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

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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

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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