God In Our Midst.

Deuteronomy 23-24, John 21

Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. ­– Deuteronomy 23:14 ESV

The presence of the Lord was something the Israelites were never to take for granted. God wanted them to understand that His presence among them was conditionally based. They were not free to act as they wished or do as they desired. His regulations and rules were designed to ensure their proper behavior so that they could count on His continuing presence among them. It was His presence that truly set them apart. Without Him, they were nothing. Sin in all its forms creates a separation between God and man. Injustice, inequality, uncleanness, immorality, idolatry, infidelity, indecency – all of these things could end up creating a barrier between God and His people. God's concern for them was that they live righteously and holy, set apart from the ways of the world around them, in order that they might continue to enjoy His abiding presence among them. Repeatedly in the book of Deuteronomy, we read Moses' admonition to “keep yourself pure from every evil thing” and to “purge the evil from your midst.” The abiding presence of God was to be more important to them than anything else in the world. But they faced the constant temptation to make things other than God higher on their list of priorities. Greed could cause them to act unjustly. Lust could lure them into acting immorally. The constant presence of other gods could end up making them behave unfaithfully. But if they wanted God to remain in their midst they would have to remain faithful to Him and Him alone.

What does this passage reveal about God?

All the way back at Mount Sinai, when God directed the people to begin their march to the Promised Land, He told Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14 ESV). Moses took this promise literally and quite seriously, responding, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15 ESV). God's abiding presence was what set them apart as a people. It was not their behavior or their ability to keep a set of rules that made them distinct. It was His presence. The laws and commands of God were given to ensure that a holy God could remain in their midst. A holy God could not abide among an unholy, disobedient people. But it would not be long before the people of Israel began to believe that it was their behavior that made them righteous. They would miss the very important point that it was God who had set them apart as distinct and separate from the rest of the world. Their behavior was to be a reflection of their set-apartness. They were to live as those who belonged to God. Their conduct was intended to ensure God's presence. They were never to forget that “the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp” (Deuteronomy 23:14 ESV).

God desired to dwell among His people. When He sent His Son to earth, He became Immanuel, “God with us.” Earlier in his gospel, John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). God placed His divine presence, His glory, among men in the form of His own Son in human flesh. Wherever Jesus went, the power, wisdom, and love of God was present. He spoke for God. He healed by the power of God. He preached of the Kingdom of God. He did the works of God. He offered Himself as the way to be restored to a right relationship with God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When Jesus was removed from the midst of the disciples through His death on the cross, they lost all hope. They went into hiding. They hid behind locked doors and wondered what the future held for them. The presence of God was missing and their lives were miserable. But then Jesus rose again from the dead. He appeared to them numerous times. He reassured them that He was still among them and that He was truly the Messiah, the Son of God. His resurrection was proof of His claim to be the Savior of the world. But even after having seen the resurrected Lord, the disciples were uncertain as to what to do with their lives. At one point, Peter, Thomas, James and John found themselves going back to what they used to do: fishing. After more than three years serving alongside Jesus, they went back to what was most familiar to them. And yet, Jesus was not present among them. Without Jesus, they were directionless. Not only that, they were unsuccessful. John tells us, “that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3 ESV). But then Jesus showed up. He stood on the shore, “yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (John 21:4 ESV). He instructed them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. The obeyed and they were blessed. They did as He said and they were rewarded with a net full of fish. Suddenly, it hit Peter that Jesus was in their midst. It was deja vu. Years earlier, He had gone through a very similar experience (Luke 4:6-7). He shouted, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7 ESV). The significance of the situation was evidence of the Lord's presence. What he had just witnessed was the work of the Lord. Jesus could have just walked up and revealed Himself. He could have called from the shore and said, “It's me, Jesus!” But He chose to reveal Himself through their circumstances. He made His presence known through their hopelessness and helplessness. These were seasoned fishermen who had failed to catch any fish. But when Jesus showed up, everything changed. His presence was a game changer. But Jesus didn't do what He did so that they might be successful fishermen. He did what He did to assure them that He was still with them. Before His death, Jesus had promised the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18 ESV). He had also told them “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples to assure them that He was alive. But He was returning to His Father. And yet, they would not be alone. The presence of God would remain with them in the form of the Holy Spirit. God would still be with them and in them, providing them with His abiding presence and power. And their behavior from that point forward was to reflect their belief that God was among them. They were to live differently and distinctively.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is so easy for me to forget the abiding presence of God in my life. I can fail to see Him actively engaged in and around me. Like the disciples, I can fail to recognize Him for who He is and what He is doing. I can also neglect the reality that my behavior can harm my relationship with Him. While I can't permanently damage my relationship with God, I can temporarily quench His Spirit's work in my life through disobedience and unfaithfulness. My greatest desire should be for His unceasing power and presence in my life. I must never forget that He desires to be in my midst at all times, but that my sin can create separation between my God and me. The desire for His forgiveness has nothing to do with my salvation, because Christ's death on the cross paid for my sins once and for all. When I confess my sins to Him, I am simply seeking His forgiveness so that I might continue to enjoy His abiding presence in my life here and now.

It's interesting to note that after Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples, He gave them some very specific instruction. It was Peter who said, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3 ESV). And it was to Peter that Jesus asked the question, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 ESV). It was Jesus who had claimed that he was willing to die for Jesus. It was Peter who had said that even if all the other disciples abandoned Jesus, he would not. In the garden on the night that Jesus was betrayed, it was Peter who had rashly pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's slave. And as Jesus was being tried, it was Peter who had denied the Lord three separate times. Jesus asked Peter whether his love for Him was really greater than that of the other disciples. His actions had seemed to prove that He did not. In fact, even after Jesus had revealed Himself as risen from the dead, Peter chose to go fishing. So Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter assures the Lord of His love. But each time, Jesus tells Peter to prove His love through His actions. “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15 ESV). “Feed my sheep” (John 21:16 ESV). “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17 ESV). Jesus wanted Peter to live his life with a focus on the will of God. He wanted Peter to recognize the abiding presence of God in His life and the need to live in keeping with His abiding presence, dependent upon His power and focused on His purposes.

Father, may I continue to appreciate more and more Your presence in my life. My I long for Your unbroken fellowship more than anything else. Help me see sin for what it really is, a constant threat to Your presence and power in my life. I want to walk in keeping with Your presence, dependent upon Your power and focused on Your purposes for my life. Amen


That You May Believe.

Deuteronomy 21-22, John 20

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. ­– John 20:30-31 ESV

Much of what we find written in the Scriptures is difficult to understand. When we isolate particular passages and remove them from the more global context of the entire written Word of God, we run into problems. Some of the commands found in chapters 21 and 22 of Deuteronomy can appear to be arbitrary and even unfair. But we must constantly go back to the giving of the Ten Commandments and see these more specific laws simply as practical, everyday applications of God's original commands. It is essential that we read Scripture as the revelation of God, rather than as a guide book for life. Too often, we want to view the Bible as a self-help manual that provides tips and techniques for living life in this world. We see it as some kind of spiritual encyclopedia containing isolated and somewhat disconnected advice for life. For many of us, our study of Scripture becomes little more than looking up key words in the concordance found in the back of our Bible. If you are struggling with peace, you look up the word “peace” and see what God says. If you are wrestling with faith, you seek out those passages that will give you insight into faith. While this technique is not necessarily wrong, it is not how the Bible was intended to be used. It can lead to dangerous misinterpretations of Scripture by taking verses out of their context. It can also lead to some seriously wrong conclusions. For instance, let's say you are looking for biblical insight into how to handle a rebellious child. A word search in the concordance may lead you to Deuteronomy 21:18-21: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” Correct application of the Scriptures requires careful study of the Scriptures – in their entirety. It is essential that we understand the context surrounding various passages. We must familiarize ourselves with the circumstances and the audience. We must always study Scripture with a view toward knowing more about God, not just gaining insight for living life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The various commands found in chapters 21 and 22 of Deuteronomy were extensions of God's original ten commands. They were intended to be practical, everyday applications of those laws that further illustrated God's desire for His people to live set-apart, holy lives. God even gave them laws to regulate behavior when the people lived outside of His preferred will. God knew that His people would fail to live up to His holy standard. He knew that they would be driven by their sinful passions and constantly tempted to live according to their base desires, so He provided them with rules to regulate their behavior in those cases. God never intended for a man to have more than one wife, but He knew it was going to happen, so He gave rules to handle this inevitable situation (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). God took the separation of His people seriously and so He gave practical, everyday examples of separation to drive him His point. He wouldn't allow His people to plant two kinds of seeds in the same vineyard. They were not allowed to mix wool and linen in the same garment. He restricted them from plowing a field using an ox and donkey in the same yoke. While there are certainly practical reasons for these restrictions, we will miss the point if we don't view them in light of God's overarching desire that His people live their lives “unmixed” with the world. These laws applied to them alone. God was not requiring them of the other nations. They were intended to set His people apart from the rest of mankind. These rules and regulations would have seemed ridiculous to those outside of the nation of Israel. God's moral laws would have come across as onerous and heavy handed to a non-Israelite. But they were intended to teach God's people that He was a holy God who took sin seriously and who demanded a high standard from His people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind has always had a hard time understanding God. The human race is prone to misinterpretation of God's intentions. He can either come across as a kind of harsh and overly judgmental dictator or simply as some kind of senile, sentimental grandfather figure in the sky. What we know about God is directly tied to what He has revealed about Himself in creation and through His Word. Those whose only interaction with God is through His creation, usually end up with a distorted and impartial view of God. They can easily end up making more of the creation than they do the Creator. The Bible was intended to reveal a more comprehensive and complete image of the Almighty to man. It provides us with a grand narrative that takes us from the literal “beginning” to the end of the story. It reveals the character of God and the condition of man. It answers the questions of how we got here and why evil exists. It provides us with a clear explanation of sin and a simply solution as to what we can do about it. Ultimately, the Bible is about Jesus. He is and always has been God's solution to man's sin problem. The Old Testament provides a glimpse into the future, driving home the sinfulness of man, the holiness of God, and the desperate need for a means to reconcile the two. The Old Testament is incomplete without the coming of Christ. The New Testament makes no sense without the foundation set by the Old Testament. The grace provided by God through Christ will be unappreciated and misunderstood if not seen through the Law found in the Old Testament. The sin of man, so vividly displayed in the books of the Old Testament, provide a stark backdrop against which the Light of the world shines more brightly. And yet, even the disciples of Jesus didn't know what to do when His death ended their hopes and shattered their dreams. They had seen Him as their long-awaited Messiah, predicted by the Old Testament prophets. But when His life was cut short by His death on the cross, they found themselves disillusioned, defeated and in hiding. Even after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared in their sight, they had a hard time believing, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9 ESV). They knew the Scriptures. They just didn't understand them.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

That is the problem most of us face today. We may know the Scriptures. We may even study and read the Scriptures, but we lack understanding of the Scriptures. Our knowledge tends to be incomplete and disconnected. We find ourselves gravitating to passages we prefer. We avoid the difficult sections of Scripture and too often fail to see the Word of God as one book written by one Author telling a single story. Ultimately, the Scriptures are the revelation of God to man. They are intended to teach us to believe in God. They tell us how He created all that exists. They give us a comprehensive history of His interaction with mankind over the centuries. They reveal the problem of sin as well as God's gracious solution. To a certain degree, the Bible is an unbelievable book. It tells an unbelievable story. But it is intended to help us believe in God. The Scriptures point toward the coming of Christ as the Savior of the world and the solution to man's sin problem. John reminds us, “but these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). That we may believe. That's the point of the Bible. It is less about regulating behavior or providing lessons for living than it is about providing us with the key to eternal life. Yes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but it is ultimately about belief in God and in His Son whom He sent to provide salvation from sin and death.

Father, I sometimes find Your Word hard to believe. But as I learn to believe what it says, I find myself believing the One who said it. I grow in my understanding of who You are and what You have said You are going to do. Keep increasing my desire for Your Word so that I might grow in my knowledge and understanding of You. Don't let me treat Your Word as just another book or some kind of self-help manual for life. Show me more of You. That I might grow in my belief. Amen

Mission Accomplished.

Deuteronomy 19-20, John 19

So you shall purge the evil from your midst. ­– Deuteronomy 19:19 ESV

Sin within the community of God's people is like a cancer in the human body that, if left unchecked, will rapidly metastasize, infecting the entire organism and resulting in destruction. Oftentimes, the removal of cancer from the human body requires drastic measures. It can require invasive and seemingly destructive measures to preserve life. But the longer the disease is left unattended, the more radical the cure will need to become. When we see the commands of God concerning the destruction of the nations occupying the Promised Land, we can sometimes become appalled at the radical nature of the genocide He seems to be commanding and condoning. But God's intentions are clear, if not always understood. “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,  but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV). The reality we often lose sight of when studying the history recorded for us in the Old Testament is that the entire human race was destined for destruction because of sin. Ever since the fall or man, recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis, sin had separated mankind from God, and left them condemned to the penalty of death. But God had not left mankind without hope. He had a plan for dealing with the effects of sin. In Genesis 3, in God's pronouncement of His curses on Satan, the woman and the man, He gave us a glimpse of what He had planned. “I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). This is the protevangelium or first gospel. It is a prophetic picture of God's plan to destroy the enemy and his hold on mankind through the death of His own Son. Eve's eventual offspring, Jesus, would ultimately bruise or crush the head of Satan by conquering sin and death through His own sacrificial death on the cross.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had chosen the people of Israel as His possession and commissioned them to live according to His law. They were to be radically different from the other nations. They were to remain set apart and pure, uninfected by the other nations around them. God had wanted the nation of Israel to be a living, breathing example of what men and women who lived in obedience to the will of Almighty God would look like. But to be effective witnesses of God's glory and power, they needed to remain holy, distinct and pure. So God, knowing the power of sin and its infectious characteristics, demanded the complete destruction of those nations occupying the land He had promised to the descendants of Abraham. Why? So that they would not cause the Israelites to sin against God by tempting them to worship false gods or mimic their immoral behavior. Purging was necessary. The infection had to be removed. It appears radical and harsh, but it provides us a picture of just how dangerous and destructive sin can be. It is not to be taken lightly, either in the life of an individual or a nation. God had demanded that the Israelites put to death any prophets who claimed to be speaking for God, but who sanctioned the worship of false gods. If a man or woman was caught worshiping false gods, they were to be stoned to death. “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 17:7 ESV). If an individual refused to obey the decision of the priest or judge who was ordained by God to render judgment regarding disputes, they were to be put to death. “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 17:12 ESV). God gave this instruction over and over again. Evil was to be removed. The cancer was to be eradicated from the body.

What does this passage reveal about man?

It is fascinating to read the gospel record of John and his first-hand account of the death of Jesus. Standing on this side of the events of that day, we know that Jesus' death was intended by God to solve man's sin problem. He was the cure for the cancer that had infected mankind. His death was intended to provide payment for the sins of man. And yet, the people of Jesus' day saw Him as the problem, not the cure. Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest had said of Jesus, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48 ESV). In his mind, Jesus was a problem that needed to be removed. He had to be purged from their midst or He would bring destruction to the nation of Israel. He went on to say to his colleagues, “You know nothing at all, Not do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:49-50 ESV). John tells us that from that moment on, the Jewish religious leaders sought to put Jesus to death. They wanted the cancer in their midst removed. At His trials, Jesus was accused of everything from insurrection to blasphemy. He was labeled as a troublemaker and rebel against the rule of Rome. When Pilate asked the Jewish leadership, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”, they simply replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” (John 19:29-30 ESV). In their eyes, Jesus was evil and needed to be purged from the midst. He was a threat to their way of life. The sad irony of this event is that Jesus was actually the cure for what ailed them. He was the solution to their sin problem. But they simply saw Him as a threat. And while they believed that if they could have Jesus put to death, their troubles would be over, they failed to understand that they were sealing their own death warrants. They were rejecting the very One who could have saved them. When Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?”, they vehemently responded, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15 ESV). They were the infected ones. They were the diseased and dangerous ones. Jesus had warned the disciples about these men. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 ESV). The religious leaders, thinking themselves to be doing the people of God a favor by eliminating Jesus, were actually sealing their own fate and condemning the people of God to destruction.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Because Jesus was the cure for the sin of mankind, I have been given a chance to receive healing from sin's infection and release from my death sentence. I have been cured and made whole. And I have been given the power to continue to process of removing sin from my midst. I have the Holy Spirit within me who provides me with the power I need to extricate any remaining sinful behavior from my midst. It is a lifelong process that will require constant vigilance on my part. God's Word exposes the sin in my life. God's Spirit convicts me of residual sin and empowers me to remove or purge it from my life. But I must take sin seriously. I must understand that Jesus' death was required because of the devastating and destructive qualities of sin. Peter reminds me, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). I have been healed, but I must live in constant awareness of the power and presence of sin in my midst. Not only in my own life, but in the life of the body of Christ. Together, we must purge sin from our midst. If left unnoticed and unchecked, it can become invasive and pervasive, spreading like a cancer in the body of Christ. The sins of one can affect all. We must care about the spiritual well being of one another. We must be concerned about the spiritual state of our brothers and sisters in Christ and not tolerate sin in our midst. We have been called to live lives that are set apart and distinctively different than the rest of the world. We have received the cure and we must do all we can to remain spiritually healthy and whole, with the help of the Holy Spirit and through a mutual concern for one another.

Father, thank You for providing the cure for what ailed me. Your Son healed me from the devastating and deadly effects of sin. He provided salvation when I was in a hopeless and helpless condition. Now give me the strength and motivation to remain pure and whole. Help me listen to the promptings of Your Spirit and confess the sins of which He convicts me. Give me a growing concern for the spiritual health of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Don't allow us to tolerate sin in the body of Christ, but do all we can to purge it from our midst. Amen


Wholly Holy.

Deuteronomy 17-18, John 18

You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. ­– Deuteronomy 18:13 ESV

God wanted His people to be holy. He demanded that they be blameless. The Hebrew word translated as blameless is tamiym and it means “entire, whole or complete.” It is a word that carries the idea of moral integrity. In Latin, it is the word, integer, and it means “untouched, undivided, whole.” When we read the word, blameless, we tend to think of perfection or perfectness. But the real idea behind the word is that of wholeness. It is the same word used by God in His address to Abraham found in Genesis 17:1: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless’”. God was not expecting Abraham to live in perfection or without sin, but He was expecting Abraham to live a life that was wholly and completely dedicated to God. Every area of his life was to be lived out in full view of God. No compartmentalization. No hidden areas. He was to “walk before” God. The Hebrew word is halak and it means “to walk back and forth; to walk about; to live out one’s life.” God expected Abraham to live his entire life in full view of the gaze of God, knowing that God would see every area of His life. Nothing was hidden from God. The Israelites, descendants of Abraham, and recipients of the promises made to him, were to live their lives in the same way. They were to be blameless, whole and complete. There was to be no hidden areas in their lives, where they attempted to hide their actions from God. The laws of God were intended to cover every area of life. They were comprehensive and complete. Nothing was left to the imagination. A life lived in relationship with God was to be a life that was wholly and completely impacted by His presence, power and will.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had already told the people of Israel, “You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind,your whole being,  and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV). This was the great Shema. God was telling them that He expected their love for Him to be comprehensive and complete. It was to come from their whole mind, their whole being, and their whole strength. Their love for God was to encompass their entire life – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Jesus said of the religious leaders of His day, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). He was quoting from the writings of Isaiah, the prophet, who had recorded the words of God against the people of Israel. God does not want lip-service. He doesn't want His followers to simply go through the motions. The worship of God is to be holistic and complete. It is to be comprehensive and all-encompassing of every area of life. We see this modeled in the life of Jesus. His love for His Father was comprehensive. It was evident in every area of His life. His desire to do the will of His Father, even though it involved His own death, was an expression of His love. He held nothing back. Jesus was arrested, falsely accused and forced to undergo a series of trials on trumped up charges. He was subjected to all kinds of abuse and accusations. Even Pilate said, “I find no fault in him” (John 18:38 ESV). He was blameless. He was obedient. He was simply doing what His Father had called Him to do. And it was for His dedication to the will of God that He would die. Rather than preserve His own life, He willingly sacrificed it, out of love for the Father.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are the kings of compartmentalization. We are constantly trying to keep back certain areas of our lives over which we can maintain control. We give God portions of our lives, but withhold other areas for our own use. Our work can easily become our private domain, somehow separated from our “spiritual” lives. Our finances can become our personal arena over which we alone sit as masters. We can so easily give the appearance that we are dedicate to and in love with God, while we reserve certain aspects of our lives for our own use. Our thought lives remain ours to control. Our time becomes ours to use as we see fit. Our social lives become separated from our spiritual lives. And yet, God has called us to live lives that are holy and blameless, completely and wholly dedicated to Him.

At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was approached by a Jewish lawyer who asked Him how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus, knowing the man was an expert in the law of Moses, asked him what he thought the law said about it. The man responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 ESV). Jesus told the man, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28 ESV). What Jesus knew was that it was going to be impossible for the lawyer to “do this.” He would find it impossible to love God wholly and completely. He would discover that his inability to love others as God intended would be a stumbling block in his attempt to love God. No man can live blamelessly or wholly dedicated to God apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ. He alone makes it possible for us to stand before God wholly holy. It was the death of Jesus that cancelled our debt to God and transferred the righteousness of Christ to our account. It is what is often referred to as the Great Exchange. “But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners” (Romans 4:5 NLT). My sin for His righteousness. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross on my behalf, I stand before God as wholly holy.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But while I am positionally holy before God, there is a need for me to live practically holy before Him all the days of my life. I must continue to learn to live in obedience to His will, not out of some misguided attempt to score brownie points with God, or earn His favor, but out of love for Him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). There is an expectation on each of us as Christ-followers to live obediently within the will of God, submitted to His Spirit and guided by His Word. We are to model our lives after Christ, We are to “have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT). At attitude of servanthood, submission, humility and obedience to the will of God. My entire life is to be lived out before God, with nothing held back, no parts hidden or compartmentalized. I have the Spirit of God within me who makes it possible for me to live wholly holy. Not perfectly, but increasingly more willingly submitted to God's will for my life as His child. It is a process. It takes time. It is what is often referred to as sanctification, the ongoing transformation of my entire life into the likeness of Christ Himself. And there is a day coming when we will be like Him. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 ESV). The time is coming when we will be perfectly holy and complete. In the meantime, we are to maintain that as our goal. We are to strive towards holiness in every area of our lives. We are to love God with our whole mind, our whole being and every ounce of our physical strength – striving to be wholly holy – with the Spirit's help.

Father, I want to be wholly holy. I know it is impossible in this life, but it must be my goal. It must be my heart's desire. I also realize I can't do it on my own. I must rely upon the Holy Spirit's help and depend upon His power to make it possible. Continue to reveal to me my own shortcomings and inadequacies and remind me of my constant need for Your help to live the life You've called me to live. Amen

The Truth.

Deuteronomy 15-16, John 17

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ­– John 17:17 ESV

One of the things the Israelites were constantly having to learn was to trust God when He spoke. Much of what God told them to do sounded bizarre and far-fetched. His rules and regulations had to have seemed onerous and arbitrary at times. The sacrificial system He commanded them to keep had to have been burdensome and costly to keep. His commands regarding the release of all debts during the sabbatical year had to have seemed unfair and unjust. But God kept reminding them that His laws were to be obeyed and His commands were to be kept – at all times and at all costs. He repeatedly told them, “You shall…” and “You shall not…” God's commands were to be obeyed, even when they seemed to make no sense. His appointed festivals and feasts were to be celebrated on time and in the manner He prescribed. Everything was a reminder of God's faithfulness and goodness. Their expressions of mercy toward one another were to be reflections of the mercy God had shown them. Their celebrations of the festivals and feasts were regular reminders of God's past deliverance and daily provision in their lives. They were to live according to God's word, trusting that what He said was true and trustworthy. They were to listen to His instructions and obey His commands, regardless of what the other nations around them did. God's word was not to be treated as a suggestion or an option to be considered, but as truth to be believed and obeyed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's word is truth. It isn't just another version of the truth, it is the truth. It is not to be treated as optional or negotiable. It is not to be considered as one of several options to be considered. God didn't give the Israelites a choice as to whether or not they could obey His word. Of course, they often did disobey His word, but it always came with consequences. Failure to fully comply with His commands always resulted in a less-than-enjoyable outcome. One of the ways the Israelites learned to believe God's word was to disobey it. They often found out the hard way that what God said was true. They inevitably discovered that God's way was always the better way. His word was worth obeying. One of the difficult things about living in this world is our constant struggle with knowing the difference between truth and falsehood. The Israelites would constantly find themselves tempted to worship false gods. They would struggle with listening to alternate versions of the truth. This world is the domain of the enemy. Jesus referred to him as the father of lies. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV). But God is truth. He is the essence of truth. What we see around us is tainted by the effects of the fall. It is not as it should be. It is not as God intended it should be. Injustice, poverty, disease, war, suffering, heartache, and death are not God's invention or intention, but the result of sin entering into the world. God's word brings life. Even when God ordered the seeming death of the innocent, there was always a just and righteous reason for it. Even His command that His own Son die in the place of sinful man was a justifiable, righteous and true. It was right. It was necessary.

When Jesus claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV), He was including His own death as part of the equation. His death was necessary for Him to become the way. His death was a required part of God's truth. His death had to happen for eternal life to be possible. And while the disciples had a hard time understanding and embracing the gravity of Jesus' words, it was the truth. It was the revealed word of God. It was His divine plan to deal with the problem on man's sin and separation from His presence.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has always been in a desperate search to know the truth. Where did we come from? Why is there suffering in the world? How can we eradicate disease and forestall death? What comes after death? But we are limited in our understanding and prone to believe lies instead of the truth. We turn to just about anything and anyone in our search for the truth. We listen to the lies of men. We embrace the false assumptions of science. We turn to our intellect and rely upon reason. But we continually find ourselves wondering what is true and what is false. We question who we can believe and trust. But unless our search for truth takes us to God, we will constantly find ourselves believing the lie and living with a false sense of hope and an unreliable version of reality. Jesus told the Jews in His day, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV). There is only one version of the truth, and it can only be found in God's written word, the Bible, and through the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Anyone who seeks truth in the Scriptures, but fails to see the Son of God, will miss the whole point of God's written word. To turn the Bible into a self-help guide or a manual for living is to distort the truth of God's word. The Bible reveals God to man, and the greatest manifestations of God was Jesus Christ, the very Son of God in human flesh. Praying to His Heavenly Father in His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (John 17:8 ESV). Jesus was sent from God. He was the very truth of God revealed to men. He was God's revealed plan for the salvation of mankind. And yet, men refused to believe Him. They refused to acknowledge Him as the way, the truth and the life. He didn't fit their definition of truth. They had embraced a different truth – one of their own making. But for those who believed the truth and placed their faith in Jesus as their Messiah or Savior, Jesus revealed to them the truth of God regarding man's sin and the divine plan for salvation and their own sanctification.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus asked the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 ESV). The truth not only includes our salvation, but our ongoing sanctification. The Bible reveals man's plight and God's plan for restoring mankind to a right relationship with Him. The Bible tells us the truth about God and man. It reveals to us who God is and tells us the truth about who we are and how desperate our condition. The truth of God's word paints a vivid and realistic picture of the world and mankind's need for a Savior. Even as a believer, I must depend upon God's word to expose me to the truth – enlightening me to my ever-present need for God's ongoing salvation and His Spirit's constant transformation of my life. Just as God's word reveals that no man can save Himself, it also teaches me that I cannot sanctify myself. I can't make myself holy. I can't make myself Christ-like and righteous. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God alone. That truth should be a source of freedom and release for me. The truth is, I must live in this world, surrounded by lies and falsehood. I must attempt to grow in Christ-likeness and increase in holiness. But I don't have to do it alone. My ongoing spiritual maturity and increasing holiness is a result of God's work in my life. As Jesus said, I am sanctified in truth – the truth of God's word.

Father, we are surrounded by lies. We are constantly tempted to believe anything and anyone, except You. Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth regarding Your Son and His offer of salvation. But help me to understand that the truth found in Christ also includes my ongoing sanctification or growth in spiritual maturity or Christ-likeness. You have shown me through Your Word how maturity takes place. Sometimes it sounds farfetched and difficult, but I know it is the truth. Sometimes Your Holy Spirit seems distant and hard to comprehend, but I know He's there because Your Word promises it. Help me trust Your Word and live according to Your truth. Amen

Help For Holiness.

Deuteronomy 13-14, John 16

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. ­– Deuteronomy 14:2 ESV

Over and over again, God reminded the people of Israel that they were to be holy, because they belonged to Him. They were His possession and, as a result, they were to live lives that reflected their unique position as His chosen people. He had given them rules and regulations for conducting their lives that included dietary laws and a sacrificial unlike any other. They were to worship only God and were not allowed to have any other gods as substitutes or options. God took idolatry quite seriously, demanding that any prophet who encouraged the people to worship other gods was to be executed. Any friend or family member who tried to tempt a loved one to worship a false god was to be stoned to death. It didn't matter if it was a wife, mother, father, brother, son or daughter. Any city that ended up worshiping a false god was to be destroyed and all its inhabitants put to death. Nothing was to be taken as spoil and the city was to remain a ruins forever. Holiness was a non-optional requirement for the people of God. They had been set apart by God for His glory and so they were to live lives that reflected their unique standing as His possession.

This demand to live holy lives was passed on to the New Testament believers. Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-15 ESV). God still expects His children to live holy, set-apart lives. But we have a distinct advantage over the people of Israel. We have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who makes our pursuit of holiness possible.

What does this passage reveal about God?

What we see in the Old Testament is a vivid glimpse of God's holiness in full display. By the time He had called the people of Israel and led them to the border of the Promised Land, idolatry was in full swing in the world. False gods were everywhere. Mankind had developed the capacity to make gods out of just about anything and everything. They worshiped gods they made with their own hands. They worshiped the trees, the planets, the water, and other parts of creation. They made gods who handled everything from fertility and fruitfulness to war. Nations borrowed the gods of other nations. They saw nothing wrong with having multiple gods and would add new gods to their retinue of deities in a heartbeat. But the God of the Israelites would not tolerate the worship of any other gods. He claimed to be the one and only God. He let them know that they, as His possession, were to have no other gods before them. They were to remain devoted solely to Him and worship Him alone. God was intolerant and inflexible on this matter. His people were to remain faithful to Him. He knew they were surrounded by nations who worshiped all kinds of gods. He realized that they would be constantly tempted to turn to those other gods and give their devotion and allegiance to them. That is why God was so adamant that the people of Israel destroy the nations who lived in the land and tear down their altars and the places of worship dedicated to these false gods. The people of Israel belonged to God. He had chosen them. He had redeemed them from slavery. He had made a covenant with them. And He had kept His part of the covenant. Now He was expecting them to keep theirs.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Faithfulness is not a natural character trait among men, and spiritual faithfulness is a virtual impossibility. When it comes to the worship of God, the human race has proven it has a difficult time remaining faithful and true. Ever since the fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by listening to the lies of the enemy, man has made a habit out of making gods of his own creation. We have a long track record of remaking God in our own image, or simply making a whole new god altogether. And with our new gods we have ended up making our own set of rules and standards by which to live. The various gods available today tend to offer conflicting views regarding life and how one can enjoy the afterlife. Each offers their version of the truth. But Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He claimed to be the only means by which man could be made right with God. False gods offer false hope when it comes to mankind's condition. Sacrifice to a false god can never provide true forgiveness or redemption. Belief in a false god, not matter how sincere, can never deliver anyone from the penalty that sin deserves. Even the Israelites, while they worshiped the one true God, could not keep His laws perfectly and completely. They were incapable of living the holy lives He demanded. They couldn't keep His laws or live up to His standards. They struggled with disobedience and unfaithfulness. The law constantly reminded them of their sins and the sacrificial system provided little more than a temporary pardon, delaying the inevitable consequences for their sin because they couldn't stop sinning.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But God fully understood man's condition and had a divine solution already in place. He had planned all along to send His Son to die in man's place as a payment for the penalty for man's sin. Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and lived as one of us, so that He might live in complete obedience to the law of God. He did what no other man had ever done: obey God's law to perfection, which made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. He was the sinless sacrifice that God required. And because of His death in our place, God is able to offer us forgiveness from sin and salvation from death – and all we have to do is trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. When we do, God offers us forgiveness from sin and promises us eternal life. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). But even with the promise of eternal life, God still demands that His children live holy lives. He still expects us to live set-apart lives, in keeping with His divine standards and reflective of our unique position as His holy possession. But the good news is that He has given us a “Helper” – the Holy Spirit – to assist us in living the life to which God has called us. Jesus told His disciples, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11 ESV). After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended back to heaven, and this triggered the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The story of Pentecost found in the second chapter of Acts, tells of His initial coming. The Holy Spirit was a game changer. He turned cowering, fearful disciples into bold, fearless spokesmen for the Kingdom of God. He turned timid, uneducated men and women into passionate evangelists for the Good News of Jesus Christ. He made possible powerful preaching and unbelievable miracles. He empowered, guided and comforted those who had, just a few hours earlier, been fearful and hopeless. Jesus ended up leaving His disciples behind, but He did not leave them alone. He gave them His Holy Spirit, and today, as Christ followers, we have that same Holy Spirit available to us and resident within us. As a result, we have all that we need to live the lives God has called us to live. We can be holy. We can live distinctively and differently from the world around us. Peter tells us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” ( 2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Father, thank You for making holiness possible. You have given me Your Spirit to assist me in the process. And never let me forget that it is a process. It is a transformational process that takes time and requires my willing participation. I must desire to live differently and then allow Your Spirit to lead me and empower me to make it possible. I have the ability to live according to Your divine standards and live up to Your righteous requirements, just as Your Son did, because Your Spirit lives within me. Amen


No Excuse.

Deuteronomy 11-12, John 15

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. ­– John 15:22 ESV

The people of Israel were without excuse. They had seen the hand of God in their lives. He had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, led them through the wilderness for more than 40 years, and now had them poised to enter into the long-awaited land of promise. Moses told them, “For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did” (Deuteronomy 11:7 ESV). All that they had seen God do over the years on their behalf should have empowered them to obey Him. They should have had no problem believing in God and his ability to lead, provide for and protect them. As they entered the Promised Land, they should have been fully confident in God's ability to do what He had promised to do. Not only had He said He would give them the land, He had told them that the land would be rich and abundant and, if they obeyed Him, it would get ever better. Moses reminded them, “he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full” (Deuteronomy 11:14-15 ESV).

But in spite of all that God had done for them, the Israelites continued to struggle with believing and obeying. Moses had to repeatedly warn them not to worship other gods. He made sure they fully understood that they were going to have to destroy all the nations living in the land, along with all their false gods. They were going to have to remove every imaginable temptation to turn their attention from God and worship anything or anyone other than Him. God had made His will clear. Moses had made the conditions regarding God's promises non-negotiable. So whatever happened in the days ahead, they would be without excuse.

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the very beginning, God has made Himself known to man in a variety of ways. God's creation reveals His divine nature, power, and presence. Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20 ESV). God is not hidden from man. He has displayed His glory all around them. But man has tended to worship the creation rather than the creator, making gods out of animals, trees, the planets, and even one another.

In the days following the fall of man, when Adam and Eve sinned against God, mankind found itslef on a trajectory of disobedience and rebellion against Him. Each of the nations developed a whole host of other gods to worship. By the time Abram received his call from God, idolatry was in full-swing. So God revealed Himself to Abraham in a remarkable way, making Himself known more intimately to man than ever before. Over the centuries, God would continue to reveal Himself to the descendants of Abraham – visibly and even verbally. He would reveal Himself through His law and the sacrificial system. He would display His power. He would allow them to enjoy His divine presence. No longer would they be limited to learning about God through nature. His revelation of Himself had become intimate and immediate. So they were without excuse. They knew that God existed. They knew He was faithful. They knew He was powerful. They knew He was holy, righteous, and just. And they knew He had a strong hatred for sin and had to punish it unapologetically.

And yet, theycontinued to struggle with belief and obedience.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The problem with man is not that God is impossible to discover, but simply that the God of the universe is not the God they want. They prefer a god of their own making. They don't want an all-powerful, must-be-obeyed-at-all-costs God. They want a loving, merciful, gracious, gift-giving, wish-granting god who exists for their benefit. The truth was, the Israelites had experienced God's abundant grace, mercy, and generosity. But His gifts came with requirements. He demanded allegiance and faithfulness. He required fidelity. God had made man for His glory. Man had turned that idea on its ears, insisting that God existed for their glory. Even the Israelites had slowly begun to believe that they were somehow special because God had chosen them. They convinced themselves that He owed them His undivided attention and affection. In their minds, God owed them something. He had to bless them. He had to prosper them. But they had forgotten that God chosen them in spite of them, not because of them. Rather than seeing themselves as dependent on God, they had somehow convinced themselves to believe that God needed them. They believed themselves to beindispensable to God. After all, they were His “chosen people.”

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God was not done revealing Himself to man. With the coming of Jesus, God had chosen a new way to make Himself known. Jesus was “God incarnate” – God in the flesh. He was Immanuel, “God with us.” But even when Jesus left heaven and took on human flesh, men chose to reject Him. Even after He had performed miracles and given them sign after sign of His deity, they just couldn't bring themselves to believe in Him. Why? Because He was not who they were expecting or offering what they wanted. As always, God's revelation of Himself blatantly exposed the sinfulness of man. Jesus came to keep the law that no man had ever been able to keep. He came to offer them salvation from sin. But Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin(John 15:22 ESV). He had arrived on earth proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven. They were looking for a kingdom on earth. He had come to offer salvation from sin. They wanted freedom from Roman rule. He came demanding that they must believe in Him as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But they refused to believe Him. His arrival had demanded a decision on their part. They either had to believe in Him or reject Him. But Jesus said, “If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24 ESV). His signs and miracles were intended to reveal His deity. They were meant to validate His claim to be the Son of God. But the people worshiped His miracles instead of Him. They wanted to see signs and wonders, but rejected His offer of salvation. And they were without excuse.

God wants to offer me so much more than just a better life and temporal blessings that fade with time. He wants to provide me with more than simply good health and a trouble-free existence in this life. He sent His Son to pay for my sins and offer me eternal life, free from condemnation and the fear of death. Jesus offers me abundant life, but based on the promise of a life after this one. The tendency is to make this life the goal, to attempt to get everything I can here and now, and forget about the hereafter. God wants us to live in dependence upon Him, allowing Him to bless us as He sees fit in this life, but focusing our hopes and desires on the life to come. Jesus promised us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). We must rely on Him. We must depend upon Him. We must allow His life to flow through us, producing the fruit of His Spirit, not the deeds of our own sinful flesh. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. And if we attempt to live this life in our own power, focused on our own selfish desires, believing that God exists to make us happy, we are without excuse.

Father, I can so easily make it all about me. Help me to understand that I can do nothing without You. I am helpless and hopeless without Your Son and His gift of salvation – available to me every day of my life. May I continually learn to live for You and Your Kingdom, not my own. I have no excuse for believing that this life is all there is or that You somehow owe me a favor. May my life bring you glory each and every day I live. Amen

A Love For God.

Deuteronomy 9-10, John 14

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? ­– Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

Moses went out of his way to remind the people of Israel of all that God had done for them over the four decades since He had released them from bondage in Egypt. He made sure they understood that it was “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:12-13). He broke the news to them that God was “not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:6 ESV). But he also told them, that in spite of themselves, God was going to go before them and deliver the land and their enemies into their hands. And all God asked for in return was that they show Him the love, devotion, obedience, and yes, fear, He so rightly deserved. Moses wanted them to understand the incredible nature of the relationship they enjoyed with the God who created the universe. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18 ESV). He wasn't just some divine guide for living or a convenient source for food. He wasn't some kind of talisman or good luck charm to help them win battles or overcome difficulties. He was the almighty, holy, righteous, just, powerful, loving, merciful and gracious God of the universe.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God desires that men show Him the honor and glory He deserves. He demands that they show Him the fear His power and holiness requires. He longs for them to understand just how incredible it is that He allows them to come into His divine presence, in spite of their sins and constant tendency to rebel against Him. God wants men to willingly obey and love Him because of all that He has done for them. Of all people, the Israelites knew first-hand the power and holiness of God. They had been given His law. They had heard what He required of them and what He would do if they disobeyed Him. But they had also experienced the incredible blessings that came as a result of obeying Him. They knew what it was like to have Him go before them, providing direction and protection. And they alone, of all people living on the earth at the time, had been given this unique relationship with God. And all He asked in return was that they love, fear and obey Him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even those who have experienced the love, mercy, grace and power of God in their lives, sometimes have a difficult time expressing legitimate love in return. We all struggle with obedience to God. Partly because of our sin nature. But also because our God is invisible to us. We live in a temporal and physical world where the spiritual is difficult to see and comprehend. So we make decisions based on what we can see. We tend to believe what we can touch and experience with our senses. We find ourselves trusting what we can hold in our hands and see with our eyes. The Israelites had visible manifestations of God's glory and presence, and still struggled with trusting and obeying Him. They experienced countless displays of His blessings and still tended to fall out of love with Him when things didn't go quite the way they expected. And we do the same thing today. But we have been given God's Word as a constant reminder of who He is and all that He has done for mankind over the centuries. Not only that, God's Word tells us what He is going to do in the future as part of the fulfillment of His divine promise to mankind. For those of us who know Him and have a relationship with Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have been given a glimpse into God's faithfulness in the past and His faithfulness yet to come. We know how God solved the problem of sin and man's inability to live obediently to His law. We know God sent His own Son to pay the penalty for our rebellion against Him and provided a way for us to experience forgiveness and a restored relationship with Him. We also know that God is not done yet. He is one day going to send His Son again to bring an end to ALL sin and suffering. He will restore order where there has only been chaos and put all things back the way God had intended them to be all along.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus came to provide salvation from sin and the penalty of death. He gave His life so that I might live – not on my own terms, but according to God's divine will. Christ's death not only provided me with salvation, but with the power of the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for me to live obediently and faithfully according to God's will. Jesus promised His disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16 ESV). “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV). Jesus still expected obedience and love from His disciples. He told them, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21 ESV). But He also knew that they would be incapable of obedience and love without help. So He told them that they would receive divine assistance in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Like the disciples, I have the capacity and power to love and obey.

God's requirements have not changed. He still expects us to fear Him, love Him, obey Him and serve Him. But He hasn't left us to try in our own strength. He has placed His Spirit within us, and that power is now available to us, He resides within us. Which is why Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14 ESV). The Holy Spirit gives us the capacity to do great things in the name of God and out of love for God.

Father, I want my life to be an expression of love for You. I want to live in obedience to You and reliance upon You. I have no excuse for not doing so, because You have placed Your Spirit within me. I know I have the capacity to say no and refuse to listen to His directions for my life. I do it far too frequently. But help me to see that His power is the key to living obediently, joyfully, and powerfully. I want to let Him lead me and empower me to love You by living fearfully, obediently, faithfully and submissively to Your will for my life. Amen

Betraying God.

Deuteronomy 7-8, John 13

Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth”. ­– Deuteronomy 8:17 ESV

God had blessed the people of Israel in amazing ways over the four decades since He had released them from captivity in Egypt. Not only had He arranged their release through a series of spectacular and devastating plagues, He had also fed them with manna from heaven and water from a rock. He prevented their clothes and their sandals from wearing out. He had revealed the glory of His power and presence through the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. He had promised to give them a land of their own, providing for them vineyards and fields they never had to plant, as well as homes and cities to live in that they weren't required to build. God had shown these people favor after favor, extending mercy and grace beyond measure. But as they stood on the edge of the Promised Land, Moses warned them. He knew their hearts. He was well aware of their tendencies. He had struggled with these people for over 40 years. So he gives them some much-needed last-minute advice.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was going to do His part. He had gotten them this far, and He would make sure that the land He had promised to them made it into their possession. Moses knew that this second generation were no different than the first. As soon as they saw the strength and size of the enemies in the land, they would panic. But he reminded them that God was clear out all the nations before them. He would literally give them over to the Israelites for destruction. Their job was to fight and, ultimately, to wipe out the nations who occupied the land. As harsh as this may sound, God had a very good reason for the extermination of the pagan nations that lived in the land of Canaan. He knew that they were idol worshipers and worse. They were the antithesis of what He wanted the people of Israel to be. If left to live in the land, it would just be a matter of time before the Israelites intermarried with them and took on their gods. They would end up co-habitating with the enemy and compromising their convictions. So God ordered their complete annihilation. He wanted the full attention and devotion of the people He had chosen. God wanted to bless them, but that was going to be impossible if they risked betraying their loyalty and devotion to Him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Moses told the people, “The whole commandment that I command you today, you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give your fathers” (Deuteronomy 8:1 ESV). “So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him” (Deuteronomy 8:6 ESV). But he also provided them with a sober warning to “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:11 ESV). How would they forget God? By failing to keep His commandments. By accepting His blessings and enjoying the God-given wealth of the land, but allowing pride to rise up and cause them to wrongly assume that “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17 ESV).

He warned them not to forget God. To do so would be to betray Him, to turn their back on Him. And yet, they would be constantly tempted to do just that. God would give them victories and they would attempt to take credit for it. God would bless their crops and increase their wealth, and they would assume responsibility for having made it happen. Moses knew that God was going to bless them, because He had promised to do so and God could be trusted to keep His word. But Moses also knew that the people would be prone to betray God by refusing to obey Him and give Him the glory He deserved. One of the greatest ways men can honor and glorify God is to recognize His activity in their lives. Acknowledging the presence and power of God all around us brings Him glory.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus lived His life on this earth to glorify the Father. He said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son,he will soon give glory to the Son” (John 13:31-32 NLT). Jesus complete obedience to the will of the Father in this life brought glory to God. His death on the cross brought glory to God because it was the ultimate expression of His unwavering obedience. His resurrection from the dead brought glory to God because it was the work of God. And now, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, restored to His former place and glorified by God Himself.

Jesus was not going to betray His Father. He would not assume credit for the work of the Father in His life. He spoke only what His Father commanded Him to speak. He lived in obedience and submission to the will of God. And He has called all His disciples to live likewise. We are called to live like Christ, to live in humble submission to God and willful obedience to His Word. Jesus washed the disciples' feet, not as a ritual to be repeated, but as an example to be followed. Jesus humbled Himself. He served others. In just a few hours from the moment He toweled off the feet of the last disciple, Jesus would be hanging on a cross, the ultimate expression of servanthood. He would give Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Jesus wanted His disciples to follow His lead. He wanted them to honor God rather than betray Him. Peter claimed that he was willing to die for Jesus, but Jesus begged to differ. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:38 ESV). Jesus had already revealed that Judas was going to betray Him. Now He tells Peter that, he too, will betray Him. The betrayal of God is a constant threat to each and every one of us. Turning our backs on God will always be a real temptation as long as we live on this earth. But we have been called to live in obedient submission to His will, giving Him the glory He deserves by recognizing His constant hand in our lives. Nothing we do is accomplished apart from God. Our greatest achievements are due to the grace and mercy of God. Rather than betray Him, I should live to display Him to the world around me. Christ in me, the hope of glory.

Father, I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. Forgive me for taking credit for and control of my life. I want to live in obedient submission to You, recognizing Your role in my life and remembering all that You have done for me over the years. May my life bring You glory and honor as I recognize Your activity in my life. Amen


Called Out. Sold Out.

Deuteronomy 5-6, John 12

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. ­– Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV

God had chosen the people of Israel for a reason. He wanted them to be a living, breathing example of what a relationship between God and man might look like. He wanted to reveal His power through them. He wanted to providentially provide for them. He wanted to guide and direct them, as well as protect them. Their relationship and interaction with God was to be a special and unique, unlike that of any other nation. But that relationship required allegiance and obedience. God had proven His love for them through His decision of choosing them, redeeming them from slavery in Egypt, and giving them His irrevocable pledge of a land of their own. But God expected theirs to be a reciprocal relationship. He wasn’t just looking for half-hearted adherents to His laws who obeyed solely out of fear. He desired a people who would love Him for who He was and for all He had done for them.

Verses 4-5 of Deuteronomy 6 contain the great “Shema” – what would become, in essence, the statement of faith for the Hebrew people.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to commitment, a corporate live in a covenant relationship with God, recognizing Him as their God and loving Him accordingly. The proof of their love for God was to expressed in their faithful devotion to Him alone. It was to be holistic in nature, influencing every area of their life and every aspect of their nature. They were to be wholly holy, completely set apart to God and fully in love with Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God desires a relationship with mankind. He could have demanded unwavering allegiance from those whom He has made, and hold them accountable for their failure to obey. But knowing that they were completely incapable of living in obedience to His law and unable to meet His righteous standards, He chose to show mercy and grace. He lovingly and graciously provided the means by which they could enjoy His presence and receive His forgiveness and pardon, in spite of their repeated failures to remain faithful and sinless. But God expected those whom He had chosen and showered with His mercy and grace to respond in love. He wanted them to recognize His goodness and appreciate just how blessed they were to have this one-of-a-kind relationship with Him. He wanted them to tell their children. God expected His people to be so overwhelmed by His grace that they would willingly and gladly tell the next generation.

In those days, the key to living in a loving relationship with God was based on an understanding of and obedience to the law of God. That’s why Moses tells the people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV). But it wasn’t just the law of God that was to be passed down. They were to constantly remind one another of God’s goodness and grace. They were to remember His great deeds done on their behalf. They were to recall His covenant faithfulness and recount it to those who were too young to have experienced it. One of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our willingness and eagerness to talk about Him to others. We talk about those whom we love. We brag about those who are near and dear to us, including our family members or friends. But do we brag about God?

What does this passage reveal about man?

Over in the gospel of John, we read that not long after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, people began to believe in Him. It’s amazing how a little thing like raising the dead made a profound impact on them. Even some of the rulers of the Jews had become convinced that Jesus was truly who He claimed to be. But John tells us, “but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43 NET). Isn’t that the problem we all face? They cared more about what others thought about them than they did about all that God was doing among them. They worshiped man more than they did God.

Jesus Himself said, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me” (John 12:45-45 NET). Ultimately, belief in Jesus was really an expression of belief in God, because He had been sent by God. He was the Son of God. Upon His arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus had been greeted by enthusiastic crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13 NET). They appeared to be expressing love for Jesus that was from their whole mind, their whole being and all their strength. It looked as if they were giving it their all. But in just a short time, their shouts of joy would turn to screams of rage. Instead of “Hosanna!,” they would be shouting, “Crucify Him!” Their love for Jesus would prove to be short-lived and short-sighted. Instead of recognizing Him as their Savior, they ended up rejecting Him. His talk of death and sacrifice were unappealing to them. They weren’t looking for a suffering Savior, but a conquering Messiah and King.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus told the people in the crowd, “If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26 NET). Jesus was calling for a commitment. He was asking for a wholesale expression of allegiance on the part of His followers, involving their whole mind, their whole being, and all their strength. Jesus was calling them to a long-term relationship that was going to last long after this world has ceased to exist. God expects those for whom He sent His Son to express their love and appreciation for His great gift of mercy and grace. We show our love through our belief, but also through our behavior. We express our love for God by talking about Him incessantly and eagerly. We tell of His goodness. We brag about His power. We express thanks for His blessings and remind one another of His promises yet to come. Those of us who have been called out are expected to live sold-out lives, fully committed to Him and expressing our love for Him as we live in obedience to Him.

Father, thank You for choosing me. I was totally unworthy, but You sent Your Son to die in my place in order to pay for the sins I had committed. Help me comprehend the magnitude of that reality and live accordingly. May my life increasingly reflect my love for You as I talk about You, brag on You and live in obedience to You. Amen

City of Refuge.

Numbers 35-36, John 9

“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:34 ESV

God dwelt among His people, and His very presence demanded that they live set-apart lives. His holiness and righteousness required that they live differently and distinctively, abiding by a stringent set of rules and regulations that governed their behavior and interactions with one another. And yet God knew their weaknesses and fully understood their incapacity to live up to His exacting standards. The entire sacrificial system was designed to deal with their ongoing struggle with sin. He even provided them with six cities of refuge, Levitical cities where someone guilty of unpremeditated murder could run for protection. There was no police force in those days, and it was the responsibility of the next of kin of anyone who had been murdered to bring about justice by executing the one guilty of murder. But God's holiness required that only those who were guilty of premeditated murder could be executed. To unjustly execute the innocent would have been as evil in God’s sight as to excuse the guilty. So He provided those who had committed murder accidently or impulsively a means of finding justice. They could run to one of the cities of refuge and receive a fair and unbiased trial. If they were deemed innocent of having committed premeditated murder, they could live in the city of refuge and enjoy permanent protection from the “blood avenger.” They were still guilty of murder, but their lives were spared. The city of refuge became their prison until the day that the high priest died. Then his death would serve as an atonement for their sin, providing them with release from their guilt and the right to live among their kinsmen again – innocent and free.

The ongoing presence of God was constantly in jeopardy due to the sinfulness of men. Yet He provided them with countless means by which they could receive restoration and assure His continued existence among them. It was God who set them apart. Without them, they would have been nothing. His presence provided them their distinctiveness. And it was their sin that threatened their uniqueness as His chosen people.

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God has been actively and aggressively seeking to restore order to the chaos created by their actions. Their sin brought disorder, disobedience and, ultimately, death into the world. It wasn't long after Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and convinced her husband to join her in rejecting God's word, that murder showed up on the scene. One of Eve's own sons would kill his brother. Death entered the scene. And disease would not be far behind it. Their bodies would undergo the inevitable effects of aging. Sin would increase. Rebellion against God would run rampant. And yet God continued to reach out to mankind, offering a form of refuge from the consequences of sin. In a real sense, God's choosing of Abraham made he and his descendants a “city of refuge” for mankind. The people of Israel would become a single source for God's abiding presence and divine protection from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It was among the children of God that men could find access to God. It was through the law of God that men could learn of the divine requirements and expectations of a holy God. It was through the sacrificial system instituted by God that men could find atonement for their sins and freedom from the penalty of death they so justly deserved. God had provided a city of refuge among the sons of men. And eventually, God would send His own Son as the ultimate and final means of refuge and escape from sin's destructive power and God's righteous judgment.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Scriptures make it painfully clear that all men are guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The law of God was given to show men their sin. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the freeway, the law was a constant reminder of man's proclivity toward disobedience and rebellion. Our guilt is unquestionable and undeniable. Every individual who has ever lived has stood condemned before a holy and righteous God due to the sinful nature passed down to them from Adam and Eve, which has been evidenced by their own sinful behavior. We are all guilty. We all stand condemned. And the very presence of disease and death in our world is an outward reminder of the reality of sin's devastating consequences.

In the gospels we read of Jesus' constant encounters with those who suffered from diseases and disorders of all kinds. In John 9, He meets a man who had been blind since birth. This man lived in a constant state of darkness. The disciples, like most of their fellow Jews, believed that this man's malady was due to either his own sin or the sins of his parents. They were partially right. His blindness was a result of sin entering the world and bringing with it disease and physical disorders. Like so many others, this man was suffering from the lingering effects of sin on God's creation. Jesus cleared up the confusion by declaring, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus would prove to be a city of refuge for this man, providing him with a way of escape from the devastating consequences of sin's presence in our world. This man lived in darkness, but Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV). Jesus restored his sight. He freed him from darkness. He opened his eyes so that he might physically see, but even more so, that he might spiritually see. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV) and the man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” (John 9:36 ESV). Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you” (John 9:37 ESV). And the man believed.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

At this point in the story, Jesus made an interesting comment. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see many become blind” (John 9:39 ESV). This man had been given the ability by God to see the Son of God. He had been provided with the capacity to physically see so that he might spiritually see. And as a result, he found refuge from his guilt in the Savior. But there would be those who remained blind and ignorant of God's gift of salvation and healing through His Son. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who was guilty of murder took advantage of the cities of refuge. They may have taken their chances on their own, assuming they could escape judgment and avoid the wrath of the blood avenger. But it was those who fled to the cities of refuge who found safety and protection. Not everyone who saw Jesus believed in Him. He makes it clear that there were those who remained blind and spiritually sightless, incapable of seeing that He was their only means of escape and their only source of refuge from the devastating consequences of sin. It is to Jesus that I must turn as my city of refuge in this sin-soaked, death-marked world. He alone can provide me with protection from sin's condemnation and provide me with an assurance of God's acceptance of my life and His ongoing presence in my life. He is my refuge.

Father, You have provided me with a refuge from the devastating consequences of sin in the world and in my life. You opened my eyes that I might see Your Son as my Savior. You gave me sight. You provided me with a place to run and find protection, forgiveness and, ultimately, atonement for my sins. Thank You. Amen

Our Ultimate Inheritance.

Numbers 33-34, John 8

So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” – John 8:21 ESV

The Israelites had traveled a long and winding road to get to the land of promise. Chapter 33 of Numbers recounts the circuitous route they took to arrive at the border of the land of Canaan. They had covered a lot of miles and committed their fair share of sins. An entire generation of them had died in the wilderness due to their disobedience and refusal to enter the land the first time they had had the opportunity. And more than 40 years later, as they stood once again on the border looking into the land promised to them by God, He had to remind them, “When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:51-52 ESV). And He had to warn them, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them” (Numbers 33:55-56 ESV). The land before them was to be their inheritance. It had been promised to them by God Himself. But without even reading any further, it would be easy to assume that these people were going to have a difficult time keeping God's commands regarding the land. They had a track record of disobedience and a knack for doing things their own way, rather than God's. They would eventually make it into the land, but things would not go well for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is a real sense in which all of God's interactions with the people of Israel were a glimpse into the future. They were a foreshadowing of something yet to come. In a way, the events of the Old Testament were a temporary or partial outpouring of God's more complete plan to come. God's promises to them were real. His love for them was complete. But His plan was far more reaching than just their initial entrance into the land. God's call of Abraham extends far into the future, all the way to the coming of Christ and even into the distant future where He will return and establish His Kingdom on earth. As we are all prone to do, the Israelites focused on the hear and now. They were short-sighted, suffering from limited vision and looking only for the more immediate benefits of their relationship with God. Even by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Jews were still looking for a Messiah who would provide them with immediate relief from their subjugation to Rome. They wanted a king who would rule and reign like David of old. They were looking for a political Messiah, not a spiritual one. Even Jesus' disciples kept wondering when He was going to set up His earthly kingdom. They even argued about which one of them was going to get the privilege of ruling by His side. But God's plan was far greater than a short-term, earthly reign of yet another human king.

Jesus told the Jews of His day, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). His words confused them. They assumed He was threatening to commit suicide. But Jesus clarified His statement by saying, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24 ESV). At that point, Jesus establishes the primary difference between the people of Israel and Himself. While He stood before them as a man, He was not one of them. He was “from above.” Jesus was “not of this world.” He was God. His Kingdom was not of this world. Later on in the book of John, we will read these words spoken from the lips of Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

But the Jews couldn't see beyond the reality of their present circumstances. There vision was myopic and limited. They were not looking for a future, yet unseen Kingdom, they were wanting an immediate kingdom that was of this earth and ruled by an earthly, human king. They had turned the grand plan of God into a petty, me-centered, now-focused, short-sighted plan that focused solely on their own selfish desires. They had long lost sight of the reality that God's plan had always been far more encompassing than their own selfish desires. He had allowed an entire generation of their ancestors die in the wilderness and lose out on the blessings of the Promised Land because of their unbelief. He had refused to allow Moses or Aaron to enter into the Promised Land because of their failure to treat Him as holy. The Jews of Jesus' day claimed that God was their Father, but Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (John 8:42 ESV). They couldn't recognize Jesus for who He was because He didn't fit their expectations. He was a spiritual Savior and they were looking for a political one.

They had lost sight of God's plan. In fact, Jesus even accused them of being children of Satan, not God. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:44-45 ESV). They had learned to listen to the lies of the enemy. And one of His greatest lies is to get us to believe that God's plan is all about us. He wants us to believe that we are the stars of the show and that God exists for our glory, instead of the other way around.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Seeing God's greater plan is difficult when we are constantly surrounded by the more immediate concerns of this temporal world. it is so easy to make it all about the here-and-now. When the Israelites were standing on the edge of the Promise Land, God told them there were going to have to remove all the nations that lived in the land. There was a long-term strategy to God's command. He was looking at the long-term health of the nation of Israel. But they would suffer from short-sighted convenience and compromise. They would refuse to do things God's way, and they would suffer the inevitable consequences. But I can do the same thing. By focusing on short-term benefits, I can lose sight of God's future-based promise. God's plan for the Israelites wasn't limited to getting them into the land. He wanted to make of them a great nation. But He also wanted to bring about a future descendant of King David who would rule and reign for eternity. God's plan for the Israelites went well beyond just the literal descendants of Abraham. He was going to bless ALL the nations of the earth through Abraham through a descendant of Abraham – Jesus Christ. I have to keep a future focus as I live in this present age. This is not all there is. God's plan does not culminate with or revolve around ME! There is more yet to come. God has more yet to accomplish. Jesus has work yet to complete. Jesus promised all those who would believe in Him eternal life. He said, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV). That is a future promise. I must focus on that. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). I have not yet arrived. God is not yet done. Jesus is not yet finished. My full inheritance has not yet been realized. But I eagerly await God's future fulfillment of His faithful plan.

Father, give me a future focus. Help me to keep my eyes on the prize. Don't let me make it all about me. Your plan is far greater than my own selfish desires and petty dreams. What You have planned for mankind is far greater than anything I could ever dream up. Help me to patiently and eagerly wait for the fulfillment of Your plan, instead of concocting my own. Amen

Get the Facts First.

Numbers 31-32, John 7

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. – John 7:24 ESV

I like the way The New Living Translation treats the verse above. “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” When we read the Old Testament, we sometimes struggle with understanding why God did things the way He did. There are those who see the God of the Old Testament as a completely different God than that as revealed in the New Testament. They struggle with the images of wrath and judgment, apparent legalism and harsh demands. But I would encourage us to listen to the words of Jesus: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” What is it that God is revealing to us through stories like that found in Numbers 31? Why would God command the complete annihilation of a group of people; including every man, woman and child? If we're not careful, we could be quick to judge God and reach a false conclusion regarding His character and conduct. If it is true that God is holy, just and righteous, then all that He does is holy, just and righteous. Unlike the man-made gods of the Greeks, He is not capricious or prone to evil. He does not play tricks on people. He does not lie or deceive. There is a perfectly good reason for all that God does and all that He commands. But we must look beneath the surface. We must dig deeper to understand the nature of God and the purposes behind His ways.

What does this passage reveal about God?

If you recall, the Midianites were guilty of trying to bring a curse upon the people of God. They had hired Balaam, a prominent seer, to pronounce a curse on Israel. But God had thwarted their plans, using this pagan diviner to utter blessings on the people of Israel, rather than curses. But in order to earn his proposed payment, Balaam suggested to the Midianites that they use a different tactic to defeat the Israelites. He recommended that the Midianites use their women to secude the men of Israel into sexual sin and, ultimately, spiritual adultery. “While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove,some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people” (Numbers 25:1-4 NLT). But wait. These verses speak of Moabites, not Midianites. So why was God commanding Israel to destroy the Midianites? During this time there was a great deal of interaction between the various tribes and people groups living in the land of Canaan. They not only warred with one another, but they took each others women and shared one another's gods. The god, Baal, that the Israelites ended up worshiping was actually the primary god of the Canaanites. But the Midianites and Moabites worshiped this god as well. Each of these nations was guilty of unfaithfulness to their own gods. They were superstitious and quick to take on any and all gods, should they prove beneficial. The Midianites and Moabites were both guilty of seducing the Israelites and tempting them to violate their commitment to remain faithful to Yahweh alone. So God commanded their destruction.

On the surface, this story appears to paint God as a vengeful, angry, bloodthirsty deity. But God knows the heart of man. He fully understands that His people, the Israelites, whom He has called to live holy, set apart lives, will quickly succumb to the influences of these various nations unless something drastic is done. Coexistence was not an option. Compromise would be deadly. Not only had close contact with these people led to sexual sin, it had resulted in spiritual adultery; causing the people of Israel to break the very first commandment. They were to have no other gods before them. They were to worship God alone. So God required that they remove the source of temptation. Yes, it was harsh. It required the death of every man, woman and male child. But we must look beneath the surface. We must understand the heart of God if we are going to judge the actions of God. We must learn to trust the ways of God based on what we know of the will of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even in Jesus' day, there were those who could not see what God was doing. There was much debate regarding who Jesus was. John tells us that not even Jesus' brothers believed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders were out to kill Him. Some viewed Him as a good man. Others were amazed at His ability to teach. There were those who were blown away by His miracles and questioning whether or not these signs were proof that He was the Messiah. For over three years Jesus had walked among them, performing amazing miracles and teaching new truths. He had healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and even restored life to the dead. He had openly claimed to be the Son of God. He had talked of His Father's Kingdom. And yet the people misjudged Him. They looked on the surface and saw an ordinary man who came from the nondescript region of Galilee. They didn't know that He had actually been born in Bethlehem and that He was a direct descendant of King David himself. They viewed Him as an uneducated carpenter with nothing in the way of credentials to justify His role as a teacher or leader. They were quick to judge. But they didn't know all the facts. They didn't understand the will of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Ignorance of God's will always leads to misunderstanding of God's ways. Because we don't really know Him and don't understand His character, we are quick to judge His conduct. We love to hear about His grace and mercy, but we are turned off by talk of His wrath and judgment. But we fail to understand that God's wrath and judgment are always directed toward sin. Because of His holiness, He cannot tolerate sin. He must deal with it. He must punish it. His righteousness demands it. The people of Jesus' day loved that He could heal. They were attracted to His miracles, especially the ones that provided them with free food, like the feeding of the 5,000. The religious leaders couldn't understand why He chose to heal on the Sabbath. They saw Him as a lawbreaker and heretic. But Jesus challenged them, “If on the Sabbath a man received circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well?” (John 7:23 ESV). They didn't get it. They were judging on the surface. And I can be guilty of the same thing. There are times in my life that I don't understand what God is doing. I may even find myself getting angry at what I feel is the injustice of God. But I must be careful in my judgment of God. The prophet Isaiah gives us a powerful warning: “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” (Isaiah 45:9 NLT). I will not always understand the ways of God. But I must always trust the will of God. If I can't, then I am assuming my God is untrustworthy. I am calling into question His integrity and doubting His divine sovereignty. God Himself reminds us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT). I may not always understand the ways of God, but I can always trust the will of God. He knows what He is doing. He plan is perfect.

Father, I want to learn to trust You more and more with my life and to see what is going on in the world through the lens of Your faithfulness and sovereign control. You know what You are doing. I may not always understand it, but I have no right to question it. You are the potter, and I am the clay. Forgive me for my arrogance. Forgive me for my pride. Help me to see life through Your eyes and not my own. My perspective is limited. My viewpoint is too often flawed my by shortsighted vision. Amen

The Bread of Life.

Numbers 29-30, John 6

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

Beginning in Numbers 28 and continuing through chapter 29, we are given a synopsis of the various public sacrifices that the people of Israel were required to make. There was a daily sacrifice of two lambs, as well as a sacrifice of two additional lambs each Sabbath day. One the first day of each month they were to sacrifice two bulls, one ram, seven lambs and one goat. Then, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day long festival, they were to sacrifice two bulls, one ram, seven lambs and one goat each day. During Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, they were to offer the same number of sacrifices. On the first day of the seventh month, they were to offer one bull, one ram, seven lambs and one goat. On the Day of Atonement, they were to offer the same thing. Then during the Feast of Booths, for eight straight days they were to offer their largest number of sacrifices:

Day 1– 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 2 – 12 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 3 – 11 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 4 – 10 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 5 – 9 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 6 – 8 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 7 – 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat Day 8 – 1 bull, 1 ram, 7 lambs, 1 goat

And each and everyone of the sacrifices were to make “to the Lord.” They were to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. They were to be offered to God as an atonement for their sins and in order to maintain a right relationship with Him in the days to come. There were many sacrifices because the sins of the people were many. There was never an end to the need for the making of sacrifices and the atoning for sins. It was to be a perpetual requirement on the people. UNTIL God instituted a better plan. There was a day coming when God would send His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He would provide a permanent solution to man's sin problem.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In John 6, we read the words of Jesus stating, “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33 ESV). It is interesting to note that in the sacrificial system established by God for the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses, the sacrificial animals had to be provided by the people. They had to provide unblemished animals and offer them to God on their own behalf. But in the scenario that Jesus paints, He describes Himself as a sacrifice given by God for the people. Jesus uses some very strange language that confused His disciples. He spoke of Himself as the bread of life and said, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50-51 ESV).

The language Jesus used was shocking to His hearers. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52 ESV). And rather than clarify His message, Jesus responds with more of the same: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54 ESV). Of course, Jesus was not speaking of the literal consumption of His flesh and blood. He was referring to trust and belief in the coming sacrifice of His life on the cross for the sins of mankind. Just as we take in food, trusting that it will sustain us and supply us with life, so Jesus says that men will be required to “take in” His death on the cross, believing that it alone can provide them with forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But it is interesting that this particular sacrifice was provided by God for us. God was going to do what only He could do. In the book of Hebrews we read, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Until God sent His Son as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, the people of God were caught in a cycle of sin and sacrifice, sin and sacrifice. Their best efforts at remaining in a right relationship with God were temporary and incomplete. They had to bring their best animals and sacrifice them to God in order to stay off their own execution for their sins. But in the New Testament we read of God sacrificing His best in order to atone for the sins of mankind. Paul tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God provided the singular and all-sufficient sacrifice of His Son – for us. In essence, the sacrifice of Jesus should be a “pleasing aroma” to us. This sacrifice was made for our benefit and for our consumption. And not only do we receive forgiveness from sin, we gain life – eternal life! Jesus told His listeners, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40 ESV). Jesus was offering a permanent solution to the problem of sin, through His shed blood and crucified body. And yet, the people of His day were more concerned with literal bread and their own sad, temporary lives. They had come to Jesus seeking more food because He had miraculously fed them the evening before. He had filled their stomachs with bread and fish, and they craved more. When Jesus spoke of bread from heaven that gives life to the world, they responded, “Sire, give us this bread always” (John 6:34 ESV). But they wanted real bread, not the metaphorical or spiritual kind. They were stuck on a temporal, earthly plane, and failed to see that God was providing for them an offering that would do for them what they could never do for themselves.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It amazes me to think that God made a sacrifice on my behalf. He sent His Son to die for me. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the people had to provide their own sacrifice, and it could only forestall or delay the inevitable reality of death. It could prolong life on this planet, but not provide life in eternity. Their sacrifices were temporal and eventually, ineffective at sustaining life. But God's offering of His Son's body and blood provides life eternal. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58 ESV). All I have to do is receive God's offering and believe that it is sufficient to pay for my sins and provide life more abundantly, both now and for eternity. Just as I eat bread and rely on it to sustain me, I must consume the sacrifice of God's Son and allow Him to provide me with life everlasting. God has made a sacrifice on my behalf. He has sent His Son to die in my place. No more lambs, goats, bulls or rams. Jesus offered Himself to God as a pleasing aroma, an acceptable sacrifice. And God offered His Son for me as a permanent solution to my ongoing sin problem. I live because He died. The sacrifice of Jesus by God was done for me, but not because of me. I didn't deserve it. I had not earned that kind of gift. It was while I was in the depth of my own sin and hopelessness that God sent His Son as an offering on my behalf. The Son of God became the Bread of Life so that I might have eternal life. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for the offering of the Bread of Life so that I might have eternal life. You gave what was of most value to You in order that I might be restored to a right relationship with You. May I never take Your offering for granted. Amen

A Shepherd For The Sheep.

Numbers 27-28, John 5

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

I always find it fascinating how many times God chooses to use the metaphor of sheep when referring to His people. While that idea may conjure up an idyllic image of lush pastures filled with fluffy white sheep peacefully eating their fill of green grass, the real message behind the metaphor seems a bit less flattering. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. In fact, they are quite dumb, requiring someone to lead them and protect them. Sheep are herd animals with no built-in protection mechanism, other than flight. They are driven by their appetites. There are stories about flocks of sheep so intent on grazing that they literally walked off the side of a cliff one by one, so focused on feeding that they were oblivious to the danger. Sheep are easily led astray. Sheep are easy prey to predators. They spook easily and are prone to both disease and injury. And even a cursory reading of the Scriptures will reveal that so many of the characteristics of sheep really do apply to the people of God, including those in Moses' day all the way to the Christians living during the days of Paul's ministry. When Moses was informed by God that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his actions at Meribah, he asked God to appoint a successor. “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17 ESV). HIs concern was that the people not be “as sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses knew from personal experience that the people of Israel would be helpless and hopeless without someone to lead them. They had proven themselves to be driven by their passions, prone to wander, easily spooked, and susceptible to a herd mentality. They needed a strong leader who could help guide them and, when necessary, discipline them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's people have always needed strong leadership, and all along the way, God had provided men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Samuel, and Paul. Left to our own devices, and without strong godly leadership, we are always prone to trouble. Even Jesus saw the plight of the people of God in His day. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36 ESV). God's people, His sheep, were in a sorry state. They were shepherdless and helpless. They needed someone to lead them. They needed a shepherd. And while they had no shortage of religious leaders, Jesus saw them as harassed and helpless. The Pharisees, priests, Scribes, and other so-called leaders of Jesus' day were guilty of the same sin as the “shepherds” in Ezekiel's day. Read what God had to say about those who were responsible for the care and leadership of the people of God during the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel. “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ezekiel 34:4-6 ESV).

God was not happy. His sheep were being neglected and even abused. He expected those men who had been given the responsibility of leading His people to take their role seriously and to lead according to His terms, not their own. God cared for His sheep and He expected those whom He had appointed as shepherds to act as His undershepherds, providing the same level of care and concern as He would.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Just as sheep are prone to wander, shepherds are prone to walk away from their God-given responsibilities. It is so easy for a shepherd of God's people to allow selfishness and self-centeredness to distract him from what God has called him to do. Far too often, the leaders appointed by God to shepherd His flock, ended up abusing their roles and neglecting those under their care. God puts a high value on good shepherding. It was written of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance.With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:70-72 ESV). David was the kind of shepherd God was looking for. He had a heart like God's. He cared for God's people with the same passion that God had. He was far from perfect, but he was “a man after God's own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). When it came to the people under his care, he was ready to do the will of Go. He understood that God's people needed to follow God's will regarding their lives. They needed strong direction and steady leadership. Without it, they would find themselves in trouble. And in time, after the death of David and the demise of the kingdom of his son, Solomon, the people would suffer under a long line of insufferably poor shepherds. So that by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, He would encounter a people who were shepherdless, helpless and hopeless. Even Peter would say of those who had come to Christ in his day, “Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV). Ultimately, God was going to have to send His Son, as the one true Shepherd, to rescue His sheep. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14 ESV). Mankind has always been in need of a shepherd and God eventually sent the only one who could rescue them. Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus was the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His own life for the sake of His sheep. He sacrificed Himself so that His sheep might be safe and sound. There was a selflessness and humility about Jesus that should be reflected in my own life. His life is the ultimate model of what it means to be a shepherd. Paul tells us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT). Humility. Sacrifice. Submission. Obedience. Those are the characteristics of a shepherd of God. May I learn to shepherd as He did. May I be willing to lead by following His example.

Father, make a shepherd like Your Son. Give me the heart of David and the passion to feed and care for Your sheep, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice of my life. Don't let me become selfish and driven by my own desires. Constantly remind me that I am Your shepherd and have been given the responsibility of caring for Your sheep. Amen

Truly Spiritual Worship.

Numbers 25-26, John 4

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. – John 4:23 ESV

What does it mean to worship God? In our day and age, worship has become synonymous with an event held on Sunday morning or evening that involves a mixture of music and message. In essence, we have made worship a noun, rather than a verb. In fact, often speak of having been to “worship.” But what did God consider true worship to be? Was it the keeping of a set of rituals or rules? Was is what took place in the Tabernacle when the priests offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people? It is interesting that God referred to their attempts at worship in some fairly less-than-flattering terms:  “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Worship had become an event or an occasion, rather than an expression of the heart.

In the story of Phinehas, revealed in Numbers 25, we once again discover the people of God disobeying the expressed will and commandments of God. It presents the nature of the problem in fairly graphic terms: “The people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1 ESV). Against God's expressed command to separate themselves from the nations living in the land, the people of Israel began to interact with their neighbors in a very intimate and immoral way. After having wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they found themselves, yet again, standing on the border of the Promised Land – waiting to enter in and take possession. And yet, they also found themselves succumbing to the temptations of their enemies. The Moabites, who had attempted to defeat Israel by hiring a seer to curse them, decided to try another plan of attack. If they couldn't curse them, they would join them. They found the Israelites exceptionally vulnerable in the sexual and spiritual integrity areas. Not only did the Israelite men willingly have sexual relationships with the Moabite women, “the people ate and bowed down to their gods” (Numbers 25:2 ESV).

Rather than worship God alone, they began to worship the false god of the Moabites. “So Israel yoked himeslf to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted more than lip-service. He desired their heart-felt worship of Him alone. He demanded it. Over in the gospel of John, we read of Jesus‘ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle. But she was also a spiritual outcast from the nation of Israel, because she was a Samaritan. The Jews considered these people to be racial half-breeds and religious compromisers. When the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and deported, a small remnant of people were left in the land. These people ended up intermarrying with the nations around them. When the Jews were restored to the land years later, they refused to have anything to do with these people, viewing them as religious heretics and virtually sub-human. And yet they worshiped Yahweh just as the Jews did, but from a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. So when Jesus and the Samaritan woman find themselves engaged in their rather awkward and unusual conversation, it naturally turned to the topic of worship. For her, the only difference between herself and Jesus was their place of worship. For her, like many today, worship was an event that took place at a specific location. But Jesus quickly clarified that "the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). As far as Jesus was concerned, neither the Jews or the Samaritans were worshiping God correctly. He was looking for “truly spiritual” worship. God wants to be worshiped from the heart. It is not an event, but an attitude that flows from within the spirit of the individual. Jesus was letting her know that the time was coming when the true worship of God would be motivated and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through Jesus' death on the cross, men and women would have a new capacity to worship God truly and truthfully, because of the transformative presence of the Spirit of God. Jesus' discussion with her regarding living water was a reference to the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual who would place their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). God would provide man with the ability to worship Him in spirit and truth, internally and with integrity. But it would also manifest itself externally.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the story of Phinehas we a picture of the people of God living in relationship with God falsely and unfaithfully. They were giving their time and attention to false gods. They were disobeying the revealed will of God. And God dealt with them harshly for their sin against Him. He commanded that every man who had "yoked" himself to the false god, Baal, should be killed. And in the midst of all this, one of the men of Israel had the audacity to parade his Midianite mistress in full view of God and the entire nation of Israel. No remorse. No repentance. No fear. All while the people of God were weeping in the entrance of the Tabernacle. So Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the high priest, “rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly” (Numbers 25:7-8 ESV). He saw what was going on and he dealt with it. As a result, God’s plague against the people was stopped. And God clarified exactly why Phinehas' actions brought an end to God's judgment on the people. “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy” (Numbers 25:11-12 ESV). God literally says, “Phinehas was zealous with my zeal.” The word “zeal” means a passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions. This man cared about the things of God. He cared for the reputation of God. He desired to protect the honor of God. He wanted to preserve the spiritual integrity of the people of God. And God says that his actions “made atonement for the people of Israel.” By sacrificing the lives of the guilty couple, he satisfied God's righteous judgment. Their sin was punished by death, and God was free to end the plague and pardon the people. In a real sense, Phinehas worshiped God that day. He worshiped Him in spirit and truth. His inner zeal for God's holiness showed up in a determination to follow the will of God faithfully and truly.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is a zeal required of all of us who claim to be followers of Christ and children of God. Our worship of God is to show up in spiritual, yet practical ways. The zeal of Phinehas for the things of God caused him to step out and risk all for God. He dealt with sin in a drastic manner, because he saw sin as a slight to God's character and a blight on the honor of God's people. It's interesting that when the disciples returned and found Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, they were shocked. They wanted to know why Jesus, a good Jew, would be talking to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. Then they changed the subject and asked if Jesus had eaten yet. His response threw them for a loop. “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). Then because they were confused by this statement, He clarified His words by saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Ultimately, the worship of God comprises obedience to God. Jesus found nourishment and refreshment simply doing what God had called Him to do. His obedience brought glory to His Father and sustenance to His own soul. Jesus' entire life was characterized by His worship of God, and not just when He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath or to the Temple to sacrifice. His life was a living sacrifice to God. Paul encourages us to live with the same attitude. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). Whole-hearted, Spirit-led obedience to the will of the Father. That is the kind of worship God desires from each of us.

Father, help me to learn how to truly worship you. Don't let me get satisfied with simply going through the motions, or offering you some kind of lip service. I want my worship of You to be continual and from the heart, not just the head. May I learn to be zealous for Your zeal like Phinehas. Amen

The Blessing of Israel.

Numbers 23-24, John 3

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:17 ESV

Balaam, a pagan seer or diviner, had been hired by Balak to curse Israel. He had been offered riches and honor in exchange for his services. But no matter how much Balaam might have wanted to earn his wages, God would not allow him to bring a curse on Israel. On three different occasions, Balaam and Balak built altars and offered sacrifices in order to ascertain God's will regarding Israel's future. But each time God reconfirmed His commitment to and covenant with Israel. The amazing thing is that, in spite of Israel's track record of complaining, stubbornness, faithlessness and even rebellion, God remained faithful to them. God would not allow Balaam to curse them. But why? Because God had greater plans for Israel than simply the possession of the land. God's divine strategy went well beyond the conquering of the land of Canaan and the establishment of a kingdom ruled by earthly kings. Three different times and much to the chagrin of Balak, Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel. And each time he opens his mouth, Balaam is given a word from God that reconfirms the original promise He made to Abraham concerning a land, a seed and a blessing. “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10 ESV). God had promised to make Abraham's descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore or the stars in the heavens, and He had brought it about. Balaam predicts that Israel will be successful in battle, “As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:24 ESV). God was going to give them victory over their enemies and reward them with the land He had promised them. Finally, Balaam warned Balak that to attempt to curse Israel was not a wise thing to do. “Blessed are those who bless you [Israel], and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 23:9 ESV). God had promised to bless the nations through Israel. God had set them apart for that purpose. No one was going to be able to stand against them. God had a purpose for them that could not be stopped by man.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is something going on behind the scenes in the story of the people of Israel. We tend to read the Old Testament as ancient history, and attempt to find life lessons we can apply from these sometimes confusing accounts of God's interactions with the Israelites. But while the stories of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquering of the land, and the rise of the kingdom of Israel can make fascinating reading, there is far more to the story than we sometimes understand. Balak's attempt to curse Israel was ill-fated from the beginning, because God was with them. Even Balaam saw the futility in what Balak was trying to do. “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8 ESV). As long as God had a plan and a purpose for the people of Israel, no one would be able to curse them or eliminate them. Many have tried over the centuries. And while Israel has suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies, God has continued to keep His hand on them. Because God is not done with them yet. Even after Israel conquered the land of Canaan and began to grow, their own sinfulness and rebellion would eventually cause God to punish them by allowing them to be defeated and deported into exile in a foreign land. But God would remain faithful. He would eventually return them to the land. He would restore them to favor and reconfirm His covenant with them. In time, Jerusalem, the city of God, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, would be rebuilt and reoccupied by the people of God. The Temple of God would be reconstructed and the sacrificial system reinstituted. And then would come the birth of Jesus, a descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel. Even Balaam unknowingly spoke of His coming. “I see him, but not now; I behold him but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). God's purpose for the people of Israel was ultimately to provide a Savior from among them. God was preserving Israel because He had a plan to provide salvation for the world through Israel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). From the moment He called Abram out of Ur, God had a long-term strategy to accomplish His divine will concerning all of mankind. He chose to do it through a particular man, using rather peculiar methods, and in a highly persistent manner.

What does this passage reveal about man?

All throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see individuals who are constantly attempting to thwart God's plan. Balak would fail in his bid to curse Israel. The Pharisees would fail in their attempts to trick Jesus. Yes, they would eventually succeed in having Him crucified, but what they didn't know was that His death was always part of the plan. They were simply pawns in God's divine strategy to bring salvation to mankind. Most men are blind to what God is doing. Even Balaam had to have his eyes opened by God. He made this point clear in several of his prophetic oracles. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes covered” (Numbers 24:3-4 ESV). God gave Balaam the capacity to see His divine will. He was able to recognize that the people of Israel were not just some rag-tag group of nomadic desert dwellers. They were God's instrument destined to accomplish God's will. But even today, so many fail to see what God is doing. They fail to recognize that Jesus was God's chosen instrument to accomplish His divine will regarding the salvation of man. John tells us, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV). Jesus came into the world to provide salvation for the world, but He was rejected by most – even His own people. The people loved the darkness rather than the light. They preferred the ways of this world over the will of God. And as long as we remain blind to God's greater plan, we will tend to view this world from a limited perspective, believing that the real point of life is all wrapped up in the hear and now.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is always a temptation to live with my eyes focused on the temporal rather than the eternal. I can get so wrapped up in this life, that I can lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to provide me with eternal life. As the old hymn so clearly states, “This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin‘ through.” As I study and read the Scriptures, I must constantly remind myself that God has a greater purpose in mind. He blessed Israel because He wanted to be a blessing through Israel. And God is not done with Israel. He has more that He is going to accomplish through the people of Israel before all is said and done. Because He has a bigger plan and a higher purpose than any of us will ever fully realize – until He is done. Then we will know. Then we will see clearly. It will all make sense to us. But in the meantime, we must constantly remind ourselves that God's plan is bigger than we realize. We must focus on the bigger picture, not just the little chapter in the story we call our life. God's plan included Israel, but it was about far more than just Israel. God's plan includes me, but it is about far more than just me. God is blessing me so that I might be a blessing to others. God has saved me so that I might spread the news of His gift of salvation to others. I am a part of God's grand plan of redemption for mankind. May I never forget that He is the center of the story, not me.

Father, never let me forget that Your plan is greater and grander than I could ever imagine. Keep my eyes focused on the bigger picture of Your redemptive plan for mankind. When Israel made it all about them, they lost focus. They became arrogant and self-centered, and mistakenly viewed You as existing for their glory, rather than the other way around. Don't let me make that same mistake. Your plan is bigger than me. Your story includes me, but is not all about me. Amen

Spiritual Blindness.

Numbers 21-22, John 2

Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like. – John 2:23-25 NLT

The people of Israel suffered from spiritual blindness. They had the physical capacity for sight, but far too often they were plagued by an inability to see what God was doing. It was this spiritual blindness that caused them to repeatedly complain about their situation and question God's will for their lives. Even after all God had done for them, they continued to reveal their inability to see and appreciate His divine plan for them. In Numbers 21, this spiritual blindness would result in God's discipline in the form of poisonous serpents. The antidote was for Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole in the midst of the camp. When an Israelite was bitten, they would have to look on the bronze serpent to receive back his life. Jesus would refer to this real-life occasion as a foreshadowing of His own death on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV). There was more involved than simply seeing. Salvation required believing. Even in Moses' day, the people who looked on the bronze serpent had to believe that doing so would bring life instead of death. Those who refused to see and believe would experience death.

In the story of Balaam found in Numbers 22, we have another example of spiritual blindness. Balaam was a pagan seer or diviner who had been hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to bring a curse on the people of Israel. God spoke to Balaam and ordered him NOT to go with the king's emissaries and NOT to curse Israel. Initially Balaan obeyed. But when Balak's representatives showed back up offering great wealth in return for his services, God gave Balaam the freedom to make his own choice. Driven by greed and hoping to figure out a way to eventually curse Israel and cash in, Balaam chose to go with the officials from Balak. He was spiritually blind and chose wrong. The seer was unable to see God's will and, as a result, God was angry. On his way to meet Balak, Balaam is visited by an angel of the Lord. And interestingly enough, the text tells us three different times that “the donkey saw the angel of the Lord” (Numbers 22:23 ESV). But Balaam was blind to this divine encounter. This famous diviner couldn't see that God was about to take his life for his disobedience. And it wasn't until God opened his eyes that Balaam truly saw the danger of his circumstances.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As we have seen time and time again through the story of God's interactions with the people of Israel, He was always in control of each and every circumstance. In this case, God knew the plans of Balak and He knew the heart of Balaam. God was in complete control of the events surrounding this story. While Balaam was blind to the will of God, God knew exactly what was going on within the heart of this greedy pagan diviner. Just as God spoke through a donkey, God would speak through this flawed man.

We see in the stories recorded by John in his gospel that spiritual blindness was still a problem in Jesus' day. Yes, people could see all that Jesus was able to do. They were amazed that He could turn ordinary water into extraordinary wine, but they were blind to the spiritual significance of these events. John tells us that these signs manifested His glory. They revealed His divine nature and gave proof of His having been sent by God. And the disciples believed in Him. They saw what He was able to do, and they believed in Him. But what was it they believed? At this point they were spiritually blind to the real nature of His divine calling. They believed in His power, but they did not yet understand that His real mission was to involve His own death for their sins.

What does this passage reveal about man?

After Jesus' miracle of turning the water into wine and His cleansing of the Temple, John records that “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV). They believed, but theirs was not a saving faith. They believed that Jesus was a special individual with special powers. He was able to do things that they had never seen done before. They were attracted to His ability to perform miracles. But interestingly enough, John goes on to say, "But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like” (John 2:24-25 NLT). John uses a play on words in the Greek. The people “trusted” Jesus, but He didn't “trust” them. He knew their hearts. He knew that their belief was spurious. Like Balaam, they were blind to the reality of what God was doing. Balaam appeared to be doing the will of God, but his heart was evil, his intentions were impure. Jesus knew the people who “believed in his name” were simply attracted to the sensational nature of His miracles and signs. Such is the case with so many today. They see Jesus as a miracle worker. They view Him as some kind of life coach who can them enjoy everything from improved health to a better marriage. But they fail to see that Jesus came to give them eternal life, not just a slightly better version of the life they had been living. He came to free them from sin and restore them to a right relationship with God. He came to die so that they might be made holy in God's eyes. But many remain blind to that reality. Like Balaam, they remain unable to see what God is doing around them and what He intends to do within them. As Jesus would say of His own disciples, they have eyes, but do not see, and ears, but do not hear.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Spiritual blindness requires divine healing, just as physical blindness did in Jesus' day. I need the Spirit of God to open my eyes so that I can see what God is doing in and around me. I need Him to remove the scales from my eyes so that I can fully comprehend His divine will. Otherwise I will tend to see what I want to see. Or I will view life as through a foggy lens that prevents me from seeing accurately and truly. Even though he was a seer, Balaam could not see what God was doing, until God opened his eyes. Even as a child of God, I cannot see God's divine will unless He opens my eyes. But when I see, I must also believe. I must believe that God is in control. I must believe that God is faithful and worthy of my trust. I must believe that God has my best interest at heart – all the time – regardless of how things may appear. I must believe that what God says, He will do. What He promises, He will fulfill. What He begins, He finishes.

Father, open my eyes so that I can see what it is that You are doing in this world. Don't let me view life and my circumstances from my limited perspective. Don't allow me to walk around in spiritual blindness, seeing only what I want to see, but missing out on Your will for my life. I want to see and believe. I want to develop a divine perspective that allows me to view the world and all that is taking place from Your point of view, not mine. Amen

Belief and Obedience.

Numbers 19-20, John 1

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

In this section of the book of Numbers, the events have been fast-forwarded, bringing us to the close of the 40 years that God had said the people would spend wandering in the wilderness as a result of their failure to enter into the land of promise. Their disbelief had caused them to disobey, and brought God's divine discipline. Now they found themselves headed back to the border of the land of Canaan In the four decades that had passed, the older generation had slowly died off. But they had successfully passed on their sinful characteristics to their children. “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!  Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink’” (Numbers 20:2-5 ESV). For Moses, this had to have had an eerily similar feel to the events that had taken place years before when the people had arrived in the wilderness of Sin. There the people had also complained about the lack of water and God had graciously given them water from a rock. Now decades later, the people are complaining again. Same people. Same God. Same problem. But their problem was NOT a lack of water. It was a lack of faith in God. They believed in God. They knew He existed. They couldn't deny the reality of His existence. But they could disbelieve the validity of His will for their lives. Notice how many times they question, “Why?”

Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness?

Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?

They didn't like their circumstances. In fact, they wished they had died when God had stricken their ancestors with the plague 40 years earlier. They thought they would be better off dead than living in the will of God. It wasn't that they failed to believe in God. It was that they failed to believe that He knew what was best for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the book of John, there is powerful imagery used to convey Christ's coming into the world. He is portrayed as light and He entered into the darkness of this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV). Light speaks of His purity, truth, and righteousness. Jesus was the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. He was Immanuel – God with us. God revealed Himself to man in human form. The Light of God penetrated the darkness of human sin and hopelessness. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And yet, John tells us, the world did not know him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They couldn't deny His existence, but they refused to believe that He was God's will regarding their salvation. Just as in the days of Moses, God revealed Himself to man. He made His presence known, but mankind refused to believe that God knew what was best. Only a handful of people in Jesus' day seemed to recognize Jesus for who He claimed to be. Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found ‘the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Nathanael said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). God had revealed Himself to men through His Son, and only a handful of individuals seemed to believe that Jesus represented the will of God for mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Belief requires obedience. It didn't matter how much the people of God said they believed in the Law of God, as long as they failed to obey it. It didn't matter how much Moses believed in the reality of God if he was unwilling to obey His word. Later on in the gospel story, we know that there came a time when Nathanael, Andrew, Philip and the rest of the disciples were forced to put their belief into action by answering Jesus' invitation to follow Him. They were going to have to take a risk and obey. If they truly believed He was who He claimed to be, they would need to prove it by leaving everything else behind and following Him – in spite of their doubts and fears. In the book of Numbers, we see Moses having to deal with the disbelief of the people once again. They find themselves lacking water and so they lash out at Moses and question the will of God for their lives. And as He had done before, God miraculously provided water from a rock. He commanded Moses to "tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). But instead, “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Numbers 20:11 ESV). Not only that, Moses prefaced his actions with a small speech: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 ESV). Moses was angry. He was put out with the people. He was tired of their whining and complaining. We get an insight into what was going on in Moses' heart from Psalm 106. “They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33 ESV). Moses was angry, and in his anger, he failed to listen to what God had told him to do. Rather than “tell the rock,” he struck it. He simply did what he had done decades earlier. But that was not what God had commanded Him to do. He disobeyed God's command. Yes, Moses believed in God, but he failed to obey the word of God. “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 ESV). Sounds harsh, doesn't it? But God was making a point with Moses and Aaron. Moses' actions in front of the people, motivated by anger and characterized by a failure to listen to the word of God, treated God with contempt. Moses failed to do God's will, God's way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John writes, “He came to his own,  and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV). Most of the people failed to receive Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah. They could see Him, but they would not believe in Him. But those who did receive Him and believed in His name, they became children of God. They received the gift of eternal life through the Son of God. They believed and obeyed. They heard the Word and received it. They recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, whotakes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). Their belief in Jesus as the Son of God took the form of obedience to the will of God. They accepted God's plan for their lives and willfully submitted to it. It really doesn't matter how often or how vigorously I claim to believe in God, if I fail to accept His will for my life. It doesn't matter how vocal I am about my faith in Christ, if I fail to listen to and obey His commands regarding how to live my life. Belief and obedience are to go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Disobedience and disbelief are also inseparable. To disobey is to reveal our disbelief. We doubt God's will. We disbelieve that He knows what is best. We think we know better. Moses did it his way and suffered the consequences. The people of Israel complained about their lot in life, and in doing so, revealed their lack of faith in God. They failed to trust the One in whom they said they believed. And that tendency is a constant threat for every follower of God today.

Father, I want my faith in You to show up as trust in You. I want my belief in You to reveal itself by obedience to You. Never let me separate those two. Amen

What About Him?

John 21

Jesus replied, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me." – Vs 22 NLT

Jesus has just revealed to Peter that he is going to die a martyr's death."The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go" (Vs 18 NLT). John makes it clear what Jesus meant by this seemingly obscure comment. "Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, 'Follow me'" )Vs 19 NLT). What a bombshell this must have been to Peter. Not only had Jesus just questioned him three times about his love for Him, now he was hearing that he was going to have to die a martyr's death. This must have been devastating news to Peter.

Listen to what Matthew Henry has to say in his commentary about this statement by Jesus to Peter:

He foretells particularly that he should die a violent death, by the hands of an executioner. The stretching out of his hands, some think, points at the manner of his death by crucifying; and the tradition of the ancients, if we may rely upon that, informs us that Peter was crucified at Rome under Nero, A.D. 68, or, as others say, 79. Others think it points at the bonds and imprisonments which those are hampered with that are sentenced to death. The pomp and solemnity of an execution add much to the terror of death, and to any eye of sense make it look doubly formidable. Death, in these horrid shapes, has often been the lot of Christ's faithful ones, who yet have overcome it by the blood of the Lamb. This prediction, though pointing chiefly at his death, was to have its accomplishment in his previous sufferings. It began to be fulfilled presently, when he was imprisoned, Acts 6:3; 5:18; 12:4. No more is implied here in his being carried whither he would not than that it was a violent death that he should be carried to, such a death as even innocent nature could not think of without dread, nor approach without some reluctance. He that puts on the Christian does not put off the man. Christ himself prayed against the bitter cup. A natural aversion to pain and death is well reconcileable with a holy submission to the will of God in both. Blessed Paul, though longing to be unloaded, owns he cannot desire to be unclothed, 2 Co. 5:4.

But what I love about Peter is his honesty. How does he respond? Not with a bunch of questions. He doesn't even ask Jesus, "Why?" No, he turns the attention to John, asking Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Do you catch what he is asking? He wants to know what is going to happen to John. There is a hint of jealousy in his words. After all, John is the disciple whom Jesus loved. He knew Jesus and John had a special relationship. Jesus had turned over the care of His own mother to John while He hung on the cross. John hadn't denied the Lord like Peter had. Jesus hadn't questioned John's love and loyalty. So Peter wants to know if he is being singled out. Is he the only one who is going to suffer and die. He wants to know if John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is going to hear similar bad news.

Isn't that just like us? When we have to suffer for the Lord or go through difficult times as believers, we want to know why someone else isn't having to go through the same thing or at least something similar. We compare. We complain. We want to know why we are being singled out. We want to know why so-in-so is doing so well while we are suffering. But what does Jesus say to Peter? "Jesus replied, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.'" (Vs 22 NLT). What is that to you? Why do we have to worry about everyone else? Why can't we accept from the Lord what He has given for us to bear and not try to compare out lot in life to someone else? Others seem more blessed than us. Others seems to skate through life unscathed and untouched by trials and tribulations. Others seem to have everything go their way. So we begin to see life as unfair. When we do, we call into question God's love. Jesus had just told Peter, "Follow Me." Yes, the way was going to be difficult and would end in Peter's death. But Jesus was calling Peter to commit his life to following Him – regardless of the cost. Peter wanted to know what it was going to cost John. But as far as Jesus was concerned, that was noconcern of Peter's. "What is that to you?"

We have each been called by Jesus to follow Him. We have been called to a life of commitment and sacrifice. We have been called to a life of discipleship and service. We have been called to a life that calls for death to self and yes, sometimes suffering. I am not to compare my life with anyone else. I am not to compare my calling or my circumstances with anyone else's. I am to trust God and follow His Son faithfully. The path He has for me is going to be different and distinct. The circumstances I encounter along the way will be unique to me. I am not to concern myself with others or ask, "Lord, what about this man?" I am simply to follow Him and trust that He knows exactly what He is doing in my life and with my life.

Father, too often I ask, "Lord, what about this man?" I compare. I contrast. Then I complain. I want to know why my life has to be so hard. I want to know why I have to go through what I am going through. I want to know why others seem to have it so easy. Yet, what is that to me? I am called to follow Your Son and to trust His will for my life. May I grow in my commitment to and confidence in Jesus. May I trust Him more and more with the details of my daily life. Because He has never proven Himself untrustworthy. Amen