Deuteronomy 20, Jeremiah 12, Proverbs 15:1-17

Read Deuteronomy 20, Jeremiah 12, and Proverbs 15:1-17.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:3.

According to one security expert, over 70% of shoplifters do not plan to steal something when they walk into a store. They choose to steal, instead, when they see an opportunity to conceal an item without being seen and leave with it undetected. Secrecy creates a feeling of security which exposes people to the temptation to steal.

The creation of security cameras has helped reduce the amount of theft in retail stores. Cameras that record everything, of course, can help identify a thief after he has stolen. But cameras that are visible to customers and signs that warn of the existence of cameras are more effective in reducing theft altogether than they are in bringing thieves to justice. Awareness that someone may be watching reduces temptation to steal because it increases one’s chance of being caught.

Long before any kind of camera was invented, God warned his people that he is watching us at all times. As we read today in Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” According to this verse, God sees every act of disobedience ever committed by anyone whether that person is seen by another human being or not. God observes everything you do and knows everything you’ve ever done even if you are certain your sin will not be detected and that you will not get caught.

Someday we each have to answer to God for our lives on this earth. The Bible warns repeatedly of a day in the future when everyone will give account to God for our lives on this earth. Given that God sees everything and forgets or misinterprets nothing, the day of our judgment should be a fearful thing to us. But this is why Christ came! He took the judgment of God for our sins on himself so that we might escape God’s wrath on the day of judgment. If you are in Christ, you can be confident that God will declare you “not guilty” on the day of judgment because of the perfect atonement of Christ.

But what about this life? If you sin and no other human being sees it, won’t you get away with it–at least until the final day of judgment arrives? You might; however notice Proverbs 15:10 which we also read today: “Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die.” God has a way of exposing sin even when we think it is undetected and can be covered up. This exposure is designed to discipline us, to provide us with correction. In other words, God is less interested in punishing us when we sin and more interested in preventing us from straying too far from his will if we are in Christ.

Sin usually takes us further than we want to go. It has a deeply deceptive power that draws us in by offering us pleasure and trapping us before we realize how far we’ve strayed and try to escape. One aspect of God’s love for his children, then, is not to allow us to stray as far as we would go or could go but, in his loving providence, bringing discipline into our lives to return us to the path of obedience. You may get away with sin by concealing it in the sense that no human being holds you accountable, but God has his ways of correcting our disobedience and nothing escapes his notice.

There is another aspect of God’s watchfulness in Proverbs 15:3 that we should note. The verse says that the Lord is “keeping watch on… the good.” Your service to the Lord, your obedience to his commands is not wasted if nobody sees it. God sees it and he promises to reward every good that is done in his name. This is the positive aspect of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing nature.

Let the truth of God’s watchful eyes be in your mind and heart always. Let his attention to your steps help you to choose not to sin when you feel like you can keep your sin hidden. Let his careful observation comfort you that the things you do that are good for his name will be rewarded in eternity, even if they are unseen in this life.

Numbers 30, Isaiah 53, 2 Thessalonians 1

Read Numbers 30, Isaiah 53, 2 Thessalonians 1.

This devotional is about Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 53 is one of the most detailed prophecies of Christ. It is an important passage for believers in Jesus to know.

Verses 1-3 introduced us to the life of Christ by explaining that there would be nothing spectacular about it, on the surface. His family background would be unspectacular. Verse 2 used two images from the natural world to describe what the early life of Jesus would be like. When it says that, “He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,” the image compares Jesus’ childhood to one of the little “sucker” plants that grows up next to a tree. If we walked out into the woods and saw a large tree surrounded by a bunch of sucker plants, we would know instinctively that those sucker plants would never amount to very much. In fact, most land owners cut those things off so that they don’t sap nutrients from the big tree. Yet that’s what the Bible says Jesus’ early life was like. If you met his family, saw where they lived, listened to them speak, you’d say, “Nice family, but those kids will never be anyone important. Verse 2 goes on to prophesy that Jesus would be “like a root out of parched ground.” If you were traveling though a vast desert in Nevada and saw a little tomato plant growing out the ground you might stop to look because it would be almost miraculous, but you’d also probably conclude that there is no way that a little tomato plant could survive under the withering heat and dryness. That is what Jesus’ childhood would be like. No one looking at it would expect him to amount to much.

Verse 2b tells us that Jesus would not be physically attractive. He did not look the part of a leader. If you or I saw Jesus as he appeared when he was on earth, we would not have been struck by his appearance at all. He looked like an ordinary, everyday person—Joe Average. Furthermore, he would not succeed because of his winning personality, either, because, according to verse 3, he was not accepted by people who knew him.

Given these descriptive words of Christ, you would naturally expect him to struggle as a young man growing into adulthood. And, according to verses 4-5, you would be right. It describes “pain” and “suffering,” even saying that those who saw him suffer would consider him “punished by God and crushed” (v. 5). Yet this section told us that it was not his own deficiencies, weaknesses, or sins that caused this suffering. No, it was “our pain” and “our suffering” (v. 4), “our transgressions” and “our iniquities” (v. 5). This is what theologians call the “vicarious atonement of Christ.” His death was on our behalf; and why? Because his punishment “brought us peace” (v. 5). It was a direct act of God placing the punishment for our sins on Christ that caused him to suffer so much (v. 6b).

It wasn’t just suffering that Christ would endure for us. Verses 7-9 tell us that he would die silently for us. Verse 8 put it this way: “…he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.” Lest we miss it, Verse 9b says that Christ suffered all this despite his own innocence: “…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” And why did all this happen to him unjustly? Because it was God’s will (v. 10). Although he suffered and died for the sins of others (v. 10b), God would reward “his offspring” (v. 10c), that is those who are born again because of him. And Christ himself would be happy that he endured all this; verse 11 says he will be “satisfied” with the results of his suffering; specifically, “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” This means that those who know him will be justified; we will be forgiven when we know that he died for our sins. The reward for all of this is described in verse 12: because of what Christ did and accomplished on the cross “I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong,” In other words, he will receive the glory he deserves when all is said and done.

It is truly amazing what God in Christ has done for us. My amazement is amplified by the fact that the core message about him was described for us in detail hundreds of years before he was born. Take a moment today to let these truths sink deeply into your soul; then thank the Lord for the plan of salvation that Christ accomplished on our behalf.

Leviticus 16, Isaiah 11-12, Acts 4

Read Leviticus 16, Isaiah 11-12, and Acts 4.

This devotional is about Leviticus 16.

The Most Holy Place is the inner most room of the tabernacle (later, the temple). You may have heard it called the “Holy of Holies.” It is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Verse 2 described “the cloud over the atonement cover” which represented God’s holy presence, Therefore, when it came to entering the Most Holy Place:

  • only the high priest could enter there.
  • He could enter there only once a year (vv. 2, 34).
  • He could only enter after doing these things:
    • washing his body with water (v. 4b)
    • putting on the sacred garments (v. 4a).
    • making atonement for himself (vv. 6, 11).

The one day a year that the high priest could enter was Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement (vv. 29-34)). What the high priest offered to the Lord on that day consisted of two goats. One goat was sacrificed for a sin offering (v. 9) and the other was “presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat” (v. 10).

The goat that was offered as a sin offering was a substitute for the people. God’s holy command was that sin leads to death, so goat number 1 died for the sins of the people. The high priest entered the Most Holy Place with an incense offering (v. 13) and some of the blood from goat number 1 to “sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.” (vv. 15-16).

The imagery of the atonement offering is very familiar to us Christians. The Bible teaches that Jesus died as a sin offering (Rom 8:3). Like goat number 1 here in Leviticus 16, Jesus was our substitute (1 Pet 3:18), taking the penalty of death and God’s wrath for us.

But remember that there were two goats here in Leviticus 16. One died as a sacrifice for sinners; the other goat was sent into the wilderness alive (v. 22). But before the live goat was sent away, the high priest was commanded “to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.” Then the scapegoat was led away into the wilderness which symbolized the removal of those sins that have been confessed and atoned for. Verse 22 says, “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place….”

Jesus fulfilled this image, too. One goat could not both make atonement for sins and carry those sins away because the payment for those sins was the death of the goat as a sacrifice. Jesus, however, could both die as a substitute for sin (like goat #1) but also take those sins away like goat #2. How? By rising from the dead. Romans 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” First Corinthians 15:17, 20 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead….”

Two goats were needed to symbolize the death of Christ for us and how he took away our sins through his resurrection. Actually, more than two were needed because this ceremony had to be performed every year. Now that Christ has died for our sins and has risen again for our justification, we have no need to fear God’s wrath. Our sins are paid for and they are gone by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the one true sin offering and scapegoat and he performed his work perfectly for our salvation.

Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60

Read Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60.

This devotional is about Isaiah 60:21-22.

Why is it that only a few people will be saved compared to the billions of people who have or will ever live? One answer is given here in Isaiah 60:21-22. This chapter continued to hold forth for Israel the promise of God’s kingdom in the future under Messiah. Verse 21a promised in that kingdom that “all your people will be righteous,” indicating that only those redeemed and regenerated by the Lord will be there. Two phrases later in verse 21c Isaiah wrote, “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands….” Picture this image: God’s kingdom is not like a great oak tree transplanted from somewhere else into the land of Israel. Instead, it is a weak little “shoot,” the tiny sprout of a plant that God himself planted but which grew into something great any mighty and, for the first time in human history, holy like God is. So God’s plan was to make something mighty out of something weak and insignificant. Verse 22a-b tells us that his kingdom will become mighty when it says, “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.”

But, again, why? Why choose insignificance and only save a few? Verse 21e says, “for the display of my splendor….” It glorifies God to take the weak, the humble, the insignificant and weak and make something great out of it. This is what God will do for Israel when his kingdom is established (again verse 22); and everyone who sees it happen will be amazed at the awesome power of God.

Although this chapter describes what God will do for and with Israel, it echoes a constant theme in Scripture: that God chooses the weak and lowly and insignificant and chooses that to bring glory to himself. This is one reason why only a few are saved. If most people were saved, it would be a common, unextraordiany thing. When God chooses and uses insignificant things and turns it into something great, everyone knows that God is great.

It is troubling at times to be in the kind of minority we find ourselves in as believers in this world. If only more people were believers, we wouldn’t feel so awkward and out of step with the rest of our society. Someday only the righteous will inhabit the world and we’ll fit in just fine then because we too have been justified and sanctified by the grace of God. Until then, we wait for him to glorify himself though us when his kingdom comes.

Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, Psalm 110

Today’s readings are Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, and Psalm 110.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” This is a verse that I usually quote when I am doing a funeral message. It tells us that it is “better” to go to a funeral than to a party.

That advice is the opposite of our instincts or our desires. Nobody would rather go to a funeral than to a party. Funerals are sad occasions; parties are fun! So why would Solomon tell us to attend a funeral rather than a party if we had a choice to make between the two of them?

The answer is in the last two lines of verse 2: “…for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Why choose funerals over parties? Because someday you’ll be the one who is remembered at a funeral. In addition to the sadness at a funeral, I think that most people don’t like going to funerals BECAUSE it reminds us that we’ll be dead someday. Funerals foreshadow your own death. Most people don’t want to think about that but Solomon said that we should think about it.

Why?

Because thinking about your death changes the way you live. After you die, your legacy is set in stone. You can’t make up for your mistakes, seek forgiveness, try to reconcile broken relationships, or receive God’s forgiveness for your sins. After you die, your eternal destiny is sealed and whatever memories people have of you are permanent.

When you think of your life in that light, it should give you some perspective to make better decisions today. If a person is usually kind and loving, they’ll likely be remembered that way. If a person is often selfish and difficult and only occasionally kind, those who know them will carry those memories.

More important than the people who remember you at your death, after death you will face God. If you’re found in Christ, God will welcome you into his presence. If you’re outside of Christ, you will pay the just penalty for your sins for eternity. And, for those of us who are in Christ, we will answer to God for what we produced with our lives. Did we strive to glorify him, to grow in faith, to spread his message of good news, to be generous to those with needs and for the advancement of his kingdom?

This life is a gift of extraordinary value. You can invest it for eternal rewards or spend it for temporary and fleeting satisfaction. Someday, sooner than we realize, probably, it will be over. How does that reality make you think about what you will do today and how you will do it?

Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, Psalm 88

Today we’re reading Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, and Psalm 88.

This devotional is about Exodus 40.

At long last the tabernacle was completed as well as all the items that were needed to make it useful for worshipping God. The Lord ordered Moses to set it all up (vv. 1-8), set it apart with anointing oil (vv. 9-11), and anoint Aaron and his sons for their ministry in it (vv. 12-15). The rest of the chapter details how Moses obeyed these commands (vv. 16-33) and how the Lord blessed this tent with his presence and communicated his will through that presence (vv. 34-38).

God had promised his presence would go before Israel and give them rest in the promised land (Ex 33:14). That promise was now visually fulfilled through the cloud that inhabited the tabernacle. So, on one hand, the tabernacle demonstrated God’s presence with his people.

On the other hand, there is an emphasis in this chapter on the importance of keeping the people separate from the presence of God in the tabernacle. The word “holy” means to set apart, to make special by separating something for a particular use. Each anointing of the tabernacle and its furnishings and instruments was done to set it apart as holy for the Lord’s service (vv. 9-10). The strongest indication of God’s separation was the “shielding curtain” (v. 21a) that “shielded the ark of the covenant law” (v. 21b). What was it shielded from? Everyone. Nobody was allowed near the ark which represented God’s presence. It was kept in the most holy place and only the high priest could enter and then only once a year. So, while God was truly present among his people, his holiness still kept them from direct contact and fellowship with him.

This is why the gospel writers took note of how the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross. The curtain that was torn was the one between the most holy place and the rest of the temple. When it was torn at the death of Christ, it was a direct, visual symbol that the separation between God and man was now over. God did not lower his standards and allow people into his presence. Instead, in Christ, we are declared to be holy–the theological word is “justified”–because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Through Christ we have access to God that people before Christ never had. God invites us to know and love him, to contemplate his greatness and worship him in holiness because our Lord Jesus Christ gave us access by his death.

We must always keep in mind what God has done for us in Christ. That is the main reason why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. Through him we have direct access to God and can approach him at any time in prayer without fear.

Have you approached him yet today?

Exodus 22, Job 40, and Psalm 70

Today we’re reading Exodus 22, Job 40, and Psalm 70.

This devotional is about Exodus 22.

The New Testament teaches us that we are not under the Law of Moses. That means we are not to try to earn saving favor with God by keeping his commands. There are two reasons why we should not try to be justified by keeping the Law:

  1. Because we can’t do it. Compared to the federal, state, and local codes we live under, God’s law is short and simple. Still, because we are sinners, none of us has obeyed it or could obey it perfectly.
  2. Because Jesus did it for us. The reason why we are declared righteous before God when we trust in Jesus is that Jesus kept the law perfectly (we call this his active obedience) and he paid the penalty for all the ways we’ve broken the laws (we call this his passive obedience).

So because we are in Christ, we do not try to earn God’s favor by keeping the law. But that doesn’t mean that the moral laws of God are irrelevant to us. In this chapter God spelled out some important laws for his people to follow. In verses 1-15, he commanded someone who deprived another person of their property to pay it back–often more than was taken. It does matter if it was outright theft (vv. 1-4) or carelessness / negligence (vv. 5-7, 10-15).

A major purpose of these (and all of God’s) laws were to set his people apart from those around them. Verse 31a says, “You are to be my holy people.” This means a people set apart from the world around them. The world around them sought to get away with stealing from others or depriving them through negligence. God wanted his people to act ethically and responsibly in these situations. Laws like these should get us to reflect on our own lives. Do we take value from others directly or refuse to pay if we take value from them inadvertently? These are sins in the sight of God just as much as they were when God’s people were in the desert.

Want to stand out in the world for the glory of Christ? Then be honest and ethical in the way you deal with others. Take responsibility and pay up when you’ve caused someone else a loss. When we do these things, are not trying to win God’s favor. Instead, God’s gracious gift of spiritual life is compelling us to be honest and ethical, pure and righteous in our dealings with others.