Matthew 4

Read Matthew 4.

Frank Sinatra’s famous song, “New York, New York,” contains the lyrics, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” If success in someone’s line of work requires finding a really big audience, then this line of lyrics is true. Get famous and successful in New York (or Hollywood) and you’ll be famous and successful anywhere else on earth because New York and LA are trend setters for the rest of the nation and for most of the world.

Here in Matthew 4:12, Jesus began the public phase of his life and ministry. He had been living in Nazareth, a small town southwest of the Sea of Galilee, where his mother, Mary, and Joseph were from (Lu 2:4). When he heard that John the Baptist was put into prison (Matt 4:12), Jesus moved.

But he didn’t move to Jerusalem–Israel’s equivalent of New York, New York. Instead, he moved to Galilee (v. 12); specifically, he moved to Capernaum (v. 13b).Capernaum was probably a bigger town than Nazareth but not much bigger or more influential than Nazareth. So this move to Capernaum wasn’t about seeking the largest possible audience.

Jesus also didn’t seek out the most influential audience or team members either. In verses 18-22 we read about call of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They were hardworking Galilean fishermen but they weren’t anything like Frank Sinatra in terms of influence or fame (or singing skill, probably).

Jesus also didn’t go minister to the wealthy and powerful. Instead, he went the the neediest, most neglected group of people there were–sick people (vv. 23-24).

So there you have it. When Jesus wanted to build a ministry he moved to a small town far way from the bright lights of Jerusalem, he called average guys to help him and they went to serve the least influential people possible.

Nobody would try to build a career this way–nobody but Jesus, that is.

But it worked. Verse 25 told us that “large crowds” from all over Israel–Jerusalem included–came to follow Christ. This is because Jesus’s ministry was about the power and grace of God, not the power of talent or networking or one’s hometown.

Are you relying on these things–talent, your network, or your place of ministry–for success?

Jesus did go to Jerusalem and he did minister there. I’m not saying it is wrong to go where the population and power is. I’m just wondering if we really trust God as we build lives and ministries for him or our confidence is in our cunning decisions.

Matthew 2

Read Matthew 2.

Verse 3 told us that King Herod was “disturbed” when he heard that the king of the Jews had been born (v. 2). He was so disturbed that he made sure the Magi knew where to look for Jesus (vv. 4-8), told them to return to him and give him the baby’s precise location (v. 8) so that he could kill Jesus before Jesus could grow up and become king (v. 13).

The star the Magi saw and the fact that the Magi came looking for Jesus were important clues that caused Herod to take the idea of an other king of the Jews seriously. But this Herod died (v. 19a) long before Jesus was old enough to be any kind of threat. So it was irrational for Herod to be so consumed with jealousy that he killed all the young boys under age 2 in Jerusalem (v. 16).

Yet, that’s what Herod did despite how irrational it was.

Why?

His personal insecurity was one factor, I’m sure.

But I also believe that Satan was working in his heart as well. The greatest threat to Satan’s will is the Lord Jesus Christ. If Satan could lead Herod to kill Jesus in infancy, then God’s plans and promises could be nullified because the prophecies about the coming Christ would not be fulfilled.

Our Father God protected his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that he could complete his mission to save us and bring us into his kingdom. And, God accomplished this salvation while fulfilling other prophesies of Christ (vv. 17-18, 23) in the process.

So think about the extent to which God was faithful to his promises to us in Christ. Since your salvation and sanctification are also promised by him, he will not fail to protect those just as he did not fail to protect Christ.

Remember this when your faith is weak, when doubts are numerous and strong. God will not let his enemies defeat his plans and promises.

Matthew 1

Welcome to 27in52, a daily Bible reading plan. Today is Day 1 of the plan, even though it is day 6 of 2020.

Read Matthew 1 today.

When I was growing up in the church and in a Christian school, I heard preachers occasionally say that someone was “on the shelf.”

This phrase was used to describe a Christian who had sinned in such a way that God would not use him or her again. Usually the sin the preacher had in mind was either divorce or adultery but I’m sure murder would be included and maybe other sins, too.

The implication of this “on the shelf” language was that some sins were so bad that God would never use that sinner again. God wouldn’t “throw you away” because you’re always saved once you’ve been saved. But God will put you away where you can’t do any good for him and hopefully won’t do any damage.

What garbage!

Here in Matthew 1, we have a record of the genealogy of Jesus. It is a record of many people we know nothing about and a few that we know a lot about from the Old Testament. But, in addition to being a list of names, Matthew 1 is a record of God’s grace. Several people on this list would be put “on the shelf” by self-righteous people and preachers but God used them still.

  • Abraham (1:2)? He believed God but he also impregnated his wife’s servant to help God out. A lot of believers would put him “on the shelf.”
  • Jacob (1:2)? He stole his brother’s birthright and deceived his father to steal his brother’s blessing. Put him on the shelf.
  • David and Bathsheba (v. 6)? Mentioning their names together reminds you that their relationship started in adultery. David also murdered Bathsheba’s husband so he had multiple reasons to be “on the shelf.”

I could go on, but you get the point. Some sins disqualify people from serving as elders or deacons but nobody who is in Christ is ever “on the shelf.” God can and will use you if you trust in him, even if you aren’t qualified for an official biblical office of service.

This chapter is more than a genealogy–it is a record of the grace of God. Every person listed in this chapter, except for Jesus himself, was a sinner and no sinner is truly worthy of serving or being used by God. But God is so gracious and so powerful that he chooses sinners that others would put on the shelf for his purposes and his glory.

Have you concluded that God can’t or won’t use you because of your past sins? Do you have present struggles that feel make you unusable for God?

Put those thoughts out of your mind. If murderers and polygamists and adulterers and other kinds of sinners can be part of the genealogical line of Jesus Christ, then any and every sinner can be forgiven and used by God to glorify him.

2 Chronicles 26 and Psalms 144-147

Read 2 Chronicles 26 and Psalms 144-147 today. This devotional is about Psalm 144.

Psalm 144 is a wartime Psalm. In verse 5 David wrote, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down.” This is not a reference to the coming of Christ because verses 5b-6 say, “touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot your arrows and rout them.” The visitation David wanted from God was not the incarnation of Christ but the direct military defeat of Israel’s immediate enemies.

Still, Israel’s enemies were God’s enemies because of the covenants God had made with Abraham, Moses, and David. Asking God to defeat Israel’s foes was in keeping with the promises he made to his people.

So was asking for God’s deliverance as David did in verses 7-8: “Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful.” Ultimately, Christ will return and defeat all of God’s enemies, so the requests in this song will finally be realized when Christ’s kingdom is finally established.

Jesus’s birth was the beginning of that kingdom; it was an invitation to believe that he was the promised king and that faith in him would cause someone to be included in that kingdom. So, just as David said in verse 9, “I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,” so we can rejoice and sing today that Christ will deliver us from this present evil age, will judge his enemies with justice, and will bless us with eternal life in his kingdom.

On Christmas day we remember the inauguration of these promises and we give thanks for God’s grace which extended these promises to us in Christ. We are his people, now, so as verse 15 put it, “Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.”

1 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 10, 1 John 2

Read 1 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 10, and 1 John 2 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 17.

When God tore the kingdom from Saul, He declared that he would give it to a man after his own heart (1 Sam 13:14). That man, of course, was David. David demonstrated his heart for God in multiple ways  throughout his life including here where he declared his intention to build a temple for God–a permanent place to “house” the Lord’s worship.

Instead of allowing David to build him a literal house, God responded to David’s desire with a declaration that He would establish David’s “house” (metaphorically)  forever. Verse 10 says, “I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you.” This is called “The Davidic Covenant” and it has the following promises within it:

  1. David’s name would be famous historically on earth (v. 8c).
  2. God would establish Israel geographically and protect the nation (vv. 9-10). NOTE: this just restates what God had promised Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant.
  3. David’s descendants would rule over God’s kingdom forever (v. 14).

Promise #1 has been fulfilled but promises 2 and 3 remain unfulfilled promises. God did establish Israel in the land until he removed them in judgment. And, God did establish Solomon’s throne and left it in place, in a sense, even after Solomon sinned through the nation of Judah.

But the ultimate fulfillment of these promises awaits and our faith teaches that they will be fulfilled literally, in the future, in the person of Jesus Christ. When he returns to set up his kingdom, it will be established in the land known as Israel and it will never be overthrown again. Jesus will rule and reign on earth, in person, and he will rule “my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.”

These promises were made to David and, by extension, to Israel. But God’s intention was always to bless the whole world through the Jewish race. This universal blessing was contained in God’s original covenant with Abraham. That covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, was described in Genesis 12:3: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The Bible says that we Gentiles were “grafted in” (Romans 11:13-21) to these promises by the grace of God. So we, too, look forward to the fulfillment of these covenants. When they come we will rule and reign with Christ–all by his grace.

There is something to put your hope in and something to thank God for as we get closer to Thanksgiving day. 

1 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 9, 1 John 1.

Read 1 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 9, and 1 John 1 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal.  The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” That sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under the king described in this chapter, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of an unredeemed world. Christ will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

1 Chronicles 5-6, Zechariah 3, John 18

Read 1 Chronicles 5-6, Zechariah 3, and John 18 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 5.

As you’ve already noticed, the book of 1 Chronicles begins with a massive genealogy that goes from Adam (1:1) through Saul, the first king of Israel (9:44). Here in chapter 5:1-2, the author of 1 Chronicles reminds us of Genesis 49 where we learned that Israel (Jacob)’s first born son, Reuben, lost his birthright because he had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives (35:22). Israel used that incident to justify giving the right of firstborn to Joseph’s sons (v. 2b). 

Reuben’s sin was costly to himself but that cost was carried forward and passed on to the generations that followed him. Did Reuben think he would get away it? Did he think at all or just follow his impulses?

I don’t know the answer but I can’t help but wonder if he would have sinned with his stepmother if he knew what the price would be. 

That’s how sin works, isn’t it? It never tells us the price up front and, because we all find our fallen nature so persuasive, we seldom think about what the cost of sin might be for us. Sin deludes us into thinking that we’ll never be discovered. It is only after the pleasure is gone and the consequences are revealed that we see how foolish our sinful decisions were. 

I wonder how many other generations, besides Reuben’s, throughout human history have been altered by the sin of one man like Reuben. I wonder how many of us are leaving a legacy of damage to our children and their children for sins that we commit.

Thankfully, one of Judah’s descendants would come along and make peace with God for all our sins. That descendant, of course, is Jesus. Through his loving sacrifice we have forgiveness by faith which keeps us from the ultimate consequences of our sin–the wrath of God.

But even though God has removed the ultimate penalty for sin, sin damages us in this life and, at times, can have ripple effects throughout generations that follow us.

God has graciously given us in his word examples of how people sinned throughout history and how much that sin cost them. Do we believe God’s word and prepare ourselves to say no to sin when temptation comes? Are you moving toward a course of sinful actions in your life that could affect generations after you? Learn from Reuben’s folly and repent before the damage is done.