Matthew 26

Read Matthew 26.

During this final week before Jesus’s death, the Bible tells us he had a predictable daily schedule. During the day he taught in the temple and people showed up early to hear him At night, he left the city of Jerusalem and climbed the nearby hill called the Mount of Olives where he spent the night with his disciples. See Luke 21:37-38 for these details.

Here in Matthew 26, Jesus was in Bethany which is on the Mount of Olives. After teaching all day in the temple, he was enjoying a meal in the home of “Simon the leper” (v. 6). In verse 7 we were told that a woman came and anointed his head with some “very expensive perfume.” This made Jesus’s disciples angry and they complained that, if she wanted to do something good with the perfume, she should have sold it and given the money to the poor (v. 9).

Jesus defended the woman’s actions (v. 10), calling what she did “a beautiful thing.” Caring for the poor was and is important to Jesus but so is loving him. Some acts of worship are extravagant, so seemingly wasteful that they invite criticism. But when they come from a heart of love for God out of a desire to serve and please God, they are beautiful, not wasteful.

Solomon’s temple was meticulously designed, built with the utmost skill, and lavishly furnished. God does not need physical buildings; he wants his people to worship him from the heart in truth, not necessarily in the finest places.

But worship from the heart can cause people to do unusual things. The musician who practices and practices in order to play his or her part perfectly, not just adequately, is doing “a beautiful thing” if he or she does it for Jesus. So is the church that gives sacrificially to build a church building that is beautiful, not just good enough. The same can be said for a teacher who labors to study the word in depth and thinks about the best words to describe and illustrate and apply what God’s word says.

What is the best thing you have–the best skill you have?

  • Is is making money?
  • Is is singing or playing a musical instrument?
  • Is it encouraging others?
  • Is it teaching?
  • Is it making meals?
  • Is it decorating or making art?

Do you show your love for Christ in the way that you use the best thing(s) that you have? Are you willing to sacrifice–extravagantly, even–not to impress others or because you feel like you should but just to do “a beautiful thing” for God?

1 Chronicles 15, Zechariah 8, John 21

Read 1 Chronicles 15, Zechariah 8, and John 21 today. This devotional is about John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected.

That must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “…that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

Peter had seen Christ after his resurrection before this incident, but his denial of Jesus at his trial was still unresolved. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love–his commitment–to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus–doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, Proverbs 23:19-35

Read 1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, and Proverbs 23:19-35 today. This devotional is about Hosea 11.

Some people look at family life as restrictive. They describe it as being “tied down” or call their spouse a “ball and chain.” Children are, to them, a burden rather than a blessing. Or, if they are children, they think of their parents as taskmasters instead of loving leaders and protectors.  

This is how Israel looked at God. It is true that God gave them a number of laws to regulate their worship and their lives. But it is also true that God released them from true bondage, the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this chapter, God explains his side of his relationship with Israel. In verse 1, he proclaimed his love for Israel like a loving father for his child. God called them out of bondage in Egypt, and nurtured them like a loving parent would to his infant or toddler. Look at the terms of tender love in this passage. God:

  • loved Israel “when Israel was a child” (v. 1a).
  • He called his son “out of Egypt” (v. 1b).
  • He “taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (v. 3a-b).
  • He “healed them” (v. 3d).
  • He “led them with cords of human kindness” and “ties of love” (vv. 4a-b).
  • He lifted them to his cheek (v. 4c-d)
  • He “bend down to feed them” (v. 4e)

How did Israel respond to God’s many acts of tender love? They “went away from me” (v. 2b) sacrificing “to the Baals” (v. 2c).

Israel’s idolatry, then, was a refusal of his love. It was like a child who receives his parents’ love and then, when he turns 18, spits on his mom and dad and leaves the house for good. 

God explained that he would allow Assyria to rule over Israel because “they refuse to repent” (v. 5). But he also promised not to give up on his people (vv. 8-9). Though they totally rejected him and would suffer the consequences, God would not reject them forever. Instead, he would change them spiritually for good. Verse 10 says, “They will follow the Lord….” This phrase looks forward to the day when Israel will be genuinely converted. They will stop pretending to obey God and instead will love and obey him from the heart. 

This did not happen when Jesus came the first time. When God became a man in the person of Christ, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This happened so that the few Jews who did receive Jesus would fan out into the world with the message of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Some day, soon, Christ will return and will fulfill this promise. He will give new life to the people of Israel, saving them and causing them to worship him–finally–from the heart. 

For us, it is important to see in this passage how tenderly God thinks of us. John 1 says that those who received Jesus were given the right to be called God’s sons (Jn 1:12). Think about how lovingly God describes himself in relationship to his sons in this passage–teaching them to walk, lifting them to his cheek, bending down to feed them (vv. 1-4). Realize, then, that God’s commands to us are not burdensome regulations designed to weigh us down but they are protections against the pain and ugliness of sin just as your household rules protect your children from injury and exposure to wickedness. 

1 Kings 2, Hosea 5-6, 1 Timothy 6

Read 1 Kings 2, Hosea 5-6, and 1 Timothy 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 2.

In today’s passage, David formally passed the baton of leadership to his son Solomon, the one God had chosen to be his successor as king. Along with the privilege of becoming king, Solomon would now bear the responsibility of leading the nation. David began, therefore, by charging him to take his responsibility seriously, with the maturity of a man (v. 2). That meant living in obedience to God’s word as recorded in the law of Moses (v. 3). If Solomon would lead that way, David explained that he would “prosper in all you do.” It was a reminder of God’s covenant promise of blessing to those who obeyed his word.

David finished the first part of his instruction by reminding Solomon of the Davidic covenant; namely, the Lord had promised an unbroken line of succession on Israel’s throne to David’s family if they lived in faithful obedience to the Lord (v. 4). No pressure or anything, Solomon, but you’d hate to be the first and only successor to David, the one who messed up an eternal covenant.

Having charged Solomon with the important principles of serving as king, David turned now to some unfinished business. He charged Solomon to:

  • punish Joab for his ruthless killings (vv. 5-6).
  • reward the descendants of Barzillai (isn’t that a brand of pasta?) for their loyalty to David (v. 7).
  • deal with Shimei son of Gera (vv. 8-9). More on him in a few paragraphs.

Before dealing with family business, however, Solomon was confronted with an immediate challenge to his rulership. Solomon’s brother Adonijah, the very one who tried to take a shortcut to the throne, requested Solomon’s permission to marry David’s, um, platonic companion Abishag the Shunamite (vv. 12-21). Adonijah even used Solomon’s own mother, Bathsheba, to make the request. Maybe she was just a kind-hearted soul or maybe she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but somehow she did not see what a dangerous move this was politically.

Solomon did see the danger, however (v. 22), and had Adonijah killed (vv. 23-25). Solomon was gracious to Abiathar, letting him live out of respect to his service to the Lord (v. 26), though removing him as priest. That move, incidentally, fulfilled God’s prophecy to Eli (v. 27).

Finally, Solomon executed Joab (vv. 28-35). That action both fulfilled David’s charge to Solomon (cf. vv. 5-6) and brought punishment on Joab for backing Adonijah.

Finally, Solomon turned his attention to Shimei. You will remember that Shimei was from the same tribe as Saul and that he cursed David as David was fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom (cf. 2 Samuel 16). David had mercy on Shimei, both at the time he cursed David (2 Sam 16:8-13) and when David returned to power after defeating Absalom (2 Sam 19:9-12). Although David had been merciful to Shimei for many years, David had not forgotten what Shimei did. That’s why he commanded Solomon to deal with him (vv. 8-9).

Some have argued that David carried a grudge against Shimei but that he held off on following through on that grudge during his lifetime. I’m not sure I agree that David held a grudge, but he certainly remembered him. By waiting until Solomon was king and then charging Solomon to deal with Shimei, David was appealing to the king for justice. It is the responsibility of a king to deal justly with people. David had a legitimate complaint with Shimei. While he was king, however, if he were to deal with Shimei himself, David risked losing the confidence of the people by acting (or appearing act) in vindictiveness and cruelty.

So instead of being the plaintiff and judge in Shimei’s case, David waited until there as a king–namely Solomon–that David could contact about his case. So what we have here, as I see it, is an appeal for justice from David to King Solomon. David recused himself during his lifetime and administration as king. When David’s rulership effectively ended, it was appropriate for David to ask the next king for justice, even if the next ruler was his own son.

Like his father before him, Solomon was gracious to Shimei, allowing him to live under a sort of house arrest (vv. 36-38) in Jerusalem. But, when Shimei broke Solomon’s rule, Solomon did what he promised David he would do—he took Shimei’s life.

I see David’s instructions and Solomon’s actions here as not vindictive but as merciful. They gave Shimei time to live and repent and space to live and work in. However, it was only after he broke their very reasonable rules, that justice fell on him.

The passage leads me to think about Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Whenever life is unfair and seemingly unjust to so, Christ commanded us to commit our cause to God and to expect him to repay. Sometimes God’s work of justice may be accomplished through the human justice system and that may take a long time. David’s patience and the way he went about getting justice through the next king provides us with an example to follow.

Have you been treated unjustly? Have you sought to deal with that injustice in a way that loves your enemies, treating them with mercy when there is repentance but committing the matter to God and appropriate human leaders?

Or, are you seeking revenge of some kind on your own? Follow David’s example to glorify God in your life.

1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 34, Proverbs 21:1-14

Read 1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 34, and Proverbs 21:1-14 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 24.

Before David was anointed to be king of Israel (1 Sam 16), Saul was told that his sin would keep the kingdom from passing through his family. 1 Samuel 15:28 says, “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you.’” So it was Saul’s disobedience that opened the door for David to be king; it was not true that David was an ambitious soldier who decided to dethrone Saul.

But once God chose David to be king, Saul’s ability to lead as king began to unravel. Instead of leading as well as he could for the rest of his life, he was out there in the Desert of En Gedi looking for David (vv. 1-2).

After looking for David for a time, Saul started looking for somewhere to use the bathroom (v. 3: “to relieve himself”). He found a cave that would work well but–wouldn’t your know it–it was the very cave where David and his men were hiding (v. 3). What are the odds?

Zero; that’s what the odds were. This was a divine appointment.

David’s men thought so, too: “The men said, ‘This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”’” God is sovereign and works his will using non-miraculous situations that we call “providence.” This sure looked like a prime opportunity that God in his providence delivered up for David. While Saul was squatting, David could have crept up behind him and cut his throat. Saul would never have known what happened to him. He would die and David would get what God had promised him. 

This whole chapter looks like God set things up for David to take the kingdom. In addition to all of this, Saul was actively hunting David. If the situations were reversed, Saul would have immediately killed David, no questions asked. So a valid argument can be made that, if he were to have killed Saul at that moment, David would have acted in self-defense.

And, honestly, I don’t think it would have been a sin for David to kill Saul at this moment given everything we know about these two men.

So why did David spare Saul’s life? Why did his conscience bother him for merely cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe? The answer is given in verse 6, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” Unless and until God removed Saul from the throne of Israel, David did not want to be king. 

Saul knew that it was God’s will for David to be the next king of Israel (v.20). After all, he was there when Samuel told him that his kingdom would not endure in 1 Sam 15:28. He also heard Samuel say that the kingdom would go to someone, “…better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). This incident proves that David is morally and spiritually a better man that Saul (v. 17a) because David, in this passage, loved his enemy. As he told David in verse 19, “When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.”

Long before Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, David did it. 

Do you love your enemies? Are you merciful to others who sin against you or are you vindictive toward them? We know how the story concluded: Saul died in battle and David did, in fact, become king. His patience to wait for what God had promised to come to him paid off. If we trust God, we can do the same knowing that He will provide for us in His timing and according to his ways. 

Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 9, 1 Corinthians 13

Read Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 9, and 1 Corinthians 13 today. This devotional is about 1 Corinthians 13.

The Corinthians had a proud perspective on spiritual gifts. The more powerfully God had gifted someone, the more spiritual that person seemed to be to the Corinthian believers.

Here in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul taught that spiritual power is useless without love. It doesn’t matter how elevated your language is through the gift of tongues (v. 1), how prophetic your words are (v. 2), or how sacrificial your giving may be (v.3), without love there is no meaningful spiritual impact from these things.

So what is love?

Instead of defining it, Paul described it. It is patient and kind (v. 4a-b). It does not envy others or call attention to itself (v. 4c-e). It is not defensive (v. 5). All of these things point to one reality–love is a focus on what is good for others.

It is so easy for us to become self-centered, isn’t it? We serve but we are aware of the cost that service extracts from us. We give but we resent the attention someone else gets for using their gifts in the body. We make a contribution but wonder why we don’t get more out of the church. These are all self-centered, unloving thoughts.

If you want your life to count for Jesus, you need to ask him to teach you to love–that is to focus on benefiting others and not think about yourself. The Bible says that love is the fruit of the Spirit. That means it is the result of your growth in grace by the Holy Spirit of God. Again, because pride and self-centeredness come so naturally to us this is something we need to continually ask God’s help for.

Is there anyone in your life that needs love today? Anyone that needs you to serve them instead of being focused on yourself?

Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15

Read Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15 today. This devotional is about

Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God.  If you want to know God, you must also desire to become holy. This chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer.

Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did create us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy.

In Christ believers are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ.

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to the ways that were common and their natural moral instincts. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4 or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19.

But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a where he said, “Do not steal.” That command tells us people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else.

Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, woodworking tools, trucks, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive and keep the product of that production. That’s why people are allowed to own land, farm land, and harvest what they have planted.

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live.

This kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart God’s people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor-because we want to live a holy life that emulates God.

That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program but it does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. This goes against our instincts to watch out for ourselves alone; that, too, is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them.