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.

2 Chronicles 29 and Revelation 17

Read 2 Chronicles 29 and Revelation 17 today. This devotional is about Revelation 17.

Some people crave political power. They desire to get it either personally by becoming a ruler or collectively by associating with a party in power. Humanity has a long history of using political power to oppress people, particularly people in a disfavored group.

In this chapter, the rulers of the world (“kings of the earth”) formed an alliance first with “the great prostitute” (vv. 1-2) then with “the beast” (vv. 12-14). Both of these alliances were oppressive and destructive to God’s people (vv. 6, 14). “The beast” is defined for us as “an eighth king” (v. 11) while “the great prostitute” is identified as “the great city.” God ultimately pits the beast and the prostitute against one another as enemies (vv. 16-17) and, despite the beast’s best efforts, Jesus triumphs over all of these powerful forces (v. 14b) “because is the Lord of lords and King of kings.”

This is something to remember when you don’t like the powers that control our government. Ultimately all of these powers will fight against Christ and his kingdom but they will not win. So we should never get too attached to any ruler or any political group, whether in power or seeking power. Our allegiance is to Jesus. He is our hope and his kingdom is the one we are waiting for.

I don’t know what bad news we may read about today but I can predict there will be something in the news that you don’t like. Don’t get discouraged; ask God to establish his kingdom. Set your mind and your hope there. Lay up treasure for yourself there and, if we are persecuted, rest in justice of God which will be done when Jesus reigns.

1 Chronicles 7-8, Zechariah 4, Proverbs 26:17-28

Today read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Zechariah 4, and Proverbs 26:17-28. This devotional is about Zechariah 4.

God was moving his people back to Jerusalem in the days of Zechariah and, in this chapter, the Lord sent some encouragement to the leaders. Zerubbabel was the leader in charge of rebuilding God’s temple (v. 9) and he is the leader named in this chapter. 

When the people returned to Jerusalem, they were poor. They had an immense amount of work to do rebuilding the city and the temple; but the resources they had to do that work were minuscule.

A massive job to do and few resources to use are the perfect prescription for discouragement.

God sent Zechariah to Zerubbabel to remind him that he had the ultimate resource in God. How would he be able to rebuild that temple? “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (v. 6). The natural, financial, and human resources  at Zerubbabel’s disposal were few but only resource he needed was spiritual, the power of almighty God. 

As a result, neither Zerubbabel nor God’s people should give up or be discouraged by meager beginnings. As verse 10 says, “Who dares despise the day of small things….” Everything that exists once started as something small and modest. Every large church, for example, was once a small church; indeed, it was once merely the idea and desire of a small group of people. If God is in the project, it will not be stopped; if he is not in it, it will not ultimately succeed. 

Are you ever tempted to look at your ministry or your life or something else that belongs to God and think, “This is never going to amount to anything!” Verse 10 would rebuke you: “Who dares despise the day of small things…?” Trust God that the desire to serve him matters. Your resources may be few and the beginning may be humble but God is more than powerful enough to make something great. 

Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today. This devotional is about Psalms 75.

Psalm 75-76 sing praises to God for his sovereign justice.

As his chosen people, Israel praised God for his favor to them (75:1). In verses 2-10 the Psalmist explains that God’s justice happens in his time (v. 2) and that those he judges are powerless to avoid the judgment he brings (vv. 3-8). In the middle of Psalm 75, the Psalmist sings, “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (vv. 6-7). We think that military might or political success are matters of human strength and ingenuity; this Psalm mocks our foolish assumptions and tells us that God sovereignly and precisely rules over the affairs of humanity:

  • No one can become powerful unless God allows them to become powerful (vv. 6-7).
  • No one can hold on to power if God determines to take it away (vv. 3-5).

While obedience to God should cause us to do all we can to bring righteousness and justice in our world, God has his own plans and those plans sometimes involve exalting the wicked so that his will can be done. But justice will be executed in God’s time.

Given all this, does it make sense to worry so much about who who occupies the oval office, controls the House of Representative, or has a majority on the Supreme Court?

Yes, we want righteous leaders who will make righteous laws and enforce them justly, so we should vote biblically and conscientiously.

But what if God allows unrighteous, unjust, unscrupulous, and unethical leadership to be elected because of his own purpose? When that happens, can you join the Psalmist in singing, “As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up’” (vv. 9-10)?

Can we trust God—and praise him—even when we don’t understand why he allows troubling things to happen? Can we wait for him to do justice according to his will in the time that he chooses?

Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, Acts 15

Read Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, and Acts 15 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 40.

The last verse in today’s reading from Isaiah, 40:31, is one of the best-known passages in the book of Isaiah for many people. It is a verse that gives encouragement to hope in the Lord when we are weak. Not surprisingly, then, many believers find it uplifting to read and recite when they are discouraged. That is an excellent use of the verse; even more so when you read the whole chapter.

  • The passage opens by offering comfort for God’s people who have suffered in judgment for their sins under foreign oppression (vv. 1-2).
  • Verses 3-11 tie this comfort to the coming of the Messiah:
    • Verses 3-4 were applied to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ
    • Verses 5-11 mostly describe the promises that Christ will fulfill when he establishes his earthly kingdom.
  • Verses 12-26 describe why the Lord will be able to bring such comfort to his people and fulfill these promises. He can do it because he is infinite. God eclipses everything we think is large on earth or the rest of the universe (v. 12).  God can also comfort his people because of his complete knowledge and wisdom (his omniscience, vv. 13-14). In the shadow of God’s infinity power, infinite wisdom,a dn infinite knowledge, other nations which seem so strong and imposing to us are insignificant (vv. 15-17).

What about other gods, though? Please; they are not worth mentioning in the same breath with the true God. Those idols were created by human beings who foolishly bow down and worship them (vv. 18-20).

But those who worship false gods should not act like they’ve never heard of him. God is everywhere—sitting “enthroned above the circle of the earth” (v. 22) and taking down powerful human rulers at will (v. 23).

There is no god like the true God. Nothing escapes his notice (v. 27) or is beyond his capabilities (v. 28). Faith in him, then, calls us to look to him for strength.

Are you trying to handle everything in your life on your own? No matter how capable you are, you can’t carry the weight of the world.

But God can and he calls to you to come to him and look to him for strength to live each day out for his glory (v. 31).

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 45, Job 11, Hebrews 3

Read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Hebrews 3.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still living with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him.

First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery. At that point, they felt the battle was over and they had won decisively and permanently. So much for those dreams Joseph had….

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. The dreams Joseph had as a boy have come true and he now exercised power that God had prophesied he would have.

How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

I think that most of us would want some kind of revenge. Many would at least be tempted to extract some rough justice. More than a few people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would eagerly use that power to punish the brothers severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised Joseph’s ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. God had promised to bless Abraham’s descendants. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

This realization, plus the evidence that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as God had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you.

But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.