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 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.

Leviticus 16, Isaiah 11-12, Acts 4

Read Leviticus 16, Isaiah 11-12, and Acts 4 today. This devotional is about Leviticus 16.

The Most Holy Place is the inner most room of the tabernacle (later, the temple). You may have heard it called the “Holy of Holies.” It is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Verse 2 described “the cloud over the atonement cover” which represented God’s holy presence, Therefore, when it came to entering the Most Holy Place:

  • only the high priest could enter there.
  • only once a year could he enter there (vv. 2, 34).
  • only after doing these things could he enter:
    • washed his body with water (v. 4b)
    • put on the sacred garments (v. 4a).
    • made atonement for himself (vv. 6, 11).

The one day a year that the high priest could enter was Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement (vv. 29-34)). What the high priest offered to the Lord on that day consisted of two goats. One goat was sacrificed for a sin offering (v. 9) and the other was “presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat” (v. 10).

The goat that was offered as a sin offering was a substitute for the people. God’s holy command was that the wages of sin is death, so goat number 1 died for the sins of the people. The high priest entered the Most Holy Place with an incense offering (v. 13) and some of the blood from goat number 1 to “sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.” (vv. 15-16).

The imagery of the atonement offering is very familiar to us Christians. The Bible teaches that Jesus died as a sin offering (Rom 8:3). Like goat number 1 here in Leviticus 16, Jesus was our substitute (1 Pet 3:18), taking the penalty of death and God’s wrath for us.

But remember that there were two goats here in Leviticus 16. One died as a sacrifice for sinners; the other goat was sent into the wilderness alive (v. 22). But before the live goat was sent away, the high priest was commanded “to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.” Then the scapegoat was led away into the wilderness which symbolized the removal of those sins that have been confessed and atoned for. Verse 22 says, “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place….”

Jesus fulfilled this image, too. One goat could not both make atonement for sins and carry those sins away because the payment for those sins was the death of the goat as a sacrifice. Jesus, however, could both die as a substitute for sin (like goat #1) but also take those sins away like goat #2. How? By rising from the dead. Romans 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” First Corinthians 15:17, 20 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead….”

Two goats were needed to symbolize the death of Christ for us and how he took away our sins through his resurrection. Actually, more than two were needed because this ceremony had to be performed every year. Now that Christ has died for our sins and has risen again for our justification, we have no need to fear God’s wrath. Our sins are paid for and they are gone by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the one true sin offering and scapegoat and he performed his work perfectly for our salvation.

 

Leviticus 15, Isaiah 10:5-34, Acts 3

Read Leviticus 15, Isaiah 10:5-34, Acts 3. This devotional is about Acts 3.

Peter and John were walking to the temple to pray. On their way, Peter healed a man who had never walked by the power of Jesus (vv. 1-11), then explained the good news to the audience around him (vv. 12-26). In the middle of Peter’s gospel message, he said these words, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (v. 15). I find the phrase, “you killed the author of life” fascinating. God is the creator of all things, including life. The Bible tells us repeatedly that Jesus, the Second Person of God, was the active agent of the Trinity who created. It was his voice that said, “Let there be light” and it was he who formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and and breathed into him the breath of life. It was he who took a rib from Adam’s side to create Eve. There is no life apart from Jesus.

Ironic, then, that men killed Jesus. Apart from Jesus, humanity would never have existed. Apart from his sustaining grace, humanity would cease to exist. He is the author of life, not only making us alive but writing for each of us a story–a personality, a background, a cast of other characters, and all the other elements of story. Yet when he entered into the world, he was not honored by the characters in the story he wrote as the author. Instead, he was killed even though all living depends on Jesus.

Fortunately, this was all part of his story and it did not end with his death; instead, “God raised him from the dead” (v. 15b). The point of the resurrection is “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus” (vv. 19-20).

I write these devotionals for Christians to strengthen us with God’s word. But it is possible that someone is reading this who is not a Christian–either you found this page on our website or you subscribed to my devotional. Do you understand that your story, your life, is one thread in a thick fabric of interwoven stories of all people? Do you see that all of us depend on Jesus for existence, need him to rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion against God, and are designed to bring glory and worship to Jesus when he returns to be our Lord? If so, turn to him! In the words of verse 19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord….”

For those of us who are Christians, remember that your life really isn’t about you. You are a character in the life of Jesus–he’s the one on the hero’s journey. As the author of life, he devised the plot and set this story into motion. So let’s focus on him in our lives and point others to him so that he will come and conclude this story well.

Leviticus 4, Song of Songs 7, Luke 19

Read Leviticus 4, Song of Songs 7, and Luke 19. This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribed how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if a everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered.

Why?

Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, something living and innocent would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals can’t really substitute for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” — vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners.

This is what Jesus did for us! Therefore, we can know that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today.

Genesis 47, Job 13, Hebrews 5

Today read Genesis 47, Job 13, and Hebrews 5. This devotional is about Hebrews 5.

Hebrews 4 began comparing Jesus to the OT priests. That comparison was continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.

The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).

Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task?

Verses 7-9 answer that question. Many times I’ve felt that “Jesus had it easy” compared to the struggles that you and I face as fallen people. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), I sometimes think, then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.

The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of this nonsense. As The truth is that Jesus felt the power of temptation more powerfully than I do because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like I often do.

Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in Jesus’s earthly life. Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine.

Verse 7 describes Christ as a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross–not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils.

But the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin on the day he was crucified.

That included physical death but also spiritual death–separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently–in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too–for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request!

Think about that the next time God answers your prayer with a “no.” Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking his Father for something that God was not willing to grant.

Why?

Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” As a parent, you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term.

Similarly, God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father (again, verse 8).

These days, Jesus is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries.

Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest?

Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know?

Be encouraged! Whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father.

There is nobody better or more qualified to do it.

Genesis 44, Job 10, Hebrews 2

Read Genesis 44, Job 10, and Hebrews 2 today. This devotional is about Hebrews 2.

The book of Hebrews is an impassioned attempt by an unknown author to persuade his fellow Jews who have professed faith in Jesus not to abandon their profession of faith and return to Judaism. The book argues that Christ is superior to anything else that can be offered to them religiously speaking.

Hebrews 2:1 opens this chapter with one of many pleas in the book to tend to their faith: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Most of chapter 1 argued that Christ is superior to angels. Chapter 2:2 picks up on that theme and reminds the readers that when angels spoke to people, what they said was God’s word. It was, therefore, required that the people who heard the word of God through angels believe and obey that word. How much more important, then, argued the author of Hebrews, that believers not drift away from the word of Christ since through him we have salvation (v. 3) and his message was authenticated by miracles (v. 4).

Verse 5 began to turn the thought to a much more personal connection between believers and Christ. The author of Hebrews quoted Psalm 8 and referred to how God has “put everything under” the feet of humanity, but that this claim has not been realized yet. However, Christ has been crowned with glory and honor (v. 9) and his death on behalf of humanity makes him “the pioneer” of humanity’s salvation (v. 10).

And what was the purpose of this salvation?

Verse 11: “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Of the many reasons why Christ became human and died, one of the main reasons was personal—he wanted to join the human family so that, though his redemption, we could join his family, the family of God.

What an incredible expression of the grace of God!

God would have been enormously gracious to simply send Christ to atone for our sins, then annihilate us instead of sending us to hell. That would have rescued us from eternal punishment which is more than we sinners deserve.

But instead of merely rescuing us from eternal torment—as merciful as that was—Christ wanted to make us his brothers and sisters! That truth helps us when our minds question God and our faith is weak. Jesus came into the world, taught us the meaning of salvation, performed miracles to attest to the validity of his claims, then became the pioneer of the redeemed human family, subjugating all creation to himself, then calling us his family so that we can reign with him by grace.

This is a truth–one of many–that should keep our faith going when the going gets tough. Whatever you’re facing today, know that Christ has won the ultimate victory and we will participate in it by his grace when God’s decreed time comes.