Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 61, 1 Corinthians 3

Today read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 61, and 1 Corinthians 3. This devotional is about Isaiah 61.

Early in his preaching ministry, Jesus returned to Nazareth, the small town where he grew up. On the Sabbath day he stood up to read God’s word and the passage he read was our scripture for today, Isaiah 61.

Christ read verses 1-2a of Isaiah 61, then stopped before the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God….” Then he told his neighbors and friends from Nazareth, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Although Christ will make good on the rest of the promises of Isaiah 61, it was not his intention (or God’s will) for him to do that during his first coming to this world. God still has a remarkable future in store for Israel, but it will not be fulfilled until Christ returns a second time. In the meantime, though, Christ is still proclaiming “good news to the poor” (v. 1c), binding “up the brokenhearted” (v. 1d), proclaiming “freedom for the captives” (v. 1e) and releasing prisoners “from darkness” (v. 1f).

This is the good news that Christ came to deliver. It is the promise he arrived to fulfill. Although all humanity is damaged and wounded by sin, Christ offers release from the penalties of sin and comfort from the damage that sin does in us and to us.

Remember this when the door opens to share Christ with someone: Jesus came to deliver people from the slavery of their sins, to patch up their broken hearts, and to shine light into the darkness where they are groping around looking for truth.

So let’s look for ways to tell people what Christ has done for us and what he will do for them if they bow before him in repentance and faith.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13 today. This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved all the time and everyone 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 8-10% 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?

Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, Acts 12

Read Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, and Acts 12 today. This devotional is about Acts 12.

In this chapter, Herod wanted the accolades of the Jewish people under his rule (v. 3), so he killed James and intended to kill Peter (vv. 1-5).

God answered the prayers of the church and rescued Peter miraculously (vv. 6-18). Then the people of Tyre and Sidon appealed to Herod’s pride by praising him as a god after they settled a dispute with him (vv. 19b-22). God took Herod’s life for accepting this blasphemous praise (v. 23) but God’s word kept on growing and reaching more and more people (v. 24).

This incident was a taste of the kingdom clash that Jesus began and will complete when he returns. This world wants to suppress God’s word and silence God’s messengers so that it can take the praise and adoration that belongs to God alone. Although God rarely brings the kind of immediate judgment on the foolish, proud kings of this world, he will eventually defeat them and rule all creation. Then he alone will finally receive the worship that he alone deserves.

Until his kingdom comes in its fullness, the gospel of it continues to spread and grow, making more and more citizens who will worship him now and rejoice with him when his kingdom finally does come.

Very few rulers today would demand or even accept overt worship as God but there are plenty of people who still enjoy the ego boost that comes from the praise of people. The power they have, however, is not due to them because they deserve it; it is entrusted to them temporarily as managers of God’s authority as king.

We should never give much credit, praise, or admiration to men or women who are politically powerful. Our Lord and king is Jesus; only he will rule perfectly.

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8 today. 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” and 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; other times God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news in 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, then, trials or even persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later; use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2

Read Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2. This devotional is about Acts 2.

Christians use the phrase, “the Day of Pentecost” to describe the event in this chapter. To us, the “Day of Pentecost” is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a way that could be observed. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (v. 2) and the sight of what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). These were supernatural, outward, observable evidences of a spiritual reality which is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). The result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4b). There is a lot of discussion about whether this is supposed to be the normal Christian experience or whether this kind of power was unique to this time in church history. A devotional on this passage is not the best place to talk about that dispute.

What is important to understand, however, is what happened after this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, after Peter’s message of the gospel, and after “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). What happened after the Day of Pentecost is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). They did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues or doing other miraculous works. In fact, verse 43 references “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” not “performed by everyone.” No, what followed this experience was great teaching and fellowship around God’s word and prayer as well as “praising God” (v. 47a) and having “those who were being saved” added “to their number” (v. 47b). In other words, the effect of God’s power was salvation, teaching, fellowship, and worship.

We need God’s power as much as they needed it on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. And, we have the promise of God’s power, too, just as they did then. What we should be looking for as believers is not the proof of God’s power through miracles but the results of God’s power in true spiritual change–people coming to Christ, hungry for God’s word, fellowship, and prayer. May God give us hearts that desire these things more than we desire great, dramatic displays of his power.

Exodus 19, Job 37, Luke 3

Read Exodus 19, Job 37, and Luke 3. This devotional is about Exodus 19.

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.

Of course, Israel as a nation failed miserably at their assignment as any of us would because we are sinners. But what Israel as a nation could not do, Jesus did.

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. The responsibility to be a kingdom of priests, then, 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?

Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2

Today read Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2 and this devotional will be about Matthew 2.

From the beginning of his life Jesus was met with extreme mixed reactions. He was born in Bethlehem, a town famous for being the hometown of David but with nothing else admirable or prestigious about it. His parents did not live in Bethlehem, so he was born in very humble surroundings. Although his birthplace had been prophesied to be in Bethlehem (v. 6), nobody in Israel was expecting him to be born there when he was. With the exception of a handful of people, God’s chosen people were unprepared for the coming of Christ and unaware of his arrival.

Even though people in Israel were unprepared for and largely unaware of Christ’s birth, others outside of Israel were aware of it. Verse 1 told us that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” That statement is not specific enough to identify what country these men came from, but they were definitely Gentiles, not Jewish men. Verse 2 told us that it was astrology that drew them to look for Christ for they said, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The Old Testament condemns the use of astrology (see Deut 4:19 or Isaiah 47:13-14) and it is not one of God’s methods of revelation. But, just as God allowed the medium at Endor to conjure up a vision of Samuel from the dead for Saul (1 Sam 28), it appears that here he used a star to draw these men to the birthplace of Jesus. And their attitude and reason for coming honored Jesus because they said, “We… have come to worship him” (v. 2).

Once Herod heard from the Magi, his reaction was extreme. He first desired to use the Magi to hunt down and kill Jesus (vv. 8, 12, 16a). When God warned the Magi not to tell Herod where Jesus was, he brutally murdered the baby boys in and around Bethlehem (v. 16).

It is the identity of Jesus that draws out these extreme reactions in people. Because he is God in a human body, most people want nothing to do with him. Some even want to extinguish any memory of his existence. But those whom God has called and blessed with faith want to worship him.

These reactions, obviously, exist to this day. God protected Jesus from all harm until the time came to harm him by crucifixion for our redemption.

This passage also shows us another theme about Christ. In addition to sparking extreme, mixed reactions in those who meet him, those who accept and worship Jesus often come from unexpected backgrounds. It seems natural to expect that “the chief priests and teachers of the law” (v.4) whom Herod consulted would be interested in seeing Jesus. But although they knew where to look for him, they made no effort to come to his cradle.

Think about that! Foreigners who looked for signs in the stars came to worship Jesus but those who were experts in the prophesies about him couldn’t be bothered. This is the unexpected grace of God. God calls and saves people who seem unlikely to embrace Jesus while leaving religiously-oriented people in indifference and unbelief.

This truth gives us a good reason to thank God who saved us in Christ when we were unlikely to be saved.

It also reminds us not to decide for ourselves who would and would not be interested in Christ. If God has chosen him or her and is working in his or her heart, he might use you to save someone you’d never expect to trust him.