Fulfilled Promises

My mom and I are going Christmas shopping together this week. Yes, it is only mid-October – so why Christmas shop a full two months BEFORE Christmas? One word: anticipation. My mom and I look forward to this time together every fall. We anticipate our shopping day, planning out the stores where we will shop, the gifts that we will purchase, and the restaurant where we will eat lunch – and in doing so, we also anticipate celebrating Christmas with our family.
In our text for today, which is Matthew 2, we read one small part of what we traditionally call the “Christmas Story”. Here, we learn of the wise men visiting King Herod, Joseph fleeing with his family from Jerusalem into Egypt, and their subsequent return to Nazareth.
Today, I’d like us to consider the promises kept and prophecies fulfilled that Matthew references in this chapter. In Micah 5:2, this prophet writes that “one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me.” This prophecy was fulfilled almost 800 years later. Matthew wrote that when King Herod asks his chief priests and scribes where Christ would be born, “They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5) Christ Himself was the fulfillment of this promise.
Let’s look at another example. The Old Testament prophet Hosea explained that God would one day call his Son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). In Matthew 2:15, we read that, “He (Joseph) remained there (in Egypt) until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son.’” Over 800 years after Micah’s original prophecy was recorded, it too was fulfilled in Christ.
Thinking about these prophetic words which were fulfilled years after they were originally uttered simply amazes me. I hope you take some time to ponder these words today. Approximately 2000 prophesies in the Bible have been fulfilled – 2000! After you let that sink in for a few minutes, consider this verse, found in Isaiah 53:5 (NIV): “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah wrote these words HUNDREDS of years before Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross as a forgiveness for our sins. Oh, what a Savior!

Luke 13

I am a reader. Those who know me will probably smile when they read those words. In my free time, I am rarely without a book in my hand. When I was younger, I read mostly fiction – especially the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. My favorite author, though, was Louisa May Alcott. I read and re-read every book she ever wrote because I loved how she created a story. Even though her books were fiction, I felt as though I were reading a true story – her plot and details were that believable. And I always learned something from her books.

Jesus is the master story-teller. Over and over in the New Testament, we read of our Savior using a story to make a point or to teach a lesson. In doing so, He teaches about complex topics like faith and grace and salvation. We see this over and over in Luke 13, our chapter for today.

Jesus uses the parable of a barren fig tree to teach about how to live a Godly life (Luke 13:6 – 9). He compares the kingdom of God to both a mustard seed and to leaven used in baking bread (Luke 13:18 – 21) He uses the idea of a narrow door to represent the fact that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (Luke 13:24 – 30; John 14:6). The people to whom He was talking would have had as difficult a time as we do now understanding concepts like the kingdom of God, faith, and salvation. Fig trees, mustard seeds, leaven and doors, though? They understood those. They were familiar with these objects, because they used them in their daily lives. By using stories, Jesus made complex topics more easily understood.

As Jesus ends this time of teaching, He laments over the lost in Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). As I finish writing this devotion, it is Monday morning, and our country is waking to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas. Jesus’ poignant cries over Jerusalem remind me that my Savior also weeps today, along with those who grieve.

The Trap of Our Earthly Desires

I have the privilege of writing about Romans 1 today but I really want to focus on verses 18-32. It’s in those 14 verses that you can truly see the repercussions of the fall that happened way back in Genesis when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

 

We live in a broken world. Every day the news comes up with new stories about death, hate, poverty, and sickness all over the world. We try to turn it off but we never can. People propose solutions for all of these problems and don’t understand when they don’t work. We are a people who rely on things, machines, and other people to be our saviors in times of need rather than falling on our knees and crying out to God.

 

We know there is a God but we find ourselves turning towards earthly pleasures because we lack self-discipline. God is knocking at the door but we still have to open it and invite him in. We can’t keep talking to him through the door or only letting him in when we need him. Romans 1:24-25 says,

 

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

 

It says specifically God gave them up. There always will be a choice and you can choose to continually choose early pleasures but will that ever satisfy your soul? God gave them up means to me that he had was trying to protect them for a while but they never turned from their ways. It was never his plan but when these unrighteous people kept doing what they wanted, he had to give them up to their desires. The true king of their lives.

 

How can we relate to this?

 

Think about your life. Do you find yourself at church scrolling, checking email, or even napping? Do you find yourself buying new things because you have to have them in your life? Are you doing the minimum to just get into heaven?

 

These 14 verses show us how easy it is to lose yourself in these early desires. These men and women KNEW God and they still desired these worldly things. It is easy to fall into Satan’s trap so guard your heart. If you lost everything but still have Jesus, could you say that you still had all that you need?

 

Reflect on your own lives today. Pray that the holy spirit will convict you so that you do not fall into the same trap as these unrighteous people did in these 14 verses.

Paul on Trial

Heart pounding. Mind racing. Paul stands in front of hundreds of people who will decide whether he is innocent or guilty of his accusations. I’m sure even Paul had fear in that moment with such an uncertain future ahead of him.

 

In Acts 23, Paul was face to face with his accusers and a council that didn’t have any sympathy for him. Sometimes I find myself reading the bible and placing a lot of the people on pedestals because of the life they lived for Christ. If we really dive into the word, you can start to see that these people are just as human as we are. Let’s look at Paul as an example.

 

So Paul is up in front of this council getting accused of many things that aren’t wrong in the eyes of God. The first thing he chooses to say is, “ Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” He is pleading his case, trying to help them understand that he sees nothing wrong in what he is doing…because there is nothing wrong in what he is doing. Instantly the high priest orders Paul to be struck, not just anywhere, on the mouth.

 

I imagine myself in his shoes. I am wrongfully being charged and I want to keep this civil so I start off with a calm statement of my innocence and then BAM! I get punched right in the jaw. Growing up with four brothers has, I would say negatively, gifted me with having the ability of not thinking before swinging. In this situation, it would have been my natural reaction to swing back or tackle the guy if I got hit like that. As we keep reading we can see that Paul reacts in a similar action(He responds in anger and frustration) and that makes him just as human as you and I. Paul says, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!” He didn’t punch the guy, but his words are powerful because they have the authority of Christ behind them. I can also imagine that he isn’t saying that in a friendly tone either. Though he was angry and probably wanted to punch the guy back, he knew that God was the ultimate judge and would take care of it in his timing and grace.

 

The rest of the chapter goes into the plot to kill Paul by 40 men who have sworn to not eat or drink until Paul is dead. This story has always been interesting to me because there has been nothing, so far, in my life that I have hated enough to give up eating and drinking until that thing is dead. The hatred towards God and his people just amazes me sometimes as I read through the bible.

 

Chapter 23 ends with Paul getting sent to Rome secretly to avoid being ambushed by the 40 men so that he can await trial there. Remember that even though there are men and women in the bible, they were sinners just like us. Don’t put these people on pedestals but learn from their actions as you go through similar situations in your life.

In It, Not Of It

Do you ever find it challenging to be a Christian who lives in the world, but is not of the world?

We know that we are called to live like Jesus in this broken world, but sometimes, I look in the mirror and I see someone who looks, talks and acts just like the rest of the world. I know that this should not be so. Today’s reading in John 17 is a reminder to me that, although I clearly live in the world, I am not to be someone who is of this world.

Today, first take a moment to read all of John 17 with me. This chapter of John has always been one of my favorites since I discovered it for the first time, as it is a beautiful prayer of Jesus for US. How incredible is that? As you read John 17 today, rest in the fact that Jesus knows you by name and that He knew every single person He prayed for so long ago. I can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that Jesus interceded for me, for us, in the way that He did throughout this passage… it’s amazing.

Let’s focus on John 17:14-19 today and spend some time reminding ourselves how important it is to be in the world and not of the world:

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

You’ve probably realized before that sometimes God answers our prayers differently than we might want Him to or expect Him to. For example, while God could deliver us from a challenge, He sometimes teaches us through the challenge instead. While God could heal us, He sometimes makes us wait for true healing in Heaven one day. You get the idea. Verse 15 above reminds me of this same sort of thing… Jesus certainly could have prayed that we would be taken out of the world and protected from the evil one in that way. But He didn’t.

Instead, verse 15 says that Jesus prayed specifically that God would NOT take us out of the world, but that He would protect us from the evil one as we live life in the world. Why wouldn’t Jesus just ask God to protect us by simply taking us out of the world?

Friends, I think there must be a reason Jesus prayed this way. I believe it is because He has work for us to do in this world, but in order to do that work, we simply cannot look like the rest of the world. It just doesn’t work that way. Of course, we are not called to be perfect as we live out an example of Jesus and His character. Instead, we can use our imperfections, weaknesses, and failings to point people to our desperate human need for God’s grace. But may I remind you today that you are, in fact, called to live here on earth for a reason? And may I also remind you today that as you live out your life here on earth, with purpose, you are called to do so in a way that does not look like the rest of the world?

Be encouraged today that although we are called to do life here on earth for a little while, we can make the most of that time here by not living like the rest of the world. Today, keep watch over your heart, your attitude, your words, and your actions and ask the Lord to help you focus on living in a way that is unlike anything this world has ever seen, and watch what the Lord does with that.

Glowing Box

Imagine a box in a dark room. Inside the box is a source of light that makes it glow. Now a pinhole is made in the box. The pinhole in the box gives off a thin beam of light piercing through the darkness of the room. You move to align your eye with the beam of light to peer inside the box. What you see, you see clearly, yet you can not see all the contents of the box, only what is within your field of view from the hole. What is shown is shown clearly but not all is shown. This is how I have come to understand a parable to reveal the truth. John 16 tells us that while Jesus revealed the truth in parables, He will send the Spirit that will open up the box completely and reveal truth plainly.

John 16 tells us that while Jesus revealed the truth in parables, He will send the Spirit that will open up the box completely and reveal truth plainly.

I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. – John 16:25

The word here translated as ‘figures of speech’ is paroimiais in the greek. Some versions translate this word as figurative language, some as allegories, some as proverbs and some as parables. A paroimiais is a pointed but veiled statement. Throughout His entire ministry, Jesus spoke in mashal which is the Hebrew word for the same veiled but pointed statements. These parables are very clear illuminations of the truth but they purposefully leave much hidden. (Luke 8:10)

An interesting fact, Jesus taught in parables, but from this point forward, from the end of the Gospels on, no one else ever gives a parable. After the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and after the coming of the Holy Spirit, everything is unveiled. Everything is given to us plainly.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:12-13

When I think of the disciples being given one parable after another, I think of our glowing box and their having another hole made for them to see in. Their box had many holes from all of Jesus’s parables. So much truth yet so much truth still veiled. 

Now imagine our box again. The four vertical corners of the box are split. The box now completely opened up, lays flat on the ground. Everything inside the box is now perfectly visible and accessible.

The Spirit has given us the perfect account of Jesus ministry in the Gospels, the beginnings of the delivery of His promises in His Church from Acts, the clear and plain explanation of His teaching we get from the theology from the epistles, and the complete unveiling of the future from Revelation. This is Jesus delivering on His promise to unveil all the truth. (John 14:26) This is the perfect and complete testimony of God revealed to us in Scripture. This is the box, the truth, completely opened and accessible to us.

God this morning we thank You for the gift of the New Testament and for revealing all the truth to us in plain ways. We praise You LORD God! God, we confess to not placing the proper value on Your revealed truth and ask that you would give us a strong desire to arm ourselves with your revealed truth and use it to Your glory. May Your Kingdom come LORD. On earth, as it is in Heaven. Amen.

 

Our We Missing the Point Entirely?

I turn 24 on Saturday. I have learned to reflect on my life so that I can truly learn from decisions and choices I have made over my lifetime so far. Birthdays are some of the best reminders of where I have come from and where I am headed. Part of my reflection process includes reflecting on my relationship with God. Where have I come in the past year? Where have I grown in my walk?

My small group started a Galatians study this past week and we started the study by writing out our story. It started with where we were without God, and then moved on to the moment where we experienced God for the first time, and finally ending your story with how that encounter is shaping your future. As I wrote my story, I took some time to really reflect on my life with God. It’s been just under 24 years since I was born and even though I accepted Christ at an early age, I didn’t have a relationship with him until I was in my early twenties, which means I’m still a toddler in my faith walk. Today’s reading is about having that relationship with God so let’s dive into that.

John 10 talks about Jesus explaining how to truly have a relationship with him.

He says,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers”

They didn’t understand so he explained it again.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is ha hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The reason I explained my story above was that I was like the Jews in this story. I was missing the moral of the story. Jesus is the only way to the father. No matter how many good things we do, how much we give to the church, or how many times we got up early to go to church on Sunday mornings. If we don’t have a relationship with Jesus, then all of that means nothing. The passage says that Jesus knows his own and his own know him. If we don’t have a relationship with God, how can we truly know him? He wants us to know him, so today do some reflection. Reflect on your life and your walk with Christ. Does your walk truly reflect a relationship with God or is it just filled with good works? Think on that. I hope this passage starts a work in you today.

Fully Known

     Fully known.  How do those words make you feel?  Peaceful?  Anxious? Calm?  Ashamed?  All of the above, maybe?  Does it depend on the situation, or maybe the person?  In John 8, our reading for today, Jesus makes it very clear that He knows the people around Him.  And not only does He know them, He FULLY KNOWS them,  He knows their thoughts, even when they don’t speak them aloud.  He knows their actions, even before they take them.  He knows them better than they know themselves.  He knows their hearts.

     Sometimes, Jesus reveals His knowledge of the people around Him in subtle ways.  For example, when He speaks to the crowd who accuses the woman of adultery, He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)  Jesus knew that each of the accusers was a sinner.  Yet He didn’t need to call each person out on his individual, specific sin to make His point clear.  When the crowd heard His words, “they went away one by one.”  (John 8:9)  Likewise, in his conversation with the woman accused of adultery, Jesus did not need to name her sin to make His point.  He simply says to her, “…go, and from now on sin no more.”  (John 8: 11)  Simple, and subtle.

    Later in John 8, however, Jesus reveals to the Pharisees that He knows them as well, and this time, He is less subtle.  In fact, He does not hesitate to name their sins.  Here are several examples:

– He knew that the Pharisees judged according to the flesh  (John 8:15)

– He knew that the Pharisees sought to kill Him, and He knew why –                            because His word had found no place in them (John 8:37) and because                      they couldn’t bear to hear His word  (John 8:43)

– He knew that the Pharisees did not believe Him  (John 8:45)

– He knew that the Pharisees did not know God  (John 8:55)

Not only does Jesus know the adulterous woman’s heart and the hearts of the Pharisees.  He also knows our hearts, yours and mine.  David confirms this in Psalm 139:1-4:   “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.”    I think that David’s tone here is not one of embarrassment but one of relief.  He sounds thankful to be fully known by his Creator – and in this, David serves as a good example for us.

We, too, can give thanks that our God fully knows us and wants to have a relationship with us.  Any relationship deepens as we allow ourselves to be fully known by the other person, and our relationship with Jesus is no different.  Furthermore, relationships strengthen when we ourselves seek to more deeply know the other person as well.  Jesus, too, wants us to seek to know Him better.  I pray that the fact that we are fully known by our Creator gives us not anxiety and shame, but peace and comfort.  And I pray that we would seek to know Him better as we rest in the security that we are fully known, and fully loved.

 

Simple Truth

I grew up in a Christian home and have been going to the same church ever since I was in preschool. I feel that I have always known about Jesus and that I have always had faith in Him, even if that faith was literally “childlike” faith in my earliest years.

However, I went through an odd time in junior high when, for some reason, I became inexplicably afraid that something could take my salvation away from me. I don’t know how to explain this time in my life in any other way besides this; I was completely scared that someday, down the road in my life, I’d do something to mess up enough that God would give up on me. I can still remember my parents speaking truth over my life during that season of unexplained fear, reminding me that I could be sure that my salvation was secure and showing me Scriptures to help me remember that. After a time, that fear faded, but today’s reading in John 3 reassures my heart still, and I hope it speaks to your heart today, too. John 3:16-21 says,

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

When we read John 3, I think we often focus so much on the ever so popular verse of John 3:16. As incredible as that verse is, please don’t miss verse 18 today. Whether one has been a Christian for one year or for 50 years, it is always so good (and often, so needed) to be reminded that nothing could ever take away tGod’s love for us or the salvation He has freely given to us. That’s why I love verse 18… it puts those old fears and little thoughts to rest, and it reminds me in such plain language that whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned. It’s such a simple statement, but it is filled with the truth that our lives are to be centered around as Christians: We believe in Jesus, so we are not condemned. Incredible.

The simplicity of this precious truth also reminds me also how simple telling someone else about Jesus can be. I often overcomplicate doing this in my mind, and I psych myself out of sharing about Jesus when I feel a nudge to. Today’s reminder of how simple the Gospel truly is takes some of that burden off, for sure.

Today, rest in the fact that no matter who you are or where you are, no matter what you have done recently and no matter what you did decades ago, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. And let that truth stir your heart to share this unbelievable fact with others in your life in the same way Jesus shared it here in John 3: Simply.

Non Sibi

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:23-25

v24 has been referenced as sighting God’s omniscience, but within the context of 23-25 it brings forth, what I think to be, a very important distinction between people who pursue God for His stuff and those that love God because He first loved us.

God knows us and often better than we know ourselves. God knows and can separate those who are just after His “stuff” from those who love Him. The beginning of v24 says He did not entrust Himself to them. Some believe this to mean He did not reveal the saving grace of the Gospel to them. If so, could this be because even after witnessing the miracles, they did not love Him but their love for themselves remained? That when they witnessed the power of God they only saw a great opportunity for themselves? I can not say but the warning here is clear, God knows the heart of man and trusts Himself to those He chooses accordingly.

God, would you help us let go our life and follow you? trusting in you completely? Letting go our plans and never considering You in how You can help us achieve what we want, but instead, how we can serve You? Would you do this LORD? Would you be gentle with us please LORD? but do what you will. We trust you with our lives. Amen.

Non Sibi

 

Image: The Marriage Feast at Cana by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo