Costly Obedience.

Exodus 37-38, Mark 16

Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses. – Exodus 38:22 ESV

Bezalel was called and equipped by God to serve a special purpose. God "filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze,in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer" (Exodus 35:30-35 ESV). This seemingly ordinary man had been extraordinarily gifted by God to accomplish a very important mission that would help provide the people of God with a means of access to Him. He was to personally craft the majority of the elements that made up the Tabernacle, including the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Show Bread, the Golden Lampstand, the Altar of Incense, the Altar of Burnt Offering, the Bronze Basin and all the hangings for the court. Yes, he had an assistant named Oholiab, and there were other craftsmen involved, but the majority of the work and the oversight of all that was done fell to Bezelel. And Moses records that he made all that the Lord had commanded. Can you imagine the amount of hours he spent laboring on the construction of the Tabernacle? Just think about the pressure of having to build something for God and according to His exacting specifications. Talk about a picky homeowner. Bezalel would have had to have dedicated virtually every waking moment to the task of preparing each of the elements necessary for the Tabernacle to be finished, and there could be no cutting corners, no doing it his way. He had to be fully obedient to God's plan. He had to be meticulously accurate – no matter the cost.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God chose a man to do His divine will. Surely, God could have built the Tabernacle Himself. He could have miraculously fabricated the entire structure out of thin air. After all, He made the entire universe out of nothing. But just as He commanded Noah to build the ark, the divine means of salvation from destruction in Noah's day, God would have a man build the Tabernacle. But He would supernaturally equip this man to do His will. Without the Spirit of God, it would have been impossible for Bezalel to accomplish the will of God. All throughout chapters 37-38 of Exodus we read the words, "Bezalel made," "he overlaid," "he cast," and "he made." But we must always remember that, behind the scenes, God was working through Bezalel by means of His indwelling Spirit. God was using a man to craft the materials through which He would provide access into His presence and forgiveness for sin.

In the gospel of Mark, we read of the ultimate sacrifice on the part of a man. Jesus Christ, fully man, gave His life as payment for the sins of mankind. Paul tells us, "And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8 ESV). Jesus was the Son of God, but came to earth in the form of a man. He was the God-man. He took on human flesh and became one of us, in order that He might fulfill God's divine plan for the redemption of mankind. The Tabernacle was a temporary solution to an eternal problem. It couldn't solve man's ongoing enslavement to sin and his ultimate destiny with death. In spite of Bezalel's best efforts, the Tabernacle would never provide mankind with a permanently restored relationship with God. But God had a better plan all along. It would involve another man who would sacrifice greatly in order to accomplish God's will. Jesus would end up giving His life. And like Bezalel, Jesus was divinely commissioned and equipped for the task at hand. Luke reminds us that, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He was filled with and led by the Spirit of God. "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (Luke 4:1 ESV). All throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus was accompanied by the Spirit of God. The Father would provide His Son with His indwelling Spirit and empower Him for mission for which He had called Him.

And after Jesus' death, when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the empty tomb, they were surprised to find the stone rolled away and instead of the body of Jesus, an angel. He told them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here" (Mark 16:6 ESV). Jesus had accomplished the will of His Father. He had done what God had sent Him to do. He had been obedient even to the point of death. He had sacrificed His own life, according to His Father's divine plan, so that we might have eternal life. He died so that we might live.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Without God, we are nothing. Without the Spirit of God, we are powerless and helpless. While men have accomplished many great feats and done many great things over the centuries, it is impossible to accomplish the will of God apart from the Spirit of God. We are totally incapable of doing anything truly worthy or righteous without God's help. The Scriptures describe us with these not-so-flattering terms: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). Bezalel was just a man. To do God's will he was going to need God's Spirit. He was going to need God's equipping to accomplish God's plan. Man without God is like a solar-powered battery without the Sun – powerless and useless. God's Tabernacle was of divine origin. It was based on divine plans and would require divine enablement if it was to meet divine expectations. Doing God's will always requires God's empowerment.

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

God provided the Tabernacle for the Israelites. He even provided the plans. Then He provided the man to do the job and equipped him with the Spirit-empowered gifting to do all that he would need to do. God provided me with Christ. He knew that, on my own, I would never be able to live up to His righteous standard. So He provided His Son as my sin substitute. He lived the life I could not live, and died the death I deserved to die. He took my place. God provided the means by which I could enjoy a restored relationship with Him. But now that I am in that right relationship with Him, He continues to provide me with His indwelling Holy Spirit, so that I might be able to accomplish His will in His strength, not my own. I have His Spirit within me, providing me with all that I need to live obediently to His will. Like Paul, I can say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20 ESV). His Spirit enables me, empowers me, guides me, directs me, encourages me, and convicts me. It is the Spirit of God that enables me to live in obedience to God. It is the Spirit of God that makes it possible for me to live according to the will of God. But obeying the Spirit isn't easy. I still have my sinful nature that urges me to do things my way. I have to constantly fight my sinful self and its desire to satisfy my own will rather than God's. Paul reminds me, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do" (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV). It took a lot for Bezalel to build the Tabernacle. It cost a lot for Jesus to provide salvation for mankind. And it costs me to daily live my life submitted to the Spirit of God so that I might accomplish the will of God for my life. Obedience to God is costly. It will require sacrifice. But God always provides the strength we need to accomplish His will.

Father, You have called me and You have equipped me. You have called me to live a life of obedience to You, and have provided the power necessary to pull it off. But I must still submit to Your Spirit's leading in my life. I must obey His promptings. Just as Bezalel had to follow Your divine directions and ignore any urges to cut corners or do things his way, I must willingly submit to Your Spirit's presence in my life. I want to obey no matter what it may cost me. Thank You for providing Your Son as a sacrifice for my sins and the means by which I might be saved. Thank You for providing Your Spirit as the source of my daily strength and guidance. Continue to help me live willingly submitted to Your Spirit in all that I do. Amen


God Provides.

Exodus 35-36, Mark 15

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. – Exodus 35:21 ESV

In chapters 35-36 of Exodus we have the beginning of the construction of the Tabernacle that God had commanded the people to build. But before the work could begin, the construction materials had to be gathered. It's interesting to note that the Israelites were a group of people who had spent over 400 years in exile in Egypt. They had been shepherds and farmers by trade. Now they found themselves living in the wilderness and given the task of building a portable temple for God, that could be set up, taken down, and carted with them wherever God should lead them to go. And it was not to be just some ordinary structure. It was to be made of the finest materials and crafted with care and precision. So where was all this gold, silver, wood, and fabric to come from? How in the world was a group of freed slaves going to pull this off this formidable task? God had already taken care of it. When they left the land of Egypt, God had caused the Egyptians to weigh them down with all kinds of gifts. After suffering through the ten plagues, they basically paid the Israelites to get out of their land. Moses records, "The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in hast. For they say said, 'We shall all be dead'…And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked for. Thus they plundered the Egyptians" (Exodus 12:33, 36 ESV). So when the people of Israel left Egypt, God had loaded them down with Egyptian treasure. Little did they know that there was a divine purpose behind this surprising blessing. God was simply providing in advance all the materials necessary to build the Tabernacle. God had told Moses this would happen. "And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians" (Exodus 3:21 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Everything they would need for the construction of the Tabernacle had been given to them by God. Not only that, God had supernaturally endowed two men with "with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft" (Exodus 35:31-33 ESV). These men had been filled with the Spirit of God so that they might do the work of God. And they were also given the ability to teach and train these ordinary farmers and shepherds to do the work that had to be done. Everything about the Tabernacle, from the design and construction to the material, was the work of God. When it came time to collect all the gold, silver, wood, jewels, fabric, and thread needed to begin construction, God would ask the people to give – out of the treasure given to them by the Egyptians. But even the giving was God-inspired and motivated. "And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments" (Exodus 35:21 ESV). God knew exactly what treasures were necessary and who held them in their possession, so He caused His Spirit to stir the hearts of each individual to give what was needed. And they gave and they gave, to the point that Moses had to command them to stop giving. Rather than having to scrimp and scrounge for the materials, God ensured that they would have more than enough. All so the people of God could build a dwelling place for God, where His presence could exist among them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The text doesn't say it, but knowing human nature like I do, I have to believe that each and every one of the Israelites had long since decided that the treasure they walked out of Egypt with belonged to them. God had given it to them for their own use. But they were going to find out that God had blessed them for a much more significant reason. The treasure was not for their individual use, but to minister to the body, the corporate community of Israel, by providing for the presence of God in their midst. The Tabernacle would become the place where God would meet with them. It was where their sins would be atoned for and forgiveness would be offered. They would find mercy and grace there. That structure would become the focal point of their community and the most important part of their lives as the people of God. Those gifts they had carted out of Egypt, given to them by God, were never intended for their own selfish purposes, but had been intended to accomplish God's will in providing for Himself a dwelling place among them.

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

Ultimately, both the Tabernacle and the Temple were symbols of something much greater and more significant to come. They would provide a foreshadowing of the coming work of Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:11-14 ESV). Once again, God was going to provide everything necessary to ensure that sinful mankind could have access into His presence and a means by which they could find forgiveness for their sins. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17 ESV). "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8 ESV).

God provided all that was necessary for me to have a restored relationship with Him. He sent His Son in the form of a man. He sacrificed His Son on a cruel Roman cross. He provided the "resources" necessary for man to have access into His presence. Jesus was the ultimate Temple or Tabernacle. He Himself declared, "Destroy this temple, and in three days 'I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise t up in three days?' But he was speaking about the temple of his body" (John 2:19-21 ESV). The earthly Tabernacle was provided for by God. It was made up of expensive materials that had great earthly value. But Jesus was also of great value, the very Son of God, sacrificed for the sins of man. It is fascinating to think about the fact that, at His trial, Jesus was covered in fine linen too, just like the Tabernacle. He was clothed in an expensive purple cloak and a crown of wood was placed on His head. He was to be God's ultimate provision for forgiveness of sin, providing access into His presence. Mark 15 records the death of Jesus and he writes, "And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Mark 15:37-38 ESV). At the death of Jesus, the veil that had long separated the people of God from the presence of God was ripped in two. And it was God's doing. With the death of His Son, He removed once and for all the barrier that had long kept men out of His divine presence. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6 ESV). God has provided me with all I need to have access into His presence. It is all His doing, not mine. It is His plan, not mine. It is based on His effort, not mine. Like the Israelites, I don't deserve access into God's presence, but it is by the death of Christ that I can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16 ESV).

Father, You have provided everything. I bring nothing to the table. You gave the most precious thing You had to offer, Your Son. You sacrificed Him on my behalf, all so that I might enjoy the pleasure of Your presence in my life. I find grace, mercy and forgiveness for sins, all because You provided the ultimate sacrifice. Thank You. Amen

The Priority of His Presence.

Exodus 33-34, Mark 14

And he said to him, “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 33:15-16 ESV

God was about to give the people of Israel marching orders to break camp and make their way to the Promised Land. But He would give them one significant and startling bit of news: He would NOT be going with them. God told them, "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Exodus 33:3 ESV). God had had just about enough of these stubborn, rebellious people, and so He broke the news to them that He would be faithful to fulfill His promise, but they would have to get there without His presence. And "when the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned" (Exodus 33:4 ESV). They were dumbstruck at the idea that God was not going to be going with them as they made their way to the land of promise. That meant no pillar of cloud by day or pillar of fire by night. That meant no smoke, thunder and lightning on top of the mountain. That had to leave in question His daily provision of manna and quail. It was going to be a different ball game from this point forward, and they were not happy about it. They were even willing to listen to God and give up their trinkets and baubles, like the jewelry they had given to Aaron so he could build the golden calf. God was testing to see just how repentant and remorseful they really were. He told them, "Take now off your ornaments that I may know what to do with you" (Exodus 33:5 ESV). They found themselves in a very precarious predicament. God was threatening to remove His presence from among them, and with His presence would go His power, provision and protection.

But Moses was not willing to lead the people of Israel on a journey without God's presence. He was going to intercede on behalf of the people and beg God to change His mind. He knew that it was the presence of God that made them the people of God. "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 33:16 ESV). He knew that it was the presence of God that proved that they were the people of God. Without Him, they were nothing. It was God in their midst that set them apart from all the other nations. It was God's power actively at work in and around their lives that made them distinctive from every other people group on the face of the earth.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's abiding presence among us must be our highest priority and greatest joy. Everything else becomes worthless without Him. Ornaments without God are of no value. A land of promise, but without the presence of the one who gave the promise, would eventually prove to be unfruitful and unfulfilling. God's presence was life-changing. Moses knew that first-hand from his many encounters with God on the mountain and in the close confines of the tent of meeting. Moses longed for God's presence so much that he begged God to let him see His glory. Moses wanted more than just the law of God. He wanted the God of the law. He knew that the people would be nothing without God. They would never make it to the land. They couldn't survive without God. So he asked God, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance" (Exodus 34:9 ESV). Yes, Moses knew they were sinners and undeserving of God's presence, but he also knew that they were completely dependent on God for everything they needed. It was the very fact that they WERE sinners that demanded that they needed the presence of the only one who could offer pardon from and forgiveness for sin. God was going to have to pardon their sin and forgive them open rebellion against Him. But it was critical that He did so, or the people of Israel would have ceased to be the people of God. They would have become just another religious sect worshiping yet another god.

So God listened to Moses and reestablished His covenant with the people. He called them to obedience . He reminded them of His law and their obligation to keep each and every aspect of it. On the mountaintop, God revealed Himself to Moses and once again confirmed His commitment to His covenant. Moses received a second set of the Ten Commandments and the assurance from God that "in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel" (Exodus 34:27 ESV). After 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain in God's presence, Moses was able to walk away with an assurance of God's ongoing presence among His people. He would continue to lead and feed them, provide for and protect them, fight for and forgive them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even the rebellious Israelites knew that they were helpless and hopeless without God. The news that He might not be going with them was a "disastrous word" (Exodus 33:4 ESV). They were smart enough to know that this journey had been hard enough up until that point WITH God, so it would be absolutely impossible WITHOUT Him. When God reconfirmed His law with Moses up on the mountain, He reiterated His requirements that they not worship other gods, that they not fashion for themselves idols, that they keep the appointed festivals, feasts, and sabbath observances. He told them, "observe what I command you this day" (Exodus 34:11 ESV). A big part of enjoying God's presence was going to be based on obeying God's Word. The covenant He was making with them was bilateral – it was going to require them to keep their part. But they would find it increasingly difficult to live up to their side of the agreement. Their sinful natures would prove to be a constant problem. They would remain stiff-necked, stubborn and rebellious – all the way up until the day they entered the Promised Land and long after they had settled down and made themselves comfortable. Even though God remained with them and would continue to dwell among them, they would live as if He wasn't there. They would fail to practice His presence. In other words, they would begin to either take Him for granted or simply forget that He was among them. Once they achieved the coveted prize of the Promised Land, their need for God would diminish. Once they had homes of their own, an abundance of crops and a relatively stable lifestyle, the presence of God would become less and less important to them. God would warn them of this very threat right before they entered into the land.

"Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes… lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…" (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV).

In time, they would live as if God didn't exist. Sure, they would give Him lip service. They would offer Him sacrifices and attempt to keep all His religious festivals and feasts. Years later, God would speak the following tragic words through the prophet Isaiah: "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). Jesus would quote these same words when speaking to the Jews of His day. The abiding presence of God should be met with worship, not indifference. It should be an attitude of the heart, not lip-service.

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

I hate to admit it, but I can fail to practice God's presence. And yet, I am fully aware that I am nothing without Him. Without the indwelling presence of Christ in the form of the Holy Spirit, I would be nothing. I would still be in the same sad state I was in when He called me. Like the Israelites, I would still be a slave; captive to the power of sin over my life and condemned to face an eternity apart from God's presence. But I can't help but recall the words of Paul, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27 ESV). It is His presence within me that makes me a child of God and an heir to His kingdom. I am nothing apart from Him. But "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13 ESV). In chapter 14 of the book of Mark we have recorded the closing days of the life of Jesus. We read about the Last Supper, His time of prayer in the garden, His betrayal by Judas, and the denial of Him by Peter. What amazes me is that the vast majority of the people involved in these events surrounding Jesus' last days on earth were totally oblivious that God was among them. The Son of God was present in their midst, but they were incapable of seeing or recognizing Him. They had witnessed His miracles and had been amazed at His teachings, but they could not accept Him as the Messiah, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Jesus would be killed for claiming to be the very presence of God among men. When asked is He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, Jesus responded, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62 ESV). He was Immanuel – which means, "God with us." He was God in human form. He was the divine sacrifice for the sins of men. But He was going to be missed by most who saw and heard Him.

My life is totally dependent upon God for everything. My very existence was His doing. My salvation was made possible by Him through the death of His Son. But I can find it so easy to fail to practice His presence. I can forget just how dependent I am on Him for everything. But the very thought of life lived without Him should be inconceivable to me. It should strike fear into me. And while I am assured of His never-ending presence in my life, I can still live as if He doesn't exist. I can take His presence for granted and live with my eyes focused on the wrong things. I can set my hopes in things other than Him. I can attempt to find my worth and value in something or someone other than Him. Which is nothing more than idolatry. It is His presence that makes me distinct and sets me apart as His own. Without Him, I am nothing.

Father, I simply echo the prayer of Moses: "How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth." Amen

The Greatest Commandment.

Exodus 29-30, Mark 12

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” – Mark 12:32-33 ESV

Once again, God provides Moses and the people of Israel with painstakingly detailed commands regarding the Tabernacle and their interactions with it. He outlines the proper way to consecrate Aaron and his sons so they might properly serve as His priests. For them to come into His presence and offer sacrifices, they had to be purified themselves; washed with water and sprinkled with the blood of a ram that had been sacrificed on their behalf. They were to have the sacrificial blood placed on their ear lobes, thumbs, and big toes – a visual reminder that they were to listen to God, serve on His behalf as mediators for the people, and walk in a way that was honoring to Him. They were to be anointed with oil, representing their empowerment by God's Spirit for His service. This process was to take place for seven days in a row, and during that time the people were to repeatedly make atonement for the altar and consecrate it. God made it clear that this was all a necessity if they wanted to enjoy His presence in their midst. "I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God" (Exodus 29:44-46 ESV).

In chapter 30 we see God's further instructions regarding the Altar of Incense, the Bronze Basin, and the Anointing Oil and Incense. Over and over again, the word "atonement" is used to signify the need to make reconciliation or to cover the sins of the people. Every Israelite, 20 years old and up, was required to pay a "ransom" for his life in the form of a tax. Everyone had to pay the same amount, regardless of their income level or status in the community. Every step of the way, there were requirements that had to be obeyed if the people wanted to be accepted before God and enjoy His presence among them. Nothing could be overlooked. Nothing was to be ignored. God's requirements were exacting and non-negotiable. He was holy and He demanded to be treated that way.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God takes His holiness seriously. His requirements might seem a bit over-the-top to us. All the sacrifices, blood, rituals and requirements come across as antiquated and a bit barbaric to our modern senses. But God was attempting to teach His people the sacredness and seriousness of His nature. Every one of these commands was costly to the Israelites, requiring them to give the best of their flocks and even of their finances to atone for their sins. God wanted them to understand that sin was not to be taken lightly. Sin required a payment. Entrance into His presence was not possible as long as sin was present and unpaid for. Holiness was not to be considered cheap or easy. Enjoying the presence and power of God in their lives required some significant sacrifice on their part. Sin always separates man from God. So God had to give them a plan by which they could temporarily atone for or reconcile their sins and be made right with Him. But all along the way, what God wanted was the relationship, not the rituals.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When it comes to things regarding God, we are always prone to miss the point. The Israelites were going to end up focusing on the sacrifices more than the one to whom they were made. They would end up turning all of this into nothing more than a repetitive, ritualistic act that had long since lost its meaning to them. They would end up going through the motions and fulfilling their obligations, but without putting their hearts into it. The real purpose behind all the rules and regulations was to test the obedience of the people. Would they do what God required of them? Would their desire to have Him in their midst be strong enough to motivate their obedience to His demands of them? All throughout the Old Testament, we see that God wanted more than just ritualistic adherence to a set of rules. The prophet Samuel told King Saul, "“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22 NLT). God spoke through the prophet, Hosea: "For I desire steadfast loveand not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6 ESV). Over in the book of Micah, we are told, "'With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8 ESV). King David wrote, "For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:16-17 ESV). In time, the people of God were going to miss the point. God wanted their hearts. Their obedience was to be a byproduct of their desire to be with Him. The sacrifices would be a constant test of their obedience and love for Him.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He didn't hesitate or have to think about it. He immediately responded, "The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV). A love for God and others is the basis for all the laws. Jesus would further clarify the significance of these two things by stating, "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:40 ESV). Loving God and loving others was to be the heartbeat behind all the other commands. It was to be the motivation behind all the sacrifices. Getting right with God and longing to have a restored relationship with Him was to be the central objective behind all the rules and regulations surrounding the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. But rules would eventually replace relationship. Laws would overshadow love.

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

God wants my heart. He desires willful, loving obedience, not ritualistic rule-keeping. Like the Israelites, I can misinterpret God's holy requirements of me and simply view them as inconvenient laws to be kept. But God did all that He did out of love. He wanted His people to live distinctively and differently. He knew that they were prone to sin and struggled with a love for the things of this world. So He lovingly provided ways in which they could set themselves apart. He provided a means by which their sins could be atoned for and forgiven. He lovingly provided a way in which they could remain in His presence and enjoy His ongoing love, provision and power in their lives. I can easily turn reading the Bible into a heartless, ritualistic duty and miss the point that God has lovingly revealed Himself to me through His Word. I must learn to read God's Word enthusiastically and eagerly because it is is His revelation of Himself to me. I can easily turn prayer into nothing more than an unpleasant requirement that puts a crimp in my day. Or I can see it is an opportunity provided by God that allows me to not only talk to Him, but hear from Him on a regular basis. It should be a delight, not a duty. I should see it as a privilege, not a punishment. God wants my heart. He desires my willful and willing obedience. He wants me to love Him and the greatest expression of my love for Him is how I love those whom He has made. I can't wrap my hands around God, but I can hug one of His sons or daughters. And "this is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law."

Father, I want my life to be an expression of love for You. I don't want to just go through the motions and do my "duty." I want to live in obedience to You because I love You. Give me an ever-increasing love for others. May my love for You increase as I love those whom You have made. Amen

Holy to the Lord.

Exodus 27-28, Mark 11

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. – Mark 11:15-16 ESV

The descriptions given to Moses by God for the construction of the Tabernacle and all of the elements associated with it can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. There is so much detail given by God as to the materials and the precise fabrication of the various pieces associated with the Tabernacle. If we're not careful, we can get lost in the details and miss the main point. The Tabernacle was to be God's dwelling place among the people of Israel. In the Holy of Holies, His presence would hover over the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. So everything about this structure was to be dedicated to and set apart for God. It was intended for the worship of God. So God made it painfully clear that each and every item was to be made in a specific manner and manufactured from the finest materials. Even the priests had to be consecrated to Him and for His use only. In the days of Jeremiah, when the Temple had long since replaced the Tabernacle as the dwelling place of God among the people, they seemed to have forgotten that this place was to be holy to the Lord. Jeremiah writes, "Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in the deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'" (Jeremiah 7:2-4 ESV). The people had made an idol out of the Temple, falsely assuming that because the Temple existed, God's presence among them was assured. But they had failed to keep the Temple holy to the Lord. Jesus would quote from this very passage when He cleansed the Temple in His day, saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers" (Mark 11:17, Jeremiah 7:11 ESV). What God had set apart as holy to Himself had been desecrated by men. They had profaned what was holy by using it for their own selfish desires.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is obsessed about His holiness. His holiness refers to His otherness – there is nothing and no one else like Him. He is the God of the universe; completely righteous, all-powerful, all-knowing and the creator of all that exists. He has no competition and is incomparable in every way. The Tabernacle, like the Temple constructed by Solomon, was to be a reflection of His very nature and character. It was to be made of the finest materials. It was to be designed to exacting specifications, given to Moses by God Himself on the top of Mount Sinai. God left nothing to Moses' imagination. And God expected every aspect of His plan to be followed and His word to be obeyed. What made each of the elements "holy" was not the materials or plans used to make them. The priests were not considered holy by God because of the robes, breastplates and turbans they wore. What made everything holy was that God had set each and everything apart to Himself. They were "holy to the Lord." They had been consecrated or dedicated to God. This place and the people who worked in it were God's possession, just as the people of Israel had been set apart to God. Moses and the people were to take the Tabernacle seriously.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Everything we have read up to this point in the books of Genesis and Exodus has reflected God's sovereign choosing of the people of Israel as His possession. He had chosen them as His own. He had redeemed them slavery in Egypt and was in the process of leading them into the Promised Land, where He would fulfill His covenant promises made to Abraham. He had set them apart. He had dedicated them for His purposes. The Tabernacle was a concrete and practical confirmation of His abiding presence among them. And God was incredibly specific because He knew the nature of man. Without clear directions, they would tend to do things their way. Left to their own devices, they would have constructed a Tabernacle that met their needs. They would have built a monument to man, not a place to worship God. Even in Jesus' day, the Temple had become a national icon, a point of pride. At one point, during the last week of His life on earth, as He and the disciples were walking past the Temple, several of them pointed out how majestic it was, making special note of the "noble stones" (Luke 21:5). But Jesus told them, "the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Luke 21:6 ESV). The Temple that bore God's name and was supposed to be His dwelling place, would be destroyed, just as it had been in the Old Testament. Why? Because they had profaned His name. God had warned the people, "And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you" (Leviticus 22:32 ESV). They had taken what was to be holy and set apart and made it common. They had used what was intended for God's use for their own personal use. The Temple had become an icon, not a place of worship. Rather than living lives that were set apart and distinctively different among the nations, they had become just like all the other nations – and in the process, they had profaned God's name.

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

God has set me apart for His use. I belong to Him. I am holy because He bought me with the blood of His Son and made me His own. I no longer belong to me. I am His. But I can live my life in such a way that I profane His name by attempting to use what is His – my life – for my own selfish purposes. Paul reminds us, "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24 ESV). But it is so easy to take back ownership of my life. It is so tempting to want to make it all about me, and not about God. But to do so is to profane His name. It is to take what is holy and make it common place. When I use my life for my own selfish purposes, it is no different than if one of the priests had taken the golden lampstand which had been dedicated for God's use and taken it home for personal use. It would have taken what was holy and made it common place. And that is exactly what I do when I attempt to use my life for my own selfish desires. Paul would remind me, "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV). I am holy. I belong to God. I have been set apart by Him and for Him. The Tabernacle would remain holy only as long as the people of God treated it so. The Temple would remain holy only as long as the people of God treated it so. It was a dangerous thing for the people of God to place their faith in the existence of the Temple and assume that God was there with them. It is equally as dangerous for me to take my salvation and the promise of His presence in my life for granted by taking my body – His temple – and using it in ways that are inappropriate and unintended by God.

Father, I want to live a life that is set apart to You. I don't want it to be in word only, but in my actions. I want my life to reflect that I belong to You and not me. Forgive me for the many ways in which I profane Your name by using what You have set apart for Your use for my own selfish purposes. Help me to remain totally dedicated to Your glory and not my own. Help me to see my life as belonging to You and not to me. I want to holy to the Lord. Amen

The Presence of God.

Exodus 25-26, Mark 10

And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. – Exodus 25:21-22 ESV

In chapters 25-26, we have God's incredibly detailed instructions to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle and all the elements that were to be contained within it. God left nothing up to speculation. It was all to be done according to His design, and there was a very clear plan involved. The specificity in these two chapters is amazing, if not somewhat boring. God gives exact measurements and specific details regarding the construction methodologies and the materials to be used. And He funds it all through the free-will gifts of His people. He tells Moses to take up an offering, but only "from every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me" (Exodus 25:2 ESV). This was not going to be a coerced contribution, done halfheartedly and unwillingly. It probably didn't hurt that the last vision the people had had of God was "like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain" (Exodus 24:17 ESV). They had just been witness to the power and presence of God, so when Moses asked them to contribute to the construction of a "tent" in which God might dwell, they were more than motivated to give. The very name, "tabernacle" means "dwelling place." This was to be where God would meet with them. It would be a constant reminder of God's abiding presence. And the place where God's presence would rest would be above the mercy seat, within the Holy of Holies. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a summary description of the Tabernacle: "Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tentwas prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second sectioncalled the Most Holy Place,having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail" (Hebrew 9:1-5 ESV). The central feature of the entire Tabernacle was the mercy seat, which sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year "and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people" (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood once a year to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

This structure was to be the dwelling place of God. It was designed to house His presence and was to be a central focus of the Israelite community all through their years of wandering through the wilderness. It was to this place that they would come to regularly offer sacrifices to God. Within the Holy of Holies and inside the Ark of the Covenant were contained the copy of the Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The tablets of stone contained God's holy, righteous and unwavering expectations of man. But on top of that same Ark was the Mercy Seat, aptly named, because it was there that God meted out His undeserved grace and mercy each year, forgiving the people for all the ways in which they had violated His commands throughout the year. It is a picture of God's law and love, His righteousness and mercy, His justice and patience. The very fact that God would dwell among men who regularly and willingly disobeyed Him is remarkable. The idea that God would offer a way in which men could enjoy mercy when what they really deserved was His wrath should not escape us. It is all a picture of the mercy made available to mankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Again, the writer of Hebrews makes the connection for us: " But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV). Christ not only performed the role of the High Priest, entering into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people, He came presenting His own blood as the payment that would satisfy the just demands of a righteous, holy God. And unlike the yearly sacrifice offered by the human high priest, Christ's sacrifice of His own life was a one-time event, fully covering the sins of mankind for all time. "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:12 ESV). He did what He came to do and when He was done, He returned to His Father's side. The Tabernacle was a foreshadowing of what was to come. It was a glimpse into a greater sacrifice yet to be given. It offered a temporary reprieve from God's justice. But it would not be until Jesus Christ came in human flesh and died a sinner's death on the cross, that God's demands for justice against the sins of mankind would be completely satisfied.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man cannot satisfy God on his own. Our very sin nature makes us an unacceptable payment for our own sins. We can't pay back God for all the sins we have committed against Him. From the earliest days of the people of God, a substitute sacrifice was necessary and the shedding of blood was required. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Over the centuries, tens of thousands of innocent lambs, goats, and bulls were slain in order to pay for the sins of mankind. And while the sacrifice of these animals was ordained by God, it was never intended to be a permanent solution to man's problem. Speaking to His Father, Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Hebrews 9:5-7 ESV). Ultimately, it was going to require the death of Jesus on the cross to fully satisfy the just demands of God. His innocent life and substitutionary death was the only way the sins of mankind could be paid for once and for all. And just as in the days of Moses, men still need a stand in, a substitute to pay for their sins. Our sins make us unworthy to come into God's presence. The commands of God condemn us as law breakers and deserving of death. But God extends mercy. He offers a way in which we can enter into His presence, free from guilt, uncondemned by the law and free from the penalty of death. All because He provided His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

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

The reading of the details of the Tabernacle and all its elements can be somewhat boring and uninspiring, until I remember that it is a picture of what God has done for me. It is a reminder of God's intricate, detailed, marvelous plan to provide me with a means by which I can stand in His presence, forgiven and sin-free. The Tabernacle was costly. It contained materials of great value. It was the most priceless place in the entire camp of Israel. It was the central focus of their community and the pride of the nation. I should hold the death of Jesus Christ on my behalf with the same value. I should not take for granted the priceless gift I have been given by God in the form of His Son. Peter reminds us to conduct ourselves with fear, "knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). My access to God's presence came with a price. A great price. It cost God His Son, and Jesus His own life. In the book of Mark we read the story of Jesus and His encounter with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. When this man heard that Jesus was near, he cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47 ESV). Even when those around him tried to shut him up, he only cried out louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:48 ESV). And Jesus stopped, turned to him and asked, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51 ESV). And suddenly, Bartimaeus, an undeserving sinner, found himself standing in the presence of God Himself, being offered an opportunity to receive something he didn't deserve: healing. His sight was restored. His faith in Jesus' ability to provide healing and wholeness resulted in something he could have never provided for himself. And that has been my experience with Jesus. He has healed and freed me from the blindness of sin and the darkness of a life lived outside of His divine presence. I have been shown mercy by the God of the universe. What an incredible reality.

Father, I can't thank You enough for providing the means by which I could be made right with You. Without Your Son's death, I would have no life. Without His sacrifice, I would still be blinded by sin, living in darkness and completely unable to change my circumstances. Thank You for providing Your Son as my substitute and satisfying Your just demands for my sins. Amen

A Glimpse of God.

Exodus 23-24, Mark 9

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. – Mark 9:2-4 ESV

What would it be like to see God? Unimaginable, isn't it? I can't even begin to get my mind around what a personal glimpse of God would look or feel like. And yet God is incredibly interested in revealing Himself to us. The entire Scriptures are His revelation of Himself to mankind. His Son, Jesus Christ, "is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15 ESV). When Jesus came to earth, He made God visible to man. But in Moses' day, God was hidden. His actual form was unseen by human eyes. They could see His glory, but not His true divine essence. To have looked on God would have been a death sentence. Later on in the Exodus story, Moses will ask for permission to actually see God, but God will tell him, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Exodus 33:20 ESV). Moses would be allowed to see God's glory, but not His face.

Yet in the 24th chapter of Exodus we have the story of Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders all getting a glimpse of God. "They saw the God of Israel … and he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank" (Exodus 24:10a, 11 ESV). Yet the description of what they saw is quite cryptic and limited: "there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stones, like the heaven for clearness" (Exodus 24:10b ESV). They were given a glimpse of God's glory, but not a full-on revelation of His person. They couldn't have handled it. It would have been too much for them. God gave them just enough for them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was indeed Him.

Even the people got to experience a God-sighting. "Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (Exodus 24:17 ESV). There was no doubt in their minds that they had experienced the presence of God. It was clear and powerful. God's purpose behind these appearances was to convince His people of the reality of His person and presence. He was a tangible, living being. He was real and not the figment of Moses' imagination. Moses had been convinced of God's reality on a number of occasions. But now His leadership team was receiving up-close and personal proof of the reality of God. They would know for sure that the laws being given to them by Moses were from God and not man.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The laws of God carry no weight if the existence of God remains in doubt. In chapter 23 of Exodus, God repeatedly tells the people, "you shall" and "you shall not." He clearly articulates His expectations and requirements of His people. He leaves nothing up to speculation or the imagination. But He knew that the people needed proof. Everything God commanded and demanded hinged on the reality of His existence. It all goes back to the key question the people had been asking since they had left the land of Egypt. "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7b ESV). God was patiently proving His presence to a people who were plagued by doubt and constantly in need of evidence. But God lovingly refrained from displaying His full divine nature, because the results would have been devastating. Instead, He provided glimpses of His glory – small revelations of Himself that were faith-building, but not life-threatening. In the case of Moses and his leadership team, God wanted them to know that they were ratifying a covenant with the all-powerful, holy God of the universe. They shared a covenant-closing meal with God Almighty. That would prove to be a dinner they would never forget. The people had eagerly agreed to God's covenant demands, shouting as one, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exodus 24:3 ESV). But God knew the people well. He knew that their pledges to obey would be short-lived and nothing more than lip-service without a visual reminder that the God to whom they were swearing allegiance was both real and ready to hold them accountable.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has an overwhelming need to see God. That's why men make idols and worship the creation instead of the Creator. We value what we can see. The unknown, while intriguing, is difficult to wrap our minds around. We desperately search for explanations for the inexplicable and rationalizations for the unknowable. Not knowing is uncomfortable for us. And we find not being able to see scary. So we search for God in the visible. But the danger is that we end up making a god of our own choosing. The disciples were guilty of doing just such a thing. Their view of God had been influenced by generations of ancestors before them. Their God was invisible and unknowable. He was distant and disconnected from their everyday life. It had been a long time since anyone had seen the glory of God in a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud. They had not been at Sinai when the glory of the Lord descended on the mountain in smoke, thunder and lightning. Their God was real, but unproven in their day-to-day existence. They continued to make sacrifices at the Temple, attend the Synagogue on the Sabbath, and attempt to keep His commands, but the proofs of His presence were few and far between.

Then Peter, James and John got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a glimpse of God, up-close and personal. And it would not be what they had been expecting. They had been walking with Jesus for some time. They had chosen to follow Him, becoming His disciples and slowly coming to grips that He might be the Messiah for whom they had long waited. When Jesus asked them "who do you say that I am?," Peter quickly responded, "You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29 ESV). The word "Christ" is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for "Messiah." It means "anointed one." Peter was clearly acknowledging Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. But His statement did not carry with it an understanding of Jesus' deity. So Jesus would include Peter in the trio of disciples who would witness His transfiguration on the mountaintop that day. Mark records, "And he [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them" (Mark 9:2-3 ESV). Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, having a conversation with Him. When Peter saw this remarkable sight, all he could say was, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Mark 9:5 ESV). In spite of what he saw, Peter still could not see who Jesus really was. But God cleared it up for him. "This is my beloved Son; listen to him" (Mark 9:7 ESV).

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

Sometimes I see only what I want to see – that includes what I see of God. I can be just as guilty as Peter of having my own vision of what God "looks like" in my life. Peter was willing to acknowledge Jesus as his Messiah, but based on his own definition and according to his own terms and expectations. He was wanting a conquering Messiah who would lead the Jews in a political and military victory over the Romans. But Jesus came to be the suffering Messiah. He came to bring victory over sin and death, not Roman rule. He came to bring freedom from slavery to sin, not from Roman oppression. God gave Peter a glimpse of His glory by allowing him to see His Son in His glorified state. Over in Exodus 24:15-16, Moses spent six days on the top of the cloud-cloaked mountain before God appeared to him on the seventh day. In the gospel of Mark, we read, "And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves" (Mark 9:2 ESV). It was on the seventh day that God revealed Himself to the disciples in the transfigured form of Jesus, His Son. God was proving His presence among men. He was lifting the fog like a veil, in an effort to prove His presence and communicate His Word to His people. That day on the mountain, God told Peter, James and John, "This is my beloved Son, listen to him" (Mark 9:7 ESV). Jesus is the very nature of God, revealed to us as proof of God's presence among us. But I must learn to listen to Him. I must seek to know Him and see Him for who He is, not who I have made Him out to be. I have been given a glimpse of God in the life of Jesus. And He now lives in me!

Father, thank You for revealing Yourself to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ. But forgive me for failing to see Your abiding presence all around me through Your indwelling Spirit and the power of Your Word. Give me eyes to see Your glory and worship You for who You really are. Amen

Not Up For Interpretation.

Exodus 19-20, Mark 7

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ”This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. – Mark 7:6-8 ESV

Most of us have no trouble believing in God. It's obeying Him that tends to be the problem. All of us have had parents, and none of us would argue that point. Be there were more than a handful of times when we argued with our parents, rejecting to submit to their authority over our lives and refusing to admit that they might know best for our lives. We treat God in the same way and so did the Israelites. They had the normal human tendency to see God as some kind of helpful deity who existed for their good and to bring them glory. They saw themselves as special because they had been chosen by God. They viewed themselves as set apart from the rest of humanity and worthy of some kind of recognition for their status as God's hand-picked people. In a way, God was little more than a cosmic servant who was there to meet their needs. He provided them with food. When they were thirsty, He gave them water. He was like a divine concierge, providing advice, directions, and helpful travel tips. He had even promised to give them their own land, flowing with milk and honey. It was easy for the israelites to assume that this was all about them. But chapters 19-20 of Exodus provide a stark wake up call to all those who might want to turn God into their own personal genie, obligated to grant their wishes and obligated to obey OUR every command.

What does this passage reveal about God?

After nearly seven weeks of travel, the people of Israel arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai. But this was not going to be just another camping spot. There at that remote place, they were going to get an introduction into the true nature of their relationship with God. He was going to give them an up-close and personal glimpse of His true personality and clearly communicate His expectations of them. Theirs would no longer be a casual relationship, but a covenant and conditional one based on obedience and purity. God didn't mince any words when He told them, "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;  and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4-6 ESV). Their relationship with God was conditional. There were going to be expectations and requirements if they wanted to remain His treasured possession. They were going to have to a holy nation. And God would make it unmistakeably clear what that meant.

In order to get the attention of the people, God appealed to their senses. He used imagery and sounds to convey His power and greatness. He did not want them assuming He was anything like the false gods they had worshiped in Egypt. They had been mute and immobile, powerless to do anything for themselves, let alone for the people who bowed before them. The Psalmist described them well when he wrote, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not talk; and they do not make a sound in their throat" (Psalm 115:4-7 ESV).

The Israelites were going to learn that their God was not like the other gods. He appeared in a thick cloud on the top of the mountain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and the sound of a trumpet blast. His presence caused the entire mountain to quake. And He struck fear into the hearts of the people. He warned them to cleanse themselves and not to come near to Him, lest they die. Their purity was a prerequisite for coming into His presence and a protection against His holy wrath. This God whom they had taken so lightly and treated so disrespectfully was going to make sure they understood the true nature of their relationship with Him. They were going to learn that they existed for HIS glory, not the other way around.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When God laid out the commands He was going to require that the people keep, He included some that dealt with their relationship with Him, and others that had to do with their relationships with one another. It was going to be impossible for them to maintain a right relationship with God if they failed to treat one another with respect and dignity. Their holiness was to be holistic. In other words, it was to affect every area of their lives. Their set-apartness was to be all-encompassing, influencing their interactions with God and with one another. But they would struggle with God's commands from this point forward. Even all the way up until Jesus' day, the people of Israel would find themselves struggling to keep their commitment to obey God's commandments. Which is why Jesus so harshly condemns them, reciting the words of Isaiah the prophet, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:6-7 ESV).

They had long lost their awe and fear of God. They had once again turned Him into some kind of disembodied force who existed for their good and their glory. They had taken His commandments and given them an interpretation that better suited their own desires. They had come up with their own set of rules, designed to make them feel holy and righteous. They had so dumbed down God's standard for holiness that it had long ago lost its holistic sense. Their treatment of God and of one another had become surface-oriented and superficial. Which is why Jesus had to remind the disciples that true purity was personal and internal, not external in nature. "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:20-23 ESV). It's interesting to note how many of the things listed here by Jesus are directly dealt with in the Ten Commandments given by God at Sinai. The people of Israel had made it all about the externals, and in doing so, had forgotten to deal with their hearts.

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

God's holy requirements are not up for interpretation. It's not left up to me to decide whether I think I'm holy or not. God sets the standard. And while it might be an impossible standard to keep, that doesn't give me the right to dumb it down or trick it up by providing my own interpretation. God's righteous standards remain the same. And God still expects His children to live up to those standards. But He has provided a way to make it possible. He sent His Son to be born as a human being and live a life according to God's righteous standards. Which is exactly what Jesus did. He did what no other human being had ever done. He kept God's commands perfectly and completely. He lived a sinless life so that He could become the unblemished sacrifice that would pay the penalty for our sin-stained lives. And then He provided His Holy Spirit to live within us so that we might have the same power to live obediently and holy – according to God's standard, not our own. Like Paul, I want to be able to say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20 ESV). I want to live it in His strength and according to God's standards. I want to live it holistically and completely, not compartmentalizing my life or categorizing my sins in a convenient attempt to make myself look better.

Father, I want to honor You with my life. I want to make all that I do all about You, and not me. Forgive me for sometimes thinking that You exist for my glory. Give me an ever-increasing awareness of just how holy You are and how You have set me apart to live a distinctively different life – in Your strength and according to Your standards – so that others might know that You are God, not me. Amen

Is the Lord Among Us or Not?


Exodus 17-18, Mark 6

They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in. – Mark 6:51-52 ESV

Fear and faith. Those two qualities are constantly doing battle in the lives of all those who follow God. There is nothing inherently wrong with fear. It is a natural human response to certain circumstances and conditions. But for the follower of God, fear is never to be a controlling factor in life. We should never allow it to determine our decisions or produce in us those two additional human responses of fight or flight. It's not surprising that we see fear on display in the lives of the people of Israel as they were led by God from captivity in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. But we also see it equally evident in the lives of the disciples of Jesus as they traveled and ministered alongside Him. Both groups enjoyed the presence of God. The Israelites had the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day, guiding their path and providing for all their needs. The disciples had Jesus, who the angel said would be called Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). They had all been witness to God's amazing power. They had been given more than enough evidence of His abiding presence. But in spite of all they had seen, they continued to doubt and fear. Their actions illustrated what they were thinking in their hearts. "Is the Lord among us or not?"

What does this passage reveal about God?

In chapter 17 of Exodus, we see the Israelites face their first real battle against an opposing enemy. God provides them with a miraculous victory and Moses names the place, Yahweh-nissi, which means, "the Lord is my banner." Having found themselves under attack by the Amalekites, Moses sent Joshua to lead the army, while he stationed himself on a nearby hill overlooking the battle ground. Moses used the staff of God, the symbol of God's power, to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel doing battle with the Amalekites. As long as he held the staff aloft, the people were victorious. But if he allowed his hands to drop due to weariness, the people fell back in defeat. It is evident from the passage that God was the source of the victory, but Moses had to do his part, and it required the help of Aaron and Hur. Moses used the staff of God to call down the power and favor of God on the people of God. The passage states that "Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword" (Exodus 17:13 ESV), but it is clear that this victory belonged to God. That's why Moses ended up calling the site of their victory, Yahweh-nissi. God had gone before them and provided the victory. Once again, He had showed Himself faithful and powerful. Even prior to this great manifestation of His presence and power, God had graciously provided the people with water. They had come to Moses demanding, "Give us water to drink!" They had found themselves camped in a place where there was no water, and Moses is the one who had led them there. So they turned their anger on him. But God intervened again, demanding that Moses take the staff of God in his hand and strike the rock on which the physical manifestation of God's presence came to rest. God said, "Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink" (Exodus 17:6 ESV). Moses struck the rock where God's presence stood, and the result was life-giving water. It is interesting that Paul refers to this event saying, "For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). God was their source of sustenance and their source of victory. He would provide all their needs. But they had to believe.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In spite of all that God had done for them, the people of Israel continued to doubt Him. Moses gave the place where God provided water from the rock two different names: Meribah and Massah. The first meant "quarreling" and the second meant "testing." But Moses makes it clear that the source of their quarreling and testing was their questioning of God's presence. "Is the Lord among us or not?" Their bickering and moaning about water was a direct attack on God's presence and His ability to provide. He had given the manna and quail to meet their physical needs. He had turned bitter water into sweet water. But now, when they found themselves without a source of water, their fear got the best of them and they doubted God's presence. Fear is not wrong, unless it is based on a doubt of God's presence and power. If we fear because we doubt that God is or that He can, then we are exhibiting a lack of faith. The disciples did the same thing. Each of them, having been sent out by Jesus,  personally experienced the power of God as they healed the sick and cast out demons. They had watched as Jesus miraculously fed more than 10,000 of people with just five loaves and two fishes. But when they witnessed Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm, they feared. Mark writes, "And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened" (Mark 6:51-52 ESV). They still not recognize Jesus as God. Like the Israelites in Moses' day, they were questioning, "Is the Lord among us or not?" They were mystified by Jesus. They were astounded by His miracles. They were hopeful that He was the Messiah. But they still did not recognize Him as Immanuel, God with us.

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

At the end of the day, this is all about recognizing God as God in my life. It is about placing my faith in His abiding power and presence. It is about not judging Him based on my circumstances. It is about not fearing, but rather placing my faith in who He is and what He has said He will do. There are far too many times when I ask, "Is the Lord among us or not?" I may not say it out loud, but I scream it with my actions and my reactions. When I fear, I am basically saying, "God is not here!" When I take matters into my own hands, I am showing my doubt that God can take care of my situation. When I refuse to see recognize His activity in my life simply because it does not come in the manner I would prefer, I am doubting His presence in my life. When a difficulty comes, I must not assume He is not there. When a trial comes, I must not reject it as out of God's will for my life. The Israelites could have easily seen the presence of the Amalekites as outside of God's will for them. But it was actually a God-given opportunity for them to see His power at work. The disciples could have easily seen their presence in a boat on a stormy sea as outside of God's will for them, but it was the perfect spot for them to see God's power on display. The Lord is always among us, but we must be willing to look for Him. We must never forget what He has done in the past or we will find ourselves struggling with faith when difficulties come in the future. Is the Lord among us or not? Yes. He is always there. Regardless of what the circumstances may say or my heart my feel.

Father, You are always with me. Forgive me when I doubt You or fail to see Your hand in and around my life. You are my banner. You are my source of strength and sustenance. I can rest in You. I can rely on You. Forgive me for the many times I have said, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Amen

The Power of God.

Exodus 15-16, Mark 5

Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. – Exodus 15:5 ESV

I know of no one who believes in God who would not also say that they believe in the power of God. We sing songs about God's power. We can recall stories from the Bible, like those in Exodus, that tell of His great power. But there are far too few of us who can speak of His power from personal experience. Either because we have not seen it, or because we have simply taken it for granted. The power of God is not to be some academic or theological concept, but a practical and personal reality in the life of every believer. We have read over and over again in the book of Exodus that simple phrase, "that you may know." God wants us to know that He is God. He wants us to know of His power from personal, first-hand experience. Witnessing God's power at work in their lives was what helped the people of Israel believe. His evident power was proof of His ever-presence.

What does this passage reveal about God?

For the people of Israel, God's power was almost always on display in their lives. They had seen Him do incredible miracles in the land of Egypt. They had watched Him defeat the armies of Pharaoh and part the waters of the Red Sea. They even composed a song about it, singing, "Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them" (Exodus 15:11-12 ESV). They had seen these things with their own eyes. They had personally experienced the presence and power of God. His deliverance had been up-close and personal in nature. And God would continue to reveal His power to them long after the events at the Red Sea were just a memory. As they made their way to the Promised Land, God would reveal His power repeatedly and in a variety of practical ways. At Marah, He turned bitter water into sweet water. When they arrived at in wilderness of Sin and began to complain about the lack of food, God provided them with quail and manna to eat. Moses told the people, "in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord" (Exodus 16:7 ESV). While normally this would have referred to God's presence as revealed in the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day, in this case I think Moses was telling the people that they were going to see God's glory in the form of God's powerful provision. The manna was going to be a manifestation of God's glory. His provision would be evidence of His power and proof of his glory and greatness.

Over in the book of Mark, we read about the power of God as revealed through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He casts the demons out of a man, with just a word from His mouth. A woman who had suffered from the same physical malady for 12 long years, receives healing simply by touching the hem of His robe. And Jesus shows His power over even death by raising a 12-year old girl from the dead. These events were meant to provide the disciples with proof of His divinity. They were designed to give the disciples confidence in who Jesus was and evidence of His having God-ordained role as their Messiah. As it had been with the people of Israel in the wilderness, the power revealed in the miracles of Jesus had an objective: "Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God" (Exodus 16:12 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

God tends to reveal His power in the midst of man's problems. The Israelites had an uncrossable sea behind them and an unbeatable foe in front of them. But God showed up and revealed His power on behalf of them. The waters at Marah were bitter and undrinkable, but God showed up and turned the bitter sweet. When the food began to run out and the people began to give up, God showed up in the form of bread in the morning and meat in the evening. And the typical response of the people after each of these manifestations of God's power was not awe and wonder, but grumbling and complaint. Rather than gratitude and a growing sense of faith in the power of God, they disobeyed His commands and found plenty of reasons to gripe about the next inconvenience they encountered. The manna should have been a daily reminder of God's power and presence. It should have been more than enough proof of the goodness and glory of God. But rather than experience God's power and trust Him, they tended to focus on their problems and doubt.

When Jesus healed the demon-possessed man and restored him to his right mind, the people reacted with fear rather than faith. The kind of power Jesus revealed scared them to death and they asked Him to leave. Yet the woman who suffered from the long-standing illness was willing to place her faith in Jesus' power to heal based only on rumors and second-hand stories. Jesus said her faith restored her to health. Her belief in His power made her well. When word came to Jesus that the little girl had died, He told her father, "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36 ESV). This man had not seen Jesus raise anyone from the dead. He had no reason to believe that his little girl's life could be restored. In the midst of his greatest moment of tragedy, God was going to reveal His power through His Son. His problem was going to provide an opportunity to see God's power on display.

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

God wants to reveal His power through my problems. He wants me to know that He is Lord – not just intellectually, but experientially. God wants to reveal His power in my daily life by meeting practical needs and solving real problems. God graciously reveals His power in practical ways so that we might believe in Him. He offers us daily proof of His presence, but we either ignore it or refuse to believe it. And far too often, even after we see God's hand at work in our life, we end up grumbling and grousing at the next setback or difficulty that shows up. Rather than sing of His greatness and goodness as revealed in the practical proof of His power, we whine and moan about our lot in life. May I learn to recognize God's power in my life more readily and sing His praises more fervently. "Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11 ESV).

Father, You have shown Your power in my life in so many ways over the years, but I still tend to doubt You far more often than I trust You. And I show that doubt in the form of ingratitude and grumbling. Forgive me and help me see Your power more readily and express my gratitude more quickly. You are great and You are good. Amen.

Stop. Stand. See.

 Exodus 13-14, Mark 4

Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

This story has always fascinated me. In it we have a wonderful glimpse of the mysterious ways of God. He had been working behind the scenes, orchestrating His master plan to rescue and redeem the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and take them to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago. After ten devastating plagues and the institution of the Passover celebration, God was getting ready to do His greatest miracle to date. But He would do so in such a way that, from the perspective of the Israelites, it all made no sense. He was going to pull off one of the most incredible rescues, but it was going to require some moments of sheer terror and faith-testing uncertainty.

What does this passage reveal about God?

These two chapters in Exodus are all about God. He makes it perfectly clear to Moses and the people that all that is about to happen is focused on and the result of Him. They were to consecrate or set apart the first born of both man and animal to Him. All so they might never forget that "by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place" (Exodus 13:3 ESV). This entire series of events all points to God's sovereign hand over all that was going on. This was not going to be about the Israelites, but about their all-powerful God. When they left Egypt, Moses makes it clear that "God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near" (Exodus 13:17 ESV). In other words, God did not have them take the short route, but a longer, more round-about path. "But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea" (Exodus 13:18 ESV). Not only that, God stopped them right in the middle of their journey and told them to back track, commanding them to set up camp by the sea. It is very clear from the passage that this circuitous journey was God-directed. "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of could by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21 ESV). This was a fail-safe GPS guidance system. So when they found themselves camped on the shore of the Red Sea, they were right where God wanted them to be. It was all part of God's plan. Their seemingly aimless wanderings had given Pharaoh time to rethink his decision and, with some help from God, he changed his mind and set out in hot pursuit of the Israelites, with every intention of forcing them back into slavery. And when the people saw that Pharaoh was bearing down on them and the sea was behind them, they panicked. They cried out to God and the screamed accusations against Moses. Driven by fear, they expressed their regret that they had ever listened to Moses or left the land of Egypt. But again, God had them right where He wanted them. They were helpless, hopeless, completely defenseless and at a complete loss as to what to do.

Then Moses gave them the most perplexing, but perfectly appropriate advice a follower of God could ever receive. He said, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today" (Exodus 14:13 ESV). Everything about what he said sounded illogical and suicidal. It made no sense. Here they were with an unbeatable army in front of them and an impassable sea behind them. Their condition could not have been worse. And yet, they were right where God had led them. They could have run, but they would have been chased down and died. They could have tried to swim, but most of them would have drowned. So Moses gives them the one option that made the least amount of sense and required the greatest amount of faith. They were to stop fearing, stand their ground and watch God work. They were going to have a ring-side seat to one of the greatest shows on earth. Moses told them, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Exodus 14:14 ESV). They just needed to shut up and look up. And when they did, God showed up. He parted the sea. He delivered the people. And He defeated the armies of Egypt. As a result, "Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses" (Exodus 14:31 ESV). Fear had to be replaced with faith. Faith in God and His power. Faith required that they stand in midst of the very circumstance that created their fear in the first place. And their faith and firm stand resulted in belief in God, because they were able to witness His power in a real and personal way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the Jews made their way out of Egypt, the Bible tells us "the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle" (Exodus 13:18 ESV). That phrase, "equipped for battle" could be translated "in battle array." They were marching out in well-ordered groups. And they were probably a little bit full of themselves. After all, they were leaving with full pockets, having been inundated by the Egyptians with gold, silver, jewelry and clothing. After the ten plagues, the Egyptians wanted them to leave so badly, they were literally paying them to get out of town. There were probably over a million people in the crowd that made its way out of Egypt that day. But their pride and arrogance would soon turn to fear and, had it not been for Moses, their fear would have quickly turned to flight. But to see the hand of God, they were going to have to stay right where they were. By the time God was done, it was going to be the Egyptians who would fear and attempt to flee. God would turn the tables and literally turn the tide in favor of His people. What had appeared to be a hopeless situation would be turned into one of the greatest miracles any man had ever seen.

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

Over in the book of Mark, we see Jesus speaking in parables, attempting to instruct His disciples about the reality of the Kingdom of God. So much of what He said was a mystery to them, making no sense and even His answers seemed to leave them as confused as ever. His stories about seeds and soils, mustard seeds and lamps, planting and harvest, left the disciples scratching their heads and questioning their meaning. It was not what they expected. But later that day when they found themselves in a boat on the Sea of Galilee caught in a storm, all thoughts of parables and their meaning disappeared. They were in trouble. A severe storm with massive waves was filling their small boat with water and threatening them with possible capsizing and possible death. Jesus was sound asleep in the boat, and they woke Him up, screaming over the wind and waves, "Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38 ESV). And Mark records that Jesus calmly said, "'Peace be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39 ESV). Then Jesus spoke words that apply to each and every follower of His who has ever found himself in a difficult situation and full of fear. "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40 ESV).

Like the Israelites in the days of Moses standing at the shore of the Red Sea, and the disciples in that boat on the Sea of Galilee, I have more than enough reason to know that God is powerful and that He saves. I have seen His power in my life over and over again. I have been witness to His deliverance time and time again. But each time I find myself in a difficult spot, I tend to forget what He has done, and to doubt what He is capable of. The Israelites had seen ten plagues. They had witnessed the miracle of the Passover. The disciples had seen Him heal the sick and cast out demons. And yet, when the unexpected storm came, they feared. How easy it is for me to do the same. They also jumped to the conclusion that somehow their predicament was unplanned and out of God's control. They were NOT where they were supposed to be. And yet, Jesus was calmly asleep in the boat. No panic. No fear. No doubt. He was in God's will and had perfect peace. The storm was just an opportunity to watch God work. The armies of Pharaoh were there, not to conquer, but to be conquered by God. The Red Sea was there, not to be a barrier, but a means of escape and a way of deliverance. Oh, that I could learn to stop fearing, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord! I must continue to learn to let fear turn to faith and not flight. I must allow God to do the impossible so that my belief in God will become immovable.

Father, thank You once again for this incredible story and reminder of my need to trust You with the impossible in my life. There are NO circumstances that are out of Your control and No situations that are not within Your ability to provide a way of escape. You are leading me every step of the way. May I learn to see Your hand in every phase of my life, so that I might learn to wait for Your salvation in every situation of life. Amen.

For the Glory of God.

 Exodus 9-10, Mark 2

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.” – Exodus 9:16-17 ESV

God will share His glory with no one, including Pharaoh. His every action and every decision are designed to reflect His glory and greatness. Every plague He brought on the people of Israel was designed to prove His power and convince the Israelites and the Egyptians of His glory. Pharaoh, the great ruler over Egypt, who was viewed by his own people as a god, was simply a tool in God's hand to accomplish His divine will and bring glory to His name. When Moses and Aaron first approached Pharaoh and made their request that he allow them to leave Egypt, his response had been, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2 ESV). But God was going to introduce Himself to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. He would provide them with more than enough evidence of His existence and plenty of reasons to proclaim His glory and greatness. When all was said and done, there would be no man, woman or child alive in the land of Egypt who did not know who Yahweh was, and it would not be long before His fame spread throughout the known world at that time.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was in complete control of the situation. He knew exactly what was going to happen before it happened. He knew what Pharaoh would say and do before Pharaoh did. Each plague was planned and designed to fall in exactly the order in which they came. The intensity of the plagues increased over time. The devastation and destruction they brought on the people and the land grew exponentially each time Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the people go. This was all part of God's plan. Early on, He had told Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong had he will drive them out of his land" (Exodus 6:1 ESV). God was going convince Pharaoh to not only let the people go, but to drive them out of the land and fill their pockets with treasure in the process. This entire story reveals a well-orchestrated plan implemented by an all-powerful God whose ultimate objective is to make Himself known among men. Everything in the Exodus story points to God's glory. The defeat of the Egyptians will bring God glory. The release of the Israelites will bring God glory. Even the stubborn refusals of Pharaoh will ultimately bring God glory.

Over in the book of Mark we read of Jesus healing the paralytic. There is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Scribes. They were appalled that Jesus had dared to forgive the man's sins, something only God could do. Jesus asked them, "Which is easier to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk?'" (Mark 2:9 ESV). Obviously, it is much easier to tell someone his sins are forgiven, because the results can't be measured or proven. So Jesus takes the more difficult path. He commands the man to get up and walk. And He gives as His reason, "that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10 ESV). The result of this healing was that everyone who witnessed it "were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We never saw anything like this!'" (Mark 2:12 ESV). God was glorified. Jesus performed the miracle, but God was glorified. Jesus' entire life and ministry was designed to bring God glory. In fact, in His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus told the Father, "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do" (John 17:4 ESV). Jesus' life and death brought glory to God. The cross brought glory to God. The plan of redemption brought glory to God. And there is a day coming when the give all men will give God glory because of what Jesus has done. "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

We tend to live for our own glory. We are constantly attempting to make everything about us. The result is that we end up viewing the world from our limited perspective and fail to see God's fingerprints all over our lives and circumstances. Pharaoh thought he was in control. He truly believed he had the upper hand and the last word in what was going to happen. But he was going to learn, perhaps the hard way, that God was the one in control. He would come to understand that God alone was going to get the glory. Every man, woman, and child exists ultimately for God's glory. We were created for His glory. We exist for His glory. All creation is designed to bring God glory. Jesus Himself brought God glory. Should we be any different? God will be glorified on this earth and through the lives of those who occupy it. His name will be lifted up and proclaimed through all the earth. As His people, we are to be His witnesses, His ambassadors, spreading the glory of His name and the good news regarding His Son. Our lives are to be living, breathing proof of His presence and power. Our faith should bring Him glory as we learn to lean on Him, resting in His strength and not our own. Our transformed lives should bring Him glory and proclaim His greatness and goodness to the nations.

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

I exist for God's glory, not my own. My life is to be a tribute to His greatness, not my own. He is at work in my life, not to bring me happiness or to satisfy my selfish desires, but to bring Himself glory. And the amazing thing is that He brings Himself glory by transforming me into the likeness of His Son. I personally benefit from the process, but I am not the focus of it. The Israelites were going to get to enjoy freedom from slavery. But it wasn't because they deserved it or had somehow earned it. God would later remind the people of Israel, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations" (Deuteronomy 7:7-9 ESV). Ultimately, it was because God was a covenant-keeping God. He is a loving, faithful God who does what He promises to do. For His glory and our good. Jesus did what He did, not because man deserved it, but because God had planned it. He did what He did for God's glory and our good. I am the beneficiary of God's goodness because Jesus sought to bring His Father glory.

Father, I want my life to bring You glory. I know that You will be glorified regardless of whether I acknowledge You or not, but I would rather be a willing participant in the process, instead of like Pharaoh. I want to willingly glorify You by regularly acknowledging Your presence and power in my life. I want to praise You more. I want to focus more on You and less on me. I want to seek Your glory and not mine. May my life be lived in faithful obedience to Your will, bringing glory to Your name. Amen.

And You Shall Know.

Exodus 7-8, Mark 1

“The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” – Exodus 7:5 ESV

God is in the revealing business. The entire Bible is the revelation of God to mankind. In it we get a glimpse into His character and the holiness of His divine nature. But God has not limited what we can know about Him to the Scriptures. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that all men have had His nature revealed to them through the creation. "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 (Romans 1:19-20 ESV).

In the book of Exodus, we see God revealing Himself once again, both to the Jews and the Egyptians. He had already told Moses that He was going to deliver the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The end result of His actions would be a knowledge of who He was and what He could do. "…and you shall know that I am the Lord your God…" (Exodus 6:7 ESV). God's goal was that they would recognize Him as the one true God. He wanted them to understand that they belonged to Him and Him alone. They were to worship no other gods beside Him. But they were going to have to learn just how great and powerful He really was. And in order for God to accomplish His promise of redeeming the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, He was going to bring the people of Egypt into a full understanding of who He was as well. By the time this story is over, everyone is going to know who God is and just what He is capable of.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There are no other gods like Him. He is singular in nature and incomparable in power. But the Israelites didn't know that yet. And the Egyptians had no idea who God was. They had a plethora of different deities they worshiped, but Yahweh was not one of them. This God of the Jews was new to them and they had no reason to fear or respect Him. But that was about to change. God was going to reveal Himself to the Egyptians and prove to them that He alone was God. He was going to multiply His signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. He was going to bring about ten devastating plagues. He would never-before-seen miracles in the land of Egypt that would leave the Pharaoh's magicians mesmerized and the people terrorized. Over and over again, God says, "By this you shall know that I am the Lord." His actions will demonstrate and prove His character. They are going to learn that He is all-powerful. So much so, that He controls nature. Not only that, His power is greater than that of the Egyptian gods. It has been said that each of the plagues was a direct assault on a different god of the Egyptians. Each of the plagues attacked a different area of life that was supposedly protected by or representative of a god worshiped by the Egyptians. But those gods would prove no match for Yahweh. The gods of Egypt would prove to be no gods at all. They were powerless before the God of Israel. They could not protect. They could not save. They could not deliver. But Yahweh could and would. By the time the third plague arrived, even the magicians of Pharaoh were saying, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19 ESV). They were learning. But they were still not fully convinced. The real lesson they were going to have to learn was not just that God existed, but that there were no other gods besides Him. Moses told Pharaoh, "that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God" (Exodus 8:10 ESV). He is the only true God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The very fact that the Egyptians had more gods than you could shake a staff at, gives credence to the words of Paul in Romans. All men have an awareness of God, but due to an active sin nature, they tend to create their own version of Him. Paul goes on to say, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (Romans 1:21-23 ESV). That is exactly what the Egyptians, had done, even viewing the Pharaohs as a deities. And the Israelites, having spent the last 400 years in the land of Egypt, had taken on the gods of the land. They knew no more about Yahweh than the average Egyptian did. So they too were going to have to come to know God.

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

Over in his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells the believers that he is praying for them and says that he is constantly, "asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10 ESV). One of Paul's desires is that they grow in their knowledge of God. He wants them to know God better and better as they understand and obey His will, living their lives in a way that brings honor and pleasure to Him, and producing fruit that reveals His presence in them. Knowing God is not just to be academic. It is to be experiential and practical. I am not just to know about God. I am to know Him from His presence and power as revealed in my daily life. The Egyptians were going to know just how powerful God really was. So were the Jews.

When Jesus showed up on the scene hundreds of years later, He would be greeted with both amazement and anger. He was both revered and reviled. John tells us, "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him" (John 1:10-11 ESV). They couldn't figure Him out. He was like no one they had ever seen. "And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority" (Mark 1:22 ESV). He could command unclean spirits and they obeyed Him. The Jewish people didn't know what to do with Jesus. They were attracted to Him, but did not recognize Him for who He was. But the demons did. Mark tells us, "And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him" (Mark 1:34 ESV). God had proclaimed just who Jesus was at His baptism. "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11 ESV). But the people would have a difficult time accepting that fact. The religious leaders would refuse to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, eventually accusing Him of blasphemy and having Him crucified for claiming to be God.

Knowing about God is not the point. It is all about coming to an intimate awareness of His power and presence in my life that really matters. Jesus Christ has provided me with a way to know God experientially and personally. I know Him intimately. He is active in and around my life. He is not just God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is MY God. He is involved in my life. He rescues me daily. He reveals His power regularly. He shares His will with me repeatedly. And He loves me unwaveringly. He isn't just a god, He is my God. All because He provided His Son as my Savior. Now my desire is to grow to know Him better and better with each passing day.

Father, thank You for revealing Yourself to me through creation, but more importantly, through Your Son. I am so grateful that I have a restored relationship with You because of what Your Son did for me on the cross. I can know You intimately and personally. I can come into Your presence boldly and unashamedly. I ask that You would continue to reveal Yourself to me, so that I might grow in my knowledge of You daily. Amen.

The Law of Love.

Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do what He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn't believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handles their question. Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees are quickly followed by the Pharisees again. This time they raise a question concerning the Law – their area of expertise. "But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’” (Matthew 22:34-36 NLT).

This was common debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they had imposed this staggering list of 615 precepts on their followers. With that many laws, it wasn't long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, "Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). The over in Exodus, it states, "…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath" (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, were you to do nothing? This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear breaking of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than them. And they seriously doubted that He did.

A Simple Solution

Jesus’ answer reveals His authority over the Scriptures. “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT). He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV). This is the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But there was a second part. “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39 NLT). Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.

What Jesus presents is not new, but He provides it with new emphasis and meaning. While the love of God is supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for man.  "If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?"(1 John 4:20 NLT). Why was this so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them. “For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4 NLT). In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments" (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves are divided into these two areas. There is a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other – they are reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 NLT

Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.

Who’s Your Neighbor?

Take a look at Luke 10. Jesus has an encounter with “an expert in religious law” – probably a lawyer and likely a Pharisee, one the experts in oral law. He comes asking what he has to DO to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says? "The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27 NLT).

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28 NLT).

“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NLT).

He wanted a little qualification and clarification. As a lawyer, he wanted to limit his responsibility for loving. He wanted to justify himself as a keeper of the law and therefore, qualified for eternal life, so he was hoping Jesus would say, “Just love those who are righteous like you.” But instead, Jesus tells him a parable. It involves an unidentified man on a 17-mile road trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a long and dangerous trip, plagued by thieves. The story revolves around a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Two would have been well-respected, while the other was an outcast. As recorded in Luke 10, the man on the journey is accosted by thieves and left for dead. The priest sees him lying on the side of the road and crosses to the other side. The Levite passes by some time later, bothers to take a look at him, but leaves him just as he is. Finally, the Samaritan comes along and not only stops, he provides first aid. It says he felt compassion for him, soothed his wounds, bandaged him up and then put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he continued to care for him and covered the cost out of his own pocket.

After completing His story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits” (Luke 10:36 NLT). To which he replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37 NLT). And Jesus promptly replied, "Go and do the same!" Jesus has just clarified the question of who our neighbor is. It is anyone God brings into our life in need. It is anyone to whom we have the capacity or opportunity to show love. When we do, it is the fullest expression of our love for God.

Over in Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He uses the picture of a shepherd dividing between the sheep and the goats. This is an image what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith in God during that time. Their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:37-40 NLT). Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will be evidence of their hearts having been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. All those who failed to do the same would be condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It is proof that we understand His love for us. So how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Like the lawyer, do you want to qualify who your neighbor is to justify yourself? Since you can’t put your arms around God and hug Him or show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him through others. How do you think you’re doing? Could you be tried in a court of law and convicted as a Christian solely based on your love for and treatment of others?

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:35 NLT

Father, I want to increasingly learn to love others as an expression of my love for You. It is so easy to dislike and even hate those whom You love. I can so easily forget that all men are made in Your image. It is easy to love those like me or those who agree with me. It is easy to love those who love me back or who love me first. But loving the unlovely or unloving is difficult. Yet that is exactly how You love me – when I was at my most unlovely and when I was totally out of love with You. Help me to love like You love. Amen.

How's Your Love LIfe?

Mark 12

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.'" – Vs 29-31

In this chapter we see Jesus in a number of discussions with the religious leaders of His day. It starts our with Jesus' stinging indictment on the people of Israel – faintly veiled in the form of a parable. But we know they got the message because verse 12 says, "they understood that He spoke the parable against them." So they went away only to return with a plan to trap Him through the use of a series of questions, each designed to expose Jesus as a fraud. One had to do with the unfair taxation of the Romans. Another had to do with the resurrection. A third had to do with which commandment was the greatest or most important. Each time they were trying to put Jesus in a predicament where any answer He gave would get Him in trouble. Jesus handles all their attempts at entrapment with ease, frustrating their plans and feeding their growing contempt for Him.

But the one exchange that stands out from them all is found in verses 28-34. Jesus has already been confronted by the Pharisees, the Herodians, and some Sadducees. Each group had their own "trick" questionfor Jesus answer. Now along comes a scribe. He is a member of a well-respected occupation, whose job it was to copy the law. But he was more than a mere copyist. By constant and careful copying of the Old Testament laws, he would have become an expert. In the New Testament period the scribes were learned teachers and authoritative leaders, who were drawn from the priests and Levites, as well as the common people. Mark portrays them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests, and teachers of the Law. They were well-educated and well-informed in matters of the law.

So this guy comes up to Jesus and asks Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" It is impossible to know the intent behind this man's question. We assume he was trying to trick Jesus just like the others. But something leads me to believe he was looking for a legitimate answer to his question. Verse 28 says that he recognized that Jesus had answered the other questions well. So it seems that, as an expert on the law, he was anxious to see if Jesus could answer a question that had probably haunted him for all his professional life. Jesus' answer does not surprise him, because Jesus quotes directly from the Old Testament. Surprisingly, the scribe actually agrees with Jesus when he says, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated…" (Vs 32). But there is something in the man's statement that is worthy of closer inspection. He requotes the very same passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, but makes an important addition.

The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." – Vs 32-33

Do you see it? This expert on the law states that loving God and loving others is more important to God than an abundance of burnt offerings and sacrifices. Basically, he is saying that the intentions of the heart are more important than efforts of the flesh. Anyone can offer sacrifices and burnt offerings and be going through the motions. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus said this of the Pharisees, ""These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Love comes from the heart. Love for God and love for others is impossible without something happening in the heart. You can't fake love God or others. But you can certainly DO all the right things that make it appear as if you love God and others.  So we tend to concentrate on the outside, focusing of acts of sacrifice that are the result of self-effort more than they are a natural outflow of legitimate love for God and others.

So how's your love life?

Sounds kind of personal doesn't it? But love is personal. It's intimate. And it has to come from the heart for it to be real. But some of us have a hard time loving ourselves, let alone others. We have a hard time believing that God loves us, so we find it hard to love Him in return. We withhold love from others until they show love to us. But fortunately for us, God doesn't love that way. He just loves. And according to Jesus, the two greatest commandments He gave us are to love Him back, and to share His love with others. This journey we call the Christian life is not about rules, rituals, and religious creeds. It isn't about accomplishing things for God with our hands. It is about the heart. It is about love. It is about relationship. It is about loving because He has loved us. But it's hard to love others when you don't feel loved. It's impossible to love others when you can't even love yourself. But God does love you. He sent His Son to die for you. Not because you were lovely or lovable, but because love is the essence of God. And His undeserved, unmerited love for us is what motivates and empowers us to love Him in return and all those He brings into our lives.

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. – 1 John 4:19-21

It is interesting that after this exchange with the scribe, Mark records, "After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions" (Vs 34). Why do you think that is? I think Jesus had just nailed down the real issue going on with the religious leaders. It was their hearts. They didn't truly love God and they didn't love others. They had missed the point altogether and had made their lives nothing more than a list of religious rules and rituals to keep. But how easily we can fall prey to the same kind of mentality. But God calls us to a life of love.

Father, forgive me for not loving more. I confess that I often find it easier to offer you my sacrifice of self-effort and offerings of self-righteousness when all you are asking for is love. Love for You and love for my neighbor. May these two commandments truly become the greatest in my life. May I learn to be loved and love. May I extend to others the kind of love You have given to me. Sacrificially and selflessly. Amen

Hardened hearts. Dull Minds.

Mark 6

…and they were astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. – Vs 52

They had not gained any insight. Basically, they had not put two and two together. They had witnessed an incredible miracle when Jesus fed the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes. But the disciples failed to make the connection between what they had seen and the one who had performed the miracle. Instead, Mark says "their heart was hardened." In the Greek the word translated "hardened" means "to cover with a thick skin, as a callous." Their hearts were unable to be penetrated by the significance of the events surrounding them. They could not see Him for who He was. Sure, they were astonished with the things they were seeing, but they could not connect the dots in their hearts, and realize the significance of the one they were following. Then they found themselves on a fishing boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, straining to get to the other side because of the winds. The next thing they know, Jesus is walking by on the water, intent on getting to the other side before they do. Rather than recognize Him, remember the events of the day, and marvel once again at the power of Jesus, they panic, jumping to the conclusion that they are seeing a ghost or some kind of sinister apparition. They were terrified.

Jesus gets in the boat with them, the wind stops, and they're astonished. They were blown away by what they had seen – Jesus walking on the water. But these are the same guys who had just watched Jesus feed thousands of people with just a handful of loaves and fishes. And they had each picked up a basket full of leftovers – 12 total! These are the same 12 that Jesus sent out and "gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases" (Luke 9:1). Mark says "they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them" (Mark 6:13). But when it came to Jesus walking on the water, they were astonished. Because they had not gained any insight from the incident with the loaves. Their hearts were calloused and their understanding was dull.

But what had they missed? What was the message of the loaves and fishes that failed to connect with them? I see a number of them. First, that Jesus has the power to provide. He can meet any need – no matter how large or small. Whether it is physical hunger or spiritual thirst. Secondly, Jesus cares. His action was motivated by compassion. Mark records, "He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34). He cared about their spiritual as well as their physical hunger. Thirdly, Jesus has power that is greater than the elements. He could multiply loaves and fishes. He could take a little and accomplish a lot. His power was limitless.

Yet the disciples kept trying to limit Jesus. They kept trying to put Him back into the box they had created for Him. They were comfortable with a Messiah of their own making. They wanted a revolutionary. They wanted a savior, but one of their own definition. They wanted salvation from Roman tyranny, not deliverance from sin. They wanted a warrior Messiah, not a suffering servant. They wanted a kingdom of this earth, not of heaven. So as they struggled with the oars, pulling against the wind and the waves of life, Jesus appears walking on the water. Their minds were occupied with the cares and concerns of this life. Like many of us, they were straining at the oars, trying to keep ahead of the waves and wind pushing against them. But Jesus walks on the water, unaffected by the elements, intent on His mission.

So how about us? Are our hearts calloused over from years of use loving the wrong things? Are our minds dulled by a steady diet of wrong expectations and faulty conclusions about God and His role in our lives? Are we easily astonished when we get a glimpse of Jesus in our lives that does not fit our preconceived notions of who He is? If so, then we are missing the point. We're not putting two and two together. You see, Jesus outside of our boat walking on the water is a reminder to us that He is who He says He is: The Son of God. But we want Jesus in our boat. We want Him doing things our way. We want Him concerned with our problems and helping us out of our jams. But Jesus is a man on a mission. He has a goal and an objective – as much today as He did then. Yet we want to limit His work to our own little world. For Jesus, walking on the water was an expeditious way of getting where He needed to go, so He could do what He needed to do. It was not done for show or effect. Jesus fed the 5,000, not as some kind of mind-blowing miracle, but to give the disciples a glimpse into who He was. Everything Jesus did was for a reason. He had a purpose behind it. To teach, instruct, encourage, reveal, motivate, and prepare those whom He had called. The same is true today. But we run the risk of having hardened hearts and dulled minds. Look around you. Where is Jesus? Is He out of the boat or in it? Is He walking on the water, revealing His power and proving His deity? Do you see Him feeding the spiritually hungry by using "the least of these?" He is at work. He is still walking on the water. He is still making the most out of the least. He is still showing compassion on the many. He is still revealing who He is to those whom He has called.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son. But forgive me for having a hardened, callous heart sometimes that prevents me from seeing Him at work around me. Forgive me for failing to learn the lessons you are teaching me about Your Son. Soften my heart, open my eyes, help me to see who it is that I serve. Let me not be surprised by those walking-on-water moments that take place around me. May I grow in my understanding of who Jesus is and what He is doing in the world today. Amen

Demons, Disease, and Death.

Mark 5

Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.– Vs 19

In this one chapter, Jesus makes a significant impact on the lives of a number of people. He casts the demons out of man. He raises a synagogue official's daughter from the dead. His power heals a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. The demon-possessed man had been living his life among the tombs, an outcast and hopeless of ever seeing anything change. The woman had been living with her disease for twelve long years, without hope because the physicians had unable to provide any relief. The little girl was completely without hope, having died while Jesus was on His way.

In what appears to be the span of a single day, Jesus encounters three different sources of pain and affliction that have been confronting mankind since the fall. Yet Jesus was more than a match for all three. He proved once again His power over the enemy, over sickness, and even death. Yet He did so with compassion. He showed love and concern for those whose lives He impacted. He showed them mercy. He showered them with grace. His actions towards them were an expression of His love for them. These were three unknown, unnamed individuals who He could have easily ignored and passed by on His mission to save the world. But instead He stopped and showed them love. He extended mercy. He expressed grace. And their lives would never be the same.

Report what great things the Lord has done for you!

The command Jesus gives in verse 19 to the man who now stood completely free of any demon possession is an unbelievable summary of what it means to share our testimony. It is not about what age we were when we walked the aisle, confessed our faith, prayed the sinner's prayer, or placed our faith in Christ. It is about what an encounter with Jesus Christ has done for us. How He has shown mercy on us. It is being able to say, "I once was held captive by the enemy, but now I am FREE!" It is being able to report, "I once was deathly sick, unable to find relief from the experts of this world, but now I am WHOLE!" It is being able to proclaim, "My child had been robbed of life, but now she is ALIVE!" And Jesus says, "Go tell someone!"

So what has Jesus done for you lately? How has He shown you mercy? Why not go tell someone?

Father, thank You that because of Your Son, I am alive, whole, and free! Forgive me for not telling others all that You have done for me. Thank You for your grace, compassion, and mercy. Thank You for sending Your Son as an expression of Your matchless love for me. Give me the boldness to tell others so that they might experience the same amazing love. Amen

In the Yoke.

Mark 4

He began to teach them again… – Vs 1

And He was teaching them many things… – Vs 2

And He was saying to them… – Vs 9, 21, 24

And He said to them… – Vs 13

And He was saying… – Vs 26

With many such parables He was speaking the word to them… – Vs 33

…but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples. – Vs 34

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be one of Jesus' disciples? To have followed Him and been able to listen to His teaching? But it's interesting to compare what and how we teach to what Jesus taught. Chapter 4 of Mark gives a glimpse into what His style and content looked like. Throughout the chapter we see Him teaching about the kingdom of God; speaking in parables about different kinds of soils, lamps, and mustard seeds; and explaining the meaning behind all His parables to His disciples.

This was not the didactic-style teaching we are used to as western Americans. Jesus rarely stood up in a lecture hall behind a podium and gave lengthy talks, complete with handouts and PowerPoint presentations. Sure, He did the occasional Sermon on the Mount, but most of His teaching seemed to be after the crowds had gone and He had gathered with the twelve around the campfire at night or while walking along the road. In fact, He told His disciples that "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables" (Vs 11). Jesus took the time to explain to His followers the meanings behind the parables. He revealed to them the truth that had been hidden for generations. He spoke about a different kind of a kingdom than they had all come to long for and expect.

But He did it all through relationship. He spoke casually, not professionally. He wasn't divulging information or details to be memorized and later regurgitated on a test. He was sharing truth in the context of friendship. It is a perfect picture of the yoke visual Jesus gave in Matthew 11:28-30. He invites His followers to enter into the yoke with Him. He wants each and every one of us to enter into an intimate relationship with Him in which we walk side-by-side with Him, learning from Him, working alongside Him, watching Him, listening to His instruction, and becoming more like Him with each passing day. Jesus doesn't give us a lecture on how to plow with a yoke, then expect us to get in one and get to work. No, instead He invites us into His yoke alongside Him and we learn through experience. That is exactly how the disciples were learning. They were walking and working with Jesus, and watching Him minister and share. They were apprentices to the Master Himself. And that is how we are to learn. Yet we seem to prefer the lecture approach. We want to have someone tell us what we are supposed to know, then we will memorize it and attempt to apply it to our lives. But we leave out the relationship part. It becomes all about us. Jesus could have invited the twelve to a 3-week crash course on ministry, then sent them on their way, but He chose to teach through relationship. He lived with them, walked with them, ate with them, spoke with them, modeled for them, and revealed to them who He was and what His kingdom was all about.

What is Jesus teaching you today? Better yet, HOW is Jesus teaching you today? Is it through an intimate, daily relationship as you walk with Him? Are you learning from Him as you experience the difficulties of life together? Are you in the yoke with Him, doing His work in His way? Christianity is not about religion, doctrine, creeds, concepts, Bible knowledge, Scripture memory, or the gathering of information. It is about relationship. It is about followers of Christ who willingly place themselves in the yoke with Christ, so that they can learn from the Master Himself as they go about their daily lives. It is an intimate, shoulder-to-shoulder experience with Jesus as He teaches us, reveals to us, speaks to us, and models for us who He is and how we are to live the life He has called us to.

Are you in the yoke?

Father, give me the courage to get in the yoke today. To choose to give up my rights and my agenda so that I might work and learn alongside the only One who can teach me what I need to know. Forgive me for thinking that more knowledge could make me more Christlike, all the while leaving out the very thing that will transform me into the likeness of Your Son: Relationship. Give me ears to hear, and let me be close enough to Jesus so that I can hear Him when He speaks! Amen

Crowds, Critics, Family and Followers.

Mark 3

Wherever Jesus went He seemed to attract a diverse group of people, and nowhere is that more clear than in Mark 3. Along with the growing crowds of people flocking to catch this miracle-working rabbi in action, there was a regular retinue of religious leaders intent on eliminating what they saw was a threat to their position and power. Jesus even seemed to find himself regularly surrounded by people possessed by demons. Every time He turned around, there was one of them screaming, "You are the Son of God!" just before Jesus cast them out sent them packing. He also had a growing number of disciples following in His wake. Out of that group, He selected the twelve who would spend the next three years under His instruction and tutelage. Then there was His family. At one point Mark records that Jesus' mother and brothers show up and attempt to take Him back home because they think He has lost his mind.

For every person that followed Jesus, there was a different opinion as to who He was and what He had to offer. For the sick, He was the healer. To the Pharisees and Scribes, He was a blasphemer and a thorn in the side. To His family, He was a lunatic and an embarrassment. To the twelve, He was a rabbi and teacher. To the crowds, He was a source of entertainment and a distraction from the boredom of everyday life. To the demons, He was an enemy and a threat to their domain. But to all, He was a formidable figure who demanded a reaction. Jesus could not be ignored. He was bigger than life. He was powerful. He was intriguing and, to some, frustrating. He was shaking things up and rocking the proverbial boat of His day. Everywhere He went He attracted a crowd. Every time He spoke, He solicited a response. Every time He healed, He caused a scene. Every time He taught, He rocked somebody's world. And He's still doing the same today.

So what's your response to Jesus? Are you following Him, ignoring Him, petrified of Him, attracted to Him, irritated by Him, or oblivious to Him? The sad thing about Mark 3 is that the only one who acknowledged Jesus for who He really was ended up being a demon! He saw the reality of Jesus' identity and he couldn't help but acknowledge it. No confusion. No cover up. Just confession. Here was a demon testifying to the reality of who Jesus was and is. Why can't we do the same?

Father, I want to confess Your Son loudly and regularly. I want my reaction to be one of worship and recognition of His power and position as the Son of God. I don't want to be part of the crowd, looking for a what I can get out of it. I want to be a faithful follower who recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and my Savior – every day of my life. Open my eyes and let me see Jesus for who He really is. Amen

Let the Battle Begin.

Mark 2

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. – Vs 17

Chapter two records the beginning of Jesus' conflict with the religious leaders of His day. His ministry has just begun and the tension begins to build. Because of His "new" teaching with authority and His miracles, Jesus is attracting huge crowds and gaining in popularity, which is not sitting well with the religious leadership. Rather than listen to His message of hope and acknowledge the power behind His miracles, they accuse Him of blasphemy – charging Him with claiming to be God. Only God can forgive sins, yet here is Jesus telling the paralytic that his sins are forgiven (Vs 5-12). Jesus understands what they are thinking and so He heals the man to prove His authority and His divinity. But they refuse to see.

But they DO see Him eating with tax collectors and sinners. He not only ate with them, but He chose a tax collector as one of His followers. For the religious leaders, this was appalling. They could not fathom the idea of associating with people like this. In fact, they did everything they could to avoid contact with them. And here was Jesus sharing a meal with them. Do you see the conflict? Do you sense the tension? Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to rock the status quo of His day. He came to turn the religious world on its ear. He had a different message and a different methodology. Rather than separate Himself from sinners and sequester Himself in a protective religious cocoon, Jesus walked right into the middle of the mess that had become humanity. In doing so, Jesus gives us an example to follow.

Jesus came to save those who are in need. He came to heal the spiritually sick and to save sinners. The very people He was eating with were those who knew they could not keep the Law. They knew they were sinners. They were constantly reminded by the Pharisees of their failure to keep the Law. Not only were they unable to keep the commands of God, they couldn't keep the hundreds of rules and regulations the Pharisees had added to God's Law. They were overwhelmed by their own guilt and sinfulness, and they lacked hope.

The Great Invitation

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus makes a statement that has come to be known as "The Great Invitation." He says:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Jesus invites all those who are weary and heavy-laden. Those who are worn out from trying to keep the Law and obey the rules of men. Those who are weighed down by the constant reminder and realization that they can't live righteous lives on their own. They are carrying around a burden of guilt and shame that is too much to bear. They are sinners and they know it, but they can't do anything about it. So Jesus offers them rest. He offers them relationship. He offers to His yoke in place of their burden. He invites them to step into a discipleship relationship with Him. These people knew what a yoke was and what it was for. It was an instrument used for farming. It involved work and effort. But here is Jesus inviting them to leave one source of burden and take up another. But His comes with rest. His comes with companionship – the realization that you will be in that yoke with the Savior Himself. You will be working alongside Him doing His work. You will be walking alongside Him, learning from Him.

Jesus is still calling sinners into a relationship with Him. He is still offering rest for our souls. He is still inviting us to get into the yoke with Him. He offershelp while the self-righteous religious elite offer only condemnation. He offers rest while the "righteous" offer an endless list of rules and regulations to keep. He offers relationship while religion offers a daily diet of guilt and shame. Jesus came to heal the sick. He came to save sinners. He came to give rest to the weary. Are you in the yoke? Are you finding rest for your soul? Have you experienced the healing touch of the Great Physician? His offer still stands.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son for me. Thank You for providing healing for my spiritual disease. Thank You providing Me with rest from the burden of sin and the heavy weight of trying to save myself. I am in the yoke with Him. I don't always like it. Sometimes I try to get out of the yoke and go back to my old way of life, trying to make myself righteous through self effort. But it always fails and leaves me tired, worn out and burdened down. Keep me in the yoke with Your Son. Help me lean on Him and learning from Him. And give me a heart for the sinners who surround me. Let me see them with your eyes and point them to the yoke. Amen