Hebrews 5

Read Hebrews 5.

One of the struggles I’ve had as a Christian is the feeling that God hasn’t listened to my prayers.

I know that God hears and knows everything, so the problem isn’t that my prayer wasn’t heard. The problem is that, although God hears our prayers, he often seems not to answer.

When you speak to someone and they ignore you, it hurts. It feels like you don’t matter to that person. It feels like he or she can’t be bothered with your issues and problems. It feels like that person doesn’t care.

It feels about the same way to me when God doesn’t answer my prayers. Does he not care? Did I offend him somehow with my request? Is there something in my life that he wants me to address first?

Who knows….?

Jesus can relate.

Verses 7-9 describe Jesus’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. It says that he prayed “with fervent cries and tears” (v. 7). His goal in these prayers was to be saved from death (v. 7b).

Yet he did die. He was betrayed by Judas, arrested by his enemies, denied by Peter and forsaken by the other apostles, tried and crucified. God was able to save him from death but he did not. It seems like an unanswered prayer.

Yet verse 8 says, “…he was heard.”

He was?

How? In what way was Jesus “heard”?

The answer is given in verse 8, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” In other words, Jesus learned what it meant to be told, “No.” He prayed fervently and emotionally but his request was not in God’s will. He knew that, already, which is why he also prayed, “not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus prayed fervently and emotionally but he also prayed submissively. Jesus asked God for what he–Jesus–wanted but he learned what it meant to submit to what God wanted instead.

Have you prayed about something and felt like it was a waste of time and breath? God’s answer may still be yes but not now or it may be a hard “No.” Understand, though, that it is not because God does not care for you. It is because his will is better than your will.

Trust in that. Keep praying, but remember to pray submissively.

Hebrews 4

Read Hebrews 4.

Jesus had it easy, right? Sure, he had to contend with the limitations of human nature during his days on earth. But since he was God he did not have to worry about being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He knew what a liar Satan is and how sin offers us pleasure that it cannot ultimately deliver, at least not for long. So it was easy for him to live the faithful life that chapter 3 talked about, right?

At least, it was easier for him than it is for us, it seems. So the statement here in 4:15 that our high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” feels a bit hollow, yes?

Well…, think about it this way: imagine you are running a marathon-26.2 miles. Some people drop out after a mile, some after five miles, some quit 10 miles in, and so on. You’ve done some training and are in the best shape of your life, but from mile 10 onward your legs are just screaming to you, “Stop it!”

You have the ability to quit at any time.

You can drop out of the race anywhere.

So who feels punishment of running the most, the person who completes the entire race or the one who drops out after a mile? Who feels the discomfort of high winds the most, the runner who quits at mile 5 or the one who finishes the race? What about the hot sun? Who gets burned the worst, the runner who quits after the finish line or the one who quits at mile 15? Whose foot blisters hurt the most? Who suffers most from the internal arguments that your brain engages in to try to get you to quit?

All of these problems are felt most acutely by the runner who completes the race. Whether he or she is in better shape than you or not, the toll of the race is felt most fully by the one who completes it.

Similarly, when I was in seminary my systematic theology professor said that only the one who withstands temptation completely knows the full force of it. If you give into temptation before the temptation goes away, you haven’t experienced the full intensity of it.

So Jesus, the “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (v. 15b) is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15a) fully because he successfully endured every scheme the devil had to throw at him.

Sure Jesus had a perfect nature but so did Adam and he quit after the first half mile. Jesus, however, endured every temptation obediently. He finished the race so he felt the difficulty of it more than anyone else who has ever lived.

This is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

You may be tempted to throw your faith away (v. 14c) at some point in your life; in fact, you probably will be tempted to do that somewhere along the way.

But the best thing you can do when you feel tempted to sin in any way is to go to Jesus in prayer. Many of our failures to live a holy life by resisting temptation are due to relying completely on ourselves and our willpower instead of coming to Christ for the mercy and grace he offers. So, go to him in prayer when your faith is weak and your desire to sin is strong.

He’s finished the marathon, he knows what it is like, and he will help you if you ask him for it.

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.