Hebrews 13

Read Hebrews 13.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others….” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have–a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

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.

Leviticus 21, Isaiah 17-18, Acts 6

Read Leviticus 21, Isaiah 17-18, and Acts 6 today. This devotional is about Acts 6.

A couple of things are important to keep in mind as we read these chapters describing the first church in Jerusalem.

  • First, remember that all of the disciples except for Judas were from Galilee, the northern part of Israel.
  • Second, most of Jesus disciples before his crucifixion were Galileans, too. 
  • Third, Jesus death, burial, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power in Acts 2 happened in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is in Judea, the Southern part of  Israel. Jesus had told the disciples to stay there in Jerusalem until the Spirit’s power descended on them (see Acts 1:4).

After the Spirit came on the disciples in power, people began to trust Christ in large numbers (see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). Many of those who trusted Christ lived in Jerusalem and the early church met in their homes (see Acts 2:42). But many of them lived outside of Jerusalem like the Twelve disciples of Jesus did. These new believers, though, wanted to stay in Jerusalem and experience what God was doing in the church. So there are some new believers in the Jerusalem church who lived in Jerusalem and made their living in Jerusalem but many others (more?) who did not live in Jerusalem and, therefore, had no income for as long as they remained in Jerusalem.

These facts explain the need for so much sharing of homes, food, and money in the early church in Jerusalem. It wasn’t that the church was communistic or socialistic by nature; it was that many believers had no means of support while they stayed in Jerusalem, but they wanted to stay there and experience what God was doing. So, their brothers and sisters who had financial means generously shared with those who did not.

Here in Acts 6, then, we see that there were problems–gaps, even–in how people were being cared for in the early church. According to verse 1, there was some discrimination–intentional or not–regarding how people with needs were supported and cared for. In verse 2 the Twelve disciples gathered to discuss how to address this problem. It was a true dilemma because the needs of the people were legitimate and important; however, enough needed to happen logistically that some or all of the apostles could have had their time consumed by making sure all the needs were met.

The answer the Twelve came up with was to distribute responsibility to other people (vv. 3-4). This was to allow the Twelve to give their full attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (v. 4). Although the task given to these men did not require any particular spiritual gifting or skill, the disciples felt it was important to give the task to godly men (v. 3). Although this passage does not directly say it, many people (me included) think that this paragraph is how the office of deacon began in the church.

The men who were chosen for this ministry were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). Yet they did not consider this task to be beneath them. In keeping with their reputations for godliness, these men had servants hearts and took on willingly the responsibility they were chosen for.

When you are asked to serve somewhere in the church, do you see it as a chance to serve the Lord or as a burden to bear? It is true that some people can be overburdened if they take on too many ministries, but it is also true that many people are unwilling to serve when asked. It is a blessing to serve the Lord and, as believers, we should be honored to serve him by serving his church when we are given the opportunity.

Leviticus 11-12, Isaiah 7, Luke 24

Read Leviticus 11-12, Isaiah 7, and Luke 24 today. This devotional is about Luke 24.

Remember those women in Luke 8:2-3 that Luke said traveled with Jesus and the disciples? Luke named a few of them: “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others” (v. 2b-3a). He had told us that they “were helping to support them out of their own means” (v. 3b).

That passage in Luke 8 is the only insight we are given in the Gospels–at least, that I can think of–about the financial support of Jesus ministry. Think about 13 men traveling to different villages, towns, and cities. Where did they sleep? Where did they get their meals in an age before restaurants? These women provided them the money they needed to buy food; they probably also prepared food when needed, found places for everyone to sleep at night, brought Jesus and the disciples water during the day. Maybe they helped mend clothes and wash them, too, but it seems clear that they volunteered to help Jesus and his disciples in whatever way was needed.

Here in Luke 24 these women emerge from the shadows again (v. 1, 10). The passage says they came “very early in the morning” (v. 1) to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried. My guess is that they figured this would be the last of their unheralded acts of service on behalf of Jesus. When Jesus’ burial was complete, they might have stayed for a few days to mourn his death and remember his life, then they would return to Galilee and re-enter daily life.

Instead of doing the sad, unpleasant, and difficult work of embalming Jesus’ body, the women were surprised to hear the message that Jesus was risen from the dead (vv. 3-7, 10)! The angels that reported this news to them said to them in verse 6, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” That happened back in Luke 9:22. It was just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the benefits of being on Jesus’ support team was that they could listen to him teach as they served or during the moments when there was nothing immediate to do. Verse 8 here in Luke 24 says, “Then they remembered his words” which tells us that they were in the audience when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah so they heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Now God had chosen them to be the first people learn of Christ’s resurrection.

Although it isn’t the point of this passage, this story suggests a truth that may encourage you today which is that some of the greatest blessings of following Jesus occur when we are doing the difficult, unpleasant, unnoticed work of serving him. If you are discouraged because you feel like your life and or your ministry in the church is often overlooked, unnoticed, unappreciated think of these women. You may be tempted to think that your life doesn’t matter much, but God sees. He knows what your love for Christ leads you to do for him even if nobody else ever knows.

And, God may just surprise you one day with an unexpected blessing; it won’t be anything as big as an angel informing you that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it will be a blessing nonetheless. So don’t be discouraged or give up serving Jesus.

Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, Luke 22

Read Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, and Luke 22 today. This devotional is about Luke 22.

There are moments in life when it is hard to think about or care about anything other than the big thing that is about to happen. It might be a really big thing like major surgery or something a bit less scary like a job interview, your wedding, or the birth of a child. When we were kids, a big game or major exam might fit with what I’m describing.

You remember how it felt to be waiting for one of these big things. You might have gotten so nervous that you couldn’t sit down. You tried to watch TV or do something else to distract you but you couldn’t concentrate. When we’re faced with moments and events that scare us, it is hard to think about anything else.

At the end of this chapter, Jesus betrayed by Judas, arrested by the chief priests, and put on trial (vv. 39-71). He knew this time was coming and had predicted it to the disciples. In the first part of Luke 22, then, it would be normal for a person in Jesus’s position to be nervous and unable to think about anyone but himself.

That was not Jesus’s mindset, however. Instead, he sought to make the most of the time he had left with his disciples by having the Passover–his last supper–with them.

While Jesus was not focused on himself, the disciples certainly were. Oblivious to the danger that Jesus was about face, they were arguing openly with each other about which one of them should be “considered to be greatest” (v. 24).

Jesus used their argument as a teaching moment. He flipped their expectations about greatest and taught (as he had before) that the greatest servant is the one who matters (vv. 25-26).

So often we are defensive about our rights, sensitive about perceived slights from others, and miffed when we don’t get something that is owed to us. And, at our worst, we compare ourselves to others, accentuating in our own minds the ways in which we feel superior to those we measure ourselves against.

But the words of Christ in Luke 22:27 cut through all of that like a knife: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The greatest of all came to serve us and he served us well, bearing our sins in order to be our salvation.

As his followers, he calls us to emulate his example—serving him by serving each other. Do you have a servant’s heart or a “serve me” heart? How can you follow the pattern of Christ today? Who can you serve for the glory of God?

Exodus 26, Ecclesiastes 2, Luke 8

Today read Exodus 26, Ecclesiastes 2, and Luke 8.

Luke 8 presents us with one of Jesus’ best known parables (vv. 4-15), some lesser known teachings of Jesus (vv. 16-21) and several miracles (vv. 22-56).

The chapter began, though, by listing Jesus’ key financial contributors, some women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples who “were helping to support them out of their own means.” That sentence gives us insight into how Jesus and the disciples were able to stay alive while devoting themselves full-time to the ministry and it sets a precedent for how ministry is funded that the rest of the New Testament developed for us.

Luke doesn’t say much about what these women did. Verse 2 indicates that they were with him and the Twelve as they traveled “from one town and village to another” and verse 3 says that they “were helping to support them out of their own means.” That last phrase obviously means that they were spending their own money to pay for food and lodging and anything else Jesus and the Twelve needed money for. But why would these women need to travel with Jesus and the disciples? Couldn’t they just send the money by messenger whenever it was needed?

I think they could have sent the money, but I also think they traveled with Jesus and the Twelve to hear Jesus teach just like everyone else who followed him around. I wonder, though, if they also didn’t handle some of the logistics–going ahead of the men to find enough places for them to sleep, buying food and preparing meals as needed. Again the text does not say this, but it makes sense that they would do at least some of this planning and preparation work so as to give Jesus the maximum amount of time to do ministry and to do so without distractions.

If you’ve served somewhere behind the scenes–doing sound or lighting or projection or as a Calvary Class helper or preparing meals for families that just had a baby or helping with the Sunday coffee and donuts or giving rides to people to church on Sunday or making copies of material or helping out with office work or cleaning the floors on Saturday night or serving in the chair ministry or making and serving funeral meals or serving in the food pantry or in the prison ministry or doing any other number of tasks, your ministry is important! It may seem unnoticed or feel unimportant but the truth is that it is very important. Servants like you make every ministry possible so if you’ve served in one of these places, thank you!

If you could serve in one of these ways but haven’t volunteered yet, would you volunteer this week? Everything we do as a church takes dedicated volunteers so the more volunteers we have, the more ministry we can do. Jesus said that a cup of water given in his name would be rewarded so there are eternal dividends to be reaped if you sow into His work now, even in ways that seem insignificant and small. So, if you’re not serving somewhere yet, one way to put the truth in this chapter into practice is to find your place to serve. It is the Lord’s work so he’s the one you’re serving, just as these women served him in their unseen but important role.

2 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 4

Today we’re scheduled to read 2 Chronicles 19-20 and Zechariah 4.

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 miniscule.

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.