’s grace and mercy in forgiveness. As a sinner, I join you in thanking God for those things. But do we realize that God’s commands are also expressions of his grace? They do not restrict our freedom; they “teach us the right way to live.”

May we learn to love God’s word not only for how it reveals God, calls us to faith, and comforts and encourages us; may God also cause us to love it so that I changes our lives, leading us to walk in obedience instead of our natural habits of disobedience. Obedience to God’s word not only pleases God; it protects us from the damage of sin and its painful consequences. Give us grace, Lord, to receive your commands as a precious gift and to walk in obedience to them for your glory and our good.

1 Chronicles 29, Psalms 133-135

Read 1 Chronicles 29 and Psalms 133-135.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 29.

The large number of commands and rules in Moses’ law can make us feel like serving God is merely a matter of “dos” and “don’ts.” If people did everything the Lord commanded them to do and didn’t do what he commanded them to avoid, they may have thought that God was pleased with them. And, when they sinned, if they merely “did” the offering God commanded, all would be well again. The Pharisees seemed to believe this to be true and possibly many Christians do as well. 

But 1 Chronicles 29 argues against such an objective, works-based approach to God. David spoke to the assembly of God’s people in 1 Chronicles 29 and described for them the wealth that he had provided for the materials in the temple Solomon would build (vv. 1-5a). David then invited the leaders of Israel’s tribes to contribute to the Lord’s work in the temple as well (v. 5b).

The people responded well to his invitation and gave generously to the stockpile of materials that a magnificent temple required (vv. 6-8). All this was done with joy–“the people rejoiced”, “they had given freely and wholeheartedly” and “David the king also rejoiced greatly” (v. 9). Then David prayed a magnificent prayer of praise in verses 10-19 and led the people to praise the Lord with him (v. 20). David’s prayer took no credit for the abundance of the Lord’s provision but instead marveled at how God’s abundant provision for them enabled them to give so much wealth to him (v. 12a, 14-16).

Then David focused on the heart: “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity” (v. 17a). It is not our performance of giving or righteous good works or religious ceremonies that God wants; it is a heart that desires him, is devoted to him, and obeys and gives and serves him out of awe and worship and thanks and love. All of these things would have come naturally to us if sin had not entered the world, but we did sin. Therefore, selfishness and wicked desires invaded the space God created in us to be devoted to him.

David recognized that it was only God’s gracious work in the heart that enabled true devotion to Him so he prayed that God would do this work in the people (“keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you”) and in Solomon (“give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees”). As believers in Jesus, we’ve received a new nature that leads us toward a holy life. But we need God’s continual work to “keep these desires and thoughts” (v. 18), just as David prayed, because of the constant battle we do with sin. 

Your obedience to the Lord may be spot on today in the sense that you’ve been consistently doing the Lord’s commands and have avoided sinful choices as far as you know. But what is the state of your heart? Habitual obedience is good but it only pleases the Lord when it comes from within. May God purge our hearts of our sinful desires, open our eyes to our spiritual blindspots, and give us a heart that is increasingly devoted to him.

1 Chronicles 23, Malachi 1, 1 John 5

Read 1 Chronicles 23, Malachi 1, and 1 John 5.

This devotional is about Malachi 1.

The final book of the Old Testament has a pattern of writing that is distinct from any other book in the Bible. Malachi’s pattern of prophecy is:

  • God makes a statement (v. 2a, 6a-d)
  • God’s people question the statement (v. 2b, 6e)
  • God gives more explanation or support for the statement (vv. 3-5, 7-14).

Two topics are addressed here in Malachi 1 using that pattern. They are;

  • God’s love for Israel (vv. 2-5).
  • Israel’s dishonoring of God through blemished sacrifices (vv. 6-14).

The first topic, God’s love for Israel, is one that Israel may have questioned throughout the Old Testament era. God’s people experienced many setbacks and even captivity, so they may have questioned God’s love literally, not just through the literary conventions of verse 2b. How could God love a nation that faced so much military defeat for so long?

God’s answer is not to point many specific instances of his love but to contrast the outcome of Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, with the Israelites (vv. 3-5). Israel suffered defeats; no doubt about it. But Edom was about to be destroyed completely in God’s wrath while Israel had returned to their land after the exile. God’s love, then, was demonstrated by being faithful to his covenant with Israel even when they were faithless at hime). 

Life’s problems and negative circumstances can make us struggle to believe that God loves us. Malachi’s answer to that struggle is not to minimize the problems Israel had but to point them back to their own existence. God saved them and preserved them in ways he has not done for any other nation. This is the most powerful proof of God’s love that could exist.

When you and I wonder if God loves us, we need to take our eyes off our circumstances and remember how Christ saved us from our sins. He not only died for our sins but, before that, he chose you to receive that salvation through election. Then, on the day of his choosing, you heard the gospel message and the light of spiritual life turned on in your heart. It caused you to turn to Christ and gratefully receive salvation. All of this happened because God loves you.

In this life you will have problems, setbacks, struggles, and heartaches. God’s love does not spare us from these things. God’s love saves us from eternal destruction. That is much more loving than making sure your car always starts or that you always have more money in your bank account than you will ever need.

So, when you question God’s love for you, return again to the doctrines of salvation. Your salvation is the greatest evidence you’ll ever get of God’s love for you. Don’t forget it; remember it and thank God for it.

1 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 12:1-13:1, Psalms 130-132

Read 1 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 12:1-13:1, and Psalms 130-132.

This devotional is about Zechariah 12:1-13:1.

Today’s passage from Zechariah is not nearly as well-known as other prophecies of Christ but it is an important one because it foretold the sufferings of Christ on the cross.

After promising destruction to Israel’s enemies (12:1-9), God promised “a spirit of grace and supplication” for “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v. 10). Surprisingly, however, after prophesying grace and supplication, Zechariah immediately said, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (v. 10). You may recognize the first part of this verse from John 19:37 where John quoted it as fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. While not everyone in Jerusalem mourned the death of Christ, the faithful disciples who followed Jesus did, just as this passage said.

But what brings together the two seemingly disjoined ideas in verse 10–the idea that there would be “grace and supplication” while “they look on me, the one they have pierced and they will mourn for him…?”

The answer is provided in Zechariah 13:1: “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” That was why Christ was pierced and how his piercing could provide “grace and supplication.” His death on the cross for us became a fountain that cleanses sinners from sin and impurity. Let’s give thanks, then, for the fountain of grace and forgiveness that Jesus is for us.

1 Chronicles 15, Zechariah 8, John 21

Read 1 Chronicles 15, Zechariah 8, and John 21.

This devotional is about John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected.

That must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “…that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

Peter had seen Christ after his resurrection before this incident, but his denial of Jesus at his trial was still unresolved. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love–his commitment–to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus–doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

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 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. 

1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1.

This devotional is about Joel 2.

The locust plague described in Joel 1 was a devastation brought by literal locusts.

Here in chapter 2, however, many commentators see Joel using the locust plague of chapter 1 as a metaphor for the invasion of the Babylonian army upon Judah.

After describing how horrible the invasion of the Babylonians will be (vv. 1-11), Joel urged his people to repent in verses 12-17. Verse 12 holds out the promise again that genuine repentance was still possible even with the Babylonian threat so close at hand. Verse 13 described the repentance God was seeking: “rend your heart and not your garments.”

It was not the symbol of repentance such as tearing their clothes or some other outward work that God wanted. Instead, God wanted a broken-hearted repentance, a complete turning away from the idolatry that was so common in Judah and a “return to the Lord your God” (v. 13). That was the way to avoid the judgment of God that the Babylonians would bring.

Verse 13 also described the reason to return to God: “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

We have read so much in the prophets about the promise of judgment and the delivery of that promise to Israel and then to Judah. It is easy to conclude, from those prophesies, that God is difficult, hard to please, and unreasonable toward his people.

The truth is just the opposite: God wanted nothing more than to be reconciled to his people. The judgment they experienced was due to their absolute refusal to be reconciled to him.

Although Judah did fall to the Babylonians, verses 18-32 hold out a promise of much greater hope. God would allow his people to be punished, but eventually he would bless his people with abundance (vv. 18-27) and with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 28-32).

The Lord began keeping this promise on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-21) but the consummation is still to come. While we wait for Christ to return and finish fulfilling the promises, the promise for today is, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved….” This is why we are still here and why the Lord has not returned. God is being reconciled to people as the Holy Spirit brings true conviction of sin and repentance and people put faith in Jesus Christ.