Read Matthew 11:1-6: Show and Tell

Read Matthew 11:1-6

When asked by John’s disciples about who he was, Jesus doesn’t directly answer their question, rather he gives a more cryptic answer as Jesus would typically do. Here, he alludes to many scriptures that point to his coming. (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:4-6, Isaiah 43:6-7, Isaiah 43:8, Isaiah 61:1-3, Isaiah 66:2, Zechariah 11:7). There’s two things that are remarkable here: the declaration of miracles and the declaration of the good news being preached.

These two prongs of Jesus’ ministry where quintessential.  While Jesus was a miracle worker, he made no apology about preaching a message of sin, repentance, and salvation for those who would believe. For some, however, this message was offensive and they didn’t want to hear it. If Jesus would have been merely a miracle worker, it’s likely that he would have not offended anyone, but he did manage to get the religious elite stirred up because of what he preached.

Today’s Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and commanded by to do great deeds in Jesus’ name. Jesus declares later in Matthew that the ones who do so do it unto Jesus (Matthew 25:45). Given this though, good deeds to the world is not a substitute for declaring the Gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Yes, the gospel will offend some, but to others it will be the best news they ever hear because it means forgiveness and eternal life!

Lord, help me to show others your love and declare the truth of your gospel!

 

Matthew 5:14-16: Light of the World

Read: Matthew 5:14-16

The use of light to describe truth and righteousness in is a common thought among virtually all ancient cultures. For his hearers, Jesus is declaring that they were the light bearers that bring light to the world. He uses two metaphors to describe the positions of such people, one being a light on a stand in the middle of the room and one being a city on a hill. Lamps were placed on lamp stands in the middle of a room or house to illuminate the whole room, as most houses in that day and time were one room homes, one lamp was sufficient for the entire home. Likewise, a city was placed on a hill usually because it was easier to defend from an attack, but also gave it high visibility. In ancient Israel, building were made from white limestone that was highly reflective. A city could be seen from miles away even at night because of this. Both of these communicate the idea of high visibility.

Throughout the Old Testament, God wanted to bless Israel so that they would be the light bearers on earth. His purpose was to use Israel to draw all nations to himself. Deuteronomy 28:1 declares that if Israel would obey God’s law, that they would be set high above the nations of the earth. Psalm 67, often times called the “Missionary Psalm”, makes a similar declaration where God would shine on Israel so that the nations would know the ways and salvation of God. This theme is also found in the prophets too. Isaiah on multiple occasions uses the same metaphor of light to talk about God’s salvation being brought to the earth (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 60:3). Ezekiel 36:16-37 describes how God wanted to bless Israel so that his name would be made known among the nations.

For the Christian, the same is true. God wants to use Christians a way of making himself known among the nations. Jesus also calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12). While Christians are not the Christ, they are like him in that they bear his image and spread his truth. The call to actions is twofold then: Christians are not to hide rather to be seen by the world. This is not for the purpose of self-promotion, rather for pointing people to God. Jesus says that the purpose of good deeds was so that people would praise God in heaven, not the man performing the deeds. By doing what is right and good, the world can see God and give him the praise for it.

Lord, help my light shine before all men!

Luke 6:17-19: Preparing to Preach

Read: Luke 6:17-19

Jesus’ fame had spread throughout the region. People were coming from cities in Phoenicia (Type and Sidon) and Judea (Jerusalem) to hear him preach and with hopes that they might have and opportunity to be healed of demon possession and medical infirmities. The archetype for these kinds of healing were setup by Luke (Luke 4:31-42). Luke separates exorcisms from physical healing to note the difference in the nature of the miracle in that Jesus has power over demons and power over disease. The great multitudes wanted to merely touch him because power.

In keeping with his emphasis to show that Jesus was the savior of all peoples, Jesus’ mission was to preach (Luke 4:43), which he does when the multitudes come. But many of those who came to him came to be healed. Jesus was compassionate, and he did take time to heal those that needed it regardless of their standing as Jew or Gentile. Luke shows this by including Gentile and Jewish cities alike.

The healings set the stage for what Jesus does next, which is to deliver a discourse that includes many of the famous teachings and sayings of Jesus. A similar sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7, known as “Sermon on the Mount”. This shorter sermon is called “Sermon on the Plain”. Whether these are both referring to the same event or separate events is not certain, but nevertheless there are many similarities between the two.

The specifics of the teachings will be unpacked over the next few devotions, but here, Christians can be reminded of the greater need that people have than their infirmities, which is the truth of the gospel. Good deeds without the gospel is empty, but likewise one should also put into practice what he or she preaches too with good deeds alike. Deeds don’t save a person (Ephesians 2:8-9), but they do demonstrate faith corroborate a message that is good news for all the world (James 2:14-26).

Lord, help me to teach and heal as you did!

Joshua 23: Keep On Keeping On

Read: Joshua 23

Joshua was an old man when he gave words to the Israelites. He reminds them of all that God had done for the in driving out the nations so they could possess the land that God had promised their forefathers. As his life was drawing to a close, Joshua wanted to remind them to continue to abide in the law of God – the focus was not to be conquerors per se, rather obey the commandments of God. This is precisely what Josiah commanded Israel to do in Joshua 1:1-9, and he again reminds them here. Joshua also warns the Israel about the consequences of falling away by worshipping other gods or falling into the pagan rituals of these nations. They should remain pure.

Visiting Hebrews 10:18-25 again, this passage talks about how Jesus is the priest and through this unites all Christians in a confession of hope. And in this one can encourage good deeds. But not only this, Hebrews 10:26-39 continues giving warning about what happens when one comes to the knowledge of the truth, but rejects it. And there many even be some that call Jesus “Lord” but are not necessarily believers (Matthew 7:21-22). This warning in Hebrews goes out to those who have heard Jesus, but don’t call on his name.

Having a reminder every now and then to spur one on to good deeds is a good thing, even if one is currently living a life that his honoring and pleasing to God. There is a need for encouragers in the church – in fact Romans 12:8 says that some are gifted spiritually to be encouragers. Christians should receive give and receive the encouragement, which spurs one to keep on keeping on to good deeds and love while remaining blameless as pure before God.

Lord, help to encourage and be encouraged to do what is good and right!

Ecclesiastes: 11:7-10: The Now and Then

Read: Ecclesiastes: 11:7-10

The analogy of light is used a number of places in scriptures as a metaphor for life and truth and darkness as metaphor for death and deceit. The Preacher invokes light here to describe life. In the same manner in which people enjoy the bright of day, so one should enjoy the light of life. The Preacher seems vexed by the notion of aging and passing on. But at the same time, he calls youth vanity too. He is not saying that youth and life are vain in and of themselves, rather that they are fleeting – not lasting – thereby, in the Preacher’s judgment, vain. But in spite of this, the Preacher encourages one to delight in life and to follow one’s hearts desires all the while keeping them in check because God will call all one does into judgment. The Preacher is advising his readers to be mindful of the future because of judgment, but live in the moment too. One should not be consumed with preparing for the future not should one be oblivious to it either. Rather a healthy balance is necessary. One should plan to help mitigate uncertain calamity (Proverbs 6:6-15, Proverbs 16:1-4). But at the same time tells people to not “worry” about the future, that is “μεριμνησητε” which means to be anxious and consumed with planning of about the future (Matthew 6:25-34).

At the end of days, when all is called into judgment, God will hold ever person accountable for what one has done. More so that delighting in the pleasantries of the world, one will find the most satisfaction in God. The Preacher devoted a great deal of Ecclesiastes talking about how he pursued a great number of things, but at the end of his life, he was left wanting more than the world had to offer. On the other hand, the Psalms are replete about how God satisfies the soul (Psalm 63:5, Psalm 65:4, Psalm 103:5, Psalm 107:9, Psalm 145:16). Psalm 107 in particular talks about how God satisfies any number of things. Jesus when talking at the woman at the well in John 4 contrasts water drawn from a well – a laborious task – compared to water from a spring. He likens himself to the spring water, saying that whoever drinks his “living water” will never thirst again (John 14:14). Orienting one’s life around something that can satisfy eternally is infinitely better than orienting one’s life around something that leaves one wanting more.

When Jesus calls all things into judgment, there will be those who present a life after vain pursuits and there will be those who present a life focused on eternal pursuits. The one whose work was to dedicated to eternal matters will have lasting and more permanent results and will be blessed beyond measure by the one who can satisfy. If one wants to prepare for the one would do well to live a life in light of judgment and delighting in doing thing in the present that have eternal implications, namely pursuing God and obeying his commandments.

Lord, help me to focus matters in the present that have eternal value!

Ecclesiastes 10:11-14: Words and Wisdom

Read: Ecclesiastes 10:11-14

The fool has one of two things: action without wisdom or words without wisdom. In either case, there is something without wisdom. Earlier, the preacher had given a number of warnings as to why one should think before acting. By way of analogy with a snake charmer, the preacher illustrates action without wisdom. If a snake bites a person, there is no reason to call in the charmer to charm the snake. The preacher points out that once one has acted, there is no reason to call in one who is wise because the damage has already been done. Likewise, fools talk way too much and there words are destructive. On the other hand, the words of a wise person are calm (Proverbs 16:21-24), few (Proverbs 10:19), and build up a person (Proverbs 12:8). What appears to the case for both words and deeds is that without wisdom, destruction is certainly the outcome.

James in his book of wisdom talks about words being spoken by the tongue (the part of the body associated with speech) to a great extent. James talks about the power of the tongue comparing to the rudder of a ship that steers the ship in a particular direction or like a bit in the mouth of a horse that directs the beast in a particular direction. He says it is like a fire that can set a forest ablaze (James 3:1-12). The sort of power that tongue has is huge, and this power can be destructive or it can be a blessing. James says that the tongue can utterly corrupt the one wielding the words. Paul in Colossians 4:5-6 encourages his readers to be wise in the manner they deal with outsiders and to let their conversation be seasoned with grace. Using words appropriately to build up, teach, and bless others truly is the wise way to use words.

For these reasons, Christians should first be willing to consider the words of the wise before jumping into action. Having wisdom can prevent unnecessary harm and it is therefore wise to ask for wisdom and to seek it out. Likewise, one should not be anxious to speak either. Being hotheaded or a babbler can lead to destruction as well. Letting one’s words be calm, few, and for the purpose of encouragement and blessing results in a much better outcome that letting words fly unreserved.

Lord, let wisdom guide my action and words!

Ecclesiastes 10:5-7,16-17: Maturity

Read: Ecclesiastes 10:5-7,16-17

The Preacher again labels something a great evil, and in this case he sees foolishness and immaturity being exalted over wisdom and experience. Here the Preacher likens to a rich man in the place of a poor man, a prince in the place of a slave – this violates of the order of the way things ought. Later in the chapter, the Preacher pronounces woes on a country whose king is a boy (that is, a person who lacks experience) and whose princes celebrate before due time. A country whose ruler excels at folly will end up in ruin. And same is true whenever immaturity and foolishness are exalted above experience and wisdom in any situation.

Maturity is something the New Testament encourages Christians to strive for. Hebrews 5:12-6:1 uses the analogy of an infants and milk. The writer of Hebrews says that his readers are like infants who drink milk rather than adults who eat solid food. Their “milk” is analogous to elementary teachings while “solid food” is analogous to deeper teachings of the Christian faith. Hebrews encourages its readers to move beyond the elementary teachings to a deeper understanding. Paul uses the same analogy to describe Christian behavior in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. The Corinthian church had numerous problems, and Paul was saying that they were “fleshly” rather than “spiritual”. They were living as if they were carnal men rather than men who had received the Spirit and lived according to the spirit. The Corinthians thought that what they were doing was acceptable, but it was most certainly not and Paul makes this evident in the letter. Rather than act like children Paul encourages them to grow up in their faith, putting aside their carnal nature and take on a spiritual one.

One should not confuse this with what Jesus said concerning the nature of humility and coming to Christ. Jesus said that unless one becomes like a child, he or she cannot enter the kingdom  (Matthew 18:2-4). When Jesus says this, he is driving a wedge between people who think they know it all and those who are truly teachable. When one comes to Christ, the less he or she presumes to know about Jesus and God, the less one has to unlearn. In other words, one must first become first become humble in order to become mature in the faith. And one should remain humble as he or she grows too. What is now known as the “Golden Rule” encourages one to treat others as one would one to be treated (Matthew 7:11, Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:9). One should honor others if one wants to be honored.

The Preacher is keen to note that foolishness and immaturity should not be exalted above wisdom and inexperience. Rather than extol folly and remain immature, Christians should pursue spiritual maturity in doctrine and deed. But in order to do this, Jesus says one should be humble, taking on the attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:3-8). Through sound biblical teachings from mature believers and the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s own life, one can grow into a mature Christian who can teach others and live skillfully before God.

Lord, help me to become a mature believer!

2 Timothy 4:6-9: Crowns

Read: 2 Timothy 4:6-9

Paul when writing first Timothy seems to feel that his end is near. He claims that he is being poured out like a drink offering and that time for his departure has come. He’s dying. He says this on the cusp of telling Timothy to fulfill his ministry. Paul speaks of the rewards that await him after he passes to go to be with God, and uses this opportunity to remind Timothy of the rewards that await everyone who God has loved. Paul speaks of a crown of righteousness. The sort of crown that Paul is alluding to is a wreath awarded to athletes who win competitions. Paul feels this crown is well deserved because he has “finished the course” and “fought the fight”. He had spent the better part of his life enduring hardship for the sake of the gospel by traveling throughout Asia and Greece starting churches and telling people about how they could find salvation in Jesus.

The New Testament speaks of many rewards for various sorts of activity. The beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12 speak of many different conditions, each with a blessing that comes from that condition. In addition to the “crown of righteousness” mentioned by Paul there are three other crowns that are mentioned in the New Testament. First there is a “crown of life” that comes from one persevering under trial (James 1:12). Second, there is an “incorruptible crown”. Paul says this crown is received for preaching the gospel and living according to it. It is received because he practices what he preaches, saying the rules and not disqualifying himself by obeying the rules (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Third, there is a “crown of glory” that comes from rightly shepherding a flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). Ultimately the crowns that are received for faithful service will be cast before Jesus as an act of worship because all the glory, honor, and power belong to Jesus (Revelation 4:9-11).

The purpose of the work of the believer is to glorify the Father, and Paul knew this. He had every right to brag about his accomplishments as a Jew, but he considered that all loss for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). Now at the end of his life, he has worked hard and endured much for the sake of the gospel. He could have been prideful in this work, but rather he takes the opportunity to encourage Timothy to continue because of the prize that await after one’s departure, and this prize will bring the most even more glory to God. Christians in the same manner as Paul should fulfill their ministry and receive the crowns for faithful service. Older Christians who have lived their lives faithfully and have fulfilled their ministry can likewise encourage young Christians to do the same. And on that Day that Paul speaks of, Christians can alongside Paul cast their crowns before God in worship giving the glory, honor, and power to him for all he has accomplished in and through the lives of believers!

Lord, I want to live so I receive crowns that I can used to glorify you! Help me to do so!

2 Timothy 3:10-16: “Equipped for Every Good Work”

Read: 2 Timothy 3:10-16

After a strong warning of the sort of people to avoid, Paul shows Timothy the sort of person he should follow – none other than Paul himself. Paul was up in years by the this time, and had endured many hardships for the sake of the gospel. He endured persecution at Antioch, Lystra, and Iconium (Acts 13, 14). Nevertheless, Paul affirms that in all these places the Lord delivered him from the Persecution. Paul had gone to these places to spread the gospel and start churches, by he was met with fierce opposition. This basic pattern followed him pretty much everywhere he went, so much so that Paul makes a general statement concerning persecution: that those want to live lives of godliness in Jesus will endure persecution. And Paul is thinking that even the bad ones that he had finished describing will go from bad to worse. For Timothy, the worst was yet to come, even in the thick of things as they were for him in Ephesus.

Paul then encourages Timothy basically to stick to his guns. He says that Timothy had been taught the scripture sense his infancy which makes one “wise for salvation” in Jesus Christ. Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father (Acts 16:1). Not much is known concerning Timothy’s father, but in any case, the faith that he had been given came from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). The scriptures for them were what the Old Testament is in the Christian Bible, and this is what Timothy had been taught before he ever met Paul. These scriptures were what made one wise for Salvation in Jesus Christ, as the Old Testament spoke about Jesus (Luke 24:27). Paul then affirms the totality of scripture is “God-breathed”. The Greek word “θεοπνευστος” is as combination of the word for God and word for breath, and Paul uses this to describe the nature of scripture. In the manner in which breath comes from a person, so the scriptures come from God. For this reason, scripture is useful for a number of things: teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. Paul says that this is so the “man of God is equipped for every good work”. The good works stand in stark contrast to the evil that Paul had described earlier in the chapter (2 Timothy 3:1-9) and the importance of doing the word is reiterated by James 1:23. A person who merely studies the scripture and does not apply it to his or her life and live accordingly to it is like a person who looks in the mirror then forgets what he looks like.

For Christians, scriptures consist of the 27 books if the New Testament and the 39 books of the Old Testament. This is called the “canon” which means “measure”. What was included in the Bible as scripture was not something that was decided by an ad hoc council as many skeptics like to suggest. Exactly why the books of the New Testament were chosen is unknown, but there was surprising agreement among the early Christians what books were to be included when the New Testament was decided. Some scholars have proposed 4 criterion and on these criterion the council established the New Testament:

  • Apostolic Origin – that is the material was associated with one of the original apostles associated with Jesus.
  • Universal Acceptance – that is the book in question was widely accepted by a broad spectrum of early churches rather than a few.
  • Liturgical Use – the book was useful for worship and all matters, as Paul suggests, for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
  • Consistent Message – the theology communicated in a book is consistent with other books.

For Christians today, there is also the question of closure to the Bible: is it complete? Any new material under the aforementioned criterion would not have Apostolic Origin if all the apostles have died. For this reason, it is reasonable to think that the New Testament was completed before the passing of the apostle. Any other “new inspiration” then is not possible.

The scriptures through the ages have proved themselves to stand up to scrutiny and have proven themselves to be effective standards by which to live by. Christians can therefore apply what Paul said concerning the scriptures of his day, the Old Testament, to the Christian New Testament and use it for training in righteousness. But Christians should also be about the work of applying scripture to one’s life all the time every day. This way one will not be like the one, as James describes, who forgets what he or she looks like after looking in the mirror. The study and application of scripture is how one avoids sin and lives according to the teachings of Jesus, “equipped for every good work”. Inevitably, the ones who live according to the scriptures will come under fire. Following the commands and using scripture to rebuke and reprove some will make them lash out because the scriptures speak truth into the lives of many. Paul’s pattern of persecution should be expected, so when it does come, one should not be surprised. In all things though, Christians know that there reward is great in heaven with God because of persecution!

Lord, equip me by your word so I can be ready to do good work!

2 Timothy 3:1-9: Folly Exposed

Rread: 2 Timothy 3:1-9

After giving Timothy instruction on how to maintain himself in light of heresies, Paul lists 19 vices that Timothy should avoid. Paul says that such things will come in “the last days” – some undetermined time in the future from when Paul was writing the letter to Timothy.  This list seems to be more general list, alluding to no one person in particular. Rather Paul is rattling off all sorts of things to give Timothy the notion that there will be persons abounding in sin, and that he should avoid them. Paul then describes the sort of people, perhaps alluding to two particular individuals: one who lures “weak willed” women, and the woman herself that is loaded down with sin and driven by evil desires. Such people are seeking the “truth” but do not acknowledge it. If they did they would certainly have to turn from their sin. Paul compares them to Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses. Jannes and Jambres are the names traditionally associated with the magicians who opposed Moses when Moses went before Pharaoh in Exodus 7. They replicated the power of God by their “secrets”. The word in the Hebrew indicates things done in private, rather than out in the open. In other words, they were performing cheap parlor tricks and Pharaoh was using this in an attempt to discredit Aaron and Moses, even though it was plain to everyone else that they were indeed fakes. Paul is using their “folly” as a warning to Timothy – the ones who are apparently seeking the “truth” do so with as if they were incredulous, but the reality of the matter is they simply refusing to acknowledge the truth because of what it might mean concerning their lifestyles. It will become obvious that this is what they are doing. There were probably people of this sort attempting to lure away people from the church at Ephesus, just as those who taught heresies had messed up the faith of others (2 Timothy 2:18).

Knowing genuine people from fake people is not always easy to do at first. Jesus, however, taught that words and deeds reveal true character. He uses the analogy of a tree and its fruit to explain this: A good tree bears good fruit in the same manner a good heart will produce good words and good deeds. The converse is true too: a bad tree bears bad fruit in the same way evil words and deeds flow from an evil heart (Matthew 7:15-23 , Matthew 12:33-37) Sometimes this is not obvious at first, but time usually will tell. Paul teaches the same sort of thing in Galatians 5:19-26. The fruits of the carnal nature are sins, but the fruit of the Spirit, which comes when one believes in Jesus, is good fruit. Those who are redeemed by Jesus have “crucified the flesh” and walk according to the Spirit. Good fruit in words and deeds is not the means to salvation because one is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), but they are the evidence of faith (James 2:14-26). Paul and Jesus making the argument that those of depraved minds and hearts will have evil words and deeds and those who are Spirit filled will have good words and deeds.

Christians should make an effort to ensure that they are living authentically according to their salvation so they will not be exposed in folly. Likewise, Christians should be wary of people who are of a depraved nature. This does not mean that everyone who sins is beyond help, as Christians still sin even after they are saved. Paul is talking about those who refuse to acknowledge the truth even when it made plain to them. They refuse to acknowledge it for some reason or another, most probably because it will force them to change their behavior. Given time though, their false incredulity will be exposed and their folly will be obvious. These are the sort of people Paul is encouraging Timothy to avoid and Christians today would do well to heed these words too.

Lord, help my heart to be pure so my words and deeds will be pure too!

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