Luke 7

Read Luke 7.

Jesus has gone public now and has been attracting more and more attention in his area. That attention continued as he performed miracles such as healing the dying (vv. 1-10) and raising the dead (vv. 11-17). His message was right but his actions were not what John the Baptist expected so when John–in prison–heard about Jesus actions, he sent some disciples of his to ask Jesus to identify himself (vv. 18-27).

After reassuring John through his disciples (vv. 21-23), Jesus began to probe what the people who followed Jesus thought of John the Baptist (vv. 24-27). After asking some probing questions to get people to think about the meaning of John’s life and ministry in verses 24-26, Jesus affirmed that John was a prophet, but he was a prophet plus more (prophet+) in verse 26b. According to Jesus in verse 27, John was, in fact, the forerunner prophesied in the Old Testament to Messiah.

But then Jesus raised the importance of John even further but with a twist. According to Jesus, John was the greatest mortal man who ever lived (v. 28a). That’s quite an assessment to make about anyone, but especially coming from Jesus. But then Jesus said something even more intriguing: “…yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” The most insignificant person who arrives in God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man whoever lived in human history, according to Jesus. Why is that true?

The answer is that John–great as he was–was a sinner but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not a sinner. Sinners are not allowed into the kingdom of heaven, so there are no sinners there. Consequently everyone who is there is a better person than John.

The Kingdom of God must be an empty place, then, because I and everyone I know is a sinner.

That’s where Jesus comes in and why he came into the world. Jesus the man lived the sinless life that would qualify a person to enter the kingdom of God. He was able to do that as a man because he was also God. As God, he didn’t need to earn his way into the kingdom of God; it already belongs to him. So, in the great act theologians call imputation, God gave sinners access to his kingdom based on the perfect life of Christ. He imputed–credited–Christ’s righteousness to those who believe him for it.

On the opposite side of that coin, he also credited to Jesus the guilt for human sin which Jesus paid for through his death on the cross. For those who believe this message, God imputes your guilt to Christ who paid it in full and imputes Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s how you get into the kingdom of God. When you get there, God will transform you completely so that you never want to or will sin again. Thus, you will be a better human being than John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived.

This is an important truth for our salvation. It is one that everyone must humble himself to believe. Even the most morally upright person must admit his sin and need of salvation. But many people are too proud for that so Luke told us in verse 29 that those who knew they were sinners were getting into the kingdom while those who were really religious, according to verse 30, were missing out on what God has done.

Don’t let that be you! Don’t let your pride keep you from an eternity in God’s presence and in his kingdom.

Also, know that if you have trusted Christ, God treats you as perfect now, even though you aren’t yet. God treats you as better than John the Baptist already because he gives you credit for Christ’s perfection.

So don’t let your sins and failures discourage you. Keep growing in your faith and trusting God to change you and know that God is not counting those sins against you any more. You’re on his side now because of Jesus, so you can feel secure and forgiven while you grow to become like him.

Matthew 22

Read Matthew 22.

The parable about the wedding banquet, here in verses 1-14, is about Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah. God the Father invited them to the wedding banquet and everything was ready (vv. 1-4) but Israel was too busy with their own stuff, even getting angry enough to persecute and kill some of God’s servants, the prophets (vv. 5-6).

God judged Israel (v. 7 is a veiled prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) and turned his attention to inviting us, the Gentiles through the gospel message (vv. 8-14).

Notice, though, that all the “bad as well as the good” (v. 10) were gathered in, you still needed an outfit appropriate for a wedding (vv. 11-12). Jesus did not explain what this meant other than verse 14’s statement that, “…many are invited, but few are chosen.” That statement does not explain the image of the wedding clothes and how it relates to the parable.

As God’s revelation continued to unfold in the New Testament, we can see clearly that the wedding clothes Jesus referenced in verses 11-12 refer to the righteousness of Christ that God credits to us by grace. When you and I put our faith in Christ, God began to treat us as if we are as righteous as Jesus Christ is, even though we are not.

Jesus’s perfect life clothes you like a garment. His atonement on the cross was applied to you when you trusted in him, washing all your sins away. But the perfect life of Jesus Christ was also gifted to you, covering your imperfections and making you acceptable in the sight of God.

You and I have a long way to go before we will actually be righteous in the sight of God. God is working on us to make us righteous people but you still belong at the wedding feast because you are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

This is why you don’t need to worry about “losing your salvation.” You didn’t earn your salvation in the first place. It was given to you by God. You can’t lose the garment of Christ’s righteousness any more than you can lose the shirt on your back. If you’re someone who struggles with feelings of assurance in your faith, let this passage encourage you. Trust in the gracious gift of Christ, not your own performance.

Matthew 5

Read Matthew 5.

Who is responsible:

  • to obey God’s word? (vv. 17-20)?
  • to release anger toward others (vv. 21-22)?
  • to go try to fix a relationship with someone who is angry with you (vv. 23-24)?
  • to settle out of court (vv. 25-26)?
  • to have a pure heart toward people of the opposite (and same) sex (vv. 27-30)?
  • to keep a troubled marriage together as long as your spouse hasn’t crossed the line with another person (vv. 31-32)?
  • to be honest–so honest that you keep your word and don’t even need to “swear to God” (vv. 33-37)?
  • to be taken advantage of by others and even love others who treat you poorly (vv. 38-47)?

The answer to this quiz is the same for every question–you are.

Why? Because God created you. He’s perfect so you should be perfect like he is (v. 48).

That’s an impossible standard, I know. Jesus knew it, too. That’s why he began by telling us that happiness and prosperity come from being “poor in spirit” (v. 30), hungry and thirsty for righteousness (v. 6) and so on. We need the grace of God to save us from our many failures to obey the commands in that list above.

And, in Christ, we have that grace. He died to atone for every failure we’ve ever had in living up to God’s perfection.

But, having been saved by Christ’s death for us, we have a new power and a new resolve to do all the hard things on that list. We want to shift the blame to people who sin against us to justify our anger but Jesus commands us to deal with our anger in a Christ like way. The same is true for fixing broken relationships, settling with those who want to sue us, being sexually pure in our thoughts and actions, being committed to our marriages, being honest, and loving our enemies.

Nobody else can walk with God for you and you can’t make anyone else do the right thing. You are responsible before God to do what is right and, because of righteousness and power of Christ, you can do it if you trust him and obey what his word commands.

Is there anything on that list that you need to change your mind (repent) about? What is one action you need to do today based on what Christ taught and commanded in this chapter?

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.

2 Kings 11-12, Micah 5, John 6

Read 2 Kings 11-12, Micah 5, and John 6 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 11-12.

God’s covenant with David was that one of David’s descendants would always be king while Israel was a nation. That promise was why Solomon’s son Rehoboam remained king over Judah even though the rest of Israel was torn away from him and became the Northern Kingdom.

These two chapters of scripture show us a situation where the promise of God almost was broken. Athaliah married into the Davidic family when she married king Jehoram and he gave birth Judah’s next king, Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:26). But her son, King Ahaziah of Judah was killed by Jehu in his zeal to rid the earth of Ahab’s descendants (2 Kings 9:27-28). This was outside of God’s command to Jehu who was supposed to bring Ahab’s family to justice.

Here in 2 Kings 11:1, Athaliah decided to become the ruling queen. She killed every possible heir to the throne except Joash, her grandson, who was an infant at the time (vv. 203). The priests in the temple understood how important it was to defend Joash and to put him on Judah’s throne as soon as possible. They organized a constant guard for Joash (vv. 4-10) and then anointed him king when he was only seven years old (v. 21). Their actions were used by God to keep the promise he made to David that his house would be a dynasty. 

These priests could easily have said no when they were approached to hide Joash in the temple (v. 3a) and then to guard him (vv. 4ff). They could have said, “That’s a political problem. It’s none of our business; we’ll just continue to do the Lord’s work.” Instead, they put themselves at risk of Athaliah’s unjust punishment in order to do the right thing.

None of us will ever find ourselves in this serious of a situation but the faith these men had in God’s promises and his protection should encourage us. It should teach us to be willing to put ourselves at risk to do the right thing because we trust God to keep his promises and to take care of us.

Are you avoiding doing the right(eous) thing somewhere in your life right now? 

1 Kings 18, Amos 4, 1 Peter 4

Today read 1 Kings 18, Amos 4, and 1 Peter 4. This devotional is about 1 Peter 4.

Suffering is a key theme in this book and in this chapter. Persecution was the type of suffering that caused Peter to write these words (vv. 12-16), but he knew that what he taught about suffering applied to any kind of suffering caused by doing what is right (v. 4).

People who are doing what is right suffer and are persecuted for one reason–to silence them. Whenever we witness for Christ, we point out to unbelievers that they are sinners and accountable to God for their sins. Unless the Spirit moves to create repentance, that message of the gospel will be offensive to unbelievers.

It is not just our words of witness that cause conviction, guilt, and retaliation in unbelievers, however. The godly choices we make to live a sober, disciplined life are offensive to unbelievers as well. Verse 3 here in 1 Peter described how pagans live, “in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Those who live this way due to unbelief “are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (v. 4). That last phrase, “they heap abuse on you,” shows how convicting a godly life is to the unsaved-ungodly. The “heap abuse” to try to silence us, to get us to conform to the undisciplined norm.

Peter discussed persecution at the beginning of this chapter (vv. 1-6) and at the end (vv. 12-18). In between those two paragraphs, he commanded us to serve each other within the church in various ways, reminding us that our service to each other is ultimately done by God through us, for God and for his glory (vv. 7-11).

This section on service is not a digression, however. It is important to the teaching on suffering and persecution because the point of persecution (and any suffering brought on by Satan) is to shut down your witness for Christ and your service for him. If God’s enemies can discourage you, they can stop you from witnessing and from serving the body of Christ.

So what do you do if you feel discouraged by how people treat you as a Christian?

Two things: First, remember that God’s enemies will be held accountable (vv. 5, 17-18). Second, have faith in God. As verse 19 put it, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” That last part, “continue to do good” is so important. Don’t let the insults and discouragements of others stop you from serving the Lord! Part living life by faith is to continue to do what is right even when you don’t want to. What kind of faith would you need if you only served and obeyed God when you felt like it? But if you commit yourself to him and keep serving him when you are discouraged, then you will be living by faith.

Are you feeling some sort of affliction? Let this passage encourage you not to give up–don’t give up trusting Christ, don’t give up serving him, don’t give up living a godly life, and don’t give up testifying of his grace. He is with you in this and whatever you are suffering is happening “according to God’s will” (v. 19). He allowed it and will use it to strengthen and grow you, so don’t give up!

1 Kings 15, Amos 1, Proverbs 24:1-18

Read 1 Kings 15, Amos 1, and Proverbs 24:1-18 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 15.

Going forward it is important to remember a couple of things. First, the nation that has been called “Israel” for centuries is now divided. 10 1/2 tribes revolted from Judah when Solomon’s son Rehoboam wouldn’t reduce the burden of the government on the people. The 10 1/2 tribes that revolted continued to be called “Israel” but we also call them the Northern Kingdom. The Bible doesn’t use that term, but it is a helpful one we’ve applied to remember that “Israel” now isn’t what it was under David and Solomon. You will probably see me use that term several times in coming devotionals.

David’s family continued to reign over his tribe of Judah. They were now considered a separate nation. They were called Judah, but we also use the term Southern Kingdom to distinguish them from the Northern Kingdom / Israel.

In addition to Judah, the tribe of Levi continued to serve as priests; however, they had no tribal lands but were scattered by God’s will among all the other tribes of the nation. Since they were responsible for Israel’s worship and the temple was in Judah, many of them were loyal to Judah. That’s why we say that Israel had 10 1/2 tribes.

The Northern Kingdom, Israel, had 19 kings from the time of Jeroboam until the Assyrians defeated them and scattered them from their national land. Of those 19 kings, not one of them is described in the Bible as a righteous or good king. They all did evil in God’s sight.

The Southern Kingdom, Judah, had 20 kings from the time of Rehoboam until the Babylonians took them captive. Of those 20 kings, 8 were described in the Bible as righteous or good kings. We met the first of these good kings, Asa, today here in 1 Kings 15.

Although his father and grandfather were wicked men, “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life” (v. 14). His devotion to the Lord was demonstrated by his commitment to rid the land of idolatry (vv. 12-13). Verse 14a began with the phrase, “Although he did not remove the high places…,” indicating that Asa was not fully able to extinguish idolatry in Judah, but that he did remove it from the public eye.

Idolatry was still practiced in Judah but it was done privately. It became like illegal drug use in our country—against the law and prosecuted when it was known about, but still practiced in widely, in secret. The fact that Asa “did not remove the high places” indicates that he knew idolatry was being practiced there, but did not channel government resources toward removing those high places of false worship.

That did not mean, however that Asa’s commitment to YHWH was weak or questionable or only for public consumption. The rest of verse 14 tells us that “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.” His commitment was total even if his actions were not perfect.

One incident in Asa’s life demonstrated his commitment to the Lord. Verse 13 told us, “He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley.”

Unlike many powerful people who give exemptions, special favors, and “carve outs” to their own family members and friends who are in violation of the law, Asa’s love for God and his commitment to the Lord outweighed his loyalty and love to his family.

Deposing his own grandmother must have been a difficult choice emotionally—and possibly a costly one relationally—for Asa, but he did it because he loved the Lord and wanted to be faithful to him even if it cost him a relationship he held dear.

Jesus expected a similar commitment from his disciples when he said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37).

So we must ask ourselves this question: “Do we love God enough to stand for what’s right even when another person we love deeply stands on the other side?” If someone we love sins and is unrepentant or clings to unbelief or false beliefs, will we choose faithfulness to the Lord or the preservation of peace in the relationship?

Asa’s devotion to the Lord was demonstrated by his choice to stand for God even when it hurt and cost him personally. May we never have to make such a choice but, if we do, may the Lord give us grace to do the right thing.