Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

1 Kings 19, Daniel 1

Read 1 Kings 19 and Daniel 1.

This devotional is about Daniel 1.

This passage begins with a description of Judah’s Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). God allowed (v. 2) Babylon to overtake Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s prophecies and because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry.

As we read these early chapters of Daniel in the next few days, we will see that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was a proud man. But he wasn’t too proud to believe that he and his Babylonian brethren had all the wisdom available on earth. In verses 3-5 we read that Nebuchadnezzar looked for, found, and cultivated the most outstanding young people he could find in Judah. Verse 4 told us that these young men had to look good but also show “aptitude for every kind of learning, [be] well informed, [and] quick to understand.” Nebuchadnezzar invested in the education and development of these men (vv. 4f-5) and expected them to contribute significantly to his administration when they were done with their training.

Judah was filled with godless idolators; that’s why they were taken captive by the Babylonians. The sons of Judah’s idol-worshiping men and women likewise cared nothing about obedience to God and their exile had not caused them to repent. Consequently, they had no problem falling in line with the worship, culture, and expectations of the Babylonians. I’m sure they mourned the loss of their parents who were killed when the Babylonians invaded. They may have missed Jerusalem and their old friends, too, but many of them may have been excited by this great new opportunity that Nebuchadnezzar had for them. If it meant conforming to Babylonian ways, they were happy to comply.

That was true for everyone except for Daniel and his three friends (vv. 6-7). These men were (likely) raised in homes that were faithful to the Lord. They continued to believe in God and his word despite the defeat of Judah. That defeat simply confirmed their faith because the prophets had been predicting it for years and they knew that God’s people had not repented. Their challenge now was to live obediently to God’s word in a place that was much more hostile to God than even Jerusalem in unbelief had been. Daniel and the guys determined from the very beginning not to compromise their faith. They promised to perform well if they were allowed to live God’s way (vv. 13-14). That was an act of faith and God met their faith with blessing (vv. 15-17).

The world wants to squeeze everyone into its mold but God commands us not to conform but to be transformed by renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). Daniel and his cohorts left an amazing legacy and example for all of us who want to live for God by faith to follow.

Your school, your government, your neighborhood, your friends, your family, the media you consume are all trying to squeeze you into a mold. Most–maybe all–of those influences are squeezing you into a godless form. Jesus wants to transform you into his likeness. His word, His church, His Spirit, and His grace are all operating in your life for that to happen, but it takes some determination on your part, a willingness to be different. Is there some way right now where you’re being squeezed? What would the Lord want you to do to emulate the faith and obedience of Daniel?

Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96

Read Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

This Psalm is a long acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It is also a love poem for God’s word. The Psalmist writes in every stanza words of praise and thanks to God for giving his law to Israel. He also claims throughout to love and live by God’s laws.

Like most Psalms, this songwriter had problems in life. Some of those problems, he felt, were afflictions from God (v. 75b). Others were persecutions (v. 84b) brought on by others. Or, perhaps, he had one major problem which he saw from two perspectives–(1) the persecutions of men (2) allowed by God’s sovereignty to afflict him for his own discipline and growth. Regardless, the Psalmist never claimed that his love for God’s word or his obedience to it gave him a trouble-free life. Instead, he found through his delight in God’s laws encouragement (v. 81b), comfort (v. 76) a basis for companionship with other godly people (v. 74, 79), guidance on how to live (v. 89, 93), and understanding about what is righteous and unrighteous in God’s sight (v. 85). Having benefited in all these ways from God’s word, he pleaded with God to rescue him according to the promises he’d read in God’s word (vv. 76b, 94) and to keep his heart faithful to obey God’s word (v. 80).

Scripture and prayer are God’s primary ways to minister grace to us while we live in this world and wait to be with Christ. We stray into sin when we stop looking for God’s help through prayer or stop looking to his word for our growth, guidance, and hope. It is possible–I know because I’ve done it–to be in God’s word each day and still have one’s heart grow cold to God’s word. This is why we should follow the Psalmist’s example and pray for God’s help to have insight to apply God’s word (v. 73), to think about God’s word (v. 95b), and to be tender to our own sinfulness so that we can be corrected by God’s word (v. 80).

I would encourage you to pray before reading these devotionals, before we worship together on Sunday, and anytime you are going to hear God’s word. Ask God to convict you, to give you insight into yourself, to give you understanding about what to do with his word once you understand it, and to give you courage to believe and obey it. This will help you keep from growing cold to the Lord and his truth.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Psalm 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Psalm 16.

This devotional is about Genesis 17.

Two major events in Israel’s history were recorded in this chapter. First, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (v. 5). Second, God commanded Abraham and his descendants to obey the covenant of circumcision (vv. 9-14). Of all the commands God gave to Israel throughout the generations, this is the only one that they obeyed faithfully. The generation that entered the promised land had not been circumcised by their fathers, but that appears to be the only time when this covenant was not practiced faithfully (see Joshua 5:2-8).

Circumcision created a permanent, physical mark on a man’s body that separated him from people in other nations and specified that he belonged to the nation of Israel. That was important for preserving the unique ethnic identity that God wanted. The Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaites, and later the Philistines and many others had their own identity for a time, but then were absorbed into other nations and ethnicities. Circumcision set God’s people apart from these other nations.

But the covenant of circumcision had a much greater importance than just creating and preserving a national identity for Israel. God told Abraham here in Genesis 17:7 that the purpose of the covenant was, “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Although it was a physical mark, it had a spiritual purpose. Faithfully marking each man physically, apart from the spiritual purpose, made it an empty ritual.

Rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, faithful church attendance, and Bible reading and prayer are some of the ways in which God’s grace helps us to grow in Christ. But you can observe these rituals without God actually becoming “your God.” And, even as Christians, we can lose focus on our walk with God while continuing to practice these rituals; our practice of them becomes work that we do by habit or by willpower or because we think they earn merit with God rather than expressions of our love for God.

Is there anything you’re doing as a Christian that is expected of Christians but that does not come from your heart? Ask God to re-ignite your passion for him so that you become again a person who walks with God faithfully from the heart.