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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Day 145: Luke 22:1-23 & Psalm 141 - What Did Jesus Mean by "This is my body" and "This is my blood"?

Today's Reading: Luke 22:1-23 & Psalm 141

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What Did Jesus Mean by "This is my body" and "This is my blood"?

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 
- Luke 22:19-20, ESV

As He celebrated Passover with His disciples, Jesus instituted the sacrament, or ordinance, known as the Lord's Supper, or Communion. He took the unleavened bread, broke it and said, "This is my body, which is given for you." Then, He took the cup of wine drunk after supper and said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." What did Jesus mean by these words of institution and what is the significance of them for the church's celebration of the Lord's Supper today?

First of all, it's very important to keep in mind that Jesus was celebrating the Passover with His disciples when He said these words. So when He said "this," He was pointing to elements of the Passover meal: 

1. The unleavened bread: Symbolically leaven/yeast represented sin, and the bread was also striped and pierced. Jesus said that this bread represented or pointed to His body, without sin, which would be striped and pierced for them. (See Isaiah 53:5

2. The cup: The wine of the Passover, which was red, called to mind the blood of the Passover Lamb. But Jesus said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." Just as the blood of the Passover Lamb shielded God's people from judgment during the Passover at the time of the Exodus, so the blood of Jesus shields us from God's wrath, for He bore the wrath of God in our place.

But the bread and the wine had other meaning as well. Jesus had said that He was the bread of life, the true bread sent down from heaven to give life to the world. Bread was life, the basic necessity and the most constant item in the diet of the ancient world. Wine was a symbol of joy and celebration, while Jesus said it represented blood, which is the penalty for sin. 

It's also important that Jesus gave them the bread to eat and the wine to drink. They took the elements and internalized them. Literally, the bread and the wine would become part of the disciples; it would be incorporated into their very being. The body of Jesus - His life - and the blood of Jesus - His death - must be ours, truly and eternally, or we have no life and we have no forgiveness. 

The next time you take the Lord's Supper, perhaps this coming Lord's Day, think about what Jesus is giving you in this supper. He is giving you Himself. He calls us to feast our souls on Him, even as we feed our bodies bread and wine. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 141:

O LORD, I call upon You; hasten to me!
    Give ear to my voice when I call to You!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before You,
    and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
    keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
    to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
    and let me not eat of their delicacies!
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
    let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
    let my head not refuse it.

Yet my prayer is continually against the evil deeds of the wicked.
My eyes are toward You, O GOD, my Lord;
    in You I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!
Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me
    and from the snares of evildoers!
Let me avoid the traps of the my enemy and pass by safely, kept by You.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Day 144: Luke 21:20-38 & Psalm 140 - Why Was Jerusalem Destroyed in AD 70?

Today's Reading: Luke 21:20-38 & Psalm 140

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Why Was Jerusalem Destroyed in AD 70? 

"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near . . . Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." 
- Luke 21:20 & 24, ESV

In AD 70, the Roman army marched on Jerusalem and destroyed it, in response to a Jewish uprising against Rome. The Temple was destroyed and has never been rebuilt in the 1,946 years since. This is remarkable for two reasons:

1. The Temple had stood in Jerusalem for over 1,000 years, with a brief period from 586 to 515 BC when the Temple after Solomon's Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians and before it was rebuilt under Cyrus and Darius. 

The Temple in Jerusalem in Jesus' Day
2. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be destroyed shortly after His life, death and resurrection and that it would remain "trampled underfoot by the Gentiles." Not only has the Temple never been rebuilt, but Jerusalem has never been fully controlled by the Jewish people since AD 70. 

These two facts make the destruction of the Temple and the accompanying domination of Jerusalem by non-Jews a most remarkable historical event and a most remarkable fulfillment of prophecy. But why? Why did Jesus say that Jerusalem would be destroyed? Why has it remained under Gentile domination and how long will it last?

First of all, do these kinds of questions matter? Well, I'll put it this way: These questions only matter if the significance of Jesus' death on the cross matters and if God's kingdom purposes for the Jewish people and the nations matter. In other words, questions like this are important if the whole flow of biblical redemptive history matters.

Jesus Himself told a parable explaining the destruction of Jerusalem and the rise of "the times of the Gentiles." It's the parable of the vineyard and its tenants, recorded in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Clearly, this parable was very key for the early church's understanding of the kingdom of God. In the parable, the tenants who have been working the vineyard symbolize the Jewish leaders. They killed the owner's servants, who represent the prophets, and then they conspired to kill the vineyard owner's son and heir. Jesus makes it clear in the parable that the vineyard owner will judge the wicked tenants, take away their share in the vineyard and give it to others. This is precisely what God did in AD 70. 

The Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque that sits
where the Temple once stood.
Another way to view the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 is as the removal of a symbolic form of worship which was no longer necessary. If the Jewish people had received the message of the apostles, they would have seen that the Temple was no longer needed. Jesus' body is the living Temple and the cornerstone for the new and living Temple of the church. His sacrifice on the cross was the final sacrifice. 

So, the kingdom of God has been removed from the Jewish people because they violently rejected God's Son and anointed King. The Temple was destroyed because it is no longer needed. Still, the story of the Jewish people and their role in God's kingdom purposes is not over. God has promised to bring the Jewish people back to Himself, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus referred to our times as "the times of the Gentiles" and said that it would end. Jerusalem's domination by Gentiles will end when the times of the Gentiles ends.

Paul explains the times of the Gentiles and the future restoration of the Jewish people in Romans 11. During the times of the Gentiles, a remnant of Jewish people are still being saved through Jesus Christ. But in the future, the nation will be turned to Christ. And thus God's purpose to bless all the nations through the seed of Abraham will be completed (see Genesis 12:3

What we see in all of this is that God's kingdom belongs to God alone. Salvation belong to our God, who sits upon His throne (Rev. 7:10). This is what all of God's people will confess and celebrate for all of eternity when we are gathered around His throne in glory!

Prayer Based on Psalm 140:

Deliver me, O LORD, from evil forces who oppose You and seek my destruction;
    preserve me from temptation, doubt and despair,
 from those who plan evil
    and stir up wars continually.
 They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's,
    and under their lips is the venom of asps.

 Guard me, O LORD, from my adversaries,
    who have planned to trip up my feet.
 The world, my flesh and the devil have hidden a trap for me,
    and with cords they have spread a net;
    beside the way they have set snares for me.

 O LORD, You are my God;
    give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD!
 O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
    You have covered my head in the day of battle.
 Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked;
    do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted! 

 I know that You, LORD, will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
    and will execute justice for the needy.
 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name;
    the upright shall dwell in Your presence.    

Monday, August 29, 2016

Day 143: Luke 21:1-19 & Psalm 139 - What Kind of Life Pleases God?

Today's Reading: Luke 21:1-19 & Psalm 139

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What Kind of Life Pleases God?

And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." - Luke 21:3-4, ESV

What kind of life pleases God? Is it a life of service? of sacrifice? of heroism? of fame and great accomplishment? Well, the widow who gave her last two copper coins didn't gain anyone's attention other than Jesus, who saw her gift and made sure His disciples saw it, too. The key to her gift was not its size but her faith. "She . . . put in all she had to live on."

Later in the passage, when Jesus warns of coming persecution, He tells His disciples, "This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict (vv. 13-15)." Jesus did not want His disciples depending on their own wisdom and eloquence. He wanted them to trust Him to provide them with the wisdom and words they would need.

The common element between the poor widow and Jesus' instructions for the persecuted disciple is faith. The life that pleases God is a life of faith. Faith, as Jesus commends it and describes it here, is the opposite of self-reliance. We are used to praising and honoring self-made and self-reliant men. But no man ever made himself anything, and God is pleased with those who know this and who depend on Him and not on themselves.

We can be tempted to rely on almost anything other than God: our money, our wisdom, our freedoms, our family, our skill, our connections, etc. All of these blessings are given to us by God, and while we should be thankful for all of them, we should not find our identity, our security, our comfort or our fulfillment in any of them. God alone should be our hope and our trust. He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and He is the Keeper of His children.

A life of faith pleases God because it honors God for who He is and never seeks to put anyone or anything else in His place. God is pleased with a life of faith because it glorifies Him and it is best for us. When we depend on Him alone, He gets the glory and we get the real security our hearts need - in Him alone! 

Prayer Based on Psalm 139:

This is such a beautiful, powerful psalm. We should just take time to pray it as it is written and really meditate on it in prayer before the Lord who knows and loves us so well:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from Your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me,
    and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to You;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with You.

For You formed my inward parts;
    You knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in Your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with You.

Oh that You would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against You with malicious intent;
    Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

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!

Here are some songs to help us worship God and meditate on Psalm 139:







Sunday, August 28, 2016

Day 142: Luke 20:27-47 & Psalm 138 - What Will Life be Like After the Resurrection?

Today's Reading: Luke 20:27-47 & Psalm 138

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What Will Life be Like After the Resurrection?

“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." - Luke 20:34-36, ESV

What is heaven like? How can we know? What is life like for those who have died? What will life be like after Jesus returns and the day of resurrection happens? The truth is that the Bible doesn't tell us as much as we'd like to know about these kinds of questions. Why not? Well, the Bible isn't written to tell us everything we want to know about God and eternity. It tells us what we are to believe about God and what God requires of us. In other words, the Bible gives us everything we need to know to live a life of grace-empowered faith and obedience.

Some people have not been content with the relative lack of information from the Bible concerning heaven and the eternal state in the new heavens and the new earth. This is why books claiming to report people's visits to heaven tend to sell so well. Here's what the Bible does tell us:

1. When believers die, they are immediately ushered into the presence of God, even though their body remains dead here on earth. This is affirmed by Jesus, when He told the thief on the cross: "Today, you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)." It was also affirmed by Paul, who taught "to the absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8)." 

2. When Jesus returns, the dead will be raised, which means that bodies will be resurrected. The just (believers) will enter into everlasting life in body and soul with the Lord in the new heavens and the new earth. The unjust (unbelievers) will also receive resurrection bodies, but they will be sent away from the presence of the Lord to everlasting judgment. (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18, among others) 

3. Jesus says we will neither marry nor be given in marriage at the resurrection, in the new heavens and in the new earth. We will have bodies, eternal spiritual bodies. Our bodies will never age, get sick, grow tired or in any way wear out. The best picture we have of this is Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus was able to eat food and be embraced, but He could also pass through walls and quickly travel from one place to another. Jesus remains in His resurrection body 2,000 years later and is not growing old.  

4. Most importantly for the believer, after the resurrection, we will be completely free from sin. We will have no desire to sin and will instead be with the Lord forever. For the believer, the very definition of eternal paradise is that we will be with Jesus and completely free from sin forever!

The Bible may not tell us everything, but it tells us enough to make us hunger and thirst for that day. It tells us enough for us to cry out, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Prayer Based on Psalm 138:

I give You thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
    before the gods - the powers of this fallen world - I sing your praise;
I bow down toward Your holy temple, in Your church, among Your people,
    and give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness,
    for You have exalted above all things
    Your name and Your word.
On the day I called, You answered me;
    my strength of soul You increased.

One day, all the kings of the earth shall give You thanks, O Lord,
    for they have heard the words of Your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
    for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though You, O Lord, are on high, You regard the lowly,
    but the haughty You know from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    You preserve my life;
You stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
    and Your right hand delivers me.
I know that You will fulfill You purpose for me;
    Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

    Do not forsake the work of Your hands.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Day 141: Luke 20:1-26 & Psalm 137 - What Makes Bad Religious Leaders So Dangerous?

Today's Reading: Luke 20:1-26 & Psalm 137

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What Makes Bad Religious Leaders So Dangerous?

But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 
- Luke 20:14-15, ESV

Religion has a bad name in our culture, and some of that reputation is deserved. Of course, it's not really fair to classify all people in any category with the same label. After all, even politicians and used car salesmen have honest people among their number. But Jesus certainly had His run-ins with bad religious leaders. In fact, most of His serious confrontations of sin were with respectable religious leaders. In the end, it was these religious leaders who conspired together to have Him killed.

So, what makes some religious leaders bad and others good? And what makes bad religious leaders so dangerous that they would conspire to kill and innocent man who had healed, fed and freed people, while teaching the truth in love with integrity? 

In today's passage, we can see the characteristics of bad religious leaders:


1. They care more about political power or money than about truth. The religious leaders tried to get Jesus to tell them "by what authority" He did what He did (v. 2). They wanted to know who gave Him His power and authority, Jesus responded by asking them about John the Baptist, whether his baptism came from heaven or not (v. 3). They refused to answer, not because they didn't have an opinion, but because they feared the crowds (v. 6). Men who respect only power and not truth act out of manipulation and calculation and not sincerely.   

2. They feel an undue sense of ownership over their religious organization. They believe the church is their church and the flock is their flock. This was the problem with the tenants of the vineyard in Jesus' parable (vv. 9-17). They thought the vineyard was theirs to claim for themselves and had forgotten that they were merely caretakers, accountable to the master.

Jim Jones
3. They pretend to be sincere, but it's just a manipulation tactic. After Jesus told the parable of the vineyard tenants against the religious leaders, they began trying to manipulate Him into making a mistake and losing the favor of the people. They made a pretense of sincerity, but it was a mask covering their true intentions.

So, how can you know whether a religious leader has these qualities? Watch. See what they do and why they do it. See what they really value and why they value it. With people who are trained in words, like politicians and preachers, their actions matter more than their talk. 

All kinds of people care about political power and have an undue sense of ownership. All kinds of people are also capable of manipulation. All people who are politically motivated, entitled and insincere are potentially dangerous, but religious leaders seem to be especially so. Why? What makes them so dangerous?
Rev. Moon, Unification Church

It's one thing to be political, entitled and manipulative with business decisions or political agendas or products for sale; it's a much more serious and wicked matter to treat spiritual truth this way. To play fast and loose with legislation to advantage your supporters is bad, but to play fast and loose with the word of God in order to win the favor of people and enrich your bank account is an evil beyond that of salesmen and politicians. 

This is why crooked religious leaders are so dangerous: They take the most precious truths and use them to exalt and advance themselves. Thus, there is no fear of God in their hearts and they are capable of doing almost anything to get their way - even if it means crucifying the Son of God! 

But religious leaders are not all bad. Jesus was a religious leader, and He laid down His life in love for His followers. He appointed His apostles and sent them out to the world. They were sincere, dedicated and loving. They gave up worldly possessions and positions in order to spread the truth and bless others. 

So, perhaps the best test of religious leaders is this: Do they resemble Jesus and His apostles or do they resemble the Pharisees? Remember, "The stone that the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone." Are we willing to share in His rejection that we might align to His foundation? 

Prayer Based on Psalm 137:

Psalm 137 is one of the most challenging, stark imprecatory psalms. It is shocking in its boldness and honesty. I believe we can pray all the psalms in a way that honors Christ & the Gospel. Here are some articles from the Gospel Coalition that can help us think better about how to pray these kinds of psalms:



Here's a great prayer based in Psalm 137 from Pray All the Psalms


Prayer:

Lord, when I think of some of the ugly injustices that have been committed against Your beloved people, it makes me sick. Honestly, it makes me angry. I can't stand to see ISIS beheading Christians on the shores of Libya or to hear of Boko Haram kidnapping, raping and brainwashing young Christian women. It enrages me with a holy anger that desires the protection of Your people and Your justice on their evil enemies. I know You call me to love my enemies and to bless those who persecute us and to pray for those who despise us, but at times it is hard, very hard, for me to pray anything at all. 

Lord, You are the righteous Judge and the King of all the earth. You are also the loving Father and Protector of Your people. Yet we see and hear and know of such atrocities that deeply disturb our sensibilities and sometimes make our worship painful and difficult.

Lord, have mercy! Lord, protect Your people! Lord, advance Your Gospel. Change the hearts of those who hate You and hate Your people. Bring them to repentance or remove them from their positions of power. Thank You that nothing people can do to Your people can touch our salvation or harm our souls. Thank You that we are always and ever in Your care. May the blood of Your martyrs never be wasted but make it effective in advancing the cause of Christ in the world.

In Jesus Holy Name, Amen!


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Day 140: Luke 19:28-48 & Psalm 136 - Why Did the Crowd Say "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"?

Today's Reading: Luke 19:28-48 & Psalm 136

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Why Did the Crowd Say
"Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"?

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 
- Luke 19:37-39, ESV

When the crowds gathered to welcome Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Gospels tell us they shouted, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" Matthew, Mark and John also tell us that they crowds shouted "Hosanna!" So, why are these words so important? What do they mean? And why did the Pharisees in the crowd who heard the people shouting this tell Jesus to rebuke them for saying it?

The crowd in Jerusalem was quoting Psalm 118. Verses 25-26 say, "Save us, we pray, O Lord! . . . Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Save us" is the Hebrew word "Hosanna!" 

Psalm 118 is a victory psalm, a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies. The crowd was shouting these verses because they believed Jesus was the Messiah, and they were excited to see Him accomplish what Psalm 118 says about the Gentiles ("nations") who oppress God's people:

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off! - Psalm 118:10-11, ESV

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke the crowd because they were afraid that Rome would crack down violently on a political uprising centered on a would-be Messiah. But Jesus did not rebuke the crowd because He knew the truth. He knew that Psalm 118 did, in fact, describe Him, but not in the way the crowd expected. 

Right before the lines that the crowd was shouting, verses 20-23 give Jesus' mission as He headed into Jerusalem:

This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes. - vv. 20-23

Jesus not only entered Jerusalem through a gate, but He came into Jerusalem as "the gate of the Lord." He was coming to become our salvation. He was coming as the stone, rejected by the builders, who would become the cornerstone of God's house. He was coming to do the Lord's work, to fulfill the purposes of God. 

So, even though the crowds did not understand what they were shouting, they were right: Jesus did come in the name of the Lord to save them - not from Rome, but from themselves, from their sin and death and condemnation. He would do it by being rejected and condemned in our place, by becoming our salvation.

Prayer Based on Psalm 136:

We give thanks to You, Lord, 
for Your steadfast love, 
      Your covenant mercy, 
      Your tenderness and faithfulness
never fail. They endure forever!

You made the heavens and the earth, 
spreading the stars and and ordering creation with wisdom and love.

You delivered Your people,
from Egypt and from the nations, 
and ultimately from sin and death and hell itself!

We give thanks to You, O Lord, for Your saving power and steadfast love endure forever!