Monday, June 25, 2018

"The Jesus of Prophecy" June 25 Readings: Zechariah 8-14


Today's Reading - Zechariah 8-14 


Background


After the prophecy of chapter 8, chapter 9-14 concludes Zechariah's book with two great oracles from God (9-11, 12-14), each of which contains familiar messianic prophecies. They focus on the great victory of God over Israel's sin.

Devotional - The Jesus of Prophecy 


It is dangerous to delve into the end times in a devotional such as this since people have such varying views. However, a passage such as today's reading almost demands it. Chapter 9-11 contains the first great prophecy of God's destruction of Israel's enemy, the restoration of the nation, and the coming of Israel's king. Then, chapters 12-14, the second prophecy, carry on the glorious refrain speaking of the cleansing of the people and the glorious reign of the king. There are two familiar messianic moments, one in each of the great prophecies, that encapsulate the work of Jesus.

The Triumphal Entry is a story recorded in each of the gospels, but its details come straight out of Zechariah 9:9. Of course, Jesus knew this prophecy and chose the colt because of it, but he rode into Jerusalem as he did to declare clearly to all that he was the Messiah, the subject of OT prophecy.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!Look, your King is coming to you;he is righteous and victorious,humble and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus was telling Jerusalem to rejoice because their King had arrived just as Zechariah had prophesied. They rejected and crucified him so his elevation to glorious king of Jerusalem awaits another day, another coming, another entrance. But Jesus declared who he was when he rode down the Mt. of Olives and into the city as he did.

But he had another purpose when he entered the city, one he was born to fulfill before he would take the throne as Israel's king. Zechariah 12:10 points to this higher purpose of Christ.
Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. 
They will look to the one they pierced. This harkens back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53, which points clearly to the redemptive death of Christ. This prophecy goes on to extol the redemptive grace of God. Zechariah 13:1 says,
On that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the residents of Jerusalem, to wash away sin and impurity.
Israel will be purified and redeemed from its sin. Chapter 14 describes the ultimate victory of Christ as he stands on the Mt. of Olives, marvelous signs follow, and then Jesus takes up the throne of the world. Living water flows from Jerusalem (verse 8) and the curse will be lifted (verse 11). All the world will come to Jerusalem to worship Jesus Christ.

My friend, it may be a tough world today, but we are on the winning side. Jesus will never be defeated.

Father, thank you for your unbeatable power and inestimable glory that shines over all this world. 

Think and Pray


Do you rest and trust in the ultimate victory of Jesus?
How would it change the way you live your life today if you fully trusted in the victory of Christ?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"He Defends the Guilty" June 24 Readings: Zechariah 1-7


Today's Reading - Zechariah 1-7


Background


Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and his prophecies are likely dated to about 520 to 518 BC. Zechariah is of the priestly tribe and his name means "God remembered" - God did not forget Israel in Babylon. His message dovetails with Haggai's.

Devotional - He Defends the Guilty


What a powerful vision Zechariah had - not really a vision but an insight into reality. In Zechariah 3:1-5 we see a man named Joshua, a priest, the chief priest in fact who was standing before the Angel of the Lord. The identity of the "Angel of the Lord" is difficult to discern in the OT - is it just an angel, or Jesus himself? We will likely not know for sure until we are in heaven. Joshua is standing before this representation of the divine presence.

And Satan, the accuser of the brethren, is right there beside him doing his thing. He is accusing him. He is unworthy to stand in your presence, God. He has no right to be here. Look how filthy he is, how unclean, how compromised. He has not done right, has not followed the law adequately, has not earned the right to be in the presence of the Lord. The accuser is accusing!

The problem is that every accusation he is lodging is absolutely correct. According to verse 3, Joshua was clothed in filthy garments. He was unclean. The accuser was absolutely right. Dirty. Fallen. Wicked. Unworthy to stand in the presence of God.

Just like me. Joshua is me! A sinner whose sin makes him unworthy to be in the eternal presence of God. Here is the hard, cold truth - the truth I want to ignore, deny, and pretend is not so. Whatever accusations Satan wants to lodge against me to the Father are probably true. Oh, maybe I haven't broken every one of the commandments in body, but in mind, in heart, in spirit, I have broken them all. I am guilty.

But God does not respond to Satan's accusations as we might expect.
The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!
Satan spoke true accusations against Joshua but he was rebuked. Why? Because God had chosen Jerusalem. God chose them and therefore he would redeem them.
Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.
God takes his chosen people, cleanses them, and clothes them in pure clothes. We know now how that happens - it is the righteousness of Christ that is our robe. I am Joshua. Stained and dirty, God chose me. He sent his Son for me to take away my iniquity and clothe me in righteousness. I know have "pure vestments" - spiritual garments of holiness given to me by the work of Christ.

Though I am guilty of every accusation Satan can level against me, in Christ I am innocent!

Thank you, Father, for the grace I have in Christ, for clothing me in Christ's righteousness instead listening to the accusations of Satan against me. 

Think and Pray


Do you struggle with guilt, with doubt, and with self-recrimination?
Remember that Jesus is your redeemer and has cleansed you and clothed you in "pure vestments."
Thank him today for that!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"Curse of Misplaced Priorities" June 23 Readings: Haggai 1-2


Today's Reading - Haggai 1-2


Background


Today's reading is unusually short but powerful. (Tomorrow's will make up for the shortness of today's - seven chapters of Zechariah.) Take a little extra time to meditate on the message of Haggai.

It is written within the time period of Ezra and Nehemiah. He prophesied in 520 BC. The decree of Cyrus went out in 538 BC and nearly 20 years later the procrastinating Israelites were still making excuses as to why the Temple had not been rebuilt. Haggai challenged them to "give careful thought to their ways."

The book contains a series of 4 prophecies which passionately call on the returned exiles to rebuild the Temple and so to return to the full favor of God.

Devotional - The Curse of Misplaced Priorities


A youth pastor I knew gave the best illustration of life I ever heard. He rented a limousine and took his small youth group out for a night on the town (in Cedar Rapids). He took them to a fancy restaurant, to museums, to all kinds of expensive places. Finally, he took them to the gates of Mt. Trashmore, Cedar Rapids' dump. He said, "Everything you saw today ends up here." Wow.

That's how we live our lives, isn't it? We devote ourselves to this world, which is destined to be destroyed, while we ignore the things of God. It is the worst investment decision any of us could ever make.

Haggai was a prophet to the people of Israel who had returned from exile in Babylon. They had come back to the land with the intent of rebuilding the Temple and reestablishing the worship of Yahweh. But, of course, they first had to erect places that they could live in and walls to protect them. Suddenly, it was eighteen later and they were living in comfort while the Temple still lay in ruins. They continually procrastinated. "The time has not come for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt." (Haggai 1:2).

God's patience with this procrastination was at an end, and he sent Haggai to warn the people, "Think carefully about your ways." Their minds were on their own comfort and convenience and they cared little for the things of God.

There are consequences to that. We could call it the Curse of Misplaced Priorities. When we invest ourselves in this world, we bring certain natural consequences, designed by God, upon our lives. Look at what God said through Haggai in 1:6.
You have planted much but harvested little.
You eat but never have enough to be satisfied.
You drink but never have enough to become drunk.
You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm.
The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it.”
There is an inverse proportion principle at work in the kingdom of God. Jesus mentioned it often. "He who saves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will save it." What you seek is not what you get. "Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be added to you as well. Here, the more you invest in your own life, the less you will have of peace, satisfaction, and contentment.
The less you focus on your own things and give attention to the things of God, the more you receive of peace, satisfaction, and contentment.

There are five statements there that describe the dissatisfaction, frustration, and futility of the life with misplaced priorities. 
  • No matter how much work you do, there is little return (eternally) on your investment. In the kingdom, a grain of mustard seed moves mountains. With misplaced priorities, we can barely move the mustard seed!
  • The next three speak to satisfaction and contentment. When you invest in this world, it's never enough. Ever eaten a meal so good that you didn't want to eat again for a month? Of course not. The things of this world never satisfy for more than a moment. You eat, but it's not enough. You drink, but you want more. You put on clothes, but you are still cold. This world offers fun and good times, but not satisfaction. 
  • Finally, misplaced priorities produce lost opportunity - what might have been. You stick money in a bag, but the bag has a hole. The money goes away and you don't get to enjoy it. You had it all, but you squandered it. I hate writing this because boy-oh-boy have I been there! But it is a marker of misplaced priorities that you squander the opportunities and blessings that God gives you. 
There is a solution, though. Build the house of God. In the OT, that was a building on a hill just above the City of David to the north. But we are the Temple of the Living God today - both individually and as a church. We need to build the church and we need to build our lives as sanctuaries of God's presence. Cleanse it. Honor God's presence. Make the sacrifice (well, honor the one Christ made) and devote yourself to the service of God. 

Father, I have seen so much of the Curse of Misplaced Priorities in my life - work without return, dissatisfaction and lost opportunity. Cleanse my heart as your sacrifice. I thank you for the sacrifice made for me once for all by Christ. Consecrate me, Lord, for your service. 

Think and Pray


How would Haggai (or the God who spoke through him) describe your life?
Would he tell you that your priorities are misplaced, that you need to get your mind and heart off the things of this world and "build the temple?"

Friday, June 22, 2018

"When the Enemy Attacks" June 22 Readings: Ezra 1-6, Psalm 137


Today's Reading - Ezra 1-6, Psalm 137


Background 


Several of the books of the Hebrew Old Testament seem to have originally been one book and were divided into two. This is true of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which were likely divided because of the length of the scrolls. It seems that originally Ezra and Nehemiah may have been one book and were later separated, though that is less clear.

Ezra is of priestly descent and his task is to bring Israel back not just to the LAND but to the LAW. They had returned to Jerusalem but not to God. He led a revival after God had orchestrated a return.

The order of the Ezra and Nehemiah is significant theologically, even if it is not chronological. First, the decree comes in which God was at work by his sovereign power among the nations. Then, the Temple was rebuilt, then the community was purified under Ezra, then the walls were rebuilt under the ministry of Nehemiah. God's activity, the building of a place of worship, heart restoration, then physical protection.

Psalm 137 is the exiles lament, sung by those in Babylon about their return to Israel.

Devotional - When the Enemy Attacks 


"I can't believe he said that."
"If people aren't going to support me, then I will find something else to do." 

Christians today are remarkably easy to discourage. People will begin a ministry and assume that when they do they will receive encouragement and support and applause for what they do. There is little support for that biblically. In fact, the opposition is pretty much true. When someone was called by God to a task they pretty much always faced severe opposition and persecution.

Folks, they crucified Jesus!

God worked a mighty act of power in the heart of a pagan emperor to get a decree for Israel to return to their homeland, recorded here in Ezra 1. The people of God were excited to return to their devastated homeland and begin the process of rebuilding. (We know it actually took some time for the rebuilding to start - Haggai tells of this.)

Progress was coming along nicely until, as Ezra 4 and 5 records, opposition began to arise. That hurts. Here they were doing to work of God and people stood up to oppose them. If they were like many evangelicals today, they'd get their feelings hurt and they'd quit. But that is not what they did. They continued to do what God had told them to do and they faced the opposition with faith.

The God who had gathered them protected them. The great victories of God do not come only through obedience but through perseverance as we continue to work in the power of God. Had Israel gotten discouraged and given up the Temple would not have been rebuilt. There would have been no Temple for Jesus to have worshiped in when he came to earth.

My Christian friend, you have a call from God on your life but it will often be hard. The challenge is not only to obey God but to continue to serve him through opposition, through discouragement, through failure, and through suffering. Great victories are won after great struggle. God does not protect us from enemies but empower us to overcome them.

Father, may I be courageous and strong when I answer your call. 

Think and Pray


Do you get discouraged easily when you are serving God?
Do you quit when opposition arises?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"War of the Angels" June 21 Readings: Daniel 9-12


Today's Reading - Daniel 9-12


Background


The last four chapters of Daniel contain visions of the future - some of the most significant in the Bible. Daniel 9:24-27, the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, is a template for all future prophecies regarding the End Times. The prophecies of chapter 11 and 12, while having some historical content, also look forward to the great battles of the last days, which we often loosely call Armageddon and tells us much about the Antichrist, modeled on the evil man known as Antiochus Epiphanes.

Devotional - War of the Angels 


I often find myself confused by the Bible's teachings on so-called "spiritual warfare." We know that our God is in control and that demons flee before him. We know that Satan was created as an angel and rebelled against the Father, leading a third of the angelic forces to create the kingdom of darkness. We know that he goes about on this earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We know that he is defeated and one day will be sent forever into the lake of fire, with all who are loyal to him, to be tormented for his rebellion.

There is much that we know and much we do not know. There are many who are confident of their knowledge of spiritual warfare who have created intricate mythologies about rankings of demonic forces and territorial demons and all sorts of such things on the flimsiest of biblical evidence. They are much more certain about the angelic and the demonic than my study of the Bible allows me to be.

However, many of us in evangelical and Baptist circles tend to discount and ignore the angelic and the demonic. We don't disbelieve in it we just don't think about it much. But when one reads the Bible the conclusion is inescapable. Angels are real and have a genuine role to play in the work of God. Demons are real and are actively working evil in this world, sowing lies, tempting people to sin, and inciting wickedness as best they can. Exactly how that works is difficult to discern.

The story in Daniel 10 is an interesting one. According to verse 2, Daniel was mourning and praying for 3 full weeks, agonizing in prayer before the Lord, but no answer came. He continued until finally at the end of the 3 weeks an angel appeared to him and told him a strange tale. He had been dispatched from heaven with an answer immediately when Daniel began to pray, but he was opposed by the "prince of the kingdom of Persia" - seemingly a demonic force with authority over the nation of Persia. Finally, Michael, one of two angels who are named in the Bible (the other is Gabriel) arrives to help him and the demonic force is overcome. Daniel's answer arrives.

Of course, it is dangerous to derive too many truths from one story, but reading Job and other scriptures, there seem to be some truths we can establish here.


  • God is always sovereign and in control. His power is unchallenged. Any presentation that gives Satan or demonic powers any hope of defeating the work of God is unbiblical. 
  • However, demonic forces are always working against the activity of God and seem to be able to resist and hinder the work. Here, there was a three-week delay. 
  • We assume that God, in his sovereignty, permitted this to teach Daniel a lesson in patience and perseverance, but still, there was a delay caused by demonic forces. 
  • There are rankings of angels, though we don't understand all of that. The visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel talk about seraphim and special winged creatures worshiping in heaven. But here we meet Michael, who was a special protector of Israel. We also know of Gabriel, God's "press secretary" who made many announcements of the great works of God. They are called archangels. 
  • A common concept seen in the prophets, especially in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and here, is the idea of a demonic force working behind the power of a human government. We wonder if Democrats or Republicans are in charge, but there are also likely demonic forces at work in human governments to seduce and to cause evil. 
  • In the end, God always wins. 

There are two extremes to avoid. To ignore the work of angels and demons, to act as if the heavenly realm does not exist and does not matter is unbiblical and wrong. But to mythologize it beyond what the Bible says is also wrong. We need to avoid excessive speculation. Whatever is true in the spiritual realm, our God reigns ultimately.

Father, help me to see what you want me to see in the realm of spiritual things. Guide me away from ignorance and away from excessive curiosity and speculation. 

Think and Pray


Do you ignore the spiritual realm of angels and demons?
Do you involve yourself in excessive speculation about it?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

So You Want to See Miracles? June 20 Readings: Daniel 5-8


Today's Reading - Daniel 5-8


Background


The book of Daniel is self-revelatory. Modern liberal scholars are convinced that it cannot have been written by Daniel because of the prophecies made about the kingdoms to come. If Daniel actually wrote the book then it is evidence of the supernatural nature of scriptural prophecy and skeptics cannot accept that. They claim that the book was written after the events took place and that the words were put into the mouth of the prophet Daniel.

The only evidence for this is their lack of faith in predictive prophecy. Those of us who believe in the divine nature of Scripture have no trouble believing that God is the author of the Bible and that he could describe events accurately centuries before they take place.

Devotional


Wouldn't it be great if we could see the kind of miracles today that was seen in Daniel's day?  Three men were thrown into a fiery furnace who come out unharmed; a hand writes a message to a pagan king on the wall; a man survives in a den of hungry lions - those were some dramatic miracles. We would all love to see that kind of thing in our day. 

But none of these works of power was done for entertainment value. They were performed in the lives of people who had risked their lives in obedience to God's Word. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood against an entire culture and refuse to bow the knee to an idol. They were called before the king who demanded they acquiesce to his demands but refused. They were thrown into a fiery furnace that was intended to kill them. It was then - when they had risked their lives to the point of death in obedience to God - that God stepped in to act in power.

In Daniel 6, Daniel is an old man but still a loyal servant of the king. Darius trusted him and gave him great responsibility, which created jealousy and hatred among others in the palace. They conspired against him to bring him down. These schemers manipulated Darius to sign an edict that only he should be worshiped for 30 days, knowing that Daniel would violate that rule and continue to worship the One True God. Daniel ended up in a den with hungry lions because of his obedience and faithfulness. And God acted in power to preserve the life of the man who acted in faithful obedience to him.

We would all like to see the kind of power God displayed in biblical days when God performed miracles that would leave his people in awe and his enemies in terror. But those miracles were never curiosities. They were performed to accomplish great works and God used obedient people who put their very lives at risk to serve and obey him.

God's great miracles are acts of war in the great cosmic battle and they are experienced by those who are on the front lines of that conflict! It is in the fiery furnace that God's presence is known. It is in the lion's den that God's power is released.

Would you like to see the mighty power of God at work in your life? You will not see it sitting in your easy chair. God doesn't do miracles through spiritual spectators! Present your body to Christ as a living sacrifice and give yourself fully to him and his kingdom's work. When you are on the front lines of the kingdom conflict, you will see the power of God in ways you never will in places of comfort and peace.


Father, I want to be on the front lines, not on the sidelines, so that I can see your mighty hand of power at work in me. 

Think and Pray


Are you experiencing the mighty power of God in your life?
Are you on the front lines of spiritual battle, working in God's power to expand the borders of the Kingdom?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Into the Fire" June 19 Readings: Daniel 1-4


Today's Reading - Daniel 1-4


Background


Daniel is one of the truly great men of biblical history. He is one of the few characters of the Bible's story without a major flaw or a sinful failing. From his boyhood in captivity until his older years in the lion's den and through all the visions God gave him, he is an example of spiritual courage and moral excellence.

Devotional - Into the Fire


t is one of my favorite stories in the Bible and has been since my youth. It has drama and tension and intrigue - everything that makes a story grand.

It begins in the mind of a megalomaniac named Nebuchadnezzar, who constructs a 90-foot high golden idol and demands that everyone in his kingdom bow down before it when the music sounded. Babylon was filled with captives, people from all over the world who still worshiped their own gods. The king didn't care about that as long as they kowtowed to his demands and when the instruments played demonstrated their loyalty by bowing before his god.

But there was a problem, one that was fairly easily identified, and one that Daniel 3:8-9 tells us was reported to the king. If when the music sounds everyone falls on their faces, it becomes pretty hard to hide the fact that three young Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were not bowing down. They were faithful servants to the king, but they refused to bow to his gods. When Nebuchadnezzar heard about their refusal, he hit the roof. In verses 14-15 he offered them one last chance to bow down and to save their hides, but their response was forceful (verses 16-18).
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
They would serve him. They would honor him. They would seek to please him any way they could. But they would not bow down to his gods. There was a limit to their submission. They faced the king in faith and confidence, believing that the God they worshiped was stronger than the most powerful man on earth, but they were also willing to face torture and death rather than serve the false gods of Babylon. 

This infuriated the king. He ordered the fire in the furnace heated to a temperature seven times its norm. He was going to show these impudent Jews what happened to dissenters and make an example out of them to everyone. No one would defy him! Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and carried to the fire to be thrown to their deaths. It was so hot that the soldiers who threw them in were incinerated - a tragedy, to be sure, but at least Nebuchadnezzar had gotten his message across. 

But, wait! He looked into the fire to see to satiate his wrath and see the three young men writhing in agony, but he saw something very different. He saw the men who had been cast into the fire walking around, unbound, and there was another being with them, one he described as "like a son of the gods." I have a theory about who that might have been, but I'll let you guess that on your own! 

He called to the men and they walked out of the fire, unharmed, without even a whiff of an odor of smoke on them. Suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar knew the truth. There is a God in Israel, one unlike any other god. This God is real, not an idol. He's not some impersonal force to whom supplication is made to receive favors. He is a real God, a powerful God, a miracle-working God. 

How Nebuchadnezzar's attitude had changed. He may not have been "converted" but he suddenly had an amazing respect for the God these men worshiped. 

This all happened because three young men believed God enough to obey him, even at great cost, at the threat of their own lives. But because they believed, a wicked man saw the power of a mighty God. May we believe God and obey him that the world may see his power and tremble!

Father, may I live in faith and obedience to you in such a way that the world may see your power and tremble before you!

Think and Pray


Do you have the moral courage to make bold stands for Christ even at the cost of suffering?