Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, 1 Corinthians 6

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, and 1 Corinthians 6 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no.

They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty but to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. To see his creation slaughtered in this way was not a delight to God; it should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered his people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

The condemnation in these verses, of course, applied to unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means.

In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK.

It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants. Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 64, Proverbs 14:1-18

Read Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 64, and Proverbs 14:1-18 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 64.

Isaiah longed in this chapter for a personal visit from God (v. 1). However, he wanted something different from the vision of God he saw in Isaiah 6. Instead of seeing a vision of the Lord that was high and exalted as in chapter 6, he wanted God to descend to the earth personally to bring judgment on his enemies, the enemies of Israel (v. 2c-d) so that they would see that Israel’s God was the true God (v. 4).

Isaiah realized, however, that God helps “those who gladly do right” (v. 5) but that he and his people were not in that category (v. 5b). Instead, he acknowledged that, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (v. 6). As a result, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (v. 7).

So many people in the world talk about God, say that they are spiritual or into spirituality but Isaiah said, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you.” As sinners, we want a god in our image not the Lord God who is holy and who punishes sin. To know God as he really is, you and I and anyone else must realize who we are before God: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (v. 8). This is an expression of repentance and an acknowledgment that no one can know God apart from his grace to save us from sin.

This is how a person becomes a Christian (to use modern terminology, appropriate for this age though not for Isaiah’s). When we have been turned to God in repentance by his grace, we long to see God for who he is, not for who we’d like him to be. We want to see him descend into this world and bring judgment on it (vv. 1-4) so that his kingdom will begin.

Remember this is what is at stake when you talk about Christ to others. The world needs to know that God is real and that he judges sin and sinners. Everyone in it needs to come face to face with the reality that we are wicked in God’s sight and even our best actions are useless in his sight: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (v. 6b). No one can come to know God until they know and acknowledge this; but when someone does acknowledge it, he or she will find that God is no longer an angry judge but, instead, a loving Savior.

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 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11:

“So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away”

Isaiah 59:9-11

Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do.

Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God….” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and, therefore, we are separated from him (vv. 2-3).

Cut off from the Creator, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19).

Read those words; they are so gracious and hopeful:

“From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. And then God will save his people along with us: ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord.’”

Isaiah 59:19-20

This is another promise, another prophecy among the many we’ve read in Isaiah that Jesus will reign as king. When that happens, we will then live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord” (v. 21).

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

Numbers 33, Isaiah 56, Acts 19

Read Numbers 33, Isaiah 56, and Acts 19 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Because there are always problems and struggles in the present, we tend to hope that things will be better in the future. That hope for the future creates a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell us that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • They are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark… lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep.” Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders was their message which Isaiah described in verse 12c-d: “…tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesied better days to come. Their intention was not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message.

When someone speaks for God but forecasts prosperity and hope only, with no mention of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get here at Calvary but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence in your life. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ alone.

The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.

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.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 51:1-4

Wanting to live for Christ and doing what is right in God’s eyes can be a lonely way to live. Those around you who do not know Christ will respond to you in various ways. Some people will respect your morals and convictions. Some will despite your morals and convictions. Others might feel that you are judging their (lack of) morals and convictions. But, unless someone shares your faith, they are incapable of glorifying God, even if they live relatively moral lives. So, you stand out as one who is different, and feel it.

Even professing Christians, sometimes, don’t want to be too vocal about what is right and wrong or about identifying with Jesus. So, you may know people who could and should walk with you as you walk with Christ but it feels like they do not. That’s a lonely way to live, too.

So what do you do about this?

Verse 1 was addressed to Israelites who wanted to live according to God’s righteous way. It says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord…” so anyone who wants to follow Christ today can identify with and apply the revelation that follows. And what is that revelation? It is to reflect on the past. Verse 1c through 2b point the godly person in this passage back to the man and woman who started the nation we call Israel.

When Abraham began, he had nothing but God’s promises. As verse 3c put it, “When I called him he was only one man….” Yet, he believed God, was called God’s friend, and did what was right in the sight of the Lord (for the most part). And what was the result? “I blessed him and made him many” (v. 2d). This look at the past was meant to encourage God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem an the Babylonian exile. God promised in verse 3 to return blessings and comforts to his people and their capital city of Jerusalem. Then, through his people, he promised to speak truth and light for all nations (v. 4).

Jerusalem was trashed after the Babylonians were through with it. Anyone who looked at it might say, “This city will never amount to anything again.” Yet God said that he would use the few, lonely people who sought him and pursued his righteousness to be a light for the world. Just as he turned Abraham and Sarah into a great nation, he would use those who follow him to bring about his will.

Do you feel discouraged and alone in your walk with Christ? Maybe there are no other Christians in your workplace or even in your home. Do you feel discouraged and wonder what good it is to follow Christ when you’re by yourself?

Then this passage is for you, because you are not by yourself. You have God. You have his word and his promises. So don’t give up or quit! Keep pursuing God and his righteousness and let him do the growing and multiplying.

Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, 1 Thessalonians 1

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, and 1 Thessalonians 1. This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13).

If this chapter was written before the Babylonian captivity but promised that exile would end with God’s people restored to the land, then what is the purpose of this prophesy?There were three purposes for this prophetic word:

  1. The first purpose was to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12). As with all of God’s warnings of judgment, the warning was an invitation to repent while there was still time.
  2. The second purpose was to teach those who would read this later, during that judgment, not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1).
  3. The third purpose was to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness….” That rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong ruler because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.” Any feelings of godliness these idol worshippers had were false. They were far from God, not walking closely with him.

As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e).

Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, Acts 17

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, and Acts 17 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 42.

Parts of this chapter in Isaiah are quoted and said to be fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. The chapter describes Christ one who brings justice to the earth (v. 1, 3b-4) yet is gentle toward the weak (v. 3a: “a bruised reed… a smoldering wick”).

In the middle of the description of Christ’s work on earth is the passage that says, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison  and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” This was a signal to Israel that they were not chosen by God to be the exclusive recipients of his saving grace; rather, through his chosen people Israel, God would bring the light of salvation to millions of people all over the world, meaning people like us who have not a drop of Jewish blood in our bodies.

Simeon may have alluded to this passage in Luke 2:32 as he held baby Jesus in his hands and gave thanks to God for him. Though thousands of years have passed since Christ walked this earth, God’s purpose for him continues to unfold as people all over the world see the light of Christ and come to him for salvation.

Take a moment today to pray for people we support in Thailand, England, Canada, here in the U.S. and areas where security is sensitive. They are bringing the light of Christ’s salvation to these areas in fulfillment of this passage. When that work is completed and the time has come, Christ will come to establish his kingdom for us.