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…

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Day 85: Individually Known

Joshua 13-14; Luke 4:14-44

Key Verses

Joshua 14:10-12
“And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”

Luke 4:18-19
“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.”

Today’s passages remind me that God is big enough to see the big picture AND the minute detail. To borrow Paul’s metaphor from 1 Corinthians 12… God cares about the “Body” and “its parts.” In other words… He cares about the individual.

We read of Joshua continuing what Moses began – allotting the land to the 12 tribes of Israel. The people were grouped by their tribe. Their identity was based on being a member of a group. Yet, there is a narrative in Chapter 14 describing Caleb’s land allotment. The writer of Joshua takes the time to remember God’s promise to Caleb – that he would possess the land that he spied out 45 years earlier. God remembered Caleb. He cares about the individual.

In Luke, we read of Jesus beginning His earthly ministry. Luke’s gospel contains so many rich details.  Listen to Luke’s words…

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them (Luke 4:40).

Luke tells us that the day is almost over and there are still sick waiting to be healed. If I were Jesus, I would be tempted to perform one big group healing; “You’re healed. Now go home. I’m tired.” Thankfully, I’m not Jesus!! Jesus “laid his hands on every one of them.” He cared for them individually.

Luke 4:18-19 are some of my favorite verses in all of scripture. Why are they my favorite? Because one day when I was reading the bible, God knew the inner-workings of my heart. He knew I felt “poor” and spiritually “blind.” So when I came to Luke 4:18-19, I felt like Jesus was speaking directly to me. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart to remind me that God knew me and loved me anyway! God cares for the individual!

Day 33: A Holy Garment

Exodus 29-30; Matthew 22:1-22

Key Verses

Exodus 29:45-46
I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

Matthew 22:8, 9-12
Then he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless.

Wow. Exodus 29 is the ceremony of all ceremonies. I’ve never heard or seen a more intricate ceremony! Have you?

First, Aaron and his sons are consecrated (set apart) and ordinated as priests. They are washed and dressed in the priestly garments and anointed with oil…

And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:9).

Aaron is a descendant of Levi (Ex 6:16-20). He is the first of the High Priests. Later, when the Israelites inherit the land and Joshua allots pieces of the land to the tribes of Israel, the Levites are not given land because they are to serve the nation as priests.

Next, Aaron and his sons must make a sacrificial offering to atone for their own sin. They place their hands on the head of the bull to signify the transfer of their sin to the animal. They then slaughter the bull and the insides of the animal are burned on the altar, but the outside of the bull… its flesh, skin, and dung, is burned outside the camp – away from the tabernacle. These parts of the animal symbolically bear the sin. And God does not tolerate sin. (Exodus 29:10-14)

Then we see two rams being offered. The first is a burnt offering in which the whole ram is given as an offering to the Lord. The 2nd ram is the ram of ordination. (Exodus 29:15-27)

The ordination ceremony is to last seven days, and each of the seven days, the priest must make a sin offering. God also gives instructions for how to purify the altar. The consecration of the altar would be part of the regular duties of the priests – to offer both a morning and evening sacrifice. (Exodus 29:38-42)

But why must the altar be consecrated daily? It stands just outside the Tent of Meeting which contains both the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. And it is there where the Lord will meet with the people. (Exodus 29:42-46)

What do we learn from these chapters? God is holy. He can not be in the presence of sin. The word “holy” is used 19 times in these two chapters alone!! And just in case you think that God relaxes on this “holy” thing when Jesus enters the world… Just read what Jesus has to say from today’s reading in Matthew… Only those with the proper garment, a holy garment, are invited to His feast. The man found without the proper garment was “[bound] hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13).

Friend, do you have the proper garment? We can not manufacture this garment from our own good works. This garment is a gift. It is the righteousness of Christ, received by faith…

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

God’s holiness is to be feared. We can not approach him without the proper covering. Christ covers us with His righteousness so that He might “present [us] holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22 NIV). That’s good news. That’s the gospel!

Day 9: The Promise Continues

Genesis 23-24; Matthew 8

Key Verses

Genesis 24:7
The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.”

Matthew 8:16-17
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Yesterday, we saw the small beginnings of God fulfilling His two-fold promise of legacy and land to Abraham… Isaac was born and Abraham bought a well.

In today’s reading, we see Abraham purchase a full-fledged plot of land (in Canaan, of course) that contains a cave in which to bury his wife, Sarah. We also read of the miraculous way in which God provides a wife for Isaac. Rebekah is kind-hearted and full of faith. She is a good wife for Isaac. God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars and to give them the land of Canaan continues to unfold…

It’s fun to fast-forward in history to Matthew 8 where we see Jesus in action. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s promises. In this chapter, we read several stories of Jesus’ healings… First the leper, then the centurion’s servant, then Peter’s mother-in-law.

There is a scene painted in just one sentence that boggles my mind. Jesus is in the home of Peter and…

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick (Matthew 8:16).

Can you imagine the flurry of people scampering to Jesus to be healed? I would have been one of them. I would have done anything, anything, to get my brain-injured daughter in front of Jesus. I would have bowed low and begged him to heal my daughter. I know, because I do this every day.

In the very next verse, Matthew refers back to Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).

Just as he showed compassion to the crowds and healed their diseases, He has borne my grief and carried my sorrow. Even though He has chosen not to heal my brain-injured daughter immediately, he is still healing her – very slowly. Waiting on God builds godly character, and ultimately the healing of our souls is infinitely more important than the healing of our bodies. But we’ll talk more about that tomorrow :-)

Day 348: The Scroll & The Lamb

Joel 1-3Revelation 5

Revelation 5 opens with a question…

Who has the authority to open the scroll??

Jesus is the only one who can open the scroll. He is the Lion of Judah (Gen 49:9) and the Root of David (Isa. 11:1,10; Jer. 23:5-6). He is slain lamb who was foreshadowed by both the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12) and Isaiah’s suffering servant (Isaiah 53). Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, came and stood in the center of the throne and took the scroll from God.

What is the importance of the scroll??

Dr. Paul Gardner gives this answer, “As we shall see later, the content of the scroll concerns God’s whole plan of salvation and judgment for this earth from the cross through to the final culmination of his purposes in the new heavens and the new earth.”

He goes on to say,

“This lamb, with all the marks of his death upon him, is in fact standing and has the great figures of heaven in attendance. The lamb has horns indicating his strength and power, and his eyes are looking everywhere as his Spirit searches out his people, saving them and protecting them.” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 84).

John’s description of Jesus in the throne room of God is a visual representation of the gospel!! And if John’s descriptions of Jesus weren’t enough to convince you of His divinity, the response of those within the heavenly throne room prove without a doubt, that Jesus is Divine. For as Revelation 4 culminated in the worship of the Father, so does Revelation 5 end with the worship of both the Father and the Son.

This is the backdrop of the appalling judgment to be described in the scrolls. Judgment comes only to those who refuse the sacrifice of the Lamb – who was judged in our stead. Judgment comes to vindicate the suffering church – who suffers for the glory of the Son!

The book of Joel describes a final judgment day, “the day of the Lord,” when Jesus will come to judge the earth (Joel 2:1-11). Joel describes God’s judgment in all its terror and pleads with the people to repent – for God relents when His people repent!!

For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
who can endure it?

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:11-13).

Joel ends his book with the promise that God will use the final judgment upon the earth to avenge the blood of His Son and His people (Joel 3:21). Woe to the one who is not covered by the blood of the Lamb! Although we long for Christ’s return, we take comfort in His delay and pray earnestly for those we love to enter the fold of Christ!

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 347: The Throne Room

Hosea 12-14; Revelation 4

The last chapters of Hosea are heart-breaking as Hosea describes the inevitable destruction that will come because of the nation’s refusal to repent. But the book ends with the hopeful promise that God would restore and build His Kingdom…

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon (Hosea 14:7).

His judgment is revealed in the context of His faithfulness to redeem his people. This is actually a summary statement for God’s work through all of history and according to the book of Revelation, this is how He will work in the future as well.

This is why John is transported “in the Spirit” to God’s throne room. John is shown God’s glory and Protection of the Saints before he is shown God’s judgment on the earth. This is so important that I will write it again…God’s judgment is revealed in the context of His faithfulness to redeem his people!!!

So what does John see in the throne room of God???

The images that John describes harken back to the opening chapter of Ezekiel – when Ezekiel was also shown a vision of the Glory of God.

And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald (Revelation 4:3).

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. […]Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around (Ezekiel 1:26-28).

I get the sense that both John and Ezekiel tried to find words to adequately describe the scene and found themselves limited by the use of only words. For words cannot possibly sum up the Glory of God!

Then John sees 24 elders sitting on thrones, dressed in white and wearing crowns. Their presence fulfills the promises given to the seven churches of the ones who overcome…”clothed in white, ruling with him, sharing his throne” (2:10; 2:27; 3:5, 3:113:21). The number 24 could represent both 12 tribes of Israel + 12 apostles – most likely representing all of those who are redeemed in Christ. This represents us, if we are redeemed in Christ!

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal (Revelation 4:5-6).

This passage reveals God as judge. “The sea of glass, of the perfection of crystal, separates God in his holiness from everything else. It is this sea which will disappear later (21:1). In other words, there will come a time when sin and sinful people have been judged and God’s people will no longer experience this sea which separates them from their God” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 72).

John then observes four creatures that were around the throne (4:6). John’s description recalls images from both Ezekiel and Isaiah’s visions of God’s throne room (Ezekiel 1:10, 18 & Isaiah 6:2-3). These creatures represent all of God’s creation: wild & domestic animals, birds and humans all “looking this way and that way in order to serve him and worship him” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 73).

This amazing scene which our human minds can not fully comprehend culminates in worship. For God is holy, almighty and eternal. In addition to John’s vision, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel were also given visions of God’s throne room, and all four men, when faced with the Glory of God, joined the members of the throne room in WORSHIP.

This should be our response as well…As we consider that we are His redeemed; He has clothed us with the righteousness of His Son and will remove the sea of separation to dwell with us forever…we should cast our crowns before Him and cry with all creation…

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).

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 275: A false gospel

Esther 4-6; Galatians 4

The situation in Galatia is intriguing. Paul was originally detained in Galatia because of an unknown illness (4:13-14), so he took the opportunity to preach to the pagan Gentiles in the region. They received the gospel with joy and faith, and Paul left to continue his missionary journey. Then false teachers, trying to please the Jewish authorities, began to teach the new Gentile Christians in Galatia that they needed to also obey aspects of the Jewish law – such as circumcision and observing the holy days and festivals (4:10).

Paul was outraged! If the Galatian Christians received salvation through faith alone, then they should continue to live by faith alone! Adding requirements to the gospel makes it a false gospel… in essence, it is teaching that we are justified through works – which is impossible!

Paul continues to counter the false teachers by giving examples from the Old Testament that prove that justification has always been by faith and never by works (or the law). In Chapter 3, he pointed back to Abraham’s faith as an example (3:6) and also quoted from Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith” (3:11). And in today’s reading, Paul contrasts the two sons of Abraham – saying that Ishmael represented slavery under the law, but Isaac was a child of the promise…he represented faith.

And then Paul does something extraordinary… he tells the Gentile Galatians – those who used to worship pagan gods – that they are also children of the promise; consequently, they are not under the law (4:28)! This is amazing! And a truth that should set us free from works-righteousness and help us to embrace the gospel of grace.

But we mustn’t think that God has forsaken those of Jewish heritage. ABSOLUTELY NOT! God has opened the gates of heaven to all who turn to Him in faith!

We see a picture of extraordinary faith in today’s reading from the Old Testament, as Esther, puts her life in God’s hands and acts on behalf of the Jewish people…

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:15-16).

This is the kind of faith that pleases God… a self-sacrificing sort of faith, that surrenders everything into God’s hands. Self-justification through good works is an arrogant affront to God. The love of Christ is what compels us to good deeds because our salvation has been accomplished through his perfect work on the cross! When we add anything to the gospel, it becomes a false gospel!

Day 163: Abiding in the True Vine

Jeremiah 9-10; John 15

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!

Day 85: Individually Known

Joshua 13-14; Luke 4:14-44

Today’s passages remind me that God is big enough to see the big picture AND the minute detail. To borrow Paul’s metaphor from 1 Corinthians 12… God cares about the “Body” and “its parts.” In other words… He cares about the individual.

We read of Joshua continuing what Moses began – allotting the land to the 12 tribes of Israel. The people were grouped by their tribe. Their identity was based on being a member of a group. Yet, there is a narrative in Chapter 14 describing Caleb’s land allotment. The writer of Joshua takes the time to remember God’s promise to Caleb – that he would possess the land that he spied out 45 years earlier. God remembered Caleb. He cares about the individual.

In Luke, we read of Jesus beginning His earthly ministry. Luke’s gospel contains so many rich details.  Listen to Luke’s words…

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them (Luke 4:40).

Luke tells us that the day is almost over and there are still sick waiting to be healed. If I were Jesus, I would be tempted to perform one big group healing; “You’re healed. Now go home. I’m tired.” Thankfully, I’m not Jesus!! Jesus “laid his hands on every one of them.” He cared for them individually.

Luke 4:18-19 are some of my favorite verses in all of scripture. Why are they my favorite? Because one day when I was reading the bible, God knew the inner-workings of my heart. He knew I felt “poor” and spiritually “blind.” So when I came to Luke 4:18-19, I felt like Jesus was speaking directly to me. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart to remind me that Godknew me and loved me anyway! God cares for the individual!

“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).

Day 33: The Holiness of God

Exodus 29-30; Matthew 22:1-22

Wow. Exodus 29 is the ceremony of all ceremonies. I’ve never heard or seen a more intricate ceremony! Have you?

First, Aaron and his sons are consecrated (set apart) and ordinated as priests. They are washed and dressed in the priestly garments and anointed with oil…

And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:9).

Aaron is a descendant of Levi (Ex 6:16-20). He is the first of the High Priests. Later, when the Israelites inherit the land and Joshua allots parts of the land to the tribes of Israel, the Levites are not given land because they are to serve the nation as priests.

Next, Aaron and his sons must make a sacrificial offering to atone for their own sin. They place their hands on the head of the bull to signify the transfer of their sin to the animal. They then slaughter the bull and the insides of the animal are burned on the altar, but the outside of the bull… its flesh, skin and dung, is burned outside the camp – away from the tabernacle. These parts of the animal symbolically bear the sin. And God does not tolerate sin. (Exodus 29:10-14)

Then we see two rams being offered. The first is a burnt offering in which the whole ram is given as an offering to the Lord. The 2nd ram is the ram of ordination. (Exodus 29:15-27)

The ordination ceremony is to last seven days, and each of the seven days, the priest must make a sin offering. God also gives instructions for how to purify the altar. The consecration of the altar would be part of the regular duties of the priests – to offer both a morning and evening sacrifice. (Exodus 29:38-42)

But why must the altar be consecrated daily? It stands just outside the Tent of Meeting which contains both the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. And it is there where the Lord will meet with the people. (Exodus 29:42-46)

What do we learn from these chapters?? God is holy. He can not be in the presence of sin. The word “holy” is used 19 times in these two chapters alone!!! And just in case you think that God relaxes on this “holy” thing when Jesus enters the world… Just read what Jesus has to say from today’s reading in Matthew… Only those with the proper garment, a holy garment, are invited to His feast. The man found without the proper garment was “[bound] hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13).

Friend, do you have the proper garment? We can not manufacture this garment from our own good works. No! This garment is a gift. It is the righteousness of Christ, received by faith…

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

God’s holiness is to be feared. We can not approach him without the proper covering. Christ covers us with His righteousness so that He might “present [us] holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22 NIV). That’s good news. That’s the gospel!