Day 329: Romans 11-13; In View of God's Mercies

Paul closes out the the second section of his letter to the church in Rome continuing his discussion on salvation and how the people of Israel and the Gentile fit into it.  One of the things that he points out is that through God’s work in Jesus Christ, God has not rejected His chosen people of Israel and neither has He turned from them to try some sort of “plan B” for the salvation of the world.  Paul reveals to us that this has always been a part of God’s plan.  God has been working for the salvation of the world since the time of the fall and He always knew that there was no way that humanity could do it for themselves.  Paul has talked about this throughout the book of Romans, how the Law was never intended to save and neither was living in a particular way something that was supposed to bring about salvation or perfection.  In fact, all of what God did in the Old Testament, all the law and the prophets, all of God’s self revelation were preparation for the coming of Jesus that God’s people would recognize their savior and that all believers would have a context for understanding Jesus’ work to bring about our salvation.  It would be much more difficult for us to understand and recognize Jesus’ sacrifice if we didn’t have, say, the Hebrew sacrificial system.  In the same way there are a great deal of Jesus’ teachings that don’t make too much outside of the context of the Old Testament Scriptures.

So this is all well and good… actually this is great!  God, in Christ has reached down to us and lifted us out of our misery, out of the sin that has enslaved us since the very first sinful act back in the garden.  It is by grace alone that this has taken place, because of God’s great love for us.  Certainly it is not because of anything that we have done to show ourselves as worthy and, I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand this because we know that the deepest desires of our heart and they are selfish, self honoring, and self absorbed.  If this is the case though, that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God, and there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves righteous, do we even have to try to do anything good?  Paul would say “absolutely!”  This is what we come to as we open chapter 12.

Paul opens chapter 12 with the word “therefore” which is a key word for us to pick up on.  It means that Paul isn’t starting something new here but saying “because of all that I have just said, now…”  This is exactly what He is getting at here.  He writes, “by the mercies of God…”  Other translations right “in view of God’s mercies…”  What Paul is getting at here is that what He is about to say is completely dependent on what he has just said.  What is to come should happen because of what has already taken place.  That is the truth of our lives as people of God too isn’t it?  What is to come in our lives, our whole lives, is to be lived out in light of all that God has already done for us.  James Brownson, in his book The Promise of Baptism, writes, “In the Bible, our identity is not found in our past, but in Christ’s past, which is our future.  Our truest and deepest self is defined not by what we have experienced in the past, but by what Christ experience and accomplished for us.”  I think this is a very good way of restating what Paul is saying here, we are “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul is saying here that what has been given to us requires a response, and that response, one again, is that “Shema style” of living in which we are loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

He then says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It isn’t simply that we are supposed to love God while we just do whatever we want.  God also calls us to be set apart for Him, to live lives that are honoring and pleasing to Him.  To do this, we need to be continually following after God, continually being that “living sacrifice,” not because we are trying to make ourselves more righteous, but out of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.  All that follows, from Chapter 12 onward is written in this light, talking about how we are to live.  Again though, this is not in the restriction style that the law was interpreted as, but in freedom from sin that we have been given in Christ, through which we are called to live in GRATEFUL obedience to Jesus Christ.



Day 306: Luke 23-24; The Emmaus Road

As we again come to the narrative of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, like yesterday I would like to encourage you to not allow yourself to just brush over the familiar stories here.  Especially in Luke, there are a couple of things that happen here that aren’t recorded in the other three Gospels that are important to the story and to our understanding of Jesus and the nature of the salvation that He offers us in His blood.  One of these stories that we encounter today is that of the interaction between Jesus and the thieves on the cross.  Jesus was not crucified alone, but with two others that were being punished by execution.  We see here, at the end of Jesus life, yet another person who acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God.  We also see here the true nature of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.  There are always discussions in Christian circles about about the details of salvation, death-bed conversions, etc.  Here we see this thief, in the final moments of his life, acknowledging Jesus as the one who will usher in the Kingdom of God and humbly asked to be remembered in that Kingdom.  Without hesitation, Jesus assures the repentant sinner that he will be in paradise with Jesus that very day.  The thief could do nothing more than repent of His sins and ask for Jesus’ mercy, and that is all it took!

The other narrative that we encounter today that is not found in any other Gospels is that of the Emmaus Road.  After Jesus resurrection we join the story of two men, presumably followers of Jesus Christ in some fashion, on the road to a town called Emmaus which is about seven miles outside of Jerusalem.  Scripture says that, as they were walking, Jesus drew near to them and started to walk with them, yet they did not recognize Him.  Obviously the Spirit is keeping their eyes closed though, because if  you think about it, for Jesus to “draw near” to two people that are walking, it means that He would have had to be running to catch up.  That in and of itself would have been undignified for any Hebrew male, yet the two men don’t appear to notice.

Next in the story, we see that Jesus picks up the conversation and them runs with it, explaining to these two men all about Himself and the things that had happened through all of the Old Testament.  Now, again, I understand that the Spirit was keeping them oblivious to who Jesus really is here, but I have to imagine that the authority with which this mystery man was teaching would have to at least kind of clue them in to who He really was.  There were no other religious leaders at this time that were teaching about Jesus.  Clearly, as we have seen, there wasn’t anyone around that was teaching the things that Jesus was teaching… especially not about Him either.

Yet it isn’t until the end of the journey, when they are eating together that His identity is revealed to Him.  And what instance?  At the time that Jesus breaks the bread.  I think this is an important point for us to see because not only does it encourage us to be alert and listening and watching for God action and teaching in our lives (which is what this story’s message is often boiled down to), or that we need to recognize Jesus in our day to day life (another practical tidbit that overly summarizes this story), but that in all things it is Christ that comes to us first and reveals Himself.  We believe that we are saved by grace through faith, but it is God that first draws us to Himself.  These two men talk about how their hearts were burning inside of them as He spoke to them, yet they did not recognize Him until a particular moment.  It is that moment, when clarity breaks through the fog of sin in our lives and we can see God and believe in Him.  So often we talk about faith like it is something that we do, but even faith itself is a gift from God through which we accept Him and are reborn into true life.



Day 290: Mark 1-3; Intro To The Gospel of Mark

Today we begin reading the second of the four Gospels, that which is said to be written by John Mark who was an associate of Peter, Paul, and Barnabus in the book of Acts.  Chronologically speaking, it is held that Mark was likely the first of the four gospels to be written and was directed towards Gentile Christians, possibly in Rome, who were facing persecution for their faith.  The book of Mark is very different from the book of Matthew in the way that it is set up.  Mark is focused primarily on the information about what happened in Jesus life, offering knowledge to those that might not know the story of Jesus.  He doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus to the Old Testament prophecies like Matthew, in an attempt to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, but rather makes a statement right at the beginning relating what is to come to what has already come to pass.  In this way, Mark has shown the reader that this is not something out of the blue but it is a continuation of the story of God from Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This would have been a major encouragement to those who were dealing with the difficulties and persecutions as they could relate to not only to Jesus suffering and death, but also to His resurrection and ultimately look forward to His return as well.

The Gospel of Mark has almost the feel of a news reporter, jumping from one event to the next seamlessly and immediately.  As a matter of fact, one way to know that you are reading the Gospel of Mark without looking at the reference is to look for the word “immediately” or “suddenly.”  Mark’s writing often takes the feel of ‘and then Jesus did this… and then Jesus said that… and then Jesus healed…”  There is very little temporal understanding of what happens in between because it is not entirely critical to the message of Jesus life.

What we do see from Mark is the setup of Jesus as a powerful healer, teacher, and servant who is spreading the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven wherever He goes.  This can be seen right away in chapter one of Mark.  Jesus waists no time after He is baptized and goes into the wilderness.  He immediately comes back and starts teaching and healing and calling people back to God.  What we see immediately too is that as soon as He does, the religious leaders of Israel are opposed to Him.  What I thought was interesting about this was the fact that the people saw Jesus’ teaching as one that had authority, more so than that of the ‘leaders’ of the time.  Mark contrasts Jesus’ authority with that of the religious leaders right away in the healing and exorcism that He performs.  The crowds are amazed not that there is a spirit in the man (for this would have been relatively commonplace for their worldview) but that the spirit listens to Jesus without question or hesitation.

Mark also works to set up Jesus as being the Messiah, the Savior of the world with authority above that of the Law.  Though Jesus wasn’t one to intentionally go out and break the Law, He is constantly and consistently explaining and showing the religious leaders the true nature of the Law rather than their foolish interpretations of it.  Jesus is setting Himself not as an alternate way to the Law but as the fulfillment of it in its truest form.  This will continue to be important as we move through Mark and the rest of the New Testament as well.  There is a growing movement of people in the Church that think that the New Testament is all we need and the Old Testament is simply defunct and out of date because of the coming of Jesus.  A careful reading of any of the Gospels and the New Testament will make it clear that, as Jesus says, He “has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”  May we keep this in mind as we continue our journey through God’s Word.



Day 249: Ezekiel 32-33; How We Live and Die

While I don’t think it is the main part of our reading today, it certainly is a very prominent and important part of how we think about sin, forgiveness and righteousness when in comes to Christian Theology.  Most of the other writing that we read today is fairly familiar as it seems to be repeated prophecy or words of lament for Pharaoh, whom we spoke of yesterday.  But in the middle of chapter 33, after the Lord reiterated to Ezekiel his position as the watchman of Israel and all the comes along with that, God’s word on salvation, forgiveness, and righteousness comes screaming through the prophesies of judgment that surround it.  What does God say about this?  In so many words: “none of the good that you do can save you from your sinfulness.”

I know that this isn’t the only place in the Bible which the Lord reveals to us that there is nothing that we as humans can do to earn our own righteousness, but if I think about those that write about it in the New Testament, specifically Paul, I have to imagine that he is probably drawing from the Old Testament Scriptures which likely would include this.

The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 

Paul writes in Romans that “there is no one righteous, no not one,” this is the beginning of the Calvinistic thought of Total Depravity.  God says that when the wicked turn from their sin towards righteousness, they will live, but when a righteous person sins, by that they will die.  Whether or not you are a Calvinist, we understand that the human race is mired in sin and is, by its very nature, completely unable to not sin.  By Ezekiel’s own words, this means that we are going to die.  This is the prophecy that he delivers to Israel here.  No one can ride the coattails of another’s righteousness, nor can they trust their own righteousness for salvation.

There is nothing new in this statement though, despite the claim of injustice.  People could say, “How can God treat people this way?”  Yet it is not at all contrary to the nature of God who is Holy and wholly opposed to sin, Just, and the true measure of righteousness.  These words though, life so many of the words of the Old Testament also pave the way both for the need of Christ and the salvation by the grace that is offered to all through His blood on the cross.  It is clear here that there is no one that, on their own merit, will be able to escape the coming destruction and judgment.  God says, “O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”  Indeed this is true for us as it was true for Israel and every nation around Israel that faced the judgment of God.  Only through the blood of Jesus, having righteousness imputed upon us through our belief in Him can we receive the grace of God and be saved from our sinful ways.



Day 202: Isaiah 17-21; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 2)

Did you hear it in today’s reading?  Another set of oracles against certain nations that were Israel’s enemies, yes.  That is easy to hear.  God has once again proclaimed judgment on these sinful nations surrounding His people.  Egypt, Cush, and Damascus are among the latest in our reading to hear the proclamation of judgment against them.  The message is obviously full of images of destruction, punishment for following the idols.  This is very easy to hear in today’s writing.  But did you hear the other message here?

In the messages against Egypt, the people of Israel hearing this would have probably been bringing up images of the ten plagues that the Lord did against Egypt while they were still in slavery.  Destruction, disease, and ultimately the bringing low of the people of Egypt, in the same way that the Israelites were brought low in their time of captivity.  In many ways, the situation will be reversed, Egypt will be the slaves of another nation, a great irony seen by the people of Israel.  But did you hear the other message contained therein?

Certainly we can’t read today without recognizing the word Babylon, probably one of the more recognizable words in the Old Testament.  We here Babylon and our ears perk up a bit.  This was a city, yes, and one that had a great deal of power and influence over the land in the time of the Babylonian empire, but it is also a symbol.  Babylon, though empowered by God to act as a tool of judgment against the nations, was also a very corrupt and morally bankrupt city and culture.  They worshiped many Gods; rarely if ever actually worshiping the God that raised them up in the first place.  Because of this, Babylon became a symbol of much more than just a city, it became the symbol of corruption and evil, especially to the people of Israel who were conquered by them.  This is the beginning of the other message that Isaiah speaks here.

As we have talked about already in these past few days, the judgments and oracles against Israel, Judah, and the nations of the world are not simply prophecies of destruction and desolation.  These are what we hear on the level, they are the easiest to pick up.  But there is much more than that here and we can see it if we take the time to look and listen deeper.  God is always working towards restoration, which is the deeper message that we see here.  While we hear of judgment, we also see pictures of unity.  Israel, Egypt, and Assyria will all be one, walking and worshiping the Lord together.  Bitter enemies, the slave and the master, and the world military power will all be blessed in the end, all living together in unity and worshiping the Lord together.  This is the restoration that we can look forward to and the image that John gives us in Revelation, with every nation, tribe, and tongue gathered before the throne worshiping and praising God forever.



Day 197: Isaiah 1-3; Introduction to the Prophets

Yesterday we closed out the section of the Bible known as the Wisdom literature.  In that time we had taken a step back from the overall story of Israel and had jumped into a wholly different genre of Biblical literature.  Even though these were different, and not necessarily all directly connected to the grand narrative of redemptive history, we did find that they were certainly well linked with it.  Today we begin the final section of the Old Testament: The Prophets.  In this section we will jump back into the story of Israel, though the people we will be reading lived at different times within the history of Israel from roughly the time the Kingdom split up to and even during the time of Exile for Judah.  The books are not necessarily in chronological order and it is fair to say that some of these prophets were likely working at the same time, perhaps even in the same places.

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Most of the writings of the prophets are focused on calling the people back from their sins, to repent and return to God.  The office of prophet, instituted by Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, is one that serves in a similar way to the priest, but is also very different.  The prophet serves, in many ways, as the mediator between God and the people.  Some would say that the prophet functions as the mouth of God.  Where as the priest would make intercession between the people and God, the direction of this being primarily upward, the prophet was in many ways the mediator between God and people, a primarily downward direction.  Some prophets, like Isaiah, served in both rolls, both prophet and priest as it is very likely that Isaiah himself was the high priest in the Temple.

Even as we read these chapters today we can see that the message of Isaiah is not necessarily one that would make him a super popular guy among the general populace.  Their messages tend to emphasize the negative, the sinful disobedience of Israel.  While people, even today, like to hear messages about God’s love and forgiveness, when those messages are made in the same thought as the judgment that God was going to pour out on the people if they don’t repent, the overall tone of the message is seen as negative.  And that is the thing about the prophets, this is what tended to happen.  Again, you can see this already modeled in the first three chapters.  What do you remember from reading it?  Likely it is that you remember the negative things, the judgment and destruction, not the love of God or the piece on the mountain of the Lord being established.

However, like the Lament Psalms that we encountered a couple weeks ago, there isn’t a single prophet in the Bible that ever speaks of judgment without hope.  There isn’t any prophet that speaks of the wrath of God without talking about God’s love and holiness.  These things that were destined to happen if the people didn’t repent were always trumped by the hope that was also there both in repentance and in what God was going to do after judgment came.  What the prophets are saying is that there is a time when God’s patience would run out and they would be punished for their sins.  What these same prophets are not saying is that once that time comes they no longer have hope.  Indeed there is a great thing to hope for, and it was testified and prophesied about throughout the period of the Old Testament, and that was the coming of the Messiah.  Isaiah testifies to it here in Isaiah 2, and He and most of the other prophets will indeed bring good news of a coming savior that would make things as they should be.  Though none that heard Isaiah’s words would have lived to see their true fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the hope of the coming Kingdom of God would have been well in their minds, even if they chose to focus more on the negatives of the coming judgment.  We will be with Isaiah for the next three weeks or so, and then on the Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest.  The section of the prophets is the one of the longest section in the Bible, contains the most information about the coming Messiah prior to the New Testament, and in many ways helps us to better understand what God is up to in redemptive history, His true Holiness and wrath against sin, and His true and unconditional love for His people.



Day 173: Psalms 103-105; How Great is Our God

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

These are fitting words for the psalms that we read through today!  All three are psalms of praise that tell of the many acts and words of the Lord and all three proclaim His glory and splendor!  I don’t honestly think that there is a lot to be added to these Psalms… I think that they are best re-read over and over.  I would encourage you to do that today!  Take time to read these Psalms at least two more times.  As you do this, take time to think back over the past 6 months… over all that we have read and encountered in the Scriptures.  Do you remember the times that the psalmist is talking about?  Take some more time to think about the things in your life… how have you seen God at work in your day to day walk?

PSALM 103-105 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving that are written anonymously.  Each is didactic in nature, with psalm 105 actually being more of a historical account of God’s amazing works in redemptive history.  Though all three reference times past, they can also draw our attention to God’s work in the present and in our own lives as well.