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.

Leviticus 17, Isaiah 13, Proverbs 10:17-32

Read Leviticus 17, Isaiah 13, Proverbs 10:17-32 today. This devotional is about Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Before the tabernacle existed, people offered animal sacrifices wherever and however they wanted. God’s laws described how the sacrifices should be offered and where they should be offered, namely the tabernacle.

But people are creatures of habit and stubborn. If Israel was ever going to worship as God had commanded, the people had to stop doing their own thing and start bringing sacrifices to the tabernacle. That’s what Leviticus 17 is about. It commands the people not to offer sacrifices anywhere else but the tabernacle (v. 5) and it prescribes a severe penalty for those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle (v. 4).

A key reason for these commands was to stop idolatry in Israel (v. 7). If anyone can sacrifice whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, they also can sacrifice to whomever they want–God or some idol. Creating a central place of worship had many benefits but guarding against idolatry was one of the biggest.

A key theme within this chapter has to do instructions about handling the blood of an animal sacrifice. The word “blood” appears 12 times in this chapter in verses  4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, so it is an important detail. The reason for this attention to blood is stated in verse 11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood….” Blood is necessary for life. When it stops flowing through the veins of a man or an animal, the organs and tissues in the body stop working and the animal or person dies. Because it is essential to life, blood is a perfect way to represent life and death. The later part of verse 11 goes on to explain the significance of blood in animal sacrifices: “and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” The Hebrew word translated “atonement” here means “to cover or conceal.” God is saying that the blood conceals one’s sins; it is God’s appointed method for receiving forgiveness. When a person brought an animal as a sacrifice for his sins, that animal became the person’s substitute. God accepted the life of that animal, symbolized by its blood, instead of the life of the person who committed the sin.

Ultimately, of course, all of this anticipated the death of Christ on the cross for us. The statement, “For the life of a creature is in the blood… it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (v. 11) explains why Christ had to die on the cross for our sins. Because he was the perfect man, sinless in every way and righteous by merit for obeying God’s law perfectly, he was the only man who could die as a substitute for sinners. Because you have believed in him, you can be certain that God has forgiven you based on Christ’s death and has accepted you. The death of Christ is central to our faith because only his death could atone for our sins.

Luke 23

Today’s passage to read, if you’re keeping up with the schedule, is Luke 23.

Yesterday we read about Jesus’ religious trial in Luke 22:66-71. That trial was for blasphemy (see Matt 26:64-66). Since Jesus claimed to be “the Son of God” (vv. 69-70 here in Luke 23) and that he would “be seated at the right hand of the mighty God” the religious leaders of his era concluded that he was speaking irreverently of God, which is what “blasphemy” means. This was worthy of death in Jewish law (again, Matt 26:66); the problem was that these religious leaders did not have the legal authority to perform capital punishment. If they killed Jesus themselves, they could have been charged with murder by the Roman government. So, here in Luke 23, Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor of their area, for trial (v. 1).

Their religious reasons for killing Jesus were insufficient for Roman law, so they charged Jesus with sedition (v. 2) before Pilate. Pilate found the charge unpersuasive since Jesus answered indirectly and didn’t seem like much of a threat (vv. 3), so Pilate ruled in Jesus’ favor in verse 4. The “chief priests and the crowd” in verse 5 tried to muster some evidence against Jesus so they talked about how many multitudes had been following him in Galilee. Galilee was under the political government of Herod Antipas who happened to be in town (vv. 6-7). Note that Pilate was governor of Judea, the southern part of Israel while Herod was in charge of Galilee, the northern part of Israel. Jerusalem is in Judea, the South, so they were in Pilate’s territory when Jesus was arrested, but as a Galilean, Herod could be responsible for dealing with Jesus (v. 7). Pilate tried to dodge responsibility by letting Herod deal with Jesus. Herod tried to talk to Jesus, but Jesus refused so, after mocking Jesus, Herod sent him back to Pilate (vv. 8-12).

Once again Pilate tried various ways to release Jesus, knowing that his death would be unjust (vv. 13-22), but he finally buckled to the pressure of the crowd and approved Jesus for the death penalty (vv. 23-26).

Jesus was not alone in his crucifixion. Two other men were crucified with Jesus (vv. 32-43) but they had very different reactions to him. One man joined the mocking of the crowd (v. 39) but the other man spoke up and rebuked the first criminal (v. 40). Notice the words of the criminal who spoke up for Jesus: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Here is someone who understood sin and punishment. In his own case, and apparently based on what he knew of the other man, he knew that he was guilty and deserved the death penalty. But how could he know that Jesus was innocent? Did he overhear the trial of Christ before Pilate? Had he heard Jesus teaching at some point earlier in his life? Maybe one or both of these things is true and maybe that’s what caused him to say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” But whatever he knew of Jesus and however he knew it, he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that even though Jesus was dying, he would still be king! What a remarkable thing! Yet it is a testimony not to the man’s keen spiritual insight but to God’s saving grace. In the final hours of his life, this man turned to Jesus in faith and believed that his eternity would be safe in Jesus’ hands. Jesus comforted him with the promise, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Despite all the sinful things he had done, sins so bad they got him executed, he found forgiveness in Christ at the end of his life.

Time seems to harden people to the gospel. It is very rare to see an elderly person–even someone who is dying–accept Christ as savior. Many prisoners who hear the gospel profess faith in Christ but certainly not all of them. Facts like these sometimes cause me to be pessimistic when giving the gospel to adults but my pessimism is wrong. God can save anyone he chooses to save. Hardened criminals who have done wicked crimes can be changed by the power of Jesus Christ. The conversion of this criminal should remind us and encourage us not to pre-judge whether someone will be saved or not. We shouldn’t decide in advance whether or not we think someone will turn to Christ in faith; we should understand that God is saving people all over the world at different points in life and, in some cases, with very little knowledge about Jesus. Let’s trust God, then, and be faithful to give the gospel when we can.

Matthew 27

Today’s reading is Matthew 27.

At the end of Matthew 26, Jesus faced a religious trial. The religious leaders of Judaism investigated and convicted Jesus of blasphemy (vv. 63-65). By admitting that he was “the Son of God” (v. 63b) Jesus agreed that he shared God’s nature, making himself equal with God.

Here in chapter 27, Jesus was handed over to Pilate to face a criminal trial. It was against Jewish law to claim to be God but it was not against Roman law to make that claim. The accusation against Jesus pivoted, then, from his claim to be the Son of God to his claim to be the Christ (or Messiah)–the King of the Jews (vv. 11-12). Rome took this seriously because Caesar, the Roman king, did not want countries like Israel that were under his authority to rebel. It was blasphemous to claim to be the Son of God; that could get you excluded from the synagogue and the temple. It was treasonous, however, to claim to be the King of the Jews. That charge was brought against Jesus so that the Romans would put him to death.

Pilate, however, was skeptical. Verse 18 says, “For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.” Their prosecution of Jesus was to protect their own interests as Jewish leaders. Pilate even called them out for wanting to kill an innocent man (vv. 23-24). Consider how chilling that is; the religious leaders of Judaism preferred to take an innocent man’s life over losing some of their influence and power over the Jewish people.

The sinful desire for power caused a few ungodly religious men to put the Son of God, the King of Israel, to death. But although it was their desire and decision to kill him (v. 25), all of it happened under the grand plan of God to buy us out from our subjection to sin and death. Christ died as our atonement for sins. The tearing of the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (v. 51) showed that Christ was offering himself as the once for all sacrifice for human sins. The temporary resurrection of Jewish believers testified to his power to give new life (vv. 52-53). This is why Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are so important to our faith. Because Jesus died, we can have new life because he took the penalty for our sins. Those who should have accepted and welcomed Jesus put him to death. By his death, God gave us new life so that we accepted and welcomed Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

So, let’s serve him today through the power and new life he gave us.