will of God

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B. 

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline. 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Exodus Reversed

58 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. 62 Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. 63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

64 “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68 And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” – Deuteronomy 28:58-68 ESV

In this last portion of chapter 28, Moses makes an unmistakable link between the future state of Israel and their former condition in Egypt. In effect, he describes them experiencing a reverse exodus. More than four decades earlier, God had graciously delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham. Now, as Moses attempts to prepare the people to enter the land and conquer it, he warns them of the dangers associated with disobeying God’s commands. If they fail to keep God’s laws, they will experience a litany of curses that will leave them in a state of physical and moral degradation.

And Moses ends his bone-chilling description of the curses of God by letting them know that they will experience a complete reversal of fortunes, including their return to captivity in Egypt.

“And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” – Deuteronomy 28:68 ESV

Think about how this news would have impacted the Israelites. They were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter the land God had promised as their inheritance, and now Moses is telling them that failure to comply with God’s laws will result in their return to their former state as slaves in Egypt. But long before that happens, they will have to endure the same kind of pain and suffering the Egyptians had endured as a result of the ten plagues brought upon them by God.

“…the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.” – Deuteronomy 28:59-60 ESV

God had punished the Egyptians for their refusal to let His people go. Repeatedly, Moses had appeared before Pharaoh, asking that he release the Israelites from their captivity. But each time, Pharaoh had refused. And his stubborn resistance to the will of God had been met with a series of plagues that grew in their intensity. Eventually, God brought upon the entire nation of Egypt the death of the firstborn, a devastating tragedy that struck every household, including Pharaoh’s.

And Moses warns that all this and more will happen to the Israelites – should they choose to live in rebellion to God.

One of the things we tend to overlook or downplay in these warnings from Moses is the extreme dichotomy they represent. Things would not be as they were meant to be. The promised land had been meant to be a place of rest. It was intended to be the polar opposite of their time spend in Egypt. In fact, when God had chosen Moses to be the one to deliver the people of Israel from captivity, He had told him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” – Exodus 3:7-8 ESV

Canaan was to be a place of fruitfulness, abundance, blessing, rest, and peace. And the first time thei Israelites had arrived at the border, they had chosen to reject God’s command to enter the land, out of fear of its inhabitant. And the author of Hebrews used that ocassion as a lesson for New Testament Christians.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. – Hebrews 3:15-19 NLT

They were not allowed to “enter his rest.” Their rebellion resulted in their deaths in the wilderness. That generation would spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, until each of them had died off, before the next generation would be given another opportunity to obey God and conquer the land.

And Moses has warned that second generation not to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers, or they too would find themselves being cast out of the land. They would go from enjoying God’s rest to experiencing slavery in Egypt again.

It was God’s will that the people of Israel “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 ESV). And Moses reminds the Israelites, “the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you” (Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV). But their disobedience would result in the polar opposite reaction from God.

“The Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.” – Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV

God would leave the Israelites scattered, demoralized, oppressed, weary, and suffering from “a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul” (Deuteronomy 28:65 ESV). Their hearts will be filled with dread. Their lives will be marked by regret, loss, and a longing for each day to come to an end. But the nighttime will be no better. The hours will drag by as they long for the new day to dawn. Then the miserable cycle of frustration and despair will repeat itself.

And Moses ends this dismal list of curses with a bleak prediction of Israel restored to captivity in Egypt – right back to where they started. They will be forced to watch as the promised land fades into the distance as they make their way back to Egypt as slaves. They will endure the shame and humiliation of a reverse exodus. And their lives will once again be marked by bondage, not freedom. There will be no more rest. They will enjoy no more rewards or blessings from God. All because they decided to disobey the law of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Immodesty, Dishonesty, and Perversity

11 “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12 then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

13 “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.” – Deuteronomy 25:11-19 ESV

As has been the case throughout this section of Deuteronomy, verses 11-19 of chapter 25 contain additional regulations that appear to have no rhyme or reason to them. Not only do they seem to lack any common thread of logic, at least one of them deals with what would appear to be a highly unlikely scenario and a heavy-handed form of punishment (excuse the pun).

Moses brings up the case of a dispute between two men. In Hebrew, the phrase describes “a man and his brother.” So, it is unclear as to whether this involves two sons of the same mother or two Israelites. But in either case, the scenario Moses paints involves a conflict between two men that has resulted in the throwing of punches. In other words, the dispute has gone from verbal to physical. Now, this would not have been a rare occurrence in Israel. Men will be men, and anger has a way of getting out of hand. But Moses introduces another actor to the drama whose actions complicate the scene and require the divine regulation that follows. The point of the passage is not the bare-knuckles brawl between the two men, but the indelicate behavior of one of their wives. Moses describes her involvement this way: “the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts” (Deuteronomy 25:11 ESV).

Now, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what is going on here. And many of the modern translations of the Scriptures provide much more specific wording to get the point across: “genitals” (NASB, NRSV, TEV); “sex organs” (NCV); “testicles” (NLT). Suffice it to say, the woman’s efforts to aid her husband involve what would have to be considered as immodest and indecent behavior. While we might want to say that the heat of the moment provides ample justification for her actions, Moses obviously disagrees. He provides no excuse for the woman’s behavior, demanding instead that her hand be cut off as punishment for her actions.

It would appear that the fight involves a non-life-threatening confrontation. One man is beating another. There are no swords drawn. Death is not imminent or even intended. But the woman, in an attempt to come to the aid of her husband, commits an act of indecency that could actually result in permanent physical harm to her husband’s adversary. By grabbing the man’s genitals, she would likely incapacitate him, giving her husband the upper hand in the fight, but she also risks doing irreparable damage to the man’s reproductive capacities. And this seems to be the point of the passage and the reason behind the severe punishment demanded by Moses.

Her response would not only be considered indecent and improper, but it would also be deemed an excessive form of retribution. It is interesting to consider the lex talionis or laws concerning retaliation.  They are found throughout the Pentateuch:

…if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. – Exodus 21:23-25 ESV

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. – Leviticus 24:19-20 ESV

Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. – Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV

It would appear that Moses is citing a case where the woman’s actions did not result in permanent damage to the man’s genitals. If it had, according to the lex talionis, the law of retribution, her husband would have to suffer a similar fate. But since the wife was the one guilty of committing the crime, she would be the one to suffer the punishment. And, in this case, Moses prescribes the punishment as the cutting off of her hand. There is no tit-for-tat retribution involved. Which seems to suggest that her actions had no long-term or permanent impact. But she would suffer the consequences of her actions nonetheless. She had intended to do harm and her actions could have had serious repurcusions that left a man incapable of having children. This was a serious crime in God’s eyes, and it came with serious consequences.

And, as he seems prone to do, Moses suddenly shifts his attention to less dramatic matters, focusing his attention on dishonesty. He mentions the use of different measures. This is a reference to the scales used in buying and selling. Since Israel was predominantly an agrarian society, when produce was sold, it was placed on one side of the scale and the form of payment was placed on the other. A bag of wheat equaled a certain amount of coin. So, if you had two different forms of measurement, it essentially meant you had false scales and an intent to cheat the one with whom you were conducting business. The prophet, Micah, records the words of God concerning those who would do such a thing.

Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights? – Micah 6:8 ESV

And the book of Proverbs provides further insight into God’s perspective on dishonesty in business.

The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights. – Proverbs 11:1 NLT

And God had provided the Israelites with His laws concerning the matter.

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:35-36 NLT

Accuracy and honesty are important to God. He is a just and righteous God who expects His people to treat one another with love and respect. To cheat someone is nothing less than an outward display of hate for them. It is to rob them of what they are rightfully due. And, in cheating someone, you are setting yourself up as god, establishing your own rules and establishing your will as greater than God’s. But Moses makes it painfully clear that “all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16 ESV).

Finally, Moses brings up God’s commands concerning Israel’s relationship with the Amalakites. In the book of Exodus, there is a story describing Israel’s first encounter with these people. They appeared on the scene at a place called Rephidim, launching an unprovoked attack on the Israelites. While Joshua did battle with the Amalakites, Moses stood on a nearby hill, holding up the staff of God as a symbol of God’s presence and power. As long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites prevailed. But as the battle raged on, his arms grew weary and Aaron and Hur were required to assist him in keeping the staff aloft. Eventually, the forces of Israel prevailed and God made a pronouncement concerning the Amalakites.

“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:14-16 ESV

Now, Moses is reminding the Israelites that they were to fulfill God’s will concerning the Amalakites. There were to be no compromises or concessions made. God had decreed that the Amalakites were to be blotted out and He fully expected His people to carry out His wishes.

Hundreds of years later, when Saul had been appointed the first king of Israel, God reiterated His will that the Amalakites be wiped out.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

But Saul failed to obey God’s command.

But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:9 ESV

And as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God rejected him as king. This man had chosen to partially obey, making compromises and concessions that were unacceptable to God. And Samuel, the prophet of God, delivered the following indictment against Saul.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV

Saul had chosen to act perversely. According to dictionary.com, someone who acts perversly is “willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired.” He did not do what God had told him to do. But God considers obedience far better than sacrifice. As Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

There Is More To Come.

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:55-66 ESV

Man’s sin debt had been paid, but the cost had been high. Jesus, the Son of God, had given His life so that others might experience eternal life. He died so that others might live. But, as the apostle Peter reminds us, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT). But as the Roman soldiers removed the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross, He was anything but spotless. He body had been beaten and bruised. His face had been slapped repeatedly leaving it bruised and practically unrecognizable. And hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had described just how badly Jesus would be disfigured by this tragic event.

But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:14 NLT

He was covered in the blood that had flowed from the wounds left by the large nails pounded into his hands and feet. He had a gaping wound in His side from the point of the spear that had been meant to ensure His death. The crown of thorns that had been mockingly pressed onto His head had caused blood to flow down His face and into His eyes. The sinless, spotless Lamb of God had been slain.

In the Book of Revelation, John is given a glimpse of Jesus in His resurrercted and glorifed state, standing in the throne room of God Almighty. And John’s description of Jesus is quite interesting.

…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. – Revelation 5:6 ESV 

He doesn’t see Jesus as a man, but as a Lamb. But he adds the telling descriptor: “as thought it had been slain.” The Greek word translated as “slain” is sphazō and it was used to refer to the slaughter of an animal for sacrifice. It can also be translated as “butchered.” Jesus had been the sacrificial Lamb, offered for the sins of many. And the ordeal had left its marks on Him.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew describes the followers of Christ who had remained to the bitter end, looking on from a distance. He only mentions women. None of the disciples are named. And among the women is “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:56 ESV). One has to wonder what had been going through her mind as she watched Jesus being crucified between the two thieves. She is the one who had come to Jesus and begged Him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). And Jesus had told her, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 ESV). It’s likely that, as she watched Jesus die, she imagined her own two sons, James and John, hanging on the crosses to His right and left. Little had she shown that Jesus’ crowning as king was going to involve thorns, not gold. His entrance into His Kingdom was going to demand crucifixion, not a coronation. His exaltation would be proceeded by humiliation and death. And rather than taking up residence in a palace, Jesus would be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, offered up his own tomb so that Jesus could have a proper burial. And once again, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this long before it ever happened.

But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

As Joseph had the stone rolled across the opening to his own tomb, the entire scene has a sense of finality to it. Jesus was dead. The crowds had dispersed. The supernatural darkness had passed and the light had returned. And everyone in Jerusalem had gone back to their lives as usual. Only a handful of women stood by, watching as Jesus was buried. This sad and sobering scene was also foretold by Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But the religious leaders, still wary of the influence Jesus had over the people, took steps to ensure that nothing would happen that might resurrect the memory of Jesus. They knew that, while Jesus was alive, He had said that He would rise again. So, in order to prevent His disciples from stealing the body of Jesus and spreading rumors that He was alive, they stationed guards at the tomb with orders to remain there until the three days had passed. Evidently, they had attempted to get Pilate to provide Roman guards, but he refused. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:55 ESV).

And they waited.

This chapter ends in sadness. Its tragic conclusion provides the reader with little in the way of hope. Jesus is dead. The disciples have scattered to the four winds. The mother of Jesus and the women who loved and followed Him are in deep sorrow, having not been given the opportunity to anoint His body for burial. Which makes the anointing of Jesus in Bethany so important. Matthew records that “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (Matthew 26:7 ESV), and Jesus had clearly pronounced, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12 ESV).

As dark as this moment may appear, there is the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God evident in all that is going on. This is all taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

All of this had been the pre-ordained will of God. And Jesus had willingly played His role in the whole affair – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and love for mankind. And while the closing verses of chapter 27 present a dismal scene, we know that the story is far from over. There is more to come. God’s plan is not yet complete. And Isaiah provides us with yet one more premonition of what lies ahead.

And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To Fulfill All Righteousness.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 3:13-4:1 ESV

For three decades, Jesus had lived in relative obscurity in the region called Galilee. The four Gospels provide us with few details regarding his childhood and nothing regarding his formative years as a young man. Matthew picks up the story of the life of Jesus at His baptism by John in the wilderness. And John, while a relative of Jesus, evidently had no idea that Jesus was the one of whom he was speaking when he said, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). John had been sent by God to act as a forerunner, a kind of herald whose job it was to proclaim the coming of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And evidently, there were those who wondered if John was the himself the Messiah. But John knew his role and clearly stated that there was one coming who would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:19-23

And again, John had no idea that Jesus was the one until God confirmed it for him at the baptism of Jesus.

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

But once John had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus at His baptism, he had known without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, and he knew exactly why Jesus had come.

29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

The baptism of Jesus acted as the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It officially launched His campaign to take away the sins of the world. And it was marked by His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the verbal confirmation by God of His public ministry. John had been reluctant to baptize Jesus, feeling inadequate for the task and viewing Jesus as having no need of repentance. But Jesus persuaded John that this was a necessary part of God’s divine plan for His life.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:15 ESV

Jesus was encouraging John to do what was right – that which was in keeping with the will of God. Matthew’s use of the word, “righteousness” has nothing to do with salvation or a right standing with God, but with conformity to the will of God. Jesus was letting John know that His baptism was God’s will and, therefore, they were morally or ethically obligated to do what God commanded. And the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the audible expression of God’s favor were both forms of God’s confirmation that this had all been part of His divine will.

Because Jesus was sinless, His baptism was not for the remission of sins or because He was in need of repentance. It was an act of submission to the will of His Father, and a means of identifying Himself with all those who had obeyed John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many had come to the wilderness to be baptized by John. But John warned them that their willingness to undergo water baptism had to be marked by true life change. He demanded that they, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:3 ESV). And when pressed by the people as to what that fruit should look like, John had given them specific examples.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:10-14 ESV

Their lives were to be marked by distinctively different behavior. Their repentance was to be characterized by life change. But what John was asking them to do was impossible. They did not have the inner capacity to live out what John was commanding. There was something missing. And John, whether he fully understood it or not, declared to the people what that missing ingredient was: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The water baptism John offered was insufficient to provide people with the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. But there was a baptism coming, made available by Jesus, that would include the Holy Spirit and fire, and empower all those who received it to fulfill all righteousness. Not only would they be able to do the will of God, they would find themselves in a right standing with God. And the baptism to which John eluded was that which took place years later in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The power to live radically different lives was going to come from the Holy Spirit, But the Holy Spirit would not be made available until Jesus had fulfilled all righteousness, completing God’s plan for His life, which was to include His death on the cross. And it’s essential that we note that even Jesus’ earthly ministry was begun with the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God descended upon Him at His baptism, empowering Him for the task that lay ahead. All that Jesus would do in the coming days would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. He would be led by the Spirit. And the very first verse of the very next chapter reveals that Jesus was now going to be under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God until He fully accomplished the will of God.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 2:1 ESV

Jesus had come to fulfill all righteousness – to do the will of His Father in heaven. And He made that point perfectly clear when He stated: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). He would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). The baptism of Jesus was just the beginning of His willing submission to His Father’s plan for His life. And each step He took from that day forward, including His journey into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, was in order that He might fulfill all righteousness – doing all that God had planned for His life – so that He might be the means by which sinful mankind might have eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Shipwrecked, Snake-bit, and Sovereignly Spared.

39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9 And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. Acts 27:39-28:10 ESV

 

Paul was headed to Rome. While it would appear that his journey was the result of a decision made by the Roman governor, Festus, and in keeping with Paul’s own request for a trial before the emperor, Luke repeatedly insinuates that Paul’s trip was due to the sovereign will of God. Yes, the Romans were funding the trip and had provided the soldiers to accompany Paul all the way to Rome. The sailors were piloting the ship on which Paul was a passenger, but as we have already seen, they were far from in control of the situation, and completely unable to deal with the weather conditions hammering their ship. Until Paul had intervened and assured them of God’s sovereign plan to spare all their lives, they had been ready to abandon all hope of survival. The sailors had even tried to escape by using the lifeboat, but were prevented from doing so by the Roman soldiers. Through the words of an angel, God had made it clear to Paul that everyone would be spared, even though the ship would be lost.

Luke wants us to recognize that this entire affair, from Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem to his repeated hearings in Caesarea and his departure for Rome, had all been part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life. None of this had happened by chance. And while everyone from the Jewish high priest, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, the centurion in charge of Paul’s safety, and the ship’s captain, thought they were in control, Luke repeatedly reveals that it was the sovereign God of the universe who was in charge of any and all things – from the wind and the waves to the decisions of men. As the angel had foretold, the ship carrying Paul eventually ran aground and began to break up. Everyone on board was forced to abandon ship and swim for shore. And while they had no idea where they were, God did. Upon reaching shore, waterlogged but safe, they discovered themselves to be on the island of Malta. And as the angel had predicted, not a soul had been lost. Every sailor, soldier, prisoner and passenger had been spared by God. What had appeared to be a hopeless ending to a very difficult and doomed journey, had ended in no loss of life. And the shipwrecked survivors found themselves surrounded by the caring citizens of Malta, who Luke describes as having showed them “unusual kindness.” They had built fires on the beach in an effort to warm the weary men who had washed ashore. So, not only had they survived the shipwreck, but they were greeted and well taken care of by the people of Malta. They hadn’t washed ashore on some deserted island or along an uninhabited section of the Maltese shoreline. Again, the sovereign hand of God had been propelling them along and protecting them every step of the way.

But God was not done. As Paul was adding wood to one of the fires, a venomous snake escaping the flames, sunk its fangs into his hand. The natives of Malta, seeing Paul shake the snake from his hand, assumed the worst. They quickly made the determination that Paul was an ill-fated soul who, while having escaped drowning at sea, was destined to die for his sins.

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” – Acts 28:4 ESV

Yet, once again, Paul survived. He was far from ill-fated, cursed or doomed. He was under the watchful eye of God Almighty. His life was not destined to end as a result of drowning or poisoning. Storms would not take his life, neither would a snake. God was not done with Paul. Paul was under the impenetrable force-field of God’s protective plan. There was nothing anyone or anything could to to him that did not first have to come through God’s hands and with His permission. Paul had a confidence in God that matched that of the author of Hebrews.

5 For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

6 So we can say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT

In fact, what can the storms of life do to me? Or vindictive Jews? Or all-powerful Romans? Or governors and kings? Or even a deadly venomous snake? For Paul, the answer was nothing. Nothing at all.

When the people of Malta failed to see Paul swell up and drop down dead, they had determined that he must have been some kind of god. How else could they explain such a miraculous scene? They had no concept of God Almighty. And while they believed in the idea of supernatural beings, knew nothing of Yahweh and were completely ignorant of Jesus, the Messiah. But it would not be long before they saw the power of God on display, as Paul was given the opportunity to perform a miracle in their midst, healing the father of a man named Publius. And Luke tells us that when news of this incredible event for out, “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured” (Acts 28:9 ESV). Paul’s presence on Malta was eventful. From surviving a deadly snake bite to healing the sick, Paul was.a walking advertisement for the power of God. And while Luke doesn't report it, there'ss little doubt that Paul was sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone who would listen. He didn't waste a single second of his time on Malta. Yes, he performed miracles. He healed the sick. He cured those who came to him with diseases. But based on what we know about Paul, he shared the good news of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And according to verse 11, God would provide Paul with a three-month window of opportunity to do so. He was still headed to Rome. That would be his final destination. But Malta would prove to be a divinely determined detour that had been a part of God’s divine plan all along. Stormy seas, helpless sailors, a shipwreck, and a poisonous serpent were no match for the sovereign will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prepare Like It.

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. – 1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV

It isn’t a matter of whether you will suffer, but when. In this life, the life we now live in the flesh, as Paul put it (Galatians 2:20), we will be required to suffer, just as Jesus did. So, Peter tells us to prepare for the inevitable. He uses the Greek word, hoplizō, which means to arm yourself. It could be used to refer to taking up arms or to prepare your mind for something. Paul gives us a similar charge when he writes:

Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

We have to equip our minds with the same mindset that Jesus had. What kind of mindset did He have? He saw suffering as essential to His assignment from God. It was part of His divine job description. Without His death, there would have been no resurrection. Without His humiliation, there would have been no glorification. And as Paul puts it, rather than mirror the behavior or attitudes of this world, we are to alter our thinking and emulate the attitude of Jesus. When Peter states that we have ceased from sin, he is not saying that we are sinless or incapable of sin. He is teaching that we are free from sins slavery and control over our lives. Paul describes it this way:

6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT.

Earlier in this same letter, Peter referred to us suffering for doing what is good and right, just as Jesus did, and then he reminds us: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). We are to follow His example. If we suffer for our relationship with Christ, we are to see it as a sign that we are emulating Christ. We are suffering as He did – for doing what is right – the will of God. And we treat sin as no longer having any control over us. We have been released from sins dominion and domination over us. And, as a result, we “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 ESV). Rather than wasting our remaining years on this earth pursuing our own pleasure or seeking to live according to our own will, we submit to what God would have us do. It becomes our greatest desire. And we larn to say, as Jesus did, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

And, Peter reminds us “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols” (1 Peter 4:3 NLT). We’ve been there, done that. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. We are new creations and we are to live as such. Our old way of life is behind us. That was then, this is now. The old things are gone. The new has come. As Paul puts it, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

And tbis is what causes the suffering we encounter in this life. Because we are new creations and live lives that reflect our new standing in Christ, our old friends will find our new lifestyles convicting. They won’t understand why we don’t do what we used to do. And Peter points this out.

Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. – 1 Peter 4:4 NLT).

They’ll be shocked by our behavior. It will seem strange and out of character to them. And, as a result, they will slander you. Basically, they will have nothing good to say about you. Why? Because your new lifestyle will convict them. It will expose them for what they are: sinners. Just as Jesus was slandered by the Pharisees because His words and actions convicted them, so our former friends will turn on us, when we live Christ-like lives in front of them. But rather than get upset and return their slander with words of self-defense or condemnation, we are to remember that “they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5 NLT). Don’t last out. Don’t feel the pressure to justify your actions or defend your behavior. Do what you do because it is pleasing to God, and leave the judgment of those who persecute you up to God.

Finally, Peter provides a timely reminder that this “life in the flesh” is not all there is. Jesus lived His life “in the flesh”, but He now lives “in the Spirit”. Remember, this is what Peter said earlier in his letter. Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). He lived His life here on earth, but now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. And He is not alone. There are others who have joined the Lord in the heavenly Kingdom. They are those who heard to gospel and who have since died.

That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead—so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit.– 1 Peter 4:6 NLT

There is a life after this one. There is more to life than what we see on this earth. That is why we should be willing to suffer in this life, because, as Peter puts it later in this same letter: “after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT). Paul expands on this idea in his letter to the Corinthian believers.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are[e] being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

We are to be prepared in this life, because we know God has already prepared a place for us in heaven. Jesus promised His disciples that it was so.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

We are to arm ourselves with this truth. We are to prepare ourselves for the worst in this life because God has prepared the best for us in the next one. We are citizens of heaven, not earth. We are children of God, not Satan. We belong to another Kingdom, not this one. This world is not our home, we’re simply passing through. But while we are here, let’s live as who we are. Let’s mirror the life of Christ and live out the love we have received from God to all those we meet. We are to be difference-makers, just as Jesus was. We are to be lights in a dark world, just as He was. And we are are to suffer, just as He did – willingly, patiently, joyfully, expectantly, and all according to the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Thus Says the Lord…

Concerning Moab.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:

“Woe to Nebo, for it is laid waste!
    Kiriathaim is put to shame, it is taken;
the fortress is put to shame and broken down;
    the renown of Moab is no more.
In Heshbon they planned disaster against her:
    ‘Come, let us cut her off from being a nation!’
You also, O Madmen, shall be brought to silence;
    the sword shall pursue you.

“A voice! A cry from Horonaim,
    ‘Desolation and great destruction!’
Moab is destroyed;
    her little ones have made a cry.
For at the ascent of Luhith
    they go up weeping;
for at the descent of Horonaim
    they have heard the distressed cry of destruction.
Flee! Save yourselves!
    You will be like a juniper in the desert!
For, because you trusted in your works and your treasures,
    you also shall be taken;
and Chemosh shall go into exile
    with his priests and his officials.
The destroyer shall come upon every city,
    and no city shall escape;
the valley shall perish,
    and the plain shall be destroyed,
    as the Lord has spoken.

“Give wings to Moab,
    for she would fly away;
her cities shall become a desolation,
    with no inhabitant in them.” – Jeremiah 48:1-9 ESV

Moab, Nebo, Kiriathaim, Madmen, Heshbon, Horonaim, Luhith, and Chemosh. This is like a Who's-Who of who's that? Besides Moab, most of these other names are probably unfamiliar to us. And yet, God has His prophet, Jeremiah, call out each of these cities and Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, in particular, providing them with specific words of warning concerning their future fates. Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. So, the Moabites were distant relatives of the Jews. But they had been a thorn in the side of the Israelites since the days of King Saul and King David. David’s great-great grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabite. And Solomon, David’s son and successor to his throne would have many Moabite concubines, who would entice him to erect a shrine near Jerusalem, to Chemosh, the Moabite god.

We are not told when this oracle against Moab was given. But it is clearly a prediction by God of their looming destruction and, while this passage does not provide us with the reasons behind God’s anger with them, we can determine their guilt based on other passages. The Moabites are listed among those nations that joined King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces by providing raiding parties to destroy Judah.

During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the land of Judah. Jehoiakim surrendered and paid him tribute for three years but then rebelled. Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT

Because of the disobedience of the nations of Israel and Judah, God was obligated by His justice to punish them for their sin and rebellion against Him. So, He used the nations around them to bring about their destruction. His primary tool would be the Babylonians, but other nations would join in the feeding frenzy like sharks drawn to blood in the water. The Moabites would opportunistically take advantage of the fall of the people of God, hoping to benefit from their elimination. But God would hold them responsible for the part they played. While it is clear that God sovereignly ordained the roles the Babylonians, Moabites, Ammonites and others played in Judah’s fall, that does not mean they were forced to do so. It is not an indication that they did so against their wills. It simply means that God orchestrated the timing and sovereignly utilized the natural proclivities of these pagan nations to accomplish His divine will concerning Judah. These nations were naturally blood-thirsty and opportunistic. Their leaders were predisposed to conquer and destroy. God did not make Nebuchadnezzar invade Judah against his wishes. But God did orchestrate Nebuchadnezzar’s rise to power and the timing of the Babylonian invasion of the land of Judah.

And while God would also use the Moabites to accomplish His divinely ordained destruction of Judah, He would also hold the Moabites responsible for the part they played. Once again, they played their part willingly and eagerly. God simply used the natural predisposition of the Moabites to accomplish what He had ordained. And He would see that they paid for their part in Judah’s fall.

“What sorrow awaits the city of Nebo;
    it will soon lie in ruins.
The city of Kiriathaim will be humiliated and captured;
    the fortress will be humiliated and broken down.” – Jeremiah 48:1 NLT

Nebo and Kiriathaim were two major cities in the land of Moab. God specifically mentions a number of towns located throughout the land of Moab, signifying that the destruction would be widespread. The entire nation would feel the impact of God’s wrath and subsequent judgment. The Moabites would attack Judah when they were down and out, but God would hold them responsible for their opportunistic treatment of their distant relatives. And God makes it painfully clear: “All Moab is destroyed” (Jeremiah 48:4 NLT). He warns them in advance to run for their lives and escape the coming destruction, because the fall of Moab will be inevitable and unavoidable. God also provides a not-so-subtle indictment against Moab’s idolatry and prideful self-sufficiency.

“Because you have trusted in your wealth and skill,
    you will be taken captive.
Your god Chemosh, with his priests and officials,
    will be hauled off to distant lands!” – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

Even Chemosh, the Moabite god, would be hauled away as booty, a fitting fate for a god who was non-existent and totally incapable of providing protection for itself, let alone the people who worshiped it. Moab’s destruction will be complete.

“All the towns will be destroyed,
    and no one will escape—
either on the plateaus or in the valleys,
    for the Lord has spoken.
Oh, that Moab had wings
    so she could fly away,
for her towns will be left empty,
    with no one living in them.” – Jeremiah 48:8-9 NLT

As with God’s prediction of the fall of the Philistines in chapter 47, this oracle concerning Moab’s fall is clearly meant to let the people of Judah know that the God they have forsaken is in control. He is all-powerful, completely sovereign over all the nations, and fully capable of accomplishing all He has promised to do, using any and every resource at His divine disposal to make it happen. And each and every actor in God’s divine drama will play their part, but also be held responsible for the role they play. No one, including the people of Judah, will escape God’s justice. No nation or king will walk away unscathed or guiltless in this God-orchestrated, divinely-ordained chain of events. Pagan kings, false gods, mighty nations, opportunistic neighbors, large cities, small villages, and people of all walks of life would feel the wrath of God. When the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel speaks, everyone may not listen to or obey what He has to say, but they will all experience the full impact of His sovereign will. 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Futility of Fighting God’s Plan.

Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who are in the land of Egypt. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have declared with your mouths, and have fulfilled it with your hands, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her.’ Then confirm your vows and perform your vows! Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs. This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.” Jeremiah 44:24-30 ESV

The people have said, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want” (Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT). They have dug their feet in and refused to budge. They were not going to repent or return to the Lord. They were not going to stop making sacrifices to their false gods. And they made their intentions very clear to Jeremiah.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 454:17 NLT

No remorse. No fear of God. So, Jeremiah was left no other option but to give them the bad news regarding their poor choice. And to fully understand what Jeremiah tells them in these verses, you have to take a look back at an earlier statement they had received from God, back when they were still in the land of Judah and before the nation had fallen to the Babylonians.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

God spoke these words to the people concerning their upcoming fall to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, and their subsequent 70-year captivity in Babylon. God had let them know that it was all part of His divine plan for them. And that plan included a return to the land of promise when the 70 years was up. God had made a promise to the people of Judah.

“I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:14 NLT

Compare those words of promise to the ones Jeremiah delivers to the people of Judah who have stubbornly refused to return to Judah or to God.

“For I will watch over you to bring you disaster and not good. Everyone from Judah who is now living in Egypt will suffer war and famine until all of you are dead.” – Jeremiah 44:27 NLT

Instead of plans for welfare and hope, God's plans had turned to disaster and not good. Rather than freedom from captivity and restoration of their fortunes, God was going to bring war, famine and death. Quite a dramatic difference. But why? Because the people who were living in Egypt were those who had refused to listen to God and had decided not to surrender to the Babylonians as He had commanded. God had clearly told them that their only viable option was surrender.

“Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!” – Jeremiah38:2 NLT

And while it appears that some heeded the warning and did as God commanded, the majority of the people had not. And when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem, thousands were slaughtered and others were taken captive. Only the poor were left behind.

“Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles to Babylon the rest of the people who remained in the city, those who had defected to him, and everyone else who remained. But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields.” – Jeremiah 39:9-10 NLT

Along with those who had been left behind, there must be added the ones who had fled to the hills and hidden from the coming disaster. They had refused to surrender, but had also refused to take the punishment that God had decreed. And many of these people were the very ones who had fled to Egypt, against the expressed wishes of God. He had told them exactly what He wanted them to do.

“Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land.’” – Jeremiah 42:10-12 NLT

But as we know, they had rejected God’s counsel. Even though He had made it perfectly clear what would happen if they did.

“If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt. Yes, you will die from war, famine, and disease. None of you will escape the disaster I will bring upon you there.” – Jeremiah 42:15-17 NLT

And now, the consequences of their choice were about to happen. And just in case the people don’t believe Him, God determines to give them tangible proof. He declares that the Pharaoh of Egypt would fall to his enemies, just as King Zedekiah had done. Their new homeland and place of refuge was about to get extremely unsettled and dangerous. Their self-selected promised land was going to lose its luster and prove to be no safer than the land of Judah had been.

The bottom line was that the people were going to fine out who was the real one in charge. Was it going to be them or God? Would they prove to be the ones who had the right god and the right solution to their problem? Or was God going to come out of this on top and in perfect control of any all circumstances in Egypt as well as Judah? God shared His opinion:

“Then all those who came to Egypt will find out whose words are true—mine or theirs!” – Jeremiah 44:28 NLT

When the dust settled, it was going to be perfectly clear who was in charge. His way always proves best in the long run. His will always gets accomplished. We can fight it and refuse to submit to it, but our stubbornness doesn’t make a dent in the sovereign will of God. We can choose to do things our own way, but the only only one who suffers any harm will be us. God’s will remains unchanged and undamaged.

They could have repented of their unfaithfulness to God, but they had refused to do so.

They could have surrendered to the Babylonians as God had commanded, but they had refused to do so.

They could have remained in Judah as God had told them to, but they had refused to do so.

They could have submitted themselves to the all-knowing, gracious, and loving will of God Almighty, but they had refused to do so. But their repeated refusals didn’t change God’s will, it simply exposed them to another aspect of it. Rather than blessings, they would experience the curses that came from disobedience. Rather than plans for welfare, a future and hope; they would experience disaster, war, famine and death. Either way, God’s will would be done.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The One True God.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: “Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” – Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV

Reading the story of the lives of the people of Israel and Judah can be a depressing and frustrating experience. Depressing, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. Frustrating, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. If they had just done what God had said, their lives could have been so much easier. But no, they had to do it their way. They stubbornly refused to obey God, because they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Johanan and his companions, along with those they had taken captive from Judah, had made their way all the way to Tahpanhes, an important city on the northern border of Egypt. And it was at this point that God determined to deliver yet another message to His wayward children. Jeremiah and Baruch had been forcefully dragged along to Egypt by Johanan. Since Johanan had murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, who had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for Jeremiah, Johanan simply took the prophet and his scribe with him To Egypt. And God continued to speak to Jeremiah, giving him yet another strange object lesson to act out in front of the people of Judah.

“While the people of Judah are watching, take some large rocks and bury them under the pavement stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace here in Tahpanhes.” – Jeremiah 43:9 NLT

This rather bizarre bit of theatrics is not explained to Jeremiah or to us. We are not told what the rocks were meant to represent, but we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne over them.

“I will certainly bring my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, here to Egypt. I will set his throne over these stones that I have hidden.” – Jeremiah 43:10 NLT

Perhaps the two large stones were meant to represent the people of Judah, who had chosen to hide from the Babylonians by escaping to Egypt. But God was letting them know that there was no escape from His divine will. He had commanded that they remain in Judah and subject themselves to the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom He had set over them. But since they had chosen to disobey God and follow their own plan, God let them know that their will was no match for His own. They would still find themselves subject to Nebuchadnezzar and, albeit unwillingly, submitting to the will of God. Not only that, their decision to escape to Egypt would bring destruction on the people of Egypt.

“And when he comes, he will destroy the land of Egypt. He will bring death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and war to those destined for war.” – Jeremiah 43:11 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also spoke of the fall of Egypt to the Babylonians.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army. Yes, I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:18-20 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, God gave His reason for destroying Egypt, addressing the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia.” – Ezekiel 29:9-10

And God had made a similar accusation against the king of Tyre, the very nation whom He used the Babylonians to destroy.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god.” – Ezekiel 28:1 NLT

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Both Pharoah and the king of Tyre were guilty of claiming to be divine. They had arrogantly set themselves up as gods. But they would both discover the painful truth that there is but one true God. He made it perfectly clear that they were nothing but men. Their wisdom and glory were limited. Their power, while extensive from an earthly perspective, was nothing when compared to God’s might.

God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the king of Tyre. And as a form of “reward”, God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to plunder Egypt. The thing that Johanan and his friends failed to understand was that God had far greater plans at work. He was doing things behind the scenes of which they were completely oblivious. Their little trip to Egypt, which had made so much sense to them at the time, was going to place them right in the middle of God’s divine strategy concerning the fates three nations: Egypt, Tyre and Babylon. Little did the Johanan know that his expedition to Egypt would end in disaster, and that the very fate he was attempting to escape would find him there. 

King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt somewhere around 568-567 B.C., and he did to Egypt what he had done to Judah. His troops burned the temples of their gods and hauled away their idols as plunder. The people of Egypt were slaughtered or taken captive. Anything of value was seized as booty and hauled back to Babylon. And the nation was left desolate.

There is an easily overlooked lesson in all of this, and God makes it perfectly clear when He speaks through His prophet, Ezekiel.

“And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25-26 NLT

He is Lord. No debate. No arguments. Case closed. And if anyone should have known that, it was the people of God. The people of Judah should have been the first to recognize that God alone is Lord. But they had set themselves up as gods, making their own decisions, following their own plans, and refusing to listen to the words of God. All people – whether kings or commoners, pagans or Jews, powerful or weak – will have to one day recognize that God is Lord. The king of Tyre would learn the painful lesson that he was anything but a god. Pharaoh would have to learn the same thing. And, ultimately, even Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride, would be brought low by God. At the zenith of his power, God would deliver a message to King Nebuchadnezzar through a disturbing dream, which Daniel would interpret for him.

For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth.…You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. – Daniel 4:22, 25 NLT

Even the great king was going to learn the painful lesson that there was only one true God. And not long after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar found himself standing on the balcony of his palace, surveying his magnificent kingdom.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” – Daniel 48:30 NLT

In the midst of his self-glorification, the king suddenly lost his sanity. He went from ruling over the most powerful nation in the world to wandering around the land and acting like an animal. But then something happened. The text says that the king, in his dementia, looked up to heaven and his sanity suddenly returned to him. And he said:

“I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:4-5 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way that God alone is Lord. The king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt learned the same lesson. But what about Johanan and the people of Judah? Would they come to the point where they recognized and willingly confessed the sovereignty of God and their need to submit to His will for their lives? Time will tell. But one way or another, all men will be forced to acknowledge that God is who He says He is. They will have to stand before Him as judge and ruler over nations and kings. And at that time, they will know that He is Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Dazed and Confused, Yet Confident.

When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who faint in the wilderness to drink.” And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’” Then the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” And Ziba said, “I pay homage; let me ever find favor in your sight, my lord the king.”

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.– 2 Samuel 16:1-14 ESV

It seems that with each step David took, the news got worse. All he was trying to do was leave the city in peace and before he could get past the summit of the Mount of Olives, yet another individual shows up with bad news. Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, arrived with a couple of donkeys loaded down with supplies. When David asked Ziba why he was there, he explained that Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, had decided to align himself with Absalom, in hopes of getting back what was rightfully his as an heir of the former king. Ziba’s news had to have stung David deeply, because he had shown great mercy and love to Mephibosheth, allowing him to live in his palace and eat at his table. He had kept a vow he had made to Mephibosheth’s father and now, Mephibosheth was returning the favor with betrayal.

But later on in the story, we will discover that Ziba had been lying. When David eventually returns to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth is one of the first ones to greet him, and he explains to David what really happened that day.

Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him.

Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-27 NLT

But when Ziba showed up that day, it was impossible for David to know what was really going on and, at that point, David would have not been surprised by anything he heard. That Mephibosheth might have decided to betray him was not shocking news to David. He took it in stride and determined to reward Ziba for his kindness by giving him all that belonged to Mephibosheth. Of course, this reward would remain unclaimed by Ziba as long as David remained in exile and Absalom was on the throne.

The next thing that happened to David was even more disconcerting and disturbing. As he and his retinue continued their escape, they passed by the town of Bahurim, where a man came out and began to verbally assault David, cursing him and accusing of being a man of bloodshed. As David went on his way, this man followed, spewing his words of anger and resentment and throwing stones at the former king. Shemei, it seems, was related to Saul and he had some long-held resentment toward David for having replaced Saul as the king of Israel. He even seems to blame David for Saul’s death, as well as that of Abner and Jonathan. His accusation that David was a man of bloodshed was another statement that had to have hit David hard. While David knew he had played no part in the death’s of Saul, Jonathan or Abner, he would have been reminded of his role in the death of Uriah. It is likely that he recalled his refusal to deal with the actions of his own son, Amnon, which eventually led to Amnon’s murder by Absalom. David was a man of bloodshed. He knew it well and lived with the knowledge of that fact each and every day of his life. And while he had been forgiven by God, he would never forget the events of his life that had led to the discipline of God. Even now, David could not be sure whether all of this was yet another demonstration of God’s displeasure with him.

The words of Shemei had to have hit David hard.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

David was dazed and confused. He was reeling from the rapid-fire series of events that had left him without at throne and on his way into exile yet again in his life. What had happened? How did everything fall apart so quickly and unexpectedly? What was God doing? And what had David done to deserve it?

There are moments in all of our lives when we question what God may be up to. We struggle with understanding the nature of the events surrounding our life and almost immediately begin to wonder what we have done to make God angry with us. We tend to see the presence of disorder or disaster in our lives as a sign of God’s displeasure with us. And David would have felt the same way. He was unsure of the cause of these events, but almost automatically assumed it had something to do with him and was the result of something he had done. He was trying to trust God, but it was difficult. Wave after wave of bad news engulfed him, leaving him reeling and wondering what he had done to deserve this fate.

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, there will always be well-meaning friends who step in to give us advice. In their effort to ease our pain, they will say things meant to encourage and comfort us, but so often, their words will lack Scriptural backing or the authority of God. Abishai, out of love for David, offered to silence Shimei by cutting off his head. While that would have done the trick, David refused, saying, “If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?” (2 Samuel 16:10 NLT). David was not willing to commit further bloodshed in an effort to eliminate this discomfort in his life. It it was God-ordained, then there was nothing to be done. He went on to tell Abishai and all those with him, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT).

It is so easy to believe that the removal of the discomfort in our lives will solve our problem. We can so easily convince ourselves that the elimination of whatever is bothering us is the key to restoring our joy and contentment. But David knew that his hope was in the Lord. Killing Shimei would not resolve his problem. Silencing the words of an angry man would not make David’s life any better or easier. Only God could bring peace in the midst of the chaos and restore David’s joy. David had a strong belief that all things come from the hand of the Lord. He believed in the sovereignty and providence of God. Like Job, David lived by the mantra, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). David was dazed. He was confused. But he was confident that God was in control. He may not have fully understood why these things were happening, but he was fully assured that God knew. And in time, God would make His will in all of these things plain to David.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord of Break-Throughs.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.

And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. – 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV

Upon hearing word that David had been crowned king of Israel, the Philistines determined to attack him before he could establish his reign and gather strength. It seems that while he had been king over the single tribe of Judah, they had been content to leave him alone, seeing him as little to no threat. But now that he had unified all 12 tribes, he had gotten their attention. So they came in search for him. Having just taken the city of Jerusalem, and not having had time to fortify it, David and his men made their way to their stronghold. We’re not told where this stronghold was. It could have been the cave of Adullam, near Hebron. Or it could be a reference to the fortress of Zion (verse 7). Most likely, David returned to his original stronghold in the wilderness. It would have made sense for David to return to familiar ground and draw the Philistines away from Jerusalem and the other tribes of Israel. The Valley of Rephaim was southwest of Jerusalem and closer to Hebron and the border between Israel and the Philistines.

Before attempting to do battle with the Philistines, David sought the counsel of God. He wanted to know two things: Should he fight with the Philistines and, if he did, whether or not he would be successful. David could have easily assumed that war with the Philistines was inevitable and simply marched into battle without seeking any word from God. He could have rationalized that, as the king of Israel, doing battle with the enemies of Israel was his duty. It came with the job description. But instead of acting rashly or presumptuously,  David turned to God. He wanted God’s blessing and approval. But more than anything, He wanted God’s help. And God assured David that He would be with him and give him victory over the Philistines. And after defeating the Philistines, David name the place of the battle Baal-perazim, which literally means, “the Lord of breaking through.” David explains the meaning of the name when he says, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood” (2 Samuel 5:20 ESV).

The victory was so quick and decisive that the Philistines abandoned their idols on the battle field. Their gods had been worthless because they were lifeless. So David and his men gathered them up and burned them (1 Chronicles 14:12).

But while the Philistines had lost the battle, they were not giving up the war. They gathered once again in the Valley of Rephaim. And again, David sought the counsel of God. This time, God gave David different instructions, commanding him to take his troops and prepare for a rear action against the Philistines. And God told David to wait until he heard “the sound of marching” in the tops of the trees under which they were taking cover. This was to be God’s sign to go into battle. David did just as God commanded and, once again, he handily defeated the Philistines that day. 

These two victories had been God’s doing. Yes, David and his men had to fight, but it was God who gave them success. David’s naming of the first battleground, “the Lord of breaking through” provides us with insight into David’s perception of the events of that day. It had been God who had broken through his enemies like a flood. David would experience other victories like this one. And with each win over his enemies, David would grow in his faith and confidence in God. This dependence upon God for aid in his battles is reflected in his psalms.

God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
    he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
You have given me your shield of victory.
    Your right hand supports me;
    your help has made me great. – Psalm 18:30-35 NLT

Praise the Lord, who is my rock.
    He trains my hands for war
    and gives my fingers skill for battle.
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
    my tower of safety, my rescuer.
He is my shield, and I take refuge in him.
    He makes the nations submit to me. – Psalm 144:1-2 NLT

David’s break-throughs were God’s doing. His victories were the direct results of his reliance upon God. God didn’t win the battles without David. He won the battles using David as His preferred agent, His divinely chosen instrument to accomplish His will. And God has chosen us, believers in Jesus Christ, to act as His agents of change and spiritual army to bring about His victories on this earth. But as Paul reminds us, we are not fighting against flesh and blood.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God has provided us with spiritual armor. He has equipped us with spiritual power in the form of the Holy Spirit. He has assured us of victory over our enemy. But we must fight according to His terms while utilizing His strategies. We must seek God’s will regarding the battles we face. As Paul reminds us, we must “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). David was victorious because He sought the will of God. He won because God gave him a break-through against his enemy. The same thing will be true for us, as long as we turn to God, rely upon God, and do what God commands us to do. Attempting to do battle for God, but without His permission and help is doomed to failure, no matter how well-intentioned we might be.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. – Genesis 37:5-11 ESV

In Act 4 of his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare penned the phrase, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” In the play, Prospero, the prince of Naples, has staged a short entertainment, which he is forced to cut short. He attempts to comfort his guests by telling them that it was, like life, all just an illusion that would have to end at some point. Even the reality of life is illusory and short-lived. People, it seems, are the “stuff” that dreams are made on, whether in a fictional play or in real life.

Early on in the story of Joseph, dreams and real life interweave themselves in a remarkable way. The young Joseph has two vivid dreams that he eagerly and, perhaps, rather boastfully recounts to his family. They are visions that seem to reveal his coming prominence and their subservience to him. The cast of characters in his dreams – the “stuff” – are inanimate objects: sheaves, the sun, the moon and eleven stars. But his brothers are not stupid. They see what is going on immediately and understand full well that his dreams involve them. They are such stuff as Joseph’s dreams are made on. And they are not happy. They find his dreams offensive and cause for their jealousy and hatred for him to intensify. Little do they realize that they will become key players in the affairs surrounding Joseph’s life and unwittingly turn his dreams into reality.

There is no indication that Joseph understood the meaning behind his dreams. Whether he recounted them to his brothers in a prideful manner, bragging about his superiority, is not clear. It would seem that he is simply sharing exactly what he saw. There was no real benefit to Joseph in sharing his dreams with his brothers. After he told them the first dream, the text tells us, “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5 ESV). So what good could come out of telling them his second dream? Joseph seems to be intrigued, even confused, by his dreams. He is looking for explanations. He is anxious to know what they mean. But the only thing he gets from his brothers is their animosity. Even his father rebukes him.

But at the same time, Jacob seems to know that there is something going on behind the scenes that is inexplicable and supernatural in nature. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us, “his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11 ESV). The hand of God was at work. The dreams were His doing and they were prophetic foreshadows of things to come. The meaning behind the dreams, the bowing sheaths, sun, moon and stars, would soon become clear. And each of the individuals in the story would play a significant role in the fulfillment of the dreams. The hatred of the brothers would reach a boiling point. The blind favoritism of Jacob would prevent him from seeing the growing resentment and rancor in his own home. Joseph would remain blissfully ignorant of the danger his favored position was creating. The line between dream and reality would become increasingly blurred as time passed. God’s will, as revealed in the dream, would come face to face with the collective will of the brothers. Their growing hatred would soon boil over in an attempt to rid themselves of their annoying sibling once and for all. But their actions would accomplish far more than their liberation from his pestering presence. They would become such stuff as dreams are made of. They would become the very instruments God would use to accomplish His divine will, not only for Joseph, but the people of Israel. Their prerogatives would give way to God’s providence. Their human wills would become tools in the hands of God as He accomplished His divine will. Their self-determined actions would end up bringing about the very outcomes God had already ordained to happen. The mystery between man’s free will and God’s providence was about to be displayed in surprising fashion.

Unity With A Purpose.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:21-22 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus has just finished asking God the Father to sanctify the disciples in the truth, the truth of the Word. But He qualifies and clarifies His request by expanding it to include all “those who will believe in me through their word.” This sanctification process made possible through Jesus' death and resurrection, and based on the truth of God's Word would result in oneness – a unity based on conformity to the Word of God. Jesus is not asking His Father to make it so everyone would just get along. No, He is asking for sanctification – an increasing spiritual transformation in the lives of His disciples and every subsequent Christ-follower to come. He is asking for the same kind of unity that He and the Father share. He is not talking about friendship, but a unity based on a shared will and a common desire to glorify God. The unity Jesus prayed for was based on the kind of unity He knew intimately well. He knew the will of His Father and He desired nothing more than to see it fulfilled – in His life and in the world. I think that is why, in His model prayer, Jesus gave us the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). Jesus and His Father were completely unified when it came to the divine plan for mankind. There was never any disunity or disagreement between the two as to what needed to be done and what Jesus' role was to be. In the garden Jesus did pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). His humanity would have preferred a different path than the one chosen for Him by God. But because He and the Father were one, Jesus was willing to submit His will to the One He trusted and loved. Jesus knew the Father well. He knew His heart and was intimately aware of His character. He did not doubt the Father's love for Him. He did not question the Father's plans for Him. They were one.

So Jesus prayed that all His followers would experience the same kind of oneness that He and His Father enjoyed. A oneness or unity based on the truth of God's Word and the unchanging character of God that it reveals. To be sanctified in the truth of God's Word is to be constantly transformed by the growing awareness of God's loving, sovereign, perfect plan for mankind as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is to be increasingly convinced of the supernatural reality of Christ's redemptive work, the Father's love, the world's lostness, and our God-ordained commission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone we meet. When Jesus prays for our unity, He is asking for so much more than just a let's-get-along mentality. He is asking for more than just agreement over doctrine and a mutual assent to certain theological truths. He is praying for the same kind of non-negotiable unity that He and the Father share. We can waste so much time debating and disagreeing over issues of doctrine and lose sight of God's plan of redemption for mankind. We can end up arguing over certain theological issues, defending our point of view and demanding our interpretation be accepted, all the while failing to seek that God's Kingdom come and His will be done. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV) and “that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). How easy it is to forget those two truths and become obsessed with something other than the will of God.

It is interesting to note that the end result of our unity is not just to be horizontal in nature, but vertical. Our unity is ultimately to be with God and His Son. If our unity is merely horizontal in nature; in other words, if we just get along with one another, but lack an awareness of and submission to the will of God, it is wasted. There are cults, religions, organizations and groups of all kinds that share a oneness that is anything but godly. What Jesus prayed for was a growing godliness based on God's Word and an increasing oneness with one another based on the same oneness He shared with His Father. He wanted us to share a common cause and commitment based on the will of God for mankind. And Jesus knew that when His followers were unified in that way, the world would know that He had been sent by the Father. In other words, when we, as His disciples, become convinced of God's redemptive will and submit to it willingly, we will want what He wants. We will do everything in our power to see that His Kingdom come and His is done on this earth just as it is done in heaven. And the world will know that Jesus Christ truly was the Son of God sent to provide salvation from sin and death and a restored relationship with God the Father.

The High Priestly Prayer.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” – John 17:1-2 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus had just told His disciples that He would be leaving. He had warned them that the hour was coming when they would desert him and scatter in fear. He was on the eve of his betrayal and arrest. Jesus knew that the fate for which He had come was near. And in spite of all this, Jesus was able to tell His disciples, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33 ESV). And after He had spoken these words, He prayed. Jesus was not alone. Even though His most faithful followers would end up denying Him and running in fear at His arrest, His Father would be with Him. And it was to His Father that He turned. The prayer that He prayed is both amazing and inspiring at the same time. It provides us with a glimpse into Jesus' relationship with His Father and reveals the scope of the divine plan for man's redemption.

Jesus was well aware of His circumstances. He was not surprised or caught off guard. It was for this very moment that He had come to earth. His incarnation, God becoming man, was in order that He might live a sinless life and die a sinner's death on man's behalf. And that hour had come. But Jesus' response to His impending death was far from fatalistic. His was not a helpless resignation to an event over which He had no control. No, Jesus was facing His circumstances willingly and with a deep desire to see His Father glorified. He prayed, “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus knew that God was going to glorify Him through His own death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Long after the events surrounding Jesus' death and ascension, Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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 2:5-11 ESV). Jesus knew He was going to die, but He also knew that His Father was going to bring Him back to life. Not only that, He knew that He would be restored to His rightful position at the right hand of God. He would be glorified and His Father would be glorified. But at the moment Jesus prayed this prayer, it was all a matter of trust on His part. He would still have to go through a humiliating arrest, a series of sham trials, all kinds of verbal and physical abuse, and the excruciating pain of a Roman crucifixion. But Jesus knew His Father well. He was intimately familiar with His Father's will and His own role in it. So He rested in the fact that His suffering was an essential part in the redemptive plan of God.

The purpose of Jesus' coming was to provide eternal life to man. God had given Him authority to do so. After His ascension, Jesus would tell His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). Then He would proceed to commission them to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus had authority over all flesh. He had both the power to save and to judge, to forgive and condemn. His death, burial and resurrection would become the final determiner regarding the eternal fate of all mankind. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NLT).

Jesus faced His fate with faith, knowing full well that His Father loved Him and that His Father's will for Him was best. Even in His prayer in the garden, just moments before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus would pray, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). His human nature did was what was normal and natural – it desired another way. It resisted the idea of the gruesome death ahead. Which is why Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42 ESV). In His humanity, He preferred a different solution. But in His deity, He knew that His Father's will was best – not only for Him, but for all mankind. What a sobering reminder of our need to trust our heavenly Father. So often, we find ourselves facing difficult circumstances and we pray that God would remove us from it, but we fail to trust His will and rest in the reality that He is ultimately in control and has our good and His glory in mind at all times. We can trust Him. Because Jesus trusted God, we now have a relationship with the Father and the promise of eternal life. So no matter what we might face in this life, we can know that our future glorification is assured, and rest in that unfailing promise from God.

God's Way Is the Best Way.

Joshua 11-12, Acts 11

…who was I that I could stand in God's way? ­– Acts 11:17 ESV

Every child of God faces a daily choice to either live their life God's way, or according to their own will. And it's not a one-time decision. Countless times during each day of our lives we are given opportunities to follow God's will and do things His way, or to determine that our way is better. When Joshua led the people into the land of Canaan, he knew full well what God's expectations on him were. He knew what his job was and how God wanted him to do it. And he had learned a valuable lesson when he and the people failed to follow God's plan in the case of the city of Ai. It resulted in defeat. But when Joshua and the people did things God's way, the results were markedly different. God had told Joshua not to fear those nations living in the land, because they would be handed over to the people of Israel for defeat by the hand of God Himself. And that's exactly what happened – “and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel” (Joshua 11:8 ESV). Joshua's conquest of northern Canaan was a huge military success. In fact, chapter 12 records that Joshua and the people defeated 31 different kings and kingdoms. That was 29 more victories than Moses had experienced when he led the people of Israel.

There is always a temptation to do things our own way. Doing things God's way doesn't always make sense or seem logical. It isn't always easy. But Joshua learned that God's way is always best and produces the preferred outcome.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God birthed the Church in the early days after Jesus' ascension, it was clear that He had a plan in place. The growth was spectacular and the events surrounding it were far from normal. The Spirit of God was at work. And yet there was persecution present as well. In the midst of the exciting expansion of the Gospel and the coming to faith of countless men and women, there was a growing animosity toward the cause of Christ and those who claimed His name. But that persecution resulted in the spread of the Gospel. The Church was scattered. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far away as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11:19 ESV). God was using the persecution of the Church to force the Gospel outside the confines of Jerusalem and Judea and into the surrounding regions of the world at that time. Not only that, He was opening up the Gospel to the Gentile world, expanding the Good News beyond the confines of the Jewish nation. Peter had learned that God's way included ALL men, not just Jews. Barnabas and Paul would discover that God was at work among the Gentiles in Antioch, pouring out His Spirit on them as “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21 ESV). It was in Antioch, among the newly converted Gentile believers, that the term “Christian” first came into use. The term was used to distinguish those who were of the “Christ party” from the religious Jews and pagan Gentiles. God was doing something new and exciting. His way was producing amazing results, and the world was beginning to notice.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the apostles first received word that Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ, they didn't know what to think. The more hard-core Jewish believers, known as the “circumcision party”, were upset with Peter, criticizing him for spending time with uncircumcised Gentiles. They just couldn't believe that this would be within God's will. But Peter revealed the story of his call by God to go to Caesarea. He told them, “the Spirit told me to go with them, ‘making no distinction’” (Acts 11:12 ESV). Peter made it clear that this was clearly the work of God and it had been anointed by the Spirit of God. He concluded, “who was I that I could stand in God's way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew that God's will was going to be done – either with or without him. To disobey God would have been futile. It would not have halted the advance of His Kingdom, but it would have placed Peter in an unenviable position as a stumbling block to God's will. God was granting to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life, and he was not going to stand in God's way.

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

There should be no greater desire in the life of a believer than to watch God work. Our hope should be that we are always willing participants in God's great plan for the redemption of mankind. His way should be our way. His will should be our greatest desire. When Joshua did things God's way, he was able to witness some powerful results. He was an eye witness to the mighty hand of God operating on behalf of His people. When Peter, Barnabas, Paul and the apostles realized what God was doing among the Gentiles, they knew that their best option was to join in, whether they fully understood or not. God was confirming His work among the Gentiles through His Holy Spirit and there was no reasonable excuse for standing against what God was doing. God's way is always the best way. I must continually learn to live my life in keeping with His will and with a sensitivity to what He is doing in the world around me. I can't afford to let my way get in the way. My personal agenda must always take a backseat to God's Kingdom agenda.

Father, we fail to see more victories in our lives because we tend to want to do things our way, rather than Yours. Help me to understand just how important it is to live my life according to Your terms and not my own. I never want to stand in Your way. I know I do it thought. Sometimes willingly. Other times, ignorantly. Give me a special sensitivity to Your will and an ability to know Your way, and then follow it.  Amen