Reading Through the Bible

Read Through The Bible, April 1-10

APRIL 1 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress.

My God, in whom I trust.”

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper,

And from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with His pinions,

And under His wings you may seek refuge;

His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

Psalm 91:1-4 

            Is God a chicken who has feathers and wings?  No.  Does God, who is spirit, cast a shadow?  No.  This is the writer using figurative language.  The Psalms are poetry and the writers use poetic language to convey lofty ideas.  We are not meant to take poetic language literally.  What is the main idea we are to understand here?  God is someone we can trust, someone whose very nature is to protect and rescue.  Our soul rushes to Him for refuge.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,

To guard you in all your ways.

They will bear you up in their hands,

Lest you strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread upon the lion and cobra,

The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

Psalm 91:11-13 

            Satan tried to use this Scripture with Jesus when tempting Him to throw Himself off the top of the temple (Luke 4:9-12).  Jesus replied that we are not to tempt God.  Satan wanted Jesus to take these verses literally, but Jesus knew what was really at stake and refused.  There are places in the United States today where snake-handling is part of their religious worship.  They, too, are taking this and similar verses literally, but I say what they are really doing is tempting God.  We are not to tempt God, but to trust Him.  When we are in dangerous situations, not of our own choosing, God is there to see that no evil harms us.  God has your back, so to speak.  

            “Because he has loved me, therefore I will deliver him.”  Psalm 91:14a.  God’s love is not figurative.  It is literal, and He proved it at the cross.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 29, 30                             Psalm 91                                         Romans 11

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 29:1-15; 30:11-20     Psalm 91:1-4                            Romans 11:25-36

 

APRIL 2

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,

And to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High;

To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning,

And Thy faithfulness by night.

Psalm 92:1-2

            When I read these words this morning, I thought about the morning and evening e-mails I send to Andrea and Bethany each day.  Since my fall and concussion of December 2007, I have been, at their request, faithfully informing my daughters twice a day that I am still okay.  Sometimes that means just a simple “goodnight” or “good morning.”  However, beginning tomorrow I am going to amplify those thoughts by saying instead:

Here I am, declaring God’s lovingkindness this morning.

Here I am, declaring God’s faithfulness tonight.

            This will give me the perfect lead-in to relate whatever kindness and faithfulness I have experienced during the past twelve or so hours, not just for their benefit, but for mine, as I deliberately focus on the good that God is doing in my life. 

            For this is the kind of person I want to be:

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,

He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

Planted in the house of the LORD,

They will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still yield fruit in old age;

They shall be full of sap and very green,

To declare that the LORD is upright;

He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Psalm 92:12-15

  

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 31, 32                              Psalm 92                                        Romans 12

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 31:1-8; 32:1-4            Psalm 92:1-4                              Romans 12:9-2

 

APRIL 3

     "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.  The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand.  Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."  Romans 13:11-14.

            It is the latter part of this passage that was the instrument of Saint Augustine’s conversion.  In his Confessions, Augustine tells it like this as he agonized over his own sinfulness: Why not now?  Why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?

 So was I speaking, and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when lo!  I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read.”  Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently, whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like.  So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God, to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. . . . Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle, when I arose thence.  I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell:  Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence.  No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.

            Augustine went on to become one of the most influential Christian philosophers and theologians of Western Christianity.  He is revered by Catholics as well as Protestants.  His Confessions and The City of God are two of his books that are widely read today.  He lived in North Africa most of his life, was appointed as a bishop early in his Christian life, and died in A.D. 430.  God used Romans 13:14 as a means of ending Augustine’s agony and giving him new life in Christ.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 33, 34                             Psalm 93                                            Romans 13

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 33:1-3; 34:1-12          Psalm 93:1-2                                 Romans 13:1-14

 

APRIL 4

            Today we begin our reading of the book of Joshua.  Joshua is already a familiar figure for us as we read about him in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  What have we learned so far?

  • He was from the tribe of Ephraim, which means that one of his ancestors was Joseph
  • From the time of his youth, he attended Moses
  • He was with Moses on Mt. Sinai when God gave the ten commandments
  • He was one of the twelve spies of Numbers 14, one of the two faithful ones
  • The Spirit of God was on him
  • He was filled with a spirit of wisdom
  • He was commissioned by Moses to be his successor
  • Moses was his mentor
  • Moses was told to encourage and strengthen Joshua
  • Joshua was called the servant of Moses

            In addition to all his years of being with Moses and of being taught by him, Joshua had these words from God Himself:

No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life.  Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall give the people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.  Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:5-9.

             Finally, after all the years of wandering, Israel was about to realize the great promise of God.  And Joshua was the one who was to lead the charge.  He had need of strength and courage for his daunting task.  But so do we all!  Our own way forward often seems daunting to us.  Yet it is the same God who has said that He will not leave us or forsake us.  Strengthen your own heart today and take courage no matter what your challenge!

Daily Reading

Joshua 1, 2                                             Psalm 94                                        Romans 14

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 1:1-11; 2:1-7, 22-24             Psalm 94:17-19                           Romans 14:7-9

 

April 5  

Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,

  • that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea,
  • and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints,
  • so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God
  • and find refreshing rest in your company.  Romans 15:30-32.

            I have taken some liberties in the layout of these verses, but I wanted to emphasize the requests for which Paul was asking prayer.  Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a contribution from the churches of Macedonia and Greece for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.  He intended to go to Rome from Jerusalem in order to finally meet the Roman Christians, whom he had been wanting to see for some time.  

            The question is:  Were these prayers answered?  Not in the way Paul had anticipated.  Yes, the offering was probably acceptable, but what about deliverance from his enemies in Jerusalem?  Acts 23 tells of Paul’s dramatic escape from death at the hands of some Jews, but he did not escape imprisonment.  In fact, Paul spent at least two years as a prisoner in Caesarea before becoming a prisoner in Rome for at least another two years.  Did Paul go to Rome in joy despite going in chains?  Knowing Paul, he probably did.  There is no doubt this was part of the will of God, however.  And Acts 28:30 tells us that while in Rome he had “his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him.”  This would lead me to say that he did find “refreshing rest” in their company at last, but hardly as he would have imagined when he was writing this letter to the Romans.

            It is good to have plans, as Paul did.  It is good to pray and to ask for prayer, as Paul did.  But God has plans too, and those are not always the same as ours.  When our plans do not work out, and when our prayers are seemingly not answered, it does not mean that God is not at work in our lives.

            Our part is to:

  • Be open to God
  • Allow God the freedom to do as He pleases in our life (without complaining)
  • Exercise a radical trust in God, no matter what 

Daily Reading

Joshua 3, 4                                             Psalm 95                                           Romans 15 

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 3:7-17; 4:1-11                       Psalm 95:1-6                                   Romans 15:1-7

 

APRIL 6 

Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer, because of the sons of Israel.  Joshua 5:1.

Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in.  Joshua 6:1.

            Imagine the scene.  You are a citizen of Jericho.  The familiar river Jordan has done the unheard of – it has dried up during mid-flood.  The familiar Jordan has allied itself with this horde of strange people, these Israelites as they are called, and allowed them to cross into your territory.  Their camping place is nearby.  They’ve been doing nothing either good or bad for several days.  The gates of Jericho are locked tight, however.  No one is moving in or out of the city.  Then a noise is heard, a noise of a trumpet.  Then comes a long line of marching men.  Marching, marching, but not making a sound.  Only the sound of the trumpet.  Marching around the city and then disappearing.  Not a word from their lips.  The next day it is the same.  For six days.  You were already terrified.  Now the suspense is adding to the terror.  What is happening?  What will happen to me? 

            We know the rest of the story.  On the seventh day, Jericho and everything in it was destroyed, except for Rahab and her family.

            As Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  And yet, most of our contemporary America has no sense of the fear of God.  We go about our lives as if there were no God, or at least not a vengeful God.  That is not the testimony of Scripture.  The bible makes it clear that Yahweh is coming to judge the earth.  It will be a joyful time for some:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

Let the sea roar, and all it contains;

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

Before the LORD, for He is coming;

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness,

And the peoples in His faithfulness.

Psalm 96:11-13 

            Those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ will rejoice in that day.  Those who reject Him have every reason to tremble and be afraid, like the people of Jericho.

 Daily Reading

Joshua 5, 6                                              Psalm 96                                               Romans 16 

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 5:1, 13-15; 6:1-5, 15-21           Psalm 96:1-6                                  Romans 16:25-27

 

APRIL 7 

            After the spectacular victory over Jericho, it was a bitter blow for the Israelites to be defeated by little Ai.  The reason, however, soon became clear.  Someone had sinned against God’s explicit command, and God was making an example of him.  The man was Achan, and this is what he had to say for himself:

Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.  Joshua 7:20-21.

            For our meditation today, I want us to think about the connection between coveting and taking and concealing.

            First of all, coveting is particularly singled out as one of the “Thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments.  Deuteronomy 6:21 puts it like this: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Coveting is something more than the simple desire of wanting something, for many of our wants are genuine needs that we have as human beings.  Coveting, as one of the ten commandments, is particularly wanting something that belongs to someone else, which one may not legitimately buy or otherwise possess.  The type of coveting that is forbidden is the kind that would take against the will of the lawful owner.

            In the case of the items taken by Achan, God was the legitimate owner.  Joshua had specifically told them before the capture of Jericho: “And the city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD.”  Joshua 6:17a.  Not only did Achan greatly desire these banned items, but he actually took them from God, the rightful owner!  Coveting is a kind of strong desire that is going to “take,” commandment or not! 

            Secondly, there is the concealment.  Achan knew he had done wrong, and he wanted no one else to know.  Of course, it is foolish to think we can hide anything from God, but when sin takes hold and we do what is forbidden, our instinct is to hide.  If we can’t hide it from God, we can at least hide it from man!  It never works.  All our hidden deeds will eventually come to light.  It is better to confess and forsake our sins today rather than have God expose them when we least expect it.

Daily Reading

Joshua 7, 8                                             Psalm 97                                                Mark 1 

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 8:1-22, 30-35                        Psalm 97:10-12                                 Mark 1:21-28

 

APRIL 8 

SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM MARK 2 

            “And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home.”  Mark 2:1.   Although it is known that Jesus had once said that He had nowhere to lay His head, He was speaking hyperbolically, because the text, here and elsewhere, tells us that He made His home in Capernaum when He left Nazareth.  Perhaps His home was with Peter and his family who lived in Capernaum.  Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of what they are certain is Peter’s house, and it is a favorite tourist destination, especially for Christians.  The town today is not inhabited.

            “And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men . . . And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’”  Mark 2:2, 5.  It was not the faith of the paralytic but the faith of the four men to which Jesus responded.  Let us not despise the impact we have when we, in faith, touch the lives of others and bring them to Jesus, by our words or deeds or prayers.

            “And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  Mark 2:17.  Jesus’ closest companions were the twelve apostles, but He deliberately put Himself in situations where He could minister to those who knew they were sinners.  Those who considered themselves too good for the scum of society did not even realize that they were the neediest of all.  Let us not despise the weak, the lowly, the unlovely; it is often they whose hearts are most susceptible to the love of Christ.

            “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost; and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:22.  I believe that Jesus was here speaking of the newness of the Gospel.  The old traditions of the law would not be able to contain the new life in the Spirit.  Jesus came to fulfill the law but He also came to bring life, life more abundant; and that life would require new forms and expressions that would be radically different from the old.

            “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27b.  Even in the order of creation, man was created before the Sabbath rest of the seventh day.  Moreover, God gave man the responsibility of ruling over and of tending the creation so that it could be used for his benefit.  It is not God’s intent that nature be our master, as some present-day environmentalists would like.

Daily Reading

Joshua 9, 10                                           Psalm 98                                              Mark 2

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 10:1-15                                  Psalm 98:1-6                                   Mark 2:23-28

 

APRIL 9 

Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.  Mark 3:28-29.

            My definition of blasphemy is this: irreverent or false utterances against God.  Under the Old Testament law, blasphemers were to be stoned, and today in some Muslim countries, those who blaspheme Allah are liable to punishment by the authorities or by the mobs.  But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has a far greater punishment than physical death; it is eternal damnation because it is unforgiveable.  For this reason, we should have some understanding of its meaning.

            We must, therefore, look at what is the Holy Spirit’s work in the world.  Jesus said this in John 16:8:  “And He [speaking of the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”  The Holy Spirit’s job in the life of unbelievers is to convict people of their need for salvation and show the way of salvation.  If, during the process of conviction, a person says to himself, “This is not God; this is the devil,” that person is blaspheming or making false statements about the work of God in his life.  In other words, the unforgiveable sin is to reject God’s gracious work in our heart that would lead us to salvation.  It is saying “No!  I have no sin.  No!  I have no need of this kind of righteousness.  No!  I will never come into judgment.”

            It is obvious, then, that no Christian can commit the unforgiveable sin because the Christian has already said yes to the Holy Spirit regarding sin and righteousness and judgment.  Instead, to that person, the Holy Spirit comes as a comforter and a helper. 

            But to those who resist the work of the Holy Spirit, it is like taking the side of Satan who is a liar and the father of lies.  It is choosing Satan’s way instead of God’s way.  It is choosing to believe in the lie that says “I am okay just as I am.  I have no need of God.  I can do life on my own.”  That person is actively suppressing the witness of the Holy Spirit to the contrary.  As long as he persists in that self-talk, he has no hope.

            But I am persuaded of better things of you.  Continue to say yes to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Open yourself to Him.  Trust Him with all your heart. 

Daily Reading

Joshua 11, 12                             Psalm 99                                                 Mark 3

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 11:16-23; 12:7-24                Psalm 99:6-9                                          Mark 3:1-6

 

APRIL 10 

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed.  This is the land that remains: . . .”  Joshua 13:1 ff. 

            “Very much of the land remains to be possessed.”  This seems almost to contradict what Joshua 11:23 says, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes.  Thus the land had rest from war.”  So which is it?  Did Joshua take the whole land or was there much left to be possessed?  My answer to that question is that both are correct.  But we must make a distinction between people who were to be subjugated and land which was to be possessed.  By the end of Joshua’s life the entire area was under the subjugation of the Israelites; the wars had ended, and so it is possible to say that the land was taken.  But all the land was not yet occupied, and that is what remained to be done.  Joshua portioned out the territory for each of the tribes, and it was then up to them to occupy it.  In their subjugation of the land of Canaan, the Israelites had bypassed some enemy strongholds and destroyed others.  Now, as they were getting ready to fully occupy the land, it was up to the individual tribes to complete the destruction of the strongholds that had been bypassed earlier.

            Besides clarifying a possible issue readers might have in the book of Joshua, I think there is an additional insight we can gain here.  That is an analogy to the Christian life and sin. 

            Christ has gained the greater victory over sin for us, but there remain pockets of resistance within us.  It remains for us to root out that which is not pleasing to Christ.  He will help us, and when He does, we will eventually be victorious.  But it takes some active fighting on our part.  We cannot become complacent and think that it does not matter if I am disobedient to Christ in this area of my life.  No.  The longer we tolerate sin in our life, the stronger it becomes and the harder it is to uproot.  We cannot ignore the enemy’s stronghold in our life.  We are meant to destroy it so that we can fully possess the abundant life Christ means for us to have.

Daily Reading

Joshua 13, 14                            Psalm 100                                                 Mark 4

Abbreviated Reading

Joshua 13:1-7; 14:6-15                     Psalm 100:1-5                                   Mark 4:21-34

 

 

Read Through the Bible: March 17-23

MARCH 17

"And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  (Matthew 24:3) 

            Chapter 24 of Matthew is known as the Olivet Discourse because of the place where Jesus and His disciples were when Jesus began to answer these three questions, which had been prompted by Jesus’ prediction that the temple would be destroyed.  It is not very clear, as Jesus speaks, which one of the three questions He is answering, however.  I think it is fair to say that the disciples expected that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age would happen about the same time.  That it did not, is evident to us because we know that the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and the end of the age is still in our future. There are at least two predictions that Jesus made, however, which we can confidently say have not yet been fulfilled:

  • And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.  Verse 14.  (This goal is within reach of our generation.  Wycliffe Bible Translators, for example, has made it its goal to have workers in every language group, that still needs a bible translation, by 2025.)
  •  [T]he sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  Verse 30.

             Through the ages there have been people who thought they knew when the end of the age was coming, despite the fact that Jesus specifically said we cannot know the day or the hour.  There are two things we can do, however:

  • Recognize the signs that will precede His coming.
  • Be ready!

            To be ready means to be like the faithful and sensible slave who continues to perform his duties, no matter how long the master tarries.  “Blessed is that slave, whom his master finds so doing when he comes.”  Verse 46.  

Daily Reading

Numbers 35, 36                                     Psalm 76                                        Matthew 24 

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 35:9-15, 29-34                  Psalm 76:1-2                  Matthew 24:1-14

_______________________________________________________________ 

MARCH 18

            Today begins our reading of Deuteronomy.  In the Hebrew bible, this book is called “These Are the Words,” which is an apt title as Moses recounts what has happened during the last forty years.  Moses imparts to the children of Israel his last words before he dies, and before they enter the Promised Land.

             One of the events Moses reminds them of is the story about the ten spies who discouraged the people from entering Canaan thirty-eight years before.  The people of Canaan had not diminished in size or vigor in that time.  Their cities were still large and fortified.  But neither had God changed.  Moses reminded the people of how God had fought for them against the Egyptians, He would have been willing to fight for them thirty-eight years ago, and He will fight for them now.  The Israelites problem then was a lack of trust.  They experienced God’s help in the past against the Egyptians, but they could not trust God for the future against the people of Canaan.  Moses reminds them of all this in order to encourage them to trust God as they move out under the command of Joshua to conquer Canaan.

             It seems to be the human condition to fear, to forget God’s deeds of the past, to struggle with faith for the present, to tremble for the future.  This is not what God wants for us.  He wants us to take courage, to be open for what He has for us, and to radically trust Him no matter how hopeless it all seems. This is what Moses said:

"The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked, until you came to this place.  But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go."  (Deuteronomy 1:30-33)

             God has a place for you to camp; He has a way in which you are to go in order to get there; and He will show you that way.  Sometimes He says yes.  Sometimes He says no.  But all the while He is guiding you to the place where He wants you to be.  God Himself is fighting on your behalf.  Take courage!  Rejoice!

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 1, 2                                 Psalm 77                                         Matthew 25

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 1:1-8; 2:1-8                 Psalm 77:13-14                       Matthew 25:31-46

 ______________________________________________________________

MARCH 19

             Judas and Peter.  Both were apostles, chosen by Jesus to spend three years of ministry with Him.  Both of them failed Jesus in some way.  But the degree of their failure and the result of their failure were two very different things.

           The Mosaic law made a distinction between sins.  Some that were done unintentionally or done in ignorance, and, we might add, done in a moment of human weakness, are sins that can be forgiven.  A special provision was made for unintentional sins according to the laws set forth in Leviticus.  This was Peter’s sin, and, when he became aware of it, he wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).

            Judas, on the other hand, had acted deliberately in his betrayal of Jesus.  He had planned the betrayal, and, in fact, was being paid for his actions.  In the Mosaic law, this is what is called sinning defiantly.  The literal meaning is to sin with a high hand.  It is the defiant lifting up of the fist to God.  The provision for this kind of sin was death by stoning.  Judas’ response, when he felt remorse over what he had done, was to hang himself.

             Two different types of failure.  Two different kinds of response.  We can only conclude that Peter, who had the better understanding of Jesus, relied on His mercy and forgiveness.  Judas continued in his defiant attitude and took matters into his own hands.

            Psalm 103:8-14 expresses what Peter must have had in mind whenever he contemplated his denial of Jesus:

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us;

Nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust."

            God knows we are weak and He forgives all those who come to Him in fear and humility, seeking His favor.  LORD, keep us from acting defiantly against you.  Give us grace to see and honor your majesty.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 3, 4                                    Psalm 78                                        Matthew 26

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 3:23-29; 4:1-14             Psalm 78:1-4                   Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25,47-56

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MARCH 20 

"So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.  And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us."  (Deuteronomy 6:24-25)

            Unfortunately, the Israelites were not able to observe the commands of the law as set forth by Moses.  The Northern Kingdom with its capital in Samaria was not able to keep the commands outwardly and was destroyed by the Assyrians.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah with its capital at Jerusalem held to an outward form of their religion but their heart was far from God, and they too were conquered and carried into exile in Babylon.  Moses had said, in our text above, that observing the commandments was necessary for survival.  They barely survived.  Only a remnant was left to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C.

            As important as it is to please God by living righteously, there was another principle at work in the world.  Moses said that observing the commandments would be their righteousness.  But earlier God had said this of Abraham, “Then he believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  Genesis 15:6.  Abraham’s faith became his righteousness.  And it is this righteousness that Paul speaks about when he talks to the Gentile church.

            Paul never talks about the Gentile church as being descendants of Moses.  But Paul does speak of all of us as being descendants of Abraham:   “[I]t is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”  Romans 4:16.

            Grace and faith are intricately entwined with obedience.  It is not an either/or situation.  It is both/and.  Without faith in God’s providential love and in His justice, a mere outward obedience avails little.  But trusting in Him completely and relying on His help at all times enables us to be led by the Spirit of God into the freedom of obedience. 

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 5, 6                                  Psalm 79                                           Matthew 27

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:1-19            Psalm 79:8-9                 Matthew 27:11-26; 45-50

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MARCH 21

             Today I want to call you to a radical trust in the Lord.  To a trust greater than you have ever imagined.  No matter the difficulties of the past!  No matter the failures of the past!  No matter the successes of the past!  No matter the strength of the enemies in the present!  No matter the weakness you know to be yours!  To a trust so great that you can exult and glory in the present because of the certainty of the glory and exultation that are coming in the future!

             As the Israelites were getting ready to cross the Jordan to gain possession of the land of Canaan, they were told that it would not be without a fight against a strong enemy.  Nevertheless, Moses said this:

"You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst; a great and awesome God."  (Deuteronomy 7:21)

            Their past had been filled with humbling experiences, but even those were in the plan of God.  They had only been a test and a means by which they were to have learned that they were not to live by their wits or even by the gifts that God had given them.  They were to live by “everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”  Deuteronomy 8:3b.  They were to live according to the word of God because God wanted to do good for them in the end.  (Deuteronomy 8:16b.)

            This is God’s way: He had their end in mind.  And it was good.

             He has our end in mind.  And it is good.  In the meantime, we live in obedience and trust.  Not just your everyday trust, but a thoroughgoing, pervasive, far-reaching trust.  

            And we do not dread!  If God were not in our midst, then we would have reason to dread.  But He is in our midst!  Cast off any vestiges of doubt!  Refuse to let doubt and dread or depression rule your life.  Latch onto a radical trust.  Yahweh is a great and awesome God who is fighting on our behalf.  Determine in your heart to be extreme, even militant, in regard to trust.  God is in control and He has your interests in mind.  The past was only to test and teach.  What is coming is God’s design for you.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 7, 8                                  Psalm 80                                        Matthew 28

 Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 7:1-11; 8:1-20            Psalm 80:17-19                         Matthew 28:1-20

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MARCH 22 

"Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you;

O Israel, if you would listen to Me!

Let there be no strange god among you;

Nor shall you worship any foreign god.

I, the LORD, am your god,

Who brought you up from the land of Egypt;

Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

. . .

Oh that My people would listen to Me,

That Israel would walk in My ways!

I would quickly subdue their enemies,

And turn My hand against their adversaries.

. . .

But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat;

And with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."

From Psalm 81

            Can you hear the heart of God speaking?  Oh, how He wants to bless His people!  He wants to satisfy us.  He wants us to be victorious against our enemies.  He longs to be gracious to us.  He wants to meet our needs.

            What is He asking of us?  To worship Him only.  To listen to Him.  To rely on Him.  To walk in His ways.  Is it so difficult?  No!  Because He gives us of His Spirit to help us in our weakness.  And He is right here with us to extend His compassion and grace and strength.  He desires to help us.  It is His heart’s desire for His people to be victorious, to have abundant life, to benefit from His goodness.  What are we waiting for?  Let us take God at His word and revel in all His work on our behalf, appropriate all the blessings He has, rejoice in His provision.

            Listen to Jesus’ heart from Matthew 23:37:  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”  Oh, let us not be unwilling to come freely to our God, for He is gracious and compassionate and longs to do good to us.  “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it,” He is saying to us today. 

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 9, 10                               Psalm 81                                         Romans 1

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 9:1-5; 10:12-22          Psalm 81:1-2                     Romans 1:1-8, 15-17

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MARCH 23

"[F]or not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.  For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them."  (Romans 2:13-15)

            Instinctively.  Written in their hearts.  Conscience bearing witness.  Paul is saying that God has built into our human nature an instinctive understanding that some things are right and some things are wrong.  The secular world would have us believe that conscience is learned, that it depends on our culture.  To some degree, I believe it is true that our conscience can be developed, and that some things we consider right or wrong are culturally-dependent.  But not all conscience, because the Word of God is here teaching us that some understanding of right and wrong is part of our spiritual DNA, so to speak.

            One of the laws written in our heart is that there is a God.  Paul had said this in Romans 1:19-20: “[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  In other words, nature itself attests to the existence of God.  

            Those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of God must expend great effort to suppress this knowledge within themselves.  Oh, it is true that the militant atheists of our day try to cast believers into the mold of ignoramuses, at best, or of charlatans, at worst.  But I think of this as whistling in the dark.  They perhaps believe that by shouting so loudly and stridently and making a mockery of faith that they will somehow be safe from the God of wrath in His day of wrath.  If they pretend He is not there, perhaps He won’t be there!  This is pure delusion.  God will hold us accountable for what He has written into our hearts.  Some day “God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ.”  Romans 2:16.

            Because God has written this law into our hearts, it is possible for man to instinctively do at least some of God’s law.  It is also possible for man to suppress this knowledge and thus his heart becomes darkened.  When man exchanges truth for falsehood and begins to worship the creature instead of the creator, God gives him over to his passions.  Thus the bible can say that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.  (Hebrews 10:31.) 

            But I am convinced of better things about you!  “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.”  Hebrews 12:25a.

Daily Reading

Deuteronomy 11, 12                                Psalm 82                                             Romans 2

Abbreviated Reading

Deuteronomy 11:1-32                         Psalm 82:4                                          Romans 2:1-4

 

Reading Through the BIble, March 9-17

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MARCH 9

 Jesus asked His disciples two questions one day: Who do people say I am?  Who do you say I am?  Peter was the disciple who answered the second question by saying:

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”  Matthew 16:16b-18.

 Some say that Jesus was making a word-play here because in the Greek the word for Peter and the word for rock are similar.  Jesus said, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I will build my church.”  The Roman Catholic Church has interpreted this passage as meaning that Jesus intended to build his church on Peter himself.  This is not the stand of the rest of the Christian church, for many reasons.

It is the testimony of Scripture that God Himself is the rock upon which we stand:

  • I love Thee, O LORD, my strength.  The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.  Psalm 18:1-2a,
  • O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.  Psalm 19:14.
  •  The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.  Psalm 118:22.
  •  Therefore, says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.  He who believes in it will not be disturbed.”  Isaiah 28:16.
  •   Peter himself in I Peter 2:4-8 cites the two previous verses and calls Jesus the corner stone and the stone who was rejected.  Peter also calls Jesus the living stone.

 It was while Jacob slept with his head on a stone that he had a dream of a ladder to heaven and God spoke to him there.  Genesis 28:10-22.  It was on that stone that Jacob made a vow to God.  It was from a rock that Moses struck that water gushed out abundantly to sustain the congregation of Israel.  And this rock was Christ.  As Paul says: “All drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”  I Corinthians 10:4.  Throughout Scripture, it is always God who is the rock, not a mere man.  Isaiah warns us not to esteem man: “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?”  Isaiah 2:22.

            God is building His church on this testimony, that Christ is the rock and no other.

Daily Reading

Numbers 19, 20                                       Psalm 68                                         Matthew 16

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 19:11-22; 20:1-13                 Psalm 68:1-6                              Matthew 16:13-28

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MARCH 10

 And the people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”  And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the LORD said to Moses, ”Make a fiery serpent, and set it up on a standard, and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.”  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.  Numbers 21:5-9.

 In the Gospel of John, we find three references to this incident from Numbers.  When Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, He said this:  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”  John 3:14-15.  This is how it can be said that the fiery serpent is a type of Christ.  Both had to be lifted up; both had to be looked to for salvation.

 Jesus further makes mention of being lifted up in John 8:28.  Here he was speaking to the Jews of Jerusalem.  “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”  It is clear from the following text what Jesus meant by being lifted up: “’And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’  But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”  John 12:32-33.

Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws men to Himself.  Then, whosoever believes has eternal life.  There is always God’s part, followed by our part.  God is the one who has taken the initiative to provide a means for our salvation.  We are the ones who have the privilege of appropriating God’s gift through faith.  Let us continue to appropriate all that God has for us, as our faith increases – faith in His goodness, His power, His provision, His protection, and His love for His children.  Banish all doubt and continue to look to Jesus and His work on the cross to meet all your needs.

Daily Reading

Numbers 21, 22                                    Psalm 69                                         Matthew 17

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 21:4-9, 21-25;                 Psalm 69:16-17                    Matthew 17:1-13; 22:1-6, 21-35

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MARCH 11

 And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen, even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.  Matthew 18:15-17.

 Jesus is concerned here with the purity and holiness of His church, and is setting forth a procedure for dealing with those who call themselves followers of Christ but who are sinning.  As an individual, we are not to turn a blind eye to sin.  To ignore another’s sin is to condone it, and even the Old Testament law said, “[Y]ou may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.”  Leviticus 19:17b.  If the sinner listens, the matter need go no further.  If he does not listen, then there are further steps that can be taken, as part of what is called “church discipline.”

            In my experience, rarely are these steps followed.  Privately we seem to prefer not to make waves; we overlook people’s sins in the name of harmony and tolerance.  Or we hesitate because we know that we, too, are not perfect.  We do not want to be accused of being judgmental.  Moreover, most churches do not make church discipline an important plank in their mission statement or include it in their main objectives.  Consequently, churches tend to exercise church discipline only in egregious cases. 

            Perhaps a lack of church discipline with its tolerance of sin among church members has resulted in a church that is weak and ineffectual, and it surely does not portray an image of holiness.  The church is thus not set apart from the world.  The Greek word for church is ecclesia, which means that which is called out.  Indeed, God has called us out of the world as God called Israel out of Egypt, so that we would be His.  Once we are His, He expects us to live out our lives in obedience to His ways and to be holy as He is holy.  We can overlook other peoples’ weaknesses, foibles and idiosyncrasies, and love our neighbors as ourselves, but that which is clearly sin, whether in ourselves or in others, needs to be dealt with boldly.

Daily Reading

Numbers 23, 24                                     Psalm 70                                        Matthew 18 

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 24:10-25                            Psalm 70:4-5                              Matthew 18:1-14

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MARCH 12

  Psalm 71 is like a commentary on my life.  I find various thoughts there that are descriptive of how I see myself through the decades.

O Lord God, Thou art my confidence from my youth. 

By Thee I have been sustained from my birth.

Thou art He who took me from my mother’s womb.

Psalm 71:5b-6a

  I do not remember a time when I did not believe in God.  My entire family, parents, grandparents, and relatives, were examples of people who honored God.  Our lives revolved around family and church.  I did not intentionally rebel against God outwardly or inwardly. 

O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth.

And I still declare Thy wondrous deeds

Psalm 71:17

  As I matured, I was given many opportunities to increase my knowledge of God.  Starting with Sunday School and catechism classes, and continuing on with instruction at Wheaton College and Reformed Theological Seminary, I was enabled to get the most out of my own reading and studying of the Bible.

Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,

Out of the grasp of the wrong doer and ruthless man.

Psalm 71:4

 My experience of my marriage was one of great unhappiness and confusion, but when at last I understood all the wrongdoing that had been going on, I was still not able to extricate myself from the situation.  I believe, in the end, that it was God Himself who moved, in order to rescue me and set me in a place of freedom and peace.

Thou, who hast shown me many troubles and distresses,

Wilt revive me again.

Psalm 71:20a 

 God is in the business of revival.  Though He has let me see troubles, He has brought me out of them all. 

Do not cast me off in the time of old age.

Do not forsake me when my strength fails.

Psalm 71:9

And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,

Until I declare Thy strength to this generation

Thy power to all who are to come.

Psalm 71:18

 God is still with me.  He has not forsaken me.  He is allowing me to write this book so that I can declare His strength and power, His righteousness and His excellencies to my descendants.

 Daily Reading

Numbers 25, 26                                           Psalm 71                                             Matthew 19

 

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 25:1-13; 26:1-4, 51                    Psalm 71:1-6                                    Matthew 19:16-30

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MARCH 13

 And as they were going out from Jericho, a great multitude followed Him.  And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  And the multitude sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, saying, “Lord have mercy on us, Son of David!”  And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  They said to him, Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.”  And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.  Matthew 20:29-34.

 I have several questions about this episode.  I would like to know more.  Why, for instance, was Jesus passing by these men?  It sounds as if Jesus would not have stopped to help them had they not made a scene of themselves.  And why did the multitude tell them to be quiet?  Wasn’t it obvious by now that Jesus was in the business of healing people?  I would have thought they’d have made a path so that Jesus could get to the blind men more easily instead of trying to hinder them.  And why did Jesus have to ask the men what they wanted?  Wasn’t it obvious that they were blind?

 In trying to answer the first question, we might consider that there are times when we need to make a scene before God to let Him know we are serious.  We cannot always be passive and wait for God to come to us.  Sometimes we need to do everything in our power to seek after God, to call out for His attention. As far as the crowd is concerned, I think it is fair to say that they were not moved with compassion for the blind men.  They were following Jesus, to be sure, but it was not for the purpose of bringing the needy to Him.

 And perhaps it was not so obvious what the two men wanted.  Blind people made their living by begging, and that seems to be what they were doing when the crowd came by with Jesus.  They were sitting by the road begging.  When they asked for mercy, they may only have wanted some money thrown into their cup, so to speak.  To be healed of their blindness would have meant a whole new way of life for themselves.  It is possible to suppose that some people would prefer to sit and beg than have to change their life completely and start to earn a living in some new way.  Jesus perhaps already knew what they really wanted, but did the men themselves understand?  Jesus confronted them and they were forced to search their own hearts as to what was their real desire.

 There are several lessons we could draw from this story, but I will posit just one:  When you come to Jesus with a request, know in your heart what you really want, and then be prepared for Jesus to turn your life upside down.

 Daily Reading

Numbers 27, 28                                      Psalm 72                                          Matthew 20

 

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 27:12-23; 28:1-8               Psalm 72:18-19                         Matthew 20:17-28

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MARCH 14 

How they are destroyed in a moment!

They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!

Psalm 73:19

 We have seen, in Japan, this week [2011] the literal truth of these words.  Destruction can come in a moment.  Tens of thousands can be swept away suddenly.  We are reminded of the fragility of life, how uncertain is our future.

 What first of all must be made clear is that we who observe from afar should not be tempted to blame the earthquakes and tsunami on some perceived sin of the Japanese people.  Jesus warned us against doing that in Luke 13:2b-3:  “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

 What the Psalmist of Psalm 73 is particularly talking about, however, are the arrogant and the wicked (verse 3) of the world.  Though they appear to be quite satisfied with life, and may be prosperous and wealthy, they do not understand that they are set in a slippery place.  Their end, when it comes, will be like a nightmare.

  •  The one who makes God his refuge, on the other hand, knows that God is holding onto him and can say, “With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterward receive me to glory.”  Psalm 73:24.  Sudden destruction does not hold the same terror as it does for those who are far from God.  Heaven is waiting on the other side!
  •  The one who makes God his refuge knows that even when his flesh and his heart fail, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:26.  There is always a “forever” with God.
  • The one who makes God his refuge says, “The nearness of God is my good” (verse 28).  He says that God is “A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.”  Psalm 46:1-3.  Our confidence does not rest on the fact that we do not live on the “ring of fire”, but it rests with a God who is in control of our destiny.  Our part is to turn from our wicked ways and take refuge in God alone.

Daily Reading

Numbers 29, 30                                    Psalm 73                                         Matthew 21

 

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 29:7-11; 30:1-8                 Psalm73:25-28                          Matthew 21:1-11

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MARCH 15 

 When Jesus was questioned by a Pharisee as to which was the greatest commandment, He answered thus:  “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On those two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:37-40.

Of the many passages of Scripture that might inform us of what it looks like to love our neighbor, my favorite is found in Romans 12.  Set out in a sort of list, it looks like this: 

Let love be without hypocrisy.

Abhor what is evil.

Cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Give preference to one another in honor.

Rejoice in hope.

Persevere in tribulation

Be devoted to prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the saints.

Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you.

Bless and curse not.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Weep with those who weep.

Be of the same mind toward one another.

Do not be haughty in mind.

Associate with the lowly.

Do not be wise in your own eyes.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.

Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Never take your own revenge.

Leave room for the wrath of God.

If your enemy is hungry, feed him.

If your enemy is thirsty, give him a drink.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 I challenge you to choose one of the above and make it your aim today to love someone in that particular way. 

Daily Reading

Numbers 31, 32                                     Psalm 74                                           Matthew 22

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 32:1-5, 33                          Psalm 74:16-17                         Matthew 22:34-4

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MARCH 16 

The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say things, and do not do them.  Matthew 23:2b-3.

            Thus begins a long chapter wherein Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus had harsh words to say about them.  They claimed to be authorities on what Moses said, but they did not obey Moses’ words from their heart.  They loved to be called Rabbi (teacher).  They loved respectful greetings as they walked about in the marketplace.  They loved to be considered leaders.  This is what Jesus called them: 

Hypocrites!

Hypocrites!

Hypocrites!

Blind guides!

Fools!

Blind men!

Blind men!

Hypocrites!

Blind guides!

Hypocrites!

Hypocrites!

Hypocrites!

You serpents!

You brood of vipers!

 I cringe reading this list.  How could Jesus say such things?  Because it was true, and because He was the only one who had the authority to say such things.  He Himself had no log He needed to remove from His eye before He judged others.  He could judge in righteousness.  That He did not judge in malice, however, is evident from His final words in this chapter: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”  Matthew 25:37.  He did not desire to pronounce woe.  His desire was to gather them to Himself.

 Lord, give us a heart of compassion, even for those who are unwilling to come to you, for the foolish ones, for the spiritually blind.

Daily Reading

Numbers 33, 34                                     Psalm 75                                           Matthew 23

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 33:50-56; 34:1-15 Psalm 75:6-7                                Matthew 23:1-12

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MARCH 17

And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  Matthew 24:3

 Chapter 24 of Matthew is known as the Olivet Discourse because of the place where Jesus and His disciples were when Jesus began to answer these three questions, which had been prompted by Jesus’ prediction that the temple would be destroyed.  It is not very clear, as Jesus speaks, which one of the three questions He is answering, however.  I think it is fair to say that the disciples expected that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age would happen about the same time.  That it did not, is evident to us because we know that the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and the end of the age is still in our future.

 There are at least two predictions that Jesus made, however, which we can confidently say have not yet been fulfilled:

  • And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.  Verse 14.  (This goal is within reach of our generation.  Wycliffe Bible Translators, for example, has made it its goal to have workers in every language group, that still needs a Bible translation, by 2025.)
  •  [T]he sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  Verse 30.

Through the ages there have been people who thought they knew when the end of the age was coming, despite the fact that Jesus specifically said we cannot know the day or the hour.  There are two things we can do, however:

  • Recognize the signs that will precede His coming.
  • Be ready!

To be ready means to be like the faithful and sensible slave who continues to perform his duties, no matter how long the master tarries.  “Blessed is that slave, whom his master finds so doing when he comes.”  Verse 46. 

Daily Reading

Numbers 35, 36                                     Psalm 76                                        Matthew 24 

Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 35:9-15, 29-34                  Psalm 76:1-2                  Matthew 24:1-14, 36-44

Reading Through the Bible: March 1-8

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MARCH 1 

And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are wiling, You can make me clean.”  And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”  Matthew 8:2-4.

     Imagine the amazement and the joy that must have washed over this man as he realized that, with just a word from Jesus, his leprosy was gone!  It would have been only natural for him to want to run and find his friends and spread the good news of his healing.  Instead he was enjoined by Jesus to tell no one.  

     He was to tell no one, but he was to do something instead.  And that something was to follow the laws set out by Moses in Leviticus 14.  “This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing.  Now he shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall . . . “  Leviticus 14:2-3a.  There follow over 30 verses of instruction of what the priest shall do, what the cleansed person shall do, and what kind of offerings to bring.  Part of those instructions involved completely shaving off all bodily hair, and then remaining in isolation for seven days.  This was designed to prove that there was no longer any leprosy in the body.

       In essence, the leper was told by Jesus not to “tell” but to “show.”  The showing or proving part was to be his testimony, not his telling.

      I believe that this episode can be a reminder to us, that all testimony is not verbal.  It is a reminder that words and deeds must be seen to go together, with the deeds preceding the telling.  Jesus wanted the leper to be able to back up his words with proof positive from the priest.  There would come a time when the leper could loudly proclaim his healing, but first he must follow the law for leper cleansing.  In the meantime, the leper himself knew he was clean and he was free to rejoice in what Jesus had done for him.  At the right time, he could spread the good news to others.

 Daily Reading

Numbers 3, 4                Psalm 60                    Matthew 8

 Abbreviated Reading

Numbers 3:1-13, 39; 4:46-49           Psalm 60:11-12               Matthew 8:18-27

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MARCH 2

     Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”  And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?  But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”  Matthew 9:14-15.

      Our topic today is fasting, and we have many examples of fasting throughout Scripture, most of them from the Old Testament.  From our text above, however, we see that Jesus expected that His followers would participate in this practice.  In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talked about fasting, He said, “When you fast . . . “.  Not if you fast, but when you fast.

      But the question then becomes, when do we fast?  Or perhaps, why should we fast?  From the examples we have in the bible, here are some reasons: 

  • It is a way of showing mourning over a loss or absence, particularly a death
  • It is a way of showing mourning because of sin
  • It is a way of humbling oneself before God
  • It is a way of seeking God’s favor
  • It is a way of seeking God Himself
  • It is a way of ministering to or serving God

      God’s word gives us some warnings about fasting, however.  It can be used for evil purposes, to manipulate people or to attempt to manipulate God.  It can be used as a mere ritual to serve our own purposes rather than God’s.  God will probably not honor our fasting when it is done unworthily.

     Isaiah indicates that God would like to see His people fast from evil!  Isaiah 58:1-7.

      And there is a reward for fasting!  But only if it is done in secret.  To fast openly is to get your reward from your fellow man.  To fast secretly is to get your reward from God.  Matthew 6:16-18.

     There is no commandment to fast.  It is a voluntary devotion to God, but one that has the potential for rich reward.  Do not overlook fasting in your spiritual life.

Daily Reading    Numbers 5, 6             Psalm 61               Matthew 9

Abbreviated Reading     Numbers 5:5-10; 6:22-27           Psalm 61:1-4                Matthew 9:18-26

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MARCH 3

       Can you name the twelve men Jesus chose to be His apostles?  I have never quite been able to memorize the list.  Somehow it has not seemed that important to be able to recite their names.  In addition, the Scriptures tell us almost nothing about some of these men.  We all know Peter and Andrew and James and John and Judas.  Perhaps Matthew and Thomas, but then the rest become a bit fuzzy. Here’s the list: 

“Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.”  Matthew 10:2-4.  (Thaddaeus was known by more than one name.) 

      After Jesus death, we know very little of what they did.  The Acts of the Apostles is mainly about Peter and Paul.  We rely thereafter on tradition to tell us that most of the apostles died a martyr’s death.  According to one list:

       Jesus warned his apostles in Matthew 10:22: “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”   This was a prophecy that was surely fulfilled.

      When Jesus sent the twelve out on a mission in Matthew 10, He gave them great powers.  They were able to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.  (Matthew 10:8).  When Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised His apostles power to be witnesses for Him.  And that they did, mostly anonymously as far as we are concerned.

     I believe that we should take heart from these facts about anonymity.  Most of us, too, serve the Lord anonymously as far as the world is concerned, but that does not make our deeds any less crucial for the Kingdom’s sake.  God has His place for each one of us, and He is the one who keeps the records, and He is the one who rewards.  “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 10:32. 

Daily Reading      Numbers 7, 8              Psalm 62                  Matthew 10

 Abbreviated Reading      Numbers 7:1-5; 8:24-26              Psalm 62:5-8                   Matthew 10:1-15

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MARCH 4 

Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”  Matthew 11:2-3.

      At the time that John baptized Jesus, John was very confident that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  John had, in his preaching, said that this Expected One would winnow the wheat and “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Matthew 3:12.  But now, John was in prison and no one was coming to his rescue.  Where, oh, where was the winnowing and burning?  Perhaps Jesus was not the Expected One after all!

      Jesus’ answer to John was to quote some phrases from Isaiah the prophet: “[T]he blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  Matthew 11:5.  Perhaps John had been thinking about this Messianic passage (Isaiah 11:4b):  “And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”  But to strike and to slay was not Jesus’ mission at this time.  Instead He was to fulfill another Isaiah prophecy, “He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out until He leads justice to victory.”  Matthew 12:19-20.

      John was a great man with a prophetic ministry to fulfill, but he was not omniscient.  He, too, needed to learn that Jesus’ ministry was not that of a warrior against human foes, but that of a warrior against mankind’s greatest enemy, the devil.  John needed to learn that Jesus did not come to form an army of the wise and intelligent, but to gather to Himself followers who were babes.  (Matthew 11:25).  He came to provide rest for the soul.  

            “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30. 

      The world does not admire or understand a gentle, humble person.  It admires the bold, the intelligent, the sophisticates, the winners of the world’s prizes.  It understands power plays.  I think John was hoping for a power play that would get him out of prison, but that was not God’s plan for him.  It is not God’s way for us either.

Daily Reading      Numbers 9, 10                                       Psalm 63                                        Matthew 11

Abbreviated Reading   Numbers 9:15-23;             Psalm 63:1-4             Matthew 11:25-30         10:11-13, 33-36

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MARCH 5 

      "Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died out."  Numbers 11:1-2.

    The people complained about not having meat to eat, about not having water, about the monotony of the manna; they spoke against Moses.  At every turn, they seemed ready to find fault with the way God had ordered their lives.

      The Apostle Paul used these people as an example of how not to be.  In I Corinthians 10:9-10, he says this:  “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”  They questioned whether or not the Lord was really with them, and they grumbled about the conditions of their lives.  Don’t do this!  Don’t be like them, says Paul.

     To the Philippians, Paul wrote this:  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life . . . “  Philippians 2:14-15.  A person who goes about his life without complaining would indeed appear to be a light in a dark world.

     In its essence, grumbling and complaining is a reproach against God.  It is believing in one’s heart that God does not know how to govern His world, and that you have a better plan.  If, indeed, there is room for improvement and you have a good plan, it is appropriate to try to implement it, but it is not appropriate to attach any blame to God.

     The right way for those who love the Lord is shown in our Psalm for today:  “The righteous man will be glad in the LORD, and will take refuge in Him; and all the upright in heart will glory.”  Psalm 64:10.  Praise and thanksgiving and gladness in our God is the response of the heart that pleases God because it gives evidence of our complete trust that He is good and that He is working all things together for our good.

Daily Reading     Numbers 11, 12                   Psalm 64                    Matthew 12

 Abbreviated Reading     Numbers 11:1-10, 31-34; 12:1-15           Psalm 64:1-2          Matthew 12:22-37

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MARCH 6 

       Moses sent out twelve men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan.  Ten men came back discouraged and gave a bad report.  Joshua and Caleb, however, had this to say:

"The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us – a land which flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they shall be our prey.  Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them."  Numbers 14:7b-9.

      “Yes, there are obstacles to be overcome, fortified cities and strong men, but the fortifications and their human strength will not protect them because God is with us.”  With such words Caleb and Joshua sought to persuade the people to take courage.  What response did the people give?  “But all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”  Numbers 14:10a.  They had taken a Gallup poll and it said that 83% of those who had seen this new land were opposed to proceeding into Canaan.  They chose with the majority. 

      In a democracy, 83% will almost always win the day.  The only problem in this case was that the 17% had God on their side.  That rather tips the scales.  Nevertheless, the people voted with the majority; they got what they thought they wanted.  Then God weighed in: they, indeed, would not go into Canaan.  Instead, they would spend the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness until all those who had spoken against Caleb and Joshua had died there. 

      When it comes to doing the will of God, we do not take a vote and go with the majority opinion.  We do not take into account the bad report of those who do not trust in God.  No matter how small the minority, we follow the clear path that God has laid out for us.  No matter what the obstacle, its protection has been removed from it when God is with us.  We do not rebel against God, nor do we fear the difficulties ahead.  Our only thought is to please the Lord and follow His way.

Daily Reading    Numbers 13, 14                     Psalm 65                      Matthew 13

 Abbreviated Reading     Numbers 13:1-3, 17-20, 25-33;      Psalm 65:1-4       Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 14:1-10, 36-38

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MARCH 7 

      Because of a rash vow and because he did not want to renege on his vow before his guests, Herod the tetrarch had John the Baptist beheaded.

    " And [John’s] disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.  Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from them in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.  And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick."  Matthew 14:12-14.

      There was a kinship between John the Baptist and Jesus.  Luke tells us that their mothers were relatives.  But more importantly, John was the person who had proclaimed to the people that Jesus was the Christ.  He was the one who had been sent ahead to prepare the way for Jesus.  They had high opinions of each other.  Jesus had only recently said of John that no one had yet arisen who was greater than he.  (Matthew 11:11.)  John had said of Jesus, “[He] has a greater rank than I, for He existed before me.”  John 1:15.  It is little wonder then that Jesus would want to withdraw to a lonely place to be by Himself when He heard how John had died.  How Jesus must have mourned that John had had to die in such a horrible way, and for such a sordid motive!  It is true that John had said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), but he could have had no idea that the decrease would come in such a way. 

      Nevertheless, when Jesus saw the crowd that had followed Him, He turned from His own private sorrow and began to minister to the needy.  Mark tells us that it was at this time that Jesus thought of the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd.  (Mark 6:34.)  Surely it was true that the political ruler they had, Herod the tetrarch, was no shepherd who cared for his constituents.  He cared only for himself and his own amusement and looking good before his guests. 

       Jesus, as He always does, provides us the picture of the ideal shepherd who, despite His own loss and pain, is capable of focusing on the greater need around Him.  Jesus, as He always does, provides an example for us to do the same.  Can we put aside our own agenda and self-focus to see the need of those with whom we come in contact?  If we are to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world, we must! 

      Lord, make us aware.  Open our eyes.  Give us hearts of compassion. 

Daily Reading  Numbers 15, 16            Psalm 66               Matthew 14

Abbreviated Reading    Numbers 15:22-31; 16:1-4          Psalm 66:16-20            Matthew 14:22-33

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MARCH 8

     In chapter 14 of Matthew we read about 5000 people being fed miraculously.  In chapter 15, it is 4000 people.  In both cases, we are told, “And they all ate and were satisfied.”  This idea of “satisfaction” is an important one, I believe.  And a biblical one.  Satisfaction usually means a feeling of pleasure or of happiness because a need or a desire has been fulfilled.  In the cases above, it was physical hunger that had been satisfied.  If we look further into biblical examples, however, we find that it is not only physical needs that God can satisfy, but spiritual ones as well. David said,

“O God, Thou art my God, I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. . . . My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.”  Psalm 63:1, 5.

            Again, David exhorts us to “taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”  Psalm 34:8.

      It is God’s desire that we come to Him to have our needs met – both physical and spiritual.  It is His desire that we be satisfied.  In fact, David goes on to say in Psalm 34:9-10, “O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him, there is no want.  The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.”

      Is it not what most of us strive for in life – to be satisfied?  When our body and soul are satisfied, all is right with the world!  Many of the woes in the world are caused by our attempts to satisfy our needs and desires as we seek for them in the wrong places or in the wrong ways.  God’s way is to fear Him and to seek Him and then the Scripture states that we “shall not be in want of any good thing.”  If this has not been your experience, or your perceived experience, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I truly fearing God?
  • Am I truly seeking God?
  • Am I truly trusting God that what He is giving is good?

      Taste and see that God is good.  You will be blessed!

Daily Reading   Numbers 17, 18                Psalm 67                 Matthew 15

 Abbreviated Reading   Numbers 17:1-11; 18:25-32            Psalm 67:1-7                  Matthew 15:1-20

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MARCH 9

      Jesus asked His disciples two questions one day: Who do people say I am?  Who do you say I am?  Peter was the disciple who answered the second question by saying:

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”  Matthew 16:16b-18.

        Some say that Jesus was making a word-play here because in the Greek the word for Peter and the word for rock are similar.  Jesus said, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I will build my church.”  The Roman Catholic Church has interpreted this passage as meaning that Jesus intended to build his church on Peter himself.  This is not the stand of the rest of the Christian church, for many reasons. It is the testimony of Scripture that God Himself is the rock upon which we stand: 

I love Thee, O LORD, my strength.  The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.  Psalm 18:1-2a, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.  Psalm 19:14.

 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.  Psalm 118:22.

 Therefore, says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.  He who believes in it will not be disturbed.”  Isaiah 28:16.

   Peter himself in I Peter 2:4-8 cites the two previous verses and calls Jesus the corner stone and the stone who was rejected.  Peter also calls Jesus the living stone.

    It was while Jacob slept with his head on a stone that he had a dream of a ladder to heaven and God spoke to him there.  Genesis 28:10-22.  It was on that stone that Jacob made a vow to God.  It was from a rock that Moses struck that water gushed out abundantly to sustain the congregation of Israel.  And this rock was Christ.  As Paul says: “all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”  I Corinthians 10:4.  Throughout Scripture, it is always God who is the rock, not a mere man.  Isaiah warns us not to esteem man: “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?”  Isaiah 2:22.

    God is building His church on this testimony, that Christ is the rock and no other. 

Daily Reading     Numbers 19, 20             Psalm 68                Matthew 16

 Abbreviated Reading      Numbers 19:11-22; 20:1-13                 Psalm 68:1-6                    Matthew 16:13-28