1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 3

Today read 1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, and Ephesians 3.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 16.

Ezekiel 16 contains a long allegory comparing Israel to a woman.

How would you feel about a girl that you (1) saved from death when she was an infant (vv. 1-5), (2) protected as a young woman (vv. 6-7), then (3) married, cared for, and honored when she was old enough to become your wife (vv. 8-14), but who craved the attention of other men and was an unfaithful wife (vv. 15-19) while killing the children you had with her by sacrificing them to idols (vv. 20-23)? I think you’d be pretty mad about that. 

This is how the Lord felt about Israel’s idolatry (v. 30). Although God had been incredibly gracious to Israel unlike any other nation on earth, the people of Israel were unthankful and unfaithful to him for generations. Ezekiel’s vivid allegory in this chapter is designed to appeal to your sense of justice. We may feel ashamed about our sins, but have we ever thought about how deeply they wound the heart of God? That’s what this passage is designed to make us feel. 

Yet all was not lost for Israel. The Lord was heartbroken, jealous, and enraged by her behavior, and was willing to allow her to suffer for her sins (vv. 35-58). Though he had biblical grounds to divorce her because she broke the terms of their covenant (v. 59), God would be loyal to the one he chose and would forgive her sins and re-establish his covenant with her (vv. 59-63). This is the incredible mercy of God; he is loyal to us when we are disloyal to him. He may allow the consequences of our sin to catch up with us, but he never completely drives us away; in fact, he sacrificed himself to make atonement for our sins (v. 63) and keeps his promises to us by grace.

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.

Leviticus 4, Song of Songs 7, Luke 19

Read Leviticus 4, Song of Songs 7, and Luke 19.

This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribed how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if an everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered.

Why?

Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, something living and innocent would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals can’t really substitute for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” — vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners.

This is what Jesus did for us! Therefore, we can know that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Matthew 26

Read Genesis 38, Job 4, and Matthew 26. This devotional is about Matthew 26.

Matthew continued to chronicle the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and, in verses 1-2, Jesus warned the disciples that the crucifixion was coming. While the religious leaders conspired together to execute him (vv. 3-5) and Judas came forward to betray him (vv. 14-16), Jesus was anointed by one of his followers (vv. 6-13), observed the Passover with his disciples (vv. 17-30), predicted Peter’s betrayal (vv. 31-35), and moved to the place where it would all begin–Gethsemane (v. 36).

It seems amazing to me that Jesus told the disciples multiple times that he would be betrayed and crucified. One of them is here in verses 1-2 and that prediction told them when to start looking for it to happen.

Despite all these predictions, the disciples were completely unprepared. Why? Did they think Jesus was just being paranoid or dramatic?

Who knows?

What we do know is that Jesus was in deep anguish (v. 38) and the disciples he asked to pray for him were too tired to do what Jesus asked them to do (vv. 40-41, 43-45).

In verse 39, Jesus spoke to the only one who could truly understand and truly care. He prayed, “may this cup be taken from me.” The “cup” in biblical prophecy was the cup of God’s wrath. Jesus was not afraid of the pain of crucifixion; he was dreading the fact that he was about to become cursed by God the Father. The eternal fellowship that the three persons of God had enjoyed for eternity would be broken–temporarily–as Christ became the object of God’s wrath against us.

When the Bible tells us that God loves us, that he demonstrated true love by dying for us, it is impossible for us to understand how difficult and costly that love was. It was unfathomably offensive for the holy one of God to become a sin offering for us.

Yet it was absolutely necessary if any one of us were to be saved. Christ’s love is the only reason he went through with the cross. His love for us caused the triune God to will for the death of the son. It was a bitter cup, for sure, the most vile thing that any person has ever experienced. But Jesus did that for us.