Colossians 2

Read Colossians 2.

The church at Colossae that received this letter was not started by Paul. Colossians 1:7 plainly states that the people who received this letter from Paul had received the gospel from “… Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” As we read yesterday in chapter 1, Paul was thankful and encouraged by the faith of these Colossians.

Now, here in chapter 2, Paul assured them that he was “contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” Though they were not churches he had founded, Paul was concerned for their spiritual growth and health (vv. 2-4). Then, in verse 5, he wrote, “I… delight to see how disciplined you are….” That phrase, “how disciplined you are” is kind of unexpected. The rest of the verse, “and how firm your faith in Christ is,” is exactly like something we’d expect Paul to write. But what did he mean by, “how disciplined you are”?

Let’s start with the word “disciplined.” Discipline means training. When you discipline your children, you are not (or shouldn’t be) punishing them for being bad; you should be teaching them that doing wrong is harmful and doing right is better. So, when Paul said, “I… delight to see how disciplined you are” he is referring to the training they had received from Epaphras (again, 1:7). Epaphras not only told them that Christ died for their sins; he taught them what it meant to live in obedience to Christ and he expected them to show obedience to Christ in their daily decisions and lives. That was and is Christ’s goal for every Christian. He commanded his apostles to “Go make disciples” (Matt 28:19) and to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:20). Epaphras not only obeyed the “make disciples” part, he obeyed the “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” part of Matthew 28:19-20. Paul was happy to hear how these believers were growing in that way spiritually.

Still, threats to their faith were lurking around. False ideas about spirituality were gaining a hearing among the believers in Colossae. That’s why in verse 2 he said that he wanted everyone to “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” It’s also why he said, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Everything they and we need spiritually is in Christ. There is no need to look to Judaism or to pagan religions. God has given us everything we need in the church. What we need to put these growth resources to work in our lives is discipline. Discipline is a form of self-control that enables a person to make progress in the Christian life. Discipline is what calls us to form daily spiritual habits–Bible reading and prayer at the least–that will nourish our faith and stimulate our growth.

The fact that you’re reading this devotional probably indicates that you’ve developed the discipline of reading the scripture daily. That’s great! But, also, each believer should discipline him or herself to pray everyday, asking God to keep purifying them even more.

Grace and discipline are not enemies; instead, discipline is an expression of grace and an application of the grace we received in salvation. Without grace, we could never discipline ourselves just to become more godly but, since “all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ” (v. 3) we can use God’s grace to teach us to be more holy and Christlike.

So think about an area of your life where you need to become more holy and Chrislike. What kinds of self-discipline should you use by grace to become a godly man or woman?

James 5

Read James 5.

We live in a free society. Freedom makes it possible to make a living and even become wealthy through innovation, making quality products and/or delivering quality service. A business owner usually will employ other people but he or she must pay them wages that both the owner and the worker have agreed are fair. If a business owner refuses to pay wages in our society, employees have several ways to seek justice.

When James was writing this chapter, however, workers were much more vulnerable to exploitation. Owners could enslave others or cheat workers out of their wages. James 5:1-6 condemns the wealthy who made their wealth by cheating others.

Notice, though, that James speaks as if the judgment of these wealthy people has already happened. Verse 1 says they should “weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” Verse 2 says, “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.” This description of coming judgment continued in the rest of the verses in the present tense, as if it were already happening.

But verse 7 reveals to us that the judgment described in verses 1-6 hadn’t happened yet but would happen when Jesus returns. Verse 7 says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.” The implication is that if these believers were being exploited by others, they should look to God in faith because he will settle in justice at the coming of Christ. The patience James counsels us to have is compared in the rest of verse 7 to the kind of paticence a farmer must have while he waits for his crops to grow. The point is that we must trust God–and keep trusting him–until he returns just like a farmer keeps trusting that the crops will grow and ripen.

Are you discouraged because someone has wronged you? The Bible repeatedly tells us not to seek revenge but to trust the Lord to make things right. Sometimes he uses repentance and restoration to make things right (see verse 19-20). But in many cases, we have to wait for the judgment day for justice to come.

Whether we are rich or poor, owner or worker, we need to remember that at the end of this age we will stand before Christ in judgment. If we’re in Christ by faith we will escape the eternal judgment of hell by his grace and through his death on the cross for us.

But all of us will answer to God for everything we do, think, and say. Because we love God we want God to be pleased with our lives. The coming judgment of God should motivate us to make godly, righteous choices while in this life so that we will be rewarded in the next life.

Do you have any unreconciled relationships? Any sins you should confess to someone you’ve wronged (v. 20)? You and I will answer to God for everything we’ve done with our lives. Isn’t it best to do the righteous thing in this life now, even if it is hard and wounds our pride?

Let the coming interview you will have with the Lord guide what you do today, what you say today, and how you treat others today. Let the coming of Christ guide you toward a righteous life for his glory.

Hebrews 1

Read Hebrews 1. [Note: the schedule I put together for reading through the New Testament moves around so that there is some variety in our readings. That’s why we’re not starting Mark today even though we finished Matthew yesterday.]

One of the challenges to our faith comes in the form of “pluralism”–the idea that every religion leads to the one and only God. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), so we believe that Christianity is the exclusive way to God.

That’s not a popular idea, as you know. Even Christians, at times, have speculated that God might save people outside of Christianity in nations or tribes where there is no Christian witness.

Hebrews 1 provides some important information that explains why pluralism is wrong. It is true that God has spoken throughout human history “in various ways” (v. 1). The writer of Hebrews, though, wants us to know that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (v. 2a).

Christ, the Son of God, is uniquely qualified to reveal God to us because he “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” Being God himself, Jesus could reveal God to us as no other person or angel (vv. 5-14) ever could.

Furthermore, Christ has “provided purification for sins” (v. 3), something that no other religion, revelation, or spirit being can do.

It is impossible, then, for any other religion to save someone or reveal God to anyone because there is only one God and Christ is the only one capable of revealing him and reconciling us with him.

Despite the pressures we feel from pluralism, we must maintain our conviction that Christ is the only way to God. If we give up (or just get careless) about this truth, it will weaken every conviction we have as Christians and kill our motivation to spread the gospel message.

1 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 12:1-13:1, Psalms 130-132

Read 1 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 12:1-13:1, and Psalms 130-132. This devotional is about Zechariah 12:1-13:1.

Today’s passage from Zechariah is not nearly as well-known as other prophecies of Christ but it is an important one because it foretold the sufferings of Christ on the cross.

After promising destruction to Israel’s enemies (12:1-9), God promised “a spirit of grace and supplication” for “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v. 10). Surprisingly, however, after prophesying grace and supplication, Zechariah immediately said, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (v. 10). You may recognize the first part of this verse from John 19:37 where John quoted it as fulfilled at the crucifixion of Christ. While not everyone in Jerusalem mourned the death of Christ, the faithful disciples who followed Jesus did, just as this passage said.

But what brings together the two seemingly disjoined ideas in verse 10–the idea that there would be “grace and supplication” while “they look on me, the one they have pierced and they will mourn for him…?”

The answer is provided in Zechariah 13:1: “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” That was why Christ was pierced and how his piercing could provide “grace and supplication.” His death on the cross for us became a fountain that cleanses sinners from sin and impurity. Let’s give thanks, then, for the fountain of grace and forgiveness that Jesus is for us.

Joshua 24, Jeremiah 46, Romans 8

Read Joshua 24, Jeremiah 46, and Romans 8 today. This devotional is about Romans 8.

In the previous chapters of Romans, we were taught much about the Law and its relationship to humanity. In chapter 7, we learned that God’s Law is great and holy; our problems with it are not with IT but with ourselves: “…the Law is spiritual but I am unspiritual….” Paul wrote of himself that he was, “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14) and his self-description applies to us as well.

As Christians, we are torn by our mental and spiritual desires to obey God’s law (7:21-22, 25b) and our sin nature which rebels against God’s holy commands and makes us subject to death (7:16-20, 25c).

What is the remedy for this spiritual dilemma?

Romans 8:1: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are “in Christ Jesus” therefore the condemnation of the law has been removed from us. That removal took place through the atonement of Christ for our sins (vv. 2-3). The result of his atonement is that you are not guilty before God because God has credited to you the righteous life Jesus lived (his “active obedience”) and the atoning death Christ died (his “passive obedience”). Verse 3b-4 says that in these words, “And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Did you notice that phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….” If you are in Christ, you’ve kept the law fully. The law has no beef with you because Christ has fulfilled it all on your behalf. He’s met every standard spelled out there and paid every penalty for your failures (and mine).

Many Christians live with a feeling of defeat. We beat ourselves up for our sin struggles and our failures. If that’s you, please take heart today. If you’re in Christ, it’s all good. Jesus has done all that you will ever need to cancel the law’s condemnation over your life and to declare you perfect in the sight of God. “Therefore,  there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” so stop condemning yourself and live in the freedom of complete forgiveness!

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.” I believe 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 20, Isaiah 16, Acts 5

Read Leviticus 20, Isaiah 16, and Acts 5 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 16:5: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Moab was a nation on the other side (eastern) of the Jordan River from Israel. It was a nation that descended from Lot and his eldest daughter when they committed incest after the destruction of Sodom (see Genesis 19:37). Isaiah 15 &16 contain a prophesy against Moab but within those chapters lie one of the lesser-known prophecies of Christ here in Isaiah 16:5.

This prophecy about Christ began by saying, “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it.” The words “love” and “faithfulness” are parallel ideas referring to the same thing which is God’s covenant loyalty to David. God made promises to David, called the Davidic covenant. In that covenant, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). This verse in Isaiah 16:5 repeated that promise (“one from the house of David,” v. 5c) because of God’s covenant loyalty. The last two phrases of the verse described the Messianic king God had promised to send: “one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (v. 5d, e).

The fulfillment of this promise is still in the future, even for us. When Jesus establishes his kingdom, Israel and the world will finally have a ruler who judges with justice and quickly does what is right. It will be an incredible contrast to the corruption, incompetence, and self-aggrandizement that is so common in political leaders today. Human society will flourish like it never has before because Jesus, our righteousness and righteous king, will be in charge forever.

Until that day, our job is to live faithfully, like citizens in exile, to the kingdom values Jesus taught us and to encourage others to prepare for the kingdom by submitting in faith to our king Jesus. As we keep the hope of a perfect, righteous, eternal home in our minds, it will help us to make godly choices in our lives and to speak the gospel message to those in the world around us.

Leviticus 18, Isaiah 14, Psalms 45-47

Read Leviticus 18, Isaiah 14, Psalms 45-47 today. This devotional is about Psalm 45.

This beautiful song bears the superscription, “A wedding song.” Those superscriptions are (probably) not part of the original text. We don’t really know if they are original or not, because we don’t have the originals, but scholars feel they are accurate, if not inspired. That superscription tells us the setting for this song, but we do not know if this song was written for Solomon or one of his descendants.

Regardless of which Davidic king had this written for his wedding, the Psalmist who wrote it looked beyond that human king. Verses 6-7 are quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9. There the author of Hebrews recognized that they applied to Jesus. Jesus is the only king in David’s line about whom it could accurately be written, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever…. therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”

So, there it is, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, a prophecy of his eternal kingdom and recognition that Israel’s true king would be God but also be distinct from the person of God that we would call the Father. These two verses suggest the deity of Christ, his coming as the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, and that there are distinct persons of the Godhead.

This Psalm also suggests the idea of looking at God’s people as the bride of Christ. Like the human bride of whichever Israeli king this was written for, we as the bride of Christ must “honor him, for he is your lord” (v. 11b). But honoring Jesus is not degrading or burdensome to us; instead, when we honor Christ, love him, and are joined with him, it will mean “joy and gladness” for all of us.

Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Acts 1

Read Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, and Acts 1 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 8:1-9:7.

Although they had the great prophet Isaiah living among them and speaking constantly on behalf of God, Judah was in deep rebellion to God’s word and cared nothing for Isaiah’s prophecies. As people tend to do, they looked to more mystical sources for revelation instead of the written Law of God and the spoken teachings and prophecies of Isaiah.

God rebuked his people for this in Isaiah 8:19. Instead of fooling around with false sources of spirituality, God through Isaiah called them back to his word: “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (v. 20).

When people look outside God’s word, they are dissatisfied (v. 21a) and end up cursing God (v. 21b). Instead of finding light in these sources, they find “distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).

Chapter 9 opened against this bleak backdrop by promising “no more gloom” (v. 1). Instead, the prophet stated that “people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (v. 2). Isaiah was prophesying a day of victory for God’s people (vv. 3-5) but it started with the birth of Christ, foretold in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Whether people look to God for truth or not, God would (and did!) send his Son to bring light into the world and he will come again to finish the work and establish his kingdom on earth. That is our hope, so let’s look to his word only for guidance and revelation and truth about how to live until his kingdom comes.

Judges 13, Jeremiah 26

Today we’re reading Judges 13 and Jeremiah 26.

This devotional is about Judges 13.

Although they lived in evil times, Samson’s parents certainly feared the Lord. Their reverence for God is visible throughout this chapter. One quick lesson we can take from them is that even in the most evil days there is always someone who loves God and lives by his commands. This is called a remnant in other scripture passages; just as carpet is measured, cut, and used but some is left behind as a remnant, so God always leaves behind some who believe in him.

Anyway, Manoah’s wife received a revelation from someone who “looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (v. 6). After her husband prayed for this one to return (v. 8), God sent this heavenly messenger to both of them (vv. 9-14). Manoah, apparently, thought he was talking talking to a prophet or something because he offered the messenger food (vv. 15-16) and “did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord” (v. 16e). When he asked this messenger for his name he was told, “It is beyond understanding” (v. 18). This should have been a strong clue that the “man” they were talking to was the Lord God himself. It wasn’t, however, until “the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame” (vv. 19d-20b). At that point, Manoah and his wife knew what was going on. They fell down in worship (v. 20c) and said in verse 22, “‘We are doomed to die…! We have seen God!’” Notice that neither God nor the writer of Judges disputed Manoah’s interpretation. His wife knew that they wouldn’t die (v. 23) but nobody refuted the statement that they had “seen God.” Why not? Because this is one of a few places in the Old Testament where God appeared in human form.

Theologians call these kind of visitations by God “theophanies” “Theo-“ means “God” and the rest of the word comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” This certainly is a theophany; however, it is more correct to call it a “Christophany,” which when Christ, the 2nd person of God, shows up in human form. The fact that this is a theophany is easy to see in verse 22 in the phrase, “We have seen God!” But how do we know that this was Christ and not God the Father or the Holy Spirit?

The answer is that Christ is called “the Word” in John 1:1 which describes his divine role in the Trinity. Christ’s role is to reveal God, to be the mediator between God and creation. Anytime God reveals himself directly to humanity, then, Christ is the one making that revelation. Colossians 1:15-16 told us that “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” These passages teach the communication role that Christ plays in the Three Persons of God.

I wrote, regarding Joshua 5, that the “‘commander of the Lord’s army’ was Jesus himself but I didn’t explain why I believe it was Jesus and not the Father or the Spirit. Today’s devotional allowed me to return to this subject and explain a bit more about how God revealed himself in Christ in the Old Testament. Note that Jesus was not yet fully human; that didn’t happen until the virgin conception. But he appeared in human form as part of his role as the Word, the Logos, the communication of God to us.