Day 174: Two Sermons

Jeremiah 36-37; Acts 2:14-47

Key Verses

Jeremiah 36:3
It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Acts 2:37-38
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Both of today’s readings contain sermons – which resulted in two very different responses…

In Jeremiah, we learn that Jeremiah had been banned from the temple grounds. So he dictated his message to his faithful friend, Baruch, who wrote down on a scroll God’s message to the people. Baruch went to the temple and read the scroll which gave an account of the people’s sins and called them to repent so that the Lord’s judgment might be averted. God, himself, wanted the message preached so that He “may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Amazingly, this scroll found its way to the king. Surely, as the scroll was read in his presence, the fear of the Lord would cause him to repent and lead the people back to God! But no. Jehoiakim’s heart was hardened…

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot (Jeremiah 36:23).

The king had no fear of God. His pride ensured the destruction of Jerusalem.

Now let’s consider Peter’s sermon from Acts 2.

Peter’s sermon was remarkable. The Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He quoted Joel and David. He used logic to prove that Jesus was the Messiah mentioned in David’s 16th Psalm. And after he proved that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he accused the people of killing him!

This wasn’t some sweet “come to Jesus” message. No! He accused the crowd of murdering the Son of God! I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot. But the Spirit was at work and the crowd was “cut to the heart.” Amazing. They didn’t make excuses or get defensive. They didn’t try to kill Peter or the other disciples, but they actually took responsibility for their sin and asked, “What shall we do?”

What should they do? What should have the king of Judah done when he heard the warnings in Baruch’s scroll? What should we do when we feel the prick of conviction – when we know we’ve done something offensive to God? What is the one thing that God has desired in every human heart going all the way back to Adam? Repentance. This can only be done through the power of the Spirit. In other words, we need God’s help to repent.

As we turn to God, he is pleased to help. God loves the penitent heart!

What was the result of the people’s repentance after Peter’s sermon? 3,000 people were baptized that day! The first church began and it was characterized by self-sacrifice and generous giving to others. The repentance of the crowd changed the course of human history!

Imagine what God could do through us today – if we humble ourselves, and repent?

Day 173: A mighty work

Jeremiah 34-35; Acts 2:1-13

Key Verses

Jeremiah 34:2
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

Acts 2:4
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Today we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise from Acts 1:8… “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

John Piper asserts that this power of the Spirit is “an extraordinary power. The experience promised is beyond the power of the Spirit in new birth and gradual sanctification.” He goes on to explain,

This promise that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8) and that they would be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49) was a promise given to sustain the completion of world evangelization, and all the ministry that supports it. The context of both texts makes that plain. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth.” (Excerpted from Tongues of Fire and the Fullness of God By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org)

Every now and then throughout the New Testament and church history, the Spirit comes in an unusually powerful way. Even though it manifests itself in different ways (i.e. the building shaking in Acts 4), it typically comes for the purpose of evangelization… In today’s reading, the Spirit comes as tongues of fire and enables the disciples to speak in different languages – all for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom!

This coming of the Spirit at Pentecost signifies the beginning of the New Covenant age.

In Jeremiah 34-35, we see why we need a “New” Covenant. The Old Covenant was dependent on the people’s obedience – which they miserably failed to do. Similarly, our hearts are exceedingly sinful, and it is impossible for us to meet the demands of the Covenant.

So God in His mercy made a New Covenant. A covenant dependent on Jesus’ obedience and Jesus’ sacrifice – and this New Covenant is available to anyone who believes – people from all nations and languages. This was evident at Pentecost as Jews were gathered from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)…

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome.

It is fitting that the first converts to Christianity were Jews representing every nation in the world! This work of the Spirit has so affected history that we are still affected by this event 2,000 years later. That’s one, mighty work!

Day 163: Abiding in the True Vine

Jeremiah 9-10; John 15

Key Verses

Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

John 15:1-2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

The Old Testament uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel – especially in the book of Isaiah.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus begins chapter 15 by saying that He is the True Vine. In other words, Jesus is the True Israel. Isaiah 5 describes God as the Vinedresser – planting his vineyard and hoping to yield grapes…

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines […]

What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:1b-2a, 4)

Israel was a vine which yielded wild fruit. We know from our readings in Jeremiah that Israel was an apostate people – whoring after other gods and ignoring the warnings of invasion.

John contrasts the fruitlessness of Israel with the fruitfulness that comes from abiding in Christ.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

Abiding is a mysterious and difficult concept. It involves consistent seeking, repenting, praying and obeying. It is a dependence on Jesus for everyday living. Jesus says that abiding is mutual, “abide in me and I in you.” It is the partial fulfilling of the promise made throughout the Old Testament, that God will dwell with his people. As we abide in Christ and He in us, He makes his dwelling in us. This promise will find its ultimate fulfillment in the new earth as He will make his dwelling place with man. In other words, today, He dwells in us through the Spirit, but in the new earth – we will see Him face to face. Oh Lord, hasten the day…

Day 105: David’s Heart

1 Samuel 15-17; Luke 14:25-35

Key Verses

1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Luke 14:27
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Saul… He had the audacity to use religious duty as an excuse to disobey God’s word – and we learn from vs. 15:30 that Saul’s first priority was to have honor in the people’s eyes. So, God sent Samuel to anoint a new king, and we read from today’s key verse the qualification most important to God – the condition of the heart.

We see the valor of David’s heart as he faces Goliath in Chapter 17, but more importantly, we see his trust in God! David was also equipped with the Spirit. We read in Chapter 16 (vs. 13-14) that after David was anointed by Samuel, God’s Spirit departed from Saul and rushed upon David. This Spirit was not associated with salvation (as in the New Testament) but rather the Spirit was an Equipper – helping God’s chosen leader to accomplish his kingly purpose.

We too have been given a royal purpose…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2.9).

Jesus reminds us in today’s reading that discipleship requires whole-hearted commitment. But we have also been given the Equipper – the Holy Spirit – to help us accomplish this high calling.

So I ask… Are our hearts more like the self-serving Saul? Or more like the valiant David? I hope neither!!! I hope for my heart to be like Jesus! I think David would agree ;)

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness (Psalm 26:2-3; of David).

Day 95: The diverse work of the Spirit

Judges 13-14; Luke 9:37-62

Key Verses

Judges 13:24-25
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Luke 9:51
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

The next 10 chapters of Luke record Jesus’ teaching and work during his last journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27). Jesus knew what would happen. He predicted his death for the 2nd time in vs. 44. But the disciples still didn’t understand…

But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. (Luke 9:45)

The disciples would understand – but only after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples, we also depend on the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s word and ways!

The Holy Spirit makes an appearance in today’s reading from Judges as well. It is by the power of God’s Spirit that Samson has the strength to overcome Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.

But.

As is typical of most Old Testament narratives, the author simply retells the story without commenting on the morality of the characters. This is a disadvantage to us as modern readers, because we aren’t as familiar with the ancient culture and Mosaic law. Actions that would have been so obviously horrendous to an ancient Jew are morally ambiguous to us. There are so many instances where Samson breaks God’s law, but you have to be familiar with the laws concerning Nazarites to catch them!

In Chapter 14, he marries a Philistine, touches a dead carcass, and partakes of strong drink at his marriage feast. Nazarites were strictly forbidden to touch anything dead or to partake in strong drink. His flagrant disregard for God’s law is offensive. Yet God sends His Holy Spirit to Samson in spite of his sin. How amazing is God’s grace!

Consider this nuance in Chapter 14… On the way down to marry the Philistine woman, Samson scrapes honey from a lion’s carcass – the very lion that he killed with his bare hands. This is a picture of what sin can do to our hearts. Samson’s pride and independence blinds him to the grotesque carcass. He’s oblivious to the stench and the flies… As we are tempted to compromise God’s standards for the pleasures of this world, we must remember this image of eating honey from a lion’s carcass. All we see is the honey – and we are blinded by the grotesqueness of the sin.

Unlike Samson, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to open our ears to understand God’s word, open our eyes to see the sin in our hearts and finally, to give us hearts to obey!

Day 354: The Suffering Church

Micah 1-2Revelation 11

We begin Micah today! Micah was a contemporary of Amos and Isaiah. He probably lived during the Assyrian invasion of Israel and their failed attempt to capture Jerusalem under Hezekiah’s reign. Micah brings God’s legal case against His people – outlining their many sins which justify the judgment that was to come. But there is a cycle of grace within Micah as he ends each judgment oracle with the promise that God would gather and restore. Today’s reading ends with the promise of the Shepherd-King who would come to redeem Israel (Micah 2:12-13)!

Transitioning to Revelation, we are still in the midst of an interlude (between the 6th and 7th trumpets) which shows what happens to the church. This chapter is subject to many different interpretations, but I believe that both the temple and the two witnesses are symbols for the church.

Let me briefly run through the symbolism (summarized from P. Gardner’s commentary, Revelation)…

  • 11:1 – Measuring the temple shows that the church is sealed and protected.
  • 11:2 – Outer courtyard of the temple represents unbelievers.
  • John’s vision of the temple hearkens back to Ezekiel’s 2nd temple vision (Ezekiel 40-48). One of the interpretations of this vision is that the restored temple is the New Testament church – especially since God’s presence returns to the temple. Now that Christ has come and been crucified – New Testament references to God’s temple or household refer to the church.
  • 11:3 –  The church will prophesy for 3.5 years. This time period is symbolic of half of the time of fulfillment (7 years) which shows that the time is limited and sovereignly controlled by God.
  • 11:4 – The two witnesses are called “the two lampstands” which is what the 7 churches were called in Rev. 2-3.
  • 11:4-6 – The “two olive trees” symbolize “two anointed ones (Zech. 4:11-14). Also, the special powers attributed to the two witnesses in 11:6, represent Elijah and Moses – who were also supported by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the church is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Then we read in vs. 7-12 of the Beast killing the two witnesses, the world mocking them and then miraculously, after 3.5 days, they are resurrected. According to Gardner, this is probably not the final resurrection, because this is all happening before the 7th trumpet is heralded, in other words, before the final judgment. No, this seems to be only a precursor to the final resurrection.

If the two witnesses are the church – then it is the church which is killed by the beast and the church which is resurrected. We’ve seen this happen throughout history – how the church is persecuted so heavily that it seems to be wiped out, but somehow it grows and multiplies in spite of the persecution. Consider China…Mao tried to rid his country of Christianity, but today, there are millions of Christians in China!

I believe we are living through this part of Revelation, and that the church will suffer until the final judgment comes…

We read of this final judgment at the end of the chapter (11:15-19) when the 7th trumpet sounds. The elders sing of the God who was, and the God who is (11:17), but they do not say the familiar “The God who is to come” because he has come! This is the day when the unbeliever will be judged and the believer will be rewarded. This is the day our Shepherd-King will come again and gather His people and we will enter His rest!

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel; […]

Their king passes on before them,
the Lord at their head (Micah 2:12-13).

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 340: God is Life

Psalm 146, Psalm 148, Psalm 150; 1 John 5
(Psalms 147 & 149 were read on Day 273)

Today we end both 1 John and the book of Psalms. We have spent 44 straight days in Psalms!

1 John ends fittingly with John’s purpose for writing…

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:12-13).

In Jesus is life. When we believe in the Son, he gives us new life through His Spirit and equips us to love others and keep His commandments. Because of the Spirit’s power at work within us, John writes that His commands are not burdensome (vs. 3). Rather they are life to the believer!

John’s purpose was encouragement. We, too, should be encouraged by John’s message. It is a message of hope because it’s the gospel!! Our response to the gospel should be a deep internal gratitude – which pours out as praise…

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! 
(Psalm 150, the final Psalm!)

Day 339: God is Love

Psalm 143-145; 1 John 4

God is love. In a word I think it means something like: God’s absolute fullness of life and truth and beauty and goodness and all other perfections is such that he is not only self-sufficient, but also, in his very nature, overflowing. God is so absolute, so perfect, so complete, so full, so inexhaustibly resourceful, so joyful, that he is by nature a Giver, a Worker for others, a Helper, a Protector. What it means to be God is to be full enough always to overflow and never to need—never murmur, never pout. God is love.

By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

We love because God first loved us. We love because He has given us His Spirit – and His Spirit is love. If we are believers, we will love others. John commands us to love because he wants us to be more of who God has transformed us to be. We should love so well that the world takes notice. Our love should be sacrificial and bold – just as God’s love for us is sacrificial and bold!

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made (Psalm 145:8-9).

Day 283: The weapon of Truth

Job 18-19; Ephesians 6:10-24

Yesterday’s reading in Job marked the beginning of another round of “speeches” from Job’s “friends.” Eliphaz spoke in Job 15, and it’s Bildad’s turn in Job 18. Both men continue their assault on Job – accusing him of being wicked, vile and corrupt (Job 15:16; 18:5).

Job laments in Job 19:13-20 that he is utterly alone – that everyone has abandoned him. And Job still struggles with the false notion that God has rejected him in anger (Job 19:11)…

BUT.

There are hints of hope in Job’s laments. The first we find in Job 16:19-21, “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.” This hint of hope is stronger in Job 19…

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me (Job 19:27)!

Oh, this is the grace of God!! That Job could lift his eyes and find a glimmer of hope – a truth to sustain him. The Lord has upheld Job (Psalm 37:24). He has given him hope. And because Job continues to find his only hope in the Lord, Satan has been defeated!!

Job didn’t know that his true adversary was Satan!

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Ephesians 6 instructs us how to stand against Satan’s schemes. We are to put on “the whole armor of God.” Everything in this armor is held together by the “belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14).

Truth was Job’s defense against Satan’s attack and it is our defense as well. We are to remember God’s truth… that He loves us and is Sovereign and Good. The righteousness we receive from Christ shields our hearts (6:14). Our faith in God’s truth is what extinguishes Satan’s attacks (6:16). And our salvation protects our minds from believing a false gospel (6:17). Our only offensive weapon against Satan is God’s word (6:17), which is…TRUTH. Satan is the father of lies. Truth is both our protection and weapon against him.

I pray God’s truth becomes as precious to me as my very life. So that I might say with Moses, “They are just not idle words for you – they are your life!” (Deut. 32:47).

Day 282: Mutual submission

Job 15-17; Ephesians 5:1-6:9

Be controlled by the Spirit. This is the heart of Ephesians 5.

Years ago, as a recent college graduate, I attended a small church that was filled with families. In fact, I was the only single person in the church (other than a few widows). The pastor had a passion for building up families and encouraging marriages. The years I spent under this wise pastor’s teaching has greatly benefitted my marriage!

I still remember him preaching on this passage in Ephesians 5. Surprisingly, he didn’t focus as heavily on the verses that deal directly with marriage (5:22-33), but rather emphasized Ephesians 5:18: “Be filled with the Spirit.” And then he gave the line that I have written down in my old bible, “I’ll tell you where it’s hard to walk in the Spirit…in Marriage!”

There is much controversy about the command for wives to “submit” to their husbands (5:22). Listen. God designed marriage to model the trinity. There is mutual submission within the trinity as each member has equal value but diverse function. Seriously…do we expect marriages to thrive if both halves are given the same function? That’s just silly. Marriage is a team effort, and typically that means each member has a unique role to fill.

For husbands, they are to love their wives (5:25). Now wives are supposed to love their husbands too, but what husbands cherish more than love is respect. So how fitting that wives are commanded to respect their husbands (5:33)! If both parties fulfill their roles well, as God designed, then submission becomes a non-issue – ESPECIALLY since the command for wives to submit to their husbands is given in the context of mutual submission

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:19-21).

The concept of submission extends beyond marriage and is expected in other relationships as well. Paul addresses parent/child relationships (6:1-4) and “master/bondservant” (or more modernly speaking), employee/employer relationships (6:5-9).

Why is submission such a big deal? We submit out of reverence for Christ (5:21)! Afterall, he is the model of submission! There is no shame in submission – especially when it is emulating the life of our Savior!