Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, Acts 17

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, and Acts 17.

This devotional is about Isaiah 42.

Parts of this chapter in Isaiah are quoted and said to be fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. The chapter describes Christ one who brings justice to the earth (v. 1, 3b-4) yet is gentle toward the weak (v. 3a: “a bruised reed… a smoldering wick”).

In the middle of the description of Christ’s work on earth is the passage that says, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” This was a signal to Israel that they were not chosen by God to be the exclusive recipients of his saving grace; rather, through his chosen people Israel, God would bring the light of salvation to millions of people all over the world, meaning people like us who have not a drop of Jewish blood in our bodies.

Simeon may have alluded to this passage in Luke 2:32 as he held baby Jesus in his hands and gave thanks to God for him. Though thousands of years have passed since Christ walked this earth, God’s purpose for him continues to unfold as people all over the world see the light of Christ and come to him for salvation.

Take a moment today to pray for people we support in Thailand, England, Canada, here in the U.S. and areas where security is sensitive. They are bringing the light of Christ’s salvation to these areas in fulfillment of this passage. When that work is completed and the time has come, Christ will come to establish his kingdom for us.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13.

This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved nearly every day and those who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8.

This devotional is about Acts 8.

When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, two distinct–but related–things happened next. First, a man named Saul became part of the story of the New Testament church (v. 1). Second, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.” The result of this persecution was that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

Now think about that phrase–“all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Then compare that verse to this verse from Acts 1:8b: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Keeping those two verses in mind, remember how people who lived in other areas of Israel and even other countries stayed in Jerusalem because they were enjoying so much worship and teaching and fellowship and evangelism together. The incredible joy they had as the church was growing was keeping them from doing the mission Jesus sent them to do.

So God allowed persecution to disperse the first church to “Judea and Samaria.”

And it worked because, according to verse 4 here in Acts 8, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is the hostile response of unbelief toward the gospel. Sometimes God in his grace restrains unbelievers from persecuting His people and we enjoy seasons of peace. But, at other times, God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news to other places where it is needed.

On a smaller level, God works this way in our lives, too. When we get too comfortable, complacent even, in our faith, God allows trials into our lives to purify us and to re-focus our attention on him and his work. Don’t fear trials or persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later. Instead, use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7

Read Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7.

This devotional is about Isaiah 19:23-25:

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’”

Isaiah 19 and the little stub of a chapter that is called Isaiah 20 are both about Egypt. Egypt had a long and mostly negative relationship with God’s people in Israel/Judah. Abraham nearly lost his wife there (Gen 12:10ff) and Joseph was enslaved there first before God caused him to rise and become powerful. Joseph’s situation saved God’s people from starving in a famine, but within a few hundred years the Israelites were completely enslaved to the Egyptians.

I could go on here but you get the point: other than during the days of Joseph’s leadership, Egypt and Israel were basically enemies.

The same is definitely true of the Assyrians. They were cruel, oppressive people to Israel and everyone else which is why Jonah did not want to go and preach grace to them. God used the Assyrians to remove the Northern kingdom of Israel from the land in exile.

God’s people may have enjoyed hearing Isaiah prophesy judgment on the Egyptians here in Isaiah 19-20 as he did in 19:1-17 and 20:1-6. But they may also have been confused by Isaiah’s statements quoted above in 19:23-25. These verses prophesied a peaceful situation between Egypt, Assyria, and Israel. God went so far as to say, “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'” That must have sounded almost like heresy, except that it came from the mouth of God himself. 

But God made this statement based on his plan to show grace to all the nations. This peace accord would be accomplished by these nations becoming genuine believers in YHWH. As verse 23-24 says, “The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.” 

The phrase, “a blessing on the earth” echoes the Abrahamic covenant. God promised Abraham in Genesis 20:3c-d, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” and now, here in Isaiah 19 he restates the promise with more detail. God’s plan, then, was always to save the world through the people of Israel. That salvation came to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. Now God continues to gather people for himself from every nation on earth. This prophecy will be fulfilled when Jesus reigns on earth during the time we call the Millennium and then beyond that through all eternity. 

Does this passage give you hope? Does it remind you that, despite all the racial, ethnic, and religious tension we see in the world, God is working to resolve that tension by saving different kinds of people all over the world?

Does this give you a desire to pray for world missions? Do you feel any desire to be part of God’s work in missions either by supporting missionaries financially or by volunteering to go to other parts of the world yourself?

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Matthew 13

Read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Matthew 13. This devotional is about Matthew 13.

The Parable of the Soils and Christ’s interpretation of it takes up most of this chapter of Matthew, from verse 1 through verse 23. In addition to that parable, we have:

  • The Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-43).
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 31-32).
  • The Parable of the Yeast (v. 33)
  • The Parable of the Buried Treasure (v. 44).
  • The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (vv. 45-46)
  • The Parable of the Dragnet (vv. 47-50).

The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Dragnet have the same message–many people who look like they belong in Christ’s kingdom and think they belong in it will be excluded from the kingdom at the judgment (vv. 40-43, 49-50).

The Parable of Buried Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price also have the same message and it is the one I want us to consider today.

These parables are straightforward: a man finds something valuable but under-appreciated so he liquidates everything he has–his house, his farm animals and equipment, his wife’s jewelry, the fillings in his teeth if necessary–to buy the valuable treasure or pearl of great price.

And he does it “with joy” (v. 44)!

Wouldn’t it be a pain to get rid of everything you own and be homeless with just the clothes on your back? Yes, it would, unless you were going to get something of greater value than all of that stuff.

This is what Jesus said the kingdom of heaven would be like. It is so priceless, such a treasure, that you and I should give up everything to get it. Of course, the cost of the kingdom is not paid to God. God paid the cost for your entry into the kingdom in Christ because you and I could not do it ourselves.

No, the cost Jesus is referring to here is the cost of not going our own way and doing our own thing. If someone gave you an all-expenses paid trip around the world for one year, the trip is a free gift. But to experience that gift you’d have to quit your job. You might have to sell your house because you wouldn’t have any income to pay the mortgage, maintenance, taxes, etc. You would also pay a non-financial cost of missing out on things at home while you are gone.

This is what Christians “pay” for following Christ. When we receive the free gift of salvation, we give up the right to direct our own lives. Jesus is now the boss; he decides what morals we live by and his kingdom dictates the decisions we make with our lives.

His lordship is what leads some people to literally sell everything and move to a different city or a foreign country to start churches. They understand the value of the kingdom and the joy and rewards that await, so they are less focused on accumulating some material things in this life and more focused on serving Jesus in this life in order to benefit the coming kingdom of Christ.

Maybe God has put a desire in your heart to serve him in some way, but the cost of doing so seems high. You know you’ll lose some free time that already seems in short supply. Or, you know that it will cost money or that you won’t advance in your career or whatever.

Christ here calls us to consider what is truly valuable. His kingdom, his work, is so much more valuable than the cheap plastic trinkets that seem so valuable to us now. Let’s take a few moments and re-assess what we’re living for, what is important, what is worth investing in, and what is worth liquidating for the greater value of serving our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord: Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped off Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy that she had prayed so earnestly for, but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Read Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

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

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

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

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

Exodus 19, Job 37, Psalm 67

Today’s Bible passages are Exodus 19, Job 37, and Psalm 67.

This devotional is about Exodus 19 and Psalm 67.

The Old Testament is largely about Israel and God’s relationship with her. From the call of Abraham onward, God promised blessings to Israel and called the people of that nation to believe in him and obey his commands. God’s promises and commands to Israel were not for Israel alone, however. God’s plan was to work THROUGH Israel to reach people all over the world with the knowledge of him.

Even here in Exodus 19, where God revealed his power and holiness in a dramatic way, he also emphasized the global impact that Israel’s faith was supposed to have. When God said in verse 6, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests” this is what he was talking about. Priests stand between God and humanity. They teach God’s word to his people and they make atonement for their sins.

But Israel was to be an entire kingdom of priests. Why? So that they could mediate to the whole world God’s love and God’s truth.

This theme is also described in Psalm 67 which we read today. Notice:

  • “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (v. 2)
  • “May the nations be glad and sing for joy” (v. 4)
  • “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you” (v 5)
  • “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him (v. 7).

Ultimately, these promises came to fulfillment in Christ. Israel could never trust and obey the Lord enough to inherit these promises apart from Christ. But, by God’s grace, Jesus came into the world through the nation of Israel and now he is calling people all over the world to the faith in him that Israel never had. These promises will eventually be fulfilled when Jesus establishes his earthly kingdom. Until then, however, we are here to be part of calling the world to faith in him. This is why we send and support missionaries; it is also why we are called to make disciples ourselves, baptizing and teaching them to observe the commands of Jesus (Matt 28:20).

Are you giving to support the work of the gospel through world missions–either our missionaries or others? Are you looking for ways to begin conversations about Jesus with others?