Day 147: The River

1 Kings 21-22; John 7:32-53

Key Verses

John 7:37-38
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

I love today’s New Testament passage. It characterizes the discourses found in John…

Typically, Jesus communicates a spiritual truth, and the people misunderstand Him because they try to apply His words to the physical world. In today’s reading, Jesus is speaking of his death and says, “Where I am, you cannot come.” His audience interprets Him literally. They wonder where he could go that they could never follow. They completely misunderstand. In some ways, it’s humorous. In other ways, it’s tragic.

I wonder if they understood the symbolism when Jesus stood on the last day of the Feast of Booths and declared, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” The Jews celebrated the Feast of Booths to commemorate the way God provided for them in the wilderness after they had been delivered from Egypt. The Israelites would not have survived their desert wanderings without God’s consistent provision of water and food. Consequently, water was a key symbol of the celebration of the Feast of Booths. And here we see Jesus, standing on the last day of the feast, declaring that He is the Living Water – the source of all life. What a powerful picture!

What was the people’s response? Some believed, some did not. It is the same today… Some come humbly and repent and others walk away, unchanged.

As I’ve studied the Bible this year, I’ve been struck by one truth that weaves its way through both the Old and New Testaments. God desires repentance, and when the sinner repents, He forgives.

This forgiveness is offered to anyone. Even to Ahab, the evilest king to ever rule Israel, ever. Seriously, he was The. Most. Evil. King. in all of Israel’s history. In today’s passage from 1 Kings 21, Ahab repents, and God relents…

And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house” (1 Kings 21:28-29).

God’s offer of grace and forgiveness extends beyond our comprehension. He doesn’t just offer to quench our thirst – He offers “rivers of living water.” More grace and forgiveness and life than we could ever imagine! He is the river, and He invites us to come and to drink.

Keeping up with the Kings
Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa (good), Jehoshaphat (good), Jehoram
Israel: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah

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Day 40: Extravagant Love

Leviticus 6:8-7:38; Matthew 26:1-25

Key Verses

Leviticus 7:35-36
“This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day that he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations.”

Matthew 26:13
“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

These verses in Leviticus recount the previous five offerings from a different perspective. This time, they focus on the priests’ responsibilities and portions of the offerings. One interesting side-note (that is not immediately obvious from the text) is the meaning of the word “fat.” The “fat” of the animal was considered the finest portion – the “filet mignon” type portion. All the “fat” of the animal was given to God as a food offering, so the Lord got the best part of the animal. Reserving a lesser part of the offering for the priest ensured the welfare of him and his family.

But let’s transition to today’s New Testament reading. Matthew made a literary choice to sandwich Mary’s anointing  (that occurred earlier in the week) between two scenes of shocking betrayal. Contrasting Mary’s sacrificial act to Judas’ and the Priests’ self-serving hatred only highlights Mary’s enormous love for Jesus.

We know from John 12, that this is Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister. Her devotion to Jesus is unmatched. Jesus’ disciples, his closest companions, are still refusing to believe that he will actually die, but Mary mysteriously gets it. She’s willing to sacrifice a year’s wages to show her love for Jesus, her Lord. She breaks her precious alabaster jar over Jesus’ head (Mark 14). She bends and wipes the oil from Jesus’ feet with her hair. She has prepared him for burial. Jesus says it is a beautiful thing.

Sweet Mary. Just as the priests were commanded to offer the “fat” of the animal – the best part – as an offering to the Lord, so did Mary offer the best of all she had. Her love was extravagant.

Are we giving God the best of what we possess? Do we love Him extravagantly or are we shackled by social norms and cultural expectations? Do we love our reputation, status, wealth, security, possessions, family, comfort, pleasure or a sense of control more than we love our Lord? Jesus demands our all  – but not out of priestly duty… No! He wants our extravagant Love!

 

Day 364: The Goal of Prophecy

Zechariah 12-14Revelation 21

As I have read (and read and read) in daily preparation for this blog, one statement about the purpose of prophecy resonated with me. It resonated so deeply that I copied and pasted it (in bold) in a place on my computer that I see everyday. So, each day I am reminded of this goal of prophecy… Unfortunately, I have no idea from where I copied it, and for fear of plagiarizing, I have never shared it. But I think I will today:

The goal of prophecy, more than simply telling the future, is the moral formation of God’s people (Source unknown).

Zechariah’s prophecies are astounding.

  • He predicts with precision Jesus’ regal entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9).
  • He predicts the piercing of the Messiah and the depth of the mourning after His death (12:10-14).
  • He predicts that from the blood of the cross, there would come forgiveness for sins (13:1).
  • He predicts the scattering of the disciples upon Jesus’ arrest and trial (13:7).
  • He predicts the refining of the church through the means of persecution (13:9).
  • He predicts the great number of Gentiles who would turn to Christ in repentance and faith (14:16).
  • And finally, he looks forward to the day when the restoration of Israel should be so complete that even common goods are deemed holy and nothing can be defiled (14:20-21).

Wow. Could the people of Zechariah’s day have predicted the future based on Zechariah’s prophecies? I don’t think so. It’s much easier for us to interpret his words with the luxury of hindsight! So what was the purpose of Zechariah’s prophecies for his contemporaries? Zechariah spoke for the “moral formation of God’s people.” The exiles would have been comforted that God was sovereign and would judge the nations, and they would be challenged to live their lives in a manner worthy of their coming King.

Similarly, the book of Revelation is written for our “moral formation.” John is instructed to record the vision in order to encourage the suffering church to “overcome.” We learn through visions that God is in complete control. He has “sealed” his people so we are protected from His judgment! We see the final defeat of evil and we are encouraged by the future that awaits!

Are we supposed to be able to predict the future with precise detail using the book of Revelation? Absolutely not! But we can read it with the anticipation of our future home and let it motivate us to overcome the trials and temptations of this world. Why? Because we can be sure of our GLORIOUS inheritance recorded in Revelation 21!

Savor the images of this chapter! Notice that the sea of separation has been removed! The Lord Jesus, himself, is the temple and the source of light! See the beauty of Jerusalem – which is symbolic of God’s people – perfectly measured and protected for that day. This is our inheritance! Don’t let the purpose of John’s visions fall on deaf ears.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches! 

May John’s visions transform us and propel us toward Christ. May they motivate us to persevere, endure and overcome!!!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 360: God always wins.

Zechariah 1-3Revelation 17
The book of Haggai was read on Day 262.

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai who was a contemporary of Ezra. In other words, Zechariah prophesied after the Babylonian exile during the years that the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. It was a time of discouragement for many of the exiles because they wrongly assumed their lack of prosperity and power implied that the Lord’s favor had left them.

The first half of Zechariah is a series of eight visions – very similar in substance and style to those recorded in Revelation! In the first vision (Zech. 1:7-17), we see the same four riders that were released upon the earth in Revelation 6.

The 2nd vision (Zech. 1:18-21) describes four horns which are probably patterned after Daniel’s 4 beasts in Daniel 7:3-8. Today’s reading from Revelation 17 uses these same verses from Daniel as its backdrop.

The 3rd vision (Zech. 2:1-13) records the measuring of Israel – which is echoed in Revelation 11:1-2. From Revelation, we learn that the measuring symbolized the sealing and protection of God’s people. From Zechariah, we learn that God, Himself, is the protector, “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5).

All three visions were a great encouragement to the exiles – but these visions transcend time and also point to God’s protection of His people in the church age!

Before we consider Zechariah’s 4th vision, let’s turn our attention to today’s reading from Revelation. Chapters 17, 18 and part of 19 all give a big-picture view of the final judgment of the 7 bowls. Today we see the prostitute and the beast – which encapsulate the horrors of Daniel’s four beasts in Daniel 7:3-8. We learn from Rev. 17:5, that the prostitute is in fact, Babylon, which represents all of the world’s powers, people and rulers that are against God and His people. We see her sitting on the beast in the desert – a sexually grotesque image contrasting the beauty and purity of the woman in Revelation 12:1-2 (who represents God’s people).

We learn from the angel’s descriptions of the beast that he slips in and out of history’s view. He is a master of deception. Paul Gardner writes, “His presence is always felt in this fallen world, but he is not always seen. Satan can appear as an angel of light. The inhabitants of the earth (those who are not Christ’s) will be astonished when they see him because they have not realized who stands behind their life of rebellion against God. They have not always seen who ‘pulls their strings'” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg. 227).

The seduction of the harlot is strong. Even John marveled in her presence (17:6). Were it not for the protection of the angel, who knows if John would have been seduced by her wares. We must guard ourselves against the lure of this world, for beneath it all lies Satan, the horrible dragon who lives to devour.

Which leads us to Zechariah’s 4th vision (Zech. 3). It is a vision of Satan accusing the people. And we see the remarkable scene of God removing the filthy rags of the high priest (who represents His people) and re-clothing him with clean garments. But the vision gets better! For it ends with the promise of Jesus, the righteous Branch of David, removing the iniquity from the land (3:9)!

God always has the last word. We see at the end of Revelation 17, God’s ironic power-play as the beast and rulers of this world turn on themselves in a twisted civil war to destroy the harlot (Rev. 17:16-17).

Game over. God wins. He always does.

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 338: God is Truth

Psalm 140-141; 1 John 2:18-3:24
(Psalm 142 was read on Day 108)

John begins this section of Scripture by teaching that false teachers were already in their churches. He called these false teachers “antichrists” because they were “against Christ” (2:22).

John reminded the church to do two things when faced with false teaching… “Abide in what they heard from the beginning.” In other words, abide in the Word of God (2:24). And secondly, abide in the Holy Spirit (2:27). The Spirit should affirm what the Word says. It never gives “special revelation” that contradicts the Word of God.

False teachers were claiming this “special revelation” when they tried to lure the church away from gospel teachings. The primary false teaching John was refuting in these chapters was an early form of Gnosticism, specifically that Jesus did not come in the flesh.* They argued that if Jesus were separated from the flesh, then the born-again aspect of Christians was also separated from the flesh. This false premise led to the wrong conclusion that Christians could sin in the flesh and it didn’t affect their “born-again” spiritual state. In effect, they were permitting lawlessness by proclaiming that all Christians were sinless – because the deeds done in the flesh were separated from the real “spiritually born-again self.” John refuted this teaching by stating over and over again that your “doing” reflected your “being.”

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as [Jesus] is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning (1 John 3:7-8).

John was reminding the church of the truth…that Jesus came in the flesh (1:1), that all Christians struggle with sin (1:8), and when we sin, we have an advocate, Jesus the Son of God (2:1)!!

John exhorts us to examine our lives…carefully, in the light of the truth. If we are truly God’s children, our lives should reflect his righteousness. But we are not perfect, so if we are becoming complacent and falling into patterns of sin, we must run to our Advocate to find forgiveness (1:9)!

John is writing to the church tenderly. He says, “My little children. I write these things to you so that you may not sin” (2:1). And he reminds us of the incredible truth that we have been adopted into the family of God – and given a new nature so that we might be called His children.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1).

Friends, this is truth. We are God’s children. Our Father is the King. And our inheritance is vast beyond all measure!

*More information on the false teaching John is refuting can be found in this sermon by John Piper.

Day 337: God is Light

Psalm 138-139; 1 John 1:1-2:17
(Psalm 137 was read on Day 229)

1 John has always made me slightly uncomfortable. I think it’s the apostle’s “all or nothing” style of writing. He says things like:

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10).

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (2:4).

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (2:15).

I know I don’t keep his commandments perfectly…does this mean the truth is not in me? And I know that sometimes I love the things of this world more than Christ…does this mean that the love of the Father is not in me?? What does John mean?

Firstly, John is refuting a specific false teaching (which we will cover in-depth tomorrow!) But also, if you read closely, he is not demanding we have to be perfect – because mixed in with all of John’s “all or nothing” statements is the gospel…John reminds us that we will still struggle with sin, but “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). He also reminds us who rescued us from sin… Jesus, “which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1:1). He is the propitiation for our sins…in other words, He made atonement for our sins to satisfy the wrath of God!

It is in this context, of seeking forgiveness and God’s grace, that John exhorts us to live in the “light” and not in the “darkness.” Living in the light is only possible because of the life of Christ. If we are true believers in Christ, he has regenerated our hearts and empowered us with His Spirit so that we might obey his commands (2:3-6). Without the help of Christ, we are left in the darkness. But because of Christ, we are forgiven; we are able to know him, and we have overcome the evil one (2:12-14).

I’m sure John struggled with sin, so he is not commanding us to be perfect. But he is exhorting us to strive to live in the light – in both knowledge and holiness – to pattern our lives after the light of Christ.

I’m thankful to be reading Psalm 139 on the same day as 1 John! For in this Psalm, David reminds us that – as children of God – we will never be separated from His presence. That even the darkest places are light to God – and we are never hidden from him. He knows us, intimately, and still pursues us. This gives us confidence to draw near and confess our sins as John commands us in 1 John 1:9. He is our loving Father. He is light!

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24).

Day 310: The Supremacy of Christ

Psalms 38-40; Hebrews 1

Every person on earth, whether rich or poor, Eastern or Western, male or female, red, yellow, black or white… shares the same problem: sin.

There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

Likewise, there is one solution to this worldwide epidemic…Christ.

Which brings us to my favorite book in the New Testament (apart from the Gospels), Hebrews. Hebrews was written before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 to Jewish Christians who were suffering persecution. The author of the book remains a mystery to this day. His purpose for writing was to exhort Christians to persevere in their faith despite persecution. He argues eloquently for the Supremacy of Christ above the Mosaic law and old sacrificial system. I love Hebrews!

The author of Hebrews begins his letter by using Old Testament Psalms to prove the divinity of Christ and his supremacy over the angels.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:3-4).

Our Jesus, the one who died so we could live, upholds the universe by the word of his power! The thought is too wonderful to fully grasp.

I look forward to the next two weeks of reading through Hebrews as the author teaches so skillfully… that Christ is the final fulfillment and reigns supreme over ALL the Old Testament law and sacrificial system…

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.

I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:6; 8).

Day 309: Seeking reconciliation

Psalms 3637; Philemon

Paul’s letter to Philemon is a brilliant appeal for Philemon to forgive his runaway bondservant, Onesimus. By God’s sovereignty, Onesimus fled to Rome and somehow was converted to Christianity by Paul – probably during Paul’s first imprisonment recorded in Acts 27-28.

Paul’s appeal is based on Christian love.

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you [Philemon] for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother (Philemon 15).

Paul’s letter reminds us of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Because we are forgiven by God’s grace, we are given the grace to forgive others. Onesimus was willing to sacrifice his freedom to seek forgiveness from his former master, Philemon. And because he knew Philemon was also a Christian, he returned with the hope that Philemon would forgive him.

Only the power of God can change a runaway slave into a penitent man. And it is only by God’s power that Philemon could forgive and accept Onesimus as his Christian brother. Only God can produce such dramatic change in the human heart. He transforms us because of His steadfast love!

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
pin your light do we see light (Psalm 36:7-9).

Day 280: The God of all Comfort

Job 11-12; Ephesians 2-3

In many ways, the book of Job teaches us how to comfort those who are experiencing great suffering, specifically by NOT following the example of Job’s friends!

We read Zophar’s, “comfort” in Job 11, and it is filled with rude accusations that Job is foolish to claim he is blameless, and that if Job would just repent, his life would be all hunky-dory again. Humph.

On so many levels, Job’s friends say the most horrible things. They are judgmental of Job and presumptuous of God.

We don’t have the power of God to judge a man’s heart! We have no idea if the suffering is because of sin or not. And moreover, our sins have been forgiven!! Listen to what Frankie Bennett writes in her bible study on Job…

God may prune me (John 15:1-5), discipline me as His child (Hebrews 12:7-11), test me (Job 1-2), or have any number of other purposes for my trials, but I need never again wonder if my sufferings are His retribution for old sins or His condemnation of my failure to achieve perfection (Job, Lessons in Comfort, Frances Bennett, CEP, 2009, pg 46). 

This is the gospel! That all of our sins have been forgiven! That Christ took the punishment we deserved and God’s wrath has been satisfied. It is finished. No more punishment. We are accepted!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is where comfort is found…in the grace of God. God’s comfort is deep and profound. It makes it way deep into our hearts and assures us that we are loved and accepted. In fact, his love is so vast that we need the Spirit’s help to understand it!! I’ve prayed Paul’s prayer at the end of Ephesians 3 so many times… for myself and for others who need the strength of God’s comfort…

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Now that’s comfort! The kind of comfort that seeps into your bones and quenches your thirsty soul. That’s the power of truth, offered graciously in love.

Day 269: A gospel plan!

Nehemiah 11-13; 2 Corinthians 11

Today we come to the end of Nehemiah and to the end of the historical narratives. We have watched God’s covenant promises unfold to His people from the parting of the Red Sea, to the fall of Jericho, to the rise of David and the fall of the nation… We have seen God preserve a remnant out of the exiles in Babylon and read as they returned to first rebuild the temple and then repair the wall around Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 12 we read of the people celebrating the completion of the wall. There was much joy in Jerusalem (Neh. 12:43)!

But as soon as Nehemiah left (to attend to the Persian king), everything fell apart. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to find that the people did not provide for the Levites, so the Levites had left the temple to work their land. One of the priests had let Nehemiah’s enemy, Tobiah, stay in one of the temple’s chambers. The people were buying and selling in Jerusalem each Sabbath, and worst of all, they were intermarrying with foreign women.

Nehemiah did his best to make things right. But you have to believe that even Nehemiah’s best wasn’t good enough to overcome the people’s sin nature. They needed a Savior – not a political savior – but a savior to change their hearts – to give them a heart of flesh – so as to change them from the inside out!

This is the gospel – that God sent his Son to satisfy the law on our behalf. As we trust in him for our salvation, His Spirit enters and regenerates our hearts. This is the beautiful mystery. This is the gospel!

And it is this gospel that Paul is so fiercely defending in 2 Corinthians 11. For false teachers had infiltrated the church and were turning his flock away from the true gospel. Paul was forced to boast in his qualifications to persuade the Corinthians to not be deceived by the false teachers in their midst.

Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness as proof of his apostleship! This is the beauty of the gospel!!! We come to God as weak sinners in desperate need to be saved. We come to him as law-breakers and he receives us, and forgives us and breathes His life into our dry bones. We can boast in our weakness, for when we are weak, He can be strong through us.

Poor Nehemiah was fighting an impossible battle. The people would spiral away from the law eventually. It was inevitable…but God had a plan! And it was a gospel plan!!