Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Welcome to Walking with Jesus in Acts and Romans

Launching January 2, 2017:

We're going to be reading 5 days a week, working our way slowly through Acts and Romans, with accompanying readings from the Proverbs each day. This blog will feature a devotional, written by Pastor Jason, to help explore and explain the passages from Acts and Romans and to help us pray through the passage from Proverbs.

Why these books?

Acts: The story of what Christ did through the early church, teaching us much about church life, evangelism, missions and more.

Romans: The most complete explanation of the Gospel and of Gospel-grounded theology in the Bible.

Proverbs: Wisdom for living, which will accmpany each daily reading in Acts & Romans and will be the basis for our prayer.

This devotional blog is a follow-up on last year's "Walking with Jesus in the Gospels and Psalms." Last year, we walked through the four Gospels and each day's gospel reading was accompanied by a prayer based on a Psalm. This year, we're going to pick up where we left off and walk through the books of Acts and Romans, accompanying each day's reading with a short reading and prayer from Proverbs.

Here's the beginning of the reading plan, so you can see what this will be like . . .

Walking with Jesus in Acts and Romans
Praying through Proverbs

1: Jan 2: Acts 1:1-5; Prov. 1:1-7
2: Jan 3: Acts 1:6-11; Prov. 1:8-19
3: Jan 4: Acts 1:12-26; Prov. 1:20-33
4: Jan 5: Acts 2:1-13: Prov. 2:1-15
5: Jan 6: Acts 2:14-41; Prov. 2:16-22

6: Jan 9: Acts 2:14-41; Prov. 3:1-12
7: Jan 10: Acts 2:42-47; Prov. 3:13-35
8: Jan 11: Acts 3:1-10; Prov. 4:1-9
9: Jan 12: Acts 3:11-26; Prov. 4:10-19
10: Jan 13: Acts 4:1-22; Prov. 4:20-27

11: Jan 16: Ac 4:23-31; Prv 5
12: Jan 17: Ac 4:32-37; Prv 6:1-5
13: Jan 18: Ac 5:1-11; Prv 6:6-11
14: Jan 19: Ac 5:12-16; Prv 6:12-19
15: Jan 20: Ac 5:17-42; Prv 6:20-35 

16: Jan 23: Acts 6:1-7; Prv 7
17: Jan 24: Acts 6:8-15; Prv 8:1-21
18: Jan 25: Acts 7:1-22; Prv 8:22-36
19: Jan 26: Acts 7:23-43; Prv 9:1-12
20: Jan 27: Acts 7:44-53; Prv 9:13-18

Ideally, you would read through the daily Bible reading 2-3 times and then read the devotional post that accompanies each day's reading. The goal is for depth of understanding and spiritual growth in the Lord, going deeper with each day's reading rather than trying to cover large chunks of Scripture at a surface level. Weekends can be used to catch up on any missed days during the week. 

If you sign up to receive the blog via e-mail, you'll get your daily devotional post in your inbox between 5 and 7 a.m., so you can read before you leave for work or school. May the Lord be pleased to use His word and this blog to strengthen our knowledge, faith and love of Him!   

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Day 203: John 21:20-25 & Psalm 110 - Don't You Wish We Knew Even More About Jesus?

Today's Reading: John 21:20-25 & Psalm 110

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Don't You Wish We Knew Even More About Jesus?

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. - John 21:25, ESV

And so we come to the end of the Gospels. It is clear from the ending of John's Gospel that his is the last Gospel written. He is clearly the last living Apostle. Rumors had been circulating in the church that John would remain alive until Jesus returned; so as the other Apostles had died and John alone remained alive, ministering in Ephesus, people began to expect that Jesus would return very soon. 

John includes the details of this fireside chat with Jesus beside the Sea of Galilee to clarify the truth behind these rumors. Jesus did not day that John would remain alive until He returned; He was just rebuking Peter's curiosity. As Aslan the Lion says in Narnia, "No one is told any story but their own."

John closes his Gospel with a kind of finality that resembles in some ways the finality of the Book of Revelation, the last book John wrote and the final book in the New Testament. John is explaining that his testimony, as an eye-witness, is reliable. Other people would later write "Gospels," of course. But as they would be written more than 100 years after Jesus' life, none of them were written by eye-witnesses, though they claimed to be based on oral Gospels by people who had been with Jesus. 

A Gospel written by a man who had himself been with Jesus is vastly different from a Gospel written 100 year later and claiming to be based on the teachings of a disciple long dead. The bottom line: John's Gospel is the final reliable Gospel. Later so-called Gospels are mythological fabrications with some truth and much error mixed together.  

John acknowledged in his closing that more could be written about Jesus, of course. In fact, he says that the whole world would not be able to hold the books that could be written about all of the deeds of Jesus. Sometimes as believers, we do wish we had more information, don't we? Sometimes we wish we knew more of Jesus' teachings and miracles, His personality and conversations. Such desires can keep us longing for the time when we will be face-to-face with Jesus forever, when faith will no longer be our guide but will finally give way to sight! 

In the meantime, we do have four Gospels. They are different from each other and yet in complete harmony in their picture of Jesus. We see so much of Him in these four Gospels that we can read them again and again, digging deeper each time and seeing more than we saw before. Having spent 203 days together in these four Gospels, I feel like we've barely scratched the surface. Every day, things were left unexplored that could be probed for deeper truth and a fuller picture of our Savior. 

So, as we close this time together in the Gospels, may it not be the end but an invitation to go back and read more and more. If we wish we knew more about Jesus, a lifetime of study awaits us as we read slowly, carefully and lovingly, seeing more of Jesus every time! 

Prayer Based on Psalm 110:

Father in Heaven, You have said to my Lord Jesus,
    “Sit at My right hand,
until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

Lord, You extend the scepter of Jesus from Zion
    over all of Your enemies, saying to Jesus,
    "Rule in the midst of Your enemies!"
Lord Jesus, Your people will offer themselves freely
    on the day of Your power,
    when You return to judge the nations,
    clothing us in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
    the dew of Your youth will be Yours.
Your people will be gathered in from the ends of the earth,
   as thick as dew on the ground, shining in the splendor of holiness.

Lord Jesus, Your Father has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”
You are our King and our High Priest forever!

Lord Jesus, You sit at the right hand of the Father;
    You will shatter kings on the day of Your wrath.
You will execute judgment among the nations,
    filling them with corpses;
You will shatter chiefs
    over the wide earth.
You will drink from the brook by the way,
    refreshed and renewed in the pursuit of Your enemies;
    therefore God will exalt You as head over all.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Day 202: John 21:15-19 & Psalm 103 - Does God Really Rule Over our Sin?

Today's reading: John 21:15-19 & Psalm 103

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Does God Really Rule Over our Sin? 

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep." - John 21:17, ESV

Why did Jesus choose to restore Peter the way He did? What does the way Jesus handled Peter's great sin reveal to us about how God rules over the sins of His people? Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that God's sovereign rule over all things extends even over our sin. They think that somehow this makes God the author of sin, somehow guilty of wanting us to sin. To safeguard God's integrity, they limit His sovereignty. 

But think about it this way: If God's absolute governing of all things does not extend to our sin, then how can we have confidence that He's in control of anything? Once you start excluding the whole realm of human sin from God's rule, how do you handle the fact that almost everything that happens in the world is in some way touched, affected or shaped by sin? 

The Bible gives us some clear pictures to show us how God rules over human sin without being the author of sin:

1. Joseph told his brothers that, even though their intentions were evil when they sold him into slavery, God had ordained their actions for the good of His people, for the saving of many lives. (Gen. 50:20)

2. The emperor Cyrus did much sinful harm to the world in his rise to power, but God foretold his rise and the spread of his power as ordained by Him for the good of His people. (see Isaiah 44-45)

3. Jesus' crucifixion was the worst miscarriage of justice in the history of the world, yet it was ordained by God for the salvation of His people. (Acts 2:23)

4. Here, in the story of Peter's sin, we have one of the most detailed accounts of how God rules over the sin of His people. Consider:

  • Jesus foretold Peter's denials.
  • Peter denied vehemently that he would deny Jesus, but Jesus remained clear in His foreknowledge of Peter's denials.
  • Jesus even foretold Peter's restoration.
  • Even though Jesus foreknew Peter's denials and indicated that Satan's activity was behind it, He never denied that it would be Peter's active decision to actually deny Jesus.
  • Jesus orchestrated all of the details of Peter's restoration: the lack of success fishing and the miraculous catch at the word of Jesus, the three questions about Peter's love for Jesus and the three commands for Peter to shepherd and feed the flock of Jesus. 

For me, as I have studied the Bible's teaching about God's sovereignty over human sin, it has brought great comfort. I may be shocked by my own sin, but God never is. God foreknew all of my sin before Jesus went to the cross and paid for it all with His precious blood. My sin cannot derail God's good purposes for my salvation, though I may face painful consequences for my actions. God not only foreknows my sin but foreordains my restoration as well. 

None of this makes me complacent about or content with my sin. The loving knowledge and sovereign rule of God over my sin makes me thankful and humble, filling me with love for the Lord and a desire to honor Him with my life. When I see Peter being so lovingly and carefully restored after such a failure, I am humbled by the depth and strength of God's love.

Prayer Based on Psalm 103:

Psalm 103 is one of the best texts in the Bible for preaching the gospel to ourselves. It is a glorious reminder of gospel truth and one we should ponder and sing and tell to ourselves again and again!

O Lord, let my soul ever bless You!
   and all that is within me,
   bless Your holy name!
Let me not forget all Your benefits,
You forgive all my iniquity,
     You heal all my diseases, in this life and in eternity
You redeems my life from the pit,
    and You crown me with steadfast love and mercy,
You satisfy me with good
    so that my youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Oh Lord, let me believe and rejoice and glorify You for Your amazing love and benefits to me!

Psalm 103 by Sovereign Grace:

You, O Lord, work righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
You made known Your ways to Moses,
    Your acts to the people of Israel.

You, O Lord, are merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
You will not always chide,
    nor will You keep Your anger forever.
You does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is Your steadfast love toward those who fear You;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far do You remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so You, O Lord, show compassion to those who fear You.
For You know our frame;
    You remember that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
But Your steadfast love, O Lord, is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear You,
    and Your righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep Your covenant
    and remember to do Your commandments.
O Lord, give us the grace to keep trusting in Jesus,
   who is the substance and fulfillment of Your covenant.

You, O Lord, have established Your throne in the heavens,
    and Your kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty by Fernando Ortega:


Day 201: John 21:1-14 & Psalm 98 - Why Did the Disciples Go Fishing After the Resurrection?

Today's Reading: John 21:1-14 & Psalm 98

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Why Did the Disciples Go Fishing After the Resurrection?

Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 
- John 21:2-3, ESV

Some time after the resurrection of Jesus, seven of Jesus' eleven disciples were together in Galilee. We might quickly ask ourselves why they are in Galilee and not still in Jerusalem, but they are from Galilee and it would be natural for them to return home after some time. Then Peter declares to the others that he is going fishing, and the rest of them declare that they will go with him. So they all go fishing together. Why?

Many people have chastised the disciples for this decision. They have said that the disciples should have stayed in Jerusalem and waited for the Holy Spirit to come. They have said that they should have started proclaiming Jesus' resurrection. After all, how can anyone just go back home and go back to his former way of life after having seen Jesus conquer death and rise again? This all seems so out of place, right?

Well, maybe. But Matthew Henry offers a defense of the disciples' actions. He suggests that by going fishing, the disciples were resolved not to sit around being idle and that they were seeking to earn a living for themselves and not to be a burden to others. 

John Calvin agrees with Henry, saying

That Peter gave his attention to fishing, ought not to be regarded as inconsistent with his office. By breathing on him, Jesus had ordained him to be an Apostle, as we saw a little before; but he abstained from the exercise of the apostleship for a short time, till he should be clothed with new power. For he had not yet been enjoined to appear in public for the discharge of his office of teaching, but had only been reminded of his future calling, that he and the others might understand that they had not in vain been chosen from the beginning. Meanwhile, they do what they were accustomed to do, and what belonged to men in private life. 

Whether these disciples were misguided or acting perfectly naturally, when we examine this event in their lives in the light of God's providence, we can see another angle: Whatever their motivations might have been,God had ordained that they should return to fishing again so that Jesus could reveal Himself to them again in an unmistakable way.

God kept them from catching any fish all night so that they would be in the same state of disappointment they had been in three years earlier. Just as Jesus had done years before, so now He gifts them with a miraculous haul of fish. This time, we're told the exact number of the fish caught, which some have speculated might be the number of nations/ethnic groups in the known world then. Supposedly, this is to be a reminder of their calling to take the Gospel to the nations. This seems to be mere speculation. It seems more reasonable to propose that the large number was to make it clear how miraculous and abundant the haul of fish was.

Jesus graciously and powerfully revealed Himself to His disciples so they would have no doubt that it really was Him. He showed them His great power over the fish that they might trust Him and depend upon Him. He was also preparing them for His re-commissioning of Peter. Jesus had first called Peter to fish for men in these exact same circumstances. Now, He is going to restore him and renew the call. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 98:

Let us sing unto You, Lord, a new song,
    for You have done marvelous things!
Your right hand and Your holy arm, the Lord Jesus,
    have worked salvation for You and Your people.
You have made known Your salvation;
    You have revealed Your righteousness in the sight of the nations.
You have remembered Your steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    Your salvation, O God.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before You, Lord, for You come
    to judge the earth.
You will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity. 

We long for and look forward to the glorious day
  when You will reign openly and powerfully over all things.
We rejoice in our great salvation,
  and we eagerly await the day when our salvation
     and Your kingdom victory will be final, complete,
        world-wide and fully consummated!
And so we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen!   

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Day 200: John 20:24-31 & Psalms 95-96 - What is the Real Value of John's Gospel?

Today's Reading: John 20:24-31 & Psalms 95-96

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What is the Real Value of John's Gospel? 

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. - John 20:24-31, ESV

We have now spent 200 days together in the Gospels, almost 50 of those in the Gospel of John. By the time we finish in three more days, we will have spent over 50 days considering this Gospel. So, what is the real benefit we gain from this time? What is the real value of John's Gospel? 

Well, John tells us the benefit of his Gospel for us at the end of his book. Thomas (so-called "Doubting Thomas") makes the most powerful and clear profession of faith in Jesus Christ in the whole Gospel. Jesus answers Thomas' doubt by inviting Thomas to put his fingers in Jesus' scared hands and to place his hand in Jesus' pierced side. Thomas answers Jesus' invitation by proclaiming, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus then answers Thomas' proclamation of faith by saying, "“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. This is the blessing available to all who read John's Gospel. John knew he was the last living apostle and he knew he was writing the last Gospel. He wanted his readers, people who had never seen Jesus - including you and me - to receive this blessing promised by Jesus. And so he says, "These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." 

None of us has ever seen the Lord. But we can receive an even greater blessing than those who did see Him, if we will believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and if we will trust and receive life in His name. The signs recorded in John's Gospel - turning water into wine, healing, feeding 5,000, raising the dead and rising from the dead Himself - all testify and bear witness to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah, the Lord and the Savior of all who trust in Him. He is the Son of God, and He has the power of life in Himself. He showed this life-giving power when He raised Lazarus and then when He defeated death Himself.

John's whole purpose in writing this Gospel is to make the good news of Jesus Christ available and open to all who will believe. From beginning to end, he has had this one clear message. So, do you believe? Will you receive life in His name? 

If you have received life by faith in Him, will you share this Gospel with others? Maybe you could find someone in your life and invite them to go on a journey through John with you! 

Prayer Based on Psalms 95-96    

Oh, Lord, let all of Your people sing praises to You;
    let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation!
Let us come into Your presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to You with songs of praise!
For You, Lord, are a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In Your hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are Yours also.
The sea is Yours, for You made it,
    and Your hands formed the dry land.

Lord, let Your people worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before You, the Lord, our Maker!
For You are our God,
    and we are the people of Your pasture,
    and the sheep of Your hand.
Today, let us hear Your voice,
    and do not let us harden our hearts, as Your people did at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when our spiritual forefathers put You to the test
    and put You to the proof, though they had seen Your work.
For forty years You loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore You swore in Your wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

But, O Lord, let us sing to You a new song;
    sing to You in all the earth!
Sing to You, Lord, and bless Your name;
    tell of Your salvation from day to day.
Declare Your glory among the nations,
    Your marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great are You, Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    You are to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but You, Lord, made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before You;
    strength and beauty are in Your sanctuary.

Let all the families of the peoples,
    ascribe to You, Lord, glory and strength!
Let us ascribe to You the glory due Your name;
    let us bring an offering, and come into Your courts!
Let us worship You, Lord, in the splendor of holiness;
    let us tremble before You in all the earth!

Let Your people say among all the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens hear and be glad, and let the earth sing and rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before You, Lord, for You come,
    for You come to judge the earth.
You will judge the world in righteousness,
    and all the peoples in Your faithfulness.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Day 199: John 20:19-23 & Psalms 92-93 - When and Why Did the Disciples Receive the Holy Spirit?

Today's Reading: John 20:19-23 & Psalms 92-93

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When and Why Did the Disciples Receive the Holy Spirit?

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. - John 20:21-22, ESV

Today's passage brings us to one of the most wonderful and confusing sections of John's Gospel. Here Jesus appears to His disciples after the resurrection and commissions them to go out into the world, saying, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." Then, He breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  

What's wonderful here is the two times Jesus says to His disciples, "Peace be with you" and the simple and yet powerful way He commissions them. They are sent out by Jesus just as the Father sent Jesus. So the commission Jesus gives His people is the same as the commission God the Father gave Him: Speak the truth, Show love. Demonstrate the power of the kingdom. Glorify God. Love people. 

What's confusing here is why Jesus breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." It's confusing because we know that the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples at Pentecost, approximately seven weeks later. So, we're left to ask: Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them or at Pentecost? 

It seems like Jesus' actions here in the Upper Room are more of a sign and promise than the actual full gift of the Holy Spirit. I say this because the disciples don't immediately manifest any evidence of the new power of the Holy Spirit. They don't go out and preach the Gospel or speak in tongues not do they prophesy. In other words, the signs so clearly evident at Pentecost are not seen here. So it seems best to see this action by Jesus as a sign and a promise. That's not to say that the disciples were completely without the influence of the Holy Spirit, only that they had not yet received the full empowering of His indwelling presence and anointing as apostles.

The other confusing verse in today's passage in verse 23, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." Was Jesus really giving the apostles the authority to forgive or refuse to forgive anyone's sins? Well, did they ever exercise such direct authority? No. The evidence is that the apostles took this charge as authority to preach and minister the Gospel, which is the way people's sins are forgiven. 

John Gill explains: 

"God only can forgive sins. Christ, being God, has a power to do so likewise; but he never communicated any such power to his apostles; nor did they ever assume any such power to themselves, or pretend to exercise it; it is the mark of antichrist, to attempt anything of the kind; who, in so doing, usurps the divine prerogative, places himself in his seat, and shows himself as if he was God: but this is to be understood only in a doctrinal, or ministerial way, by preaching the full and free remission of sins, through the blood of Christ, according to the riches of God's grace, to such as repent of their sins, and believe in Christ."  

This verse does highlight the high value and sacred responsibility of Gospel ministry. Preaching and ministering the Gospel is nothing to be done or taken lightly. It is nothing less than the exercise of the keys of the kingdom and the opportunity for eternal salvation for all who believe. When we withhold the Gospel from someone out of fear or pride or hatred, we are shutting the door of the kingdom of God, the doorway to eternal life, in their faces. May we never do such a thing!

Notice that John connects the promise of the Holy Spirit to two main things: Peace and Gospel mission. The Holy Spirit comes to every believer, bringing us peace with God and sending us out to take the Gospel to a world in need. The Holy Spirit brings peace and empowerment for Gospel ministry. May we seek His presence and power always for these goals and never try to make our own peace or minister in our own power. 

Prayer Based on Psalms 92-93:

It is good to give thanks to You, O Lord,
    to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
to declare Your steadfast love in the morning,
    and Your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
    to the melody of the lyre.
For You, O Lord, have made me glad by Your work;
    at the works of Your hands I sing for joy.

How great are Your works, O Lord!
    Your thoughts are very deep!
Those who lack knowledge of You cannot know;
    the foolish who deny the truth cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass
    and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
    but You, O Lord, are on high forever.
For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
    for behold, Your enemies shall perish;
    all evildoers shall be scattered.

But You have exalted the Lord Jesus, my horn and my salvation;
    You have poured over the anointing of Your Holy Spirit.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies, crushed beneath the cross;
    my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants, defeated by my Lord's death and resurrection.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
    they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that You, O Lord, are upright;
    You are my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in You.

You, O Lord, reign over all; You are robed in majesty;
    You are robed; You have put on strength as Your belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
    You are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    You, O Lord on high, are mighty indeed!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;
    holiness befits Your house,

    O Lord, forevermore.
I am Your house, by Your grace,
   so make me holy in heart and life, as befits Your Temple.
Your people, Your church, are the living Temple,
   so make us holy and fill us with Your purifying presence.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Day 198: John 20:11-18 & Psalm 91 - What Makes Mary Magdalene's Testimony of the Resurrection so Remarkable?

Today's Reading: John 20:11-18 & Psalm 91

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What Makes Mary Magdalene's Testimony of the Resurrection so Remarkable?

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). - John 20:14-16, ESV

In the 40 days after He rose from the dead and before He ascended back to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus appeared to over 515 people on several different occasions. However, of all of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, none was more remarkable than the first. Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden of the tomb is surprising and perhaps the most compelling of all of the appearances. Why?

1. Mary was a woman. Women were not respected in the ancient world. They did not enjoy the same rights as men and their testimony was generally not admissible in court. Yet Jesus chose to appear first to a woman and to send her to be the first witness of His resurrection to the male disciples, who would not see Him until later that day, in the evening.

2. Mary was a woman with a troubled past. More than just a woman, Mary Magdalene was a woman from whom Jesus had exorcised seven demons. This means she had a dark and oppressed past. What better person to be the first to witness the victory of Christ over the powers of hell than someone who had suffered for years under the torment of those very powers!

3. Mary was clearly not expecting the resurrection. This account shows us how entirely unexpected the resurrection was to the early disciples. Skeptics sometimes claim that the disciples were superstitious and gullible, and that the resurrection appearances might have been a kind of wish-fulfillment. But ancient people knew as clearly as we do that dead people do not rise again. They were not expecting to see Jesus again.

4. Mary did not even recognize Jesus first. Mary was deeply distress, crying, desperately wondering what had happened to her Master. Even after she saw angels in the tomb, she still thought someone had just stolen the body. Even when she saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener of the garden around the tomb. She thought perhaps he had taken the body away.

For all of these reasons, when Jesus speaks Mary's name and she recognizes Him, it is the most wonderful news and a most remarkable transformation for her life, for the life of the disciples and for the world! Praise God for the remarkable testimony of this woman. Praise Him even more for the powerful resurrection of Jesus from the dead!   

Prayer Based on Psalm 91:

Heavenly Father, by Your grace,
You are my shelter and I dwell in the shadow of Your wings.
You keep me and guard me in all of my ways.
Your son, Jesus, trusted in You and You delivered Him from the snare of death.
Because I belong to Jesus, I, too, am secure in Your loving care for me. 

Father, we are Your people and we live in a hostile world.
We live in a land where Satan prowls and people fall prey to His attacks daily.
Keep us safe in Your hands.
Guide us by Your Holy Spirit.
Glorify Your name and exalt Your Son
   in our churches, in our worship, in our families and in our lives.
Deliver us and protect us,
   for we love You and hold fast to Your name.

In Jesus' precious name, Amen!    

Monday, November 14, 2016

Day 197: John 20:1-10 & Psalm 89 - What's the Difference Between Seeing and Seeing?

Today's Reading: John 20:1-10 & Psalm 89

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What's the Difference Between Seeing and Seeing?

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed - John 20:6-18

If you're a man and you're married, then you've probably had the experience of being asked, "Do you see that?" and looking and wondering, What exactly am I supposed to see? If you're blessed to be a husband, then you know there is a big difference between seeing and seeing. You probably also know the difference between seeing and seeing from the other perspective if you're the parent of a teenager. You walk into their room and ask, "Do you see this?" and they stare blankly back at you and reply, "See what?"  

Well, Peter and John had a seeing vs. seeing experience on that first Resurrection Day. They both ran to the tomb at the report of Mary Magdalene. John reached the tomb first; he was younger, after all. But John didn't go into the tomb. He just looked in and saw the linen cloths lying there. Peter went into the tomb and also saw the linen cloths. Then John entered the tomb and really saw and believed.

In English, this discussion is limited by the fact that we say seeing and seeing, saw and saw, using the same word but meaning two different things by it. Greek is different. Greek has several different words for seeing, and John uses three different verb here:

1. The first time (v. 5), when John saw the linen cloths, the word is blepo, which is perhaps the most basic word for seeing with the eye. 

2. In the next verse (v. 6), when Peter enters and sees the linen cloths, the word is theoreo, which is a stronger verb, meaning to look and consider, to view attentively.

3. Finally, when John entered the tomb, we're told "he saw and believed." (v. 8) This time, the verb for saw is horao, which can mean to perceive or to pay heed. This is the verb that is used by Matthew to descibe the wise men seeing the star; it is a seeing with understanding. Thus, John "saw and believed." His seeing was with an understanding that led to faith.         

In life, so much depends on really being able to see. May the Lord give us the grace to be able to see with understanding and to respond with faith, just as John did, believing with eyes of faith, before he saw the risen Lord and before he even fully understood the Scriptures. Lord, grant us that kind of sight! 

Prayer Based on Psalm 89:

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
    in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.”
You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
    I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’”
You have kept and fulfilled all of Your covenant promises in Christ,
   the Great Son of David who lives and ruled forever! 

Let the heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord,
    Your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared You, O Lord?
    Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
    and awesome above all who are around You?
O Lord God of hosts,
    who is mighty as You are, O Lord,
    with Your faithfulness all around You?
You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, You still them.
The heavens are Yours; the earth also is Yours;
    the world and all that is in it, You have founded them.
The north and the south, You have created them;
    Tabor and Hermon joyously praise Your name.
You have a mighty arm;
    strong is your hand, high Your right hand,
    Jesus our Savior and Lord, Your right hand forever!

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Blessed are the people who who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
who exult in the name of Jesus all the day
    and in Your righteousness are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength;
    by Your favor our horn is exalted.
For our shield belongs to the Lord,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel.

But Your people are in trouble, O Lord,
    Persecuted and harassed by enemies and suffering shame and disgrace.
How long, O Lord? Will You hide yourself forever?
    How long will Your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how short our time is!
    For what brief lives on earth You have created all the children of man!
What man can live and never see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
Only in Jesus is power over the grave!

Lord, where is Your steadfast love of old,
    which by Your faithfulness You swore to David?
Your have fulfilled the vows You made to David in Your Son.
Now, remember, O Lord, how Your servants are mocked,
    and how we bear the insults of all the many nations,
with which Your enemies mock, O Lord,
    with which they mock the footsteps of Your anointed.
Redeem and rescue, to the praise of Your name!

Blessed be the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.

Day 196: John 19:28-42 & Psalm 85 - What Did Jesus Mean When He Cried "It is Finished!"?

Today's Reading: John 19:28-42 & Psalm 85

What Did Jesus Mean When He Cried "It is Finished!"?

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. - John 19:28-30, ESV

When Jesus hung on the cross, one of the last things He cried out was "It is finished!" Years ago, people who were searching for the "real historical Jesus" beneath the supposed propaganda of the Gospel accounts latched onto this desperate cry of a dying man as proof that Jesus died in despair. They claimed that "It is finished!"- when combined with "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?"- tells us all we need to know about Jesus: He was a failure in His mission to become the Jewish Messiah and He died a horrible death in utter rejection as a failure. 

Looking at Jesus' death in this way is far from historical or real. It ignores the eye-witness accounts of Jesus' triumphant resurrection. It also ignores the Old Testament source for two of the seven things Jesus said on the cross before He said, "It is finished!" Once we place "It is finished!" into the broader context (something all good historians should do), we find that this is not a cry of despair and defeat but of triumph and satisfaction.

Two of Jesus' seven sayings on the cross come from Psalm 22, which opens "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" and then in verse 15 refers to extreme thirst, "my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws." John tells us that when Jesus said, "I thirst," He did so "to fulfill the Scripture" of Psalm 22:15. If we go to Psalm 22, we find the following details of the crucifixion of Jesus:

1. Jesus scorned and despised by the people. (v. 6)
2. Jesus mocked by those who see Him on the cross. (vv. 7-8)
3. Jesus' bones being out of joint. (v. 14) This commonly happened during crucifixion.
4. Jesus being extremely thirsty. (v. 15)
5. Jesus' hands and feet being pierced. (v. 16)
6. None of Jesus' bones bring broken. (v. 17)
7. Jesus' clothing being divided and then gambled over. (v. 18)

Seven specific details about the crucifixion of Jesus from the pen of David, written 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. Add to this the details of Jesus' trial and death from Isaiah 53 and it's not hard to see part of Jesus' meaning behind, "It is finished!" All that had been written about how He would suffer had been fulfilled. His work to fulfill the Scripture was indeed finished.

But Jesus' words mean more. Isaiah 53 tells us not only details about Jesus' death (like Psalm 22), but it also tells us the reason for Jesus' death and what His death accomplished:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all. (vv. 4-6) 

Jesus hung on the cross for our transgressions, for our iniquities. He died to take away our sin and to give us peace and healing instead. In the light of this, "It is finished!" meant "paid in full." Full atonement had been made, the full price of ransom had been paid. 

Today, when we're wrestling with doubt and fear, we can look back at the cross and say with Jesus: "It is finished!" Jesus fulfilled every detail of the prophecies made about Him. Jesus paid for every sin. Jesus purchased full healing and lasting peace. Because of the cross, our salvation is finished indeed!  

Prayer Based on Psalm 85:

Lord, on the cross, You were favorable to Your people;
    you redeemed Your people and restored our fortunes with You.
You forgave the iniquity of Your people;
    You covered all our sin. 
You withdrew all Your wrath;
    You turned from Your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
    and put away Your indignation toward us!
We confess our sin and our unfaithfulness!
   We have been worldly and idolatrous in many ways.
Will You be angry with us forever?
   Will You not revive us again,
    that Your people may rejoice in You?
Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord,
    and grant us Your salvation.

Let me hear what You, O God our Lord, will speak,
    for You will speak peace to Your people, to Your saints;
    but please keep us from turning back to folly.
Surely Your salvation is near to those who fear You,
    that Your glory may dwell among Your people.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky.
At the cross, love was displayed and justice fulfilled
    promises faithfully kept and righteousness perfectly fulfilled.
Because of the cross as the demonstration of Your love,
    we know that You, O Lord, will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Let us always live by the rightousness of Jesus;
   may His footsteps be the way in which we walk.

In Jesus' name, Amen.