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.
Numbers 3, 4 Psalm 60 Matthew 8
Numbers 3:1-13, 39; 4:46-49 Psalm 60:11-12 Matthew 8:18-27
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
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:
- Peter, crucified upside-down in Rome c. AD 64.
- James, son of Zebedee was beheaded in AD 44.
- John, son of Zebedee, no biblical record of death; he is believed to have died of natural causes due to old age.
- Andrew, Peter's brother, was crucified upon a diagonal or X-shaped cross.
- Philip was crucified in AD 54.
- Bartholomew was flayed alive (skinned) and then beheaded; some sources locate his death at Derbend on the Caspian Sea.
- Matthew killed by a halberd in AD 60.
- Thomas was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in AD 72.
- James, son of Alphaeus, beaten to death with a club after being crucified and stoned.
- Jude was crucified.
- Simon the Zealot was crucified in AD 74.
- Judas Iscariot, according to Matthew, hanged himself after betraying Jesus. In Acts, he is described as falling in a field and bursting open.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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