In Deuteronomy 12:29-32, just as they are about to cross into the promised land, God tells the Israelites, “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.' You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” In other words, when you come into the promised land, don’t look to the inhabitants of the land or the surrounding nation to borrow from them as to how to worship God. God had clearly prescribed in scripture exactly how he is to be approached and worshipped. Still, the Israelites fell into this trap. It was not long before they began to engage in syncretism (the blending of Jewish and pagan religious practices). This ultimately led to their demise. Sadly, God’s people are slow learners. Today many churches borrow from the business world to determine how best to reach people, keep people, and minster to them. Yet, what God states in Deuteronomy, “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it,” we find echoed in the New Testament as well. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). We would be wise to not go beyond what God has written in his word.
In Deuteronomy 10:12-13, Moses says something to the Israelites just before they are about to enter the promised land. He says to them, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” This comes on the heels of God reminding them of the Ten Commandments and the covenant they must keep (chap. 5), of how they are to love God and keep his commandments (chap. 6), and of how God chose them not because of their righteousness but because of God’s faithfulness to his promises (chap. 7-9). Surely the Israelites were beginning to feel the burden of all the laws they had been given that they must keep (see Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus). Thus, what is interesting in Deuteronomy 10, as God is about to give them more laws, is that he exhorts them “to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” We sometimes forget that. We sometimes forget that all the laws and commandments given to us in the Bible are for our good—even the ones we disagree with or simply don’t like. The wife who is called to submit to her husband who is difficult to live with, let alone submit to (Eph 5:22-24), husbands who are commanded to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7), children who are commanded to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1), though their parents seem cruel and arbitrary or church members who strongly disagree with the direction their church leaders are taking the church, and yet are commanded to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). We may not always understand or agree with or even like God’s commandments but he has given them to us for our good. We have to trust God knows what he’s doing and that he knows what’s best for us.
There are very few things as essential to human life as water. The average human likely cannot go longer than three days without water before serious damage or death occurs. Humans can go much longer without food. Thus, about the only thing more essential for human life than water is oxygen. It’s for this reason, throughout world history, nations were established and civilizations grew around water routes. Wars have been fought over water rights. This is because to withhold water from a group of people is to essentially give them a death sentence. So it’s interesting then to hear Jesus say to the woman at the well in John 4, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (vv.13-14). But what water is Jesus speaking of? Where does this water come from and how does it eternally quench our thirst? In John 7:37 Jesus says this: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Thus, the living water Jesus offers which will eternally quench our thirst is himself. Even if we drink from the coolest, cleanest, most refreshing water in the world, ultimately, it will leave us wanting. But for those who drink deeply from the living waters of Christ, who take him in and consume all of Christ, their souls will be satisfied and they will never want for more.
In Deuteronomy 7, as God is leading the Israelites through the wilderness, he says something interesting to them through Moses as he reminds them of why he delivered them and why he did NOT deliver them. Beginning in v.6 he says to them, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (vv.6-8). In other words, God delivered them not because they were such a wonderful people and God loves them not because they are so lovable. God delivered them and loves them because he is faithful to his promises. He made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he intends to keep those covenant promises. This is sometimes difficult for Christians to accept. We like to think that if we are saved, it is because God saw something in us worth saving. It is because we are so lovable. Yet the Bible describes us in our unbelieving state in this way: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18). Thus, if God has saved us from our sin, it is not because God saw something good in us. The only thing God saw in us was sin. Rather, if we are saved, if only because God is rich in mercy and love and grace, and is faithful to the promise he made to Abraham that through him he would be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:2-3; Gal. 3:7-8). This truth should bring us great comfort in that since our getting saved had nothing do with us, so also our staying saved has nothing to do with us. It is God alone who saves us and it is God alone who keeps us saved.
In John chapter 11 we are given the amazing story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to die. In fact, he waited just long enough to let that happen. At the beginning of the chapter we are told that Mary and Martha went to Jesus and told him that Lazarus was gravely ill. “But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” What is even more interesting is what happens next. We read in vv.5-6 that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” When he heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed longer? Why? He reveals this to his disciples in v.14 where he says to them, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Jesus intentionally waits for Lazarus to die so that he might perform the miracle of raising him from the dead. Yet when he arrives in the town of Bethany he finds a scene of great mourning and weeping, great emotional suffering. If you have ever lost someone all too soon who was close to you, then you understand the kind of heartache and grief they are all experiencing. Jesus allowed this great suffering to come into their lives so they might be blessed to witness a miracle and that God might be glorified. But now here is where the debate comes in. In v.35 we read that when Jesus saw them weeping and wailing, he “wept.” Why did he weep? He knew Lazarus was going to die, and he knew he was about to raise him from the dead. Some try to understand the underlying Greek word for “weep” (dakruō) as ‘upset’ or ‘disappointed.’ Jesus was upset by their unbelief. I don’t believe that’s correct. I believe Jesus was moved to tears by their extreme grief and heartache and sorrow. Even though he knew he was about to bring Lazarus back to life, he felt their pain and could not help sharing in their suffering. The point is this: even though God is in sovereign control of everything that happens in our lives, if you are a child of God, know that he shares in your suffering. He feels your pain. God is not an emotionless divine spectator watching us from a distance like ants in an ant farm. He is there beside you, comforting you, encouraging you, carrying you, suffering with you.
One of the most difficult passages in the Bible to understand is from John 6 where Jesus teaches a crowd saying, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” In fact, Jesus’ words were so difficult to accept and understand that we read in the very next verse, “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (v.52). In a world where Jews were not even allowed to eat pork or shellfish, for Jesus to offer his flesh to eat was beyond the pale. What is even more amazing is that Jesus doesn’t backpedal but instead doubles down and says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” What did Jesus mean by this? Context is key. Going back to the beginning of chapter 6 we see that it was the time of Passover, a time to remember God’s deliverance of his people out of bondage and how they were spared from the wrath of God by the blood of the lamb that was smeared over their door posts, and how God had commanded them to entirely eat the Passover lamb as they would need the energy for the long journey ahead. It was also a time of remembering God’s provision for them as they journeyed across the desert and were fed with manna from heaven. They lived by daily feeding on that which God had provided for them from heaven. However, all of that was designed to point God’s people toward the ultimate and true lamb of God and bread of life which would come down from heaven—Jesus Christ. Thus, temporary and physical life came to God’s people by consuming the Passover lamb and manna from heaven; however, eternal and spiritual life come to God’s people by consuming Christ. That is, by taking in Christ in all his fullness, by taking him in through the daily meditative reading of his Word, through prayer, through sweet fellowship with the saints, and through regular church attendance.
We all struggle live the Christian life. We all struggle to live our lives in obedience to God’s word. And when you’ve been living the Christian life long enough, it can sometimes feel like two steps forward and one step back. We can easily become frustrated with our Christian walk and sometime even begin to wonder, ‘Am I even saved?’ This is where promises like 1 John 1:9 are so important to hang on to and to recall to mind. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” For many years I often wondered what God’s faithfulness and justice have to do with being forgiven of our sins. Why does John say that God is “faithful” and “just” to forgive us of our sins? What he means is that God has made many promises in his word that, for those who place faith in Christ, their sins are forgiven. In John 3:16, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever believes in the Son will not perish. Again in John 5:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Thus, salvation is a matter of hearing and believing. Nothing else. That’s it. And the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” You will be saved, he says. These are promises from God for those who place faith in Christ. John’s point is that God always keeps his promises. Still, he says God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” What does justice have to do with God forgiving us of our sins? Christ died on the cross to pay for the sins of all those who place faith in him. If Christ has paid for our sin—for those of us who have placed faith in Christ—then justice demands that God must forgive us of our sins, otherwise God would be unjust. Thus, 1 John 1:9 reminds us that so long as we are trusting in Christ alone for our salvation, no matter how badly we blow it, we can never go beyond the grace of God. There is great comfort in knowing that.
This morning for my devotional reading I read the story of a crippled man who was laying by the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John, chapter 5. What struck me about the story is that when Jesus comes up to the man he asks him, “Do you want to be healed?, the man does not respond with ‘Yes, Lord, please heal me for I know you can. I believe you have the power to do so for I have heard such wonderful stores about you.’ No, instead he says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” His response tells us that he had no idea who Jesus was. He had no idea he was talking to the Son of God, the one who walked on water and turned water in to wine. Very likely he was simply hoping Jesus might be willing to place him in the water so that he might be made well by its healing power. (The Jews thought the water in the Pool of Bethesda had healing properties.) But then notice what happens next: “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” So how much faith was needed by this man to receive a miracle? —zero. The man not only had no faith in Jesus, he didn’t even know who Jesus was. This should bring us great comfort in knowing that when we pray for God to perform a miracle, to heal our loved one of cancer, to save our children from their sins, to bring our son or daughter serving in the military safely through combat, the answer to our prayers has little to do with our faith and everything to do with God’s mercy and grace. We serve a God who is all-powerful and is rich in mercy and grace and compassion, and it is upon those attributes we should plead our case when asking God for a miracle, and not couch our prayers in how much faith we have. It must be this way so that in the end, like the story of the invalid healed by the pool of Bethesda, God receives all the glory and we receive none.
So often we struggle with the daily decisions of life. The Bible provides us with answers for most of life’s biggest problems. For example, the Bible tells us how husbands should love their wives, how wives should treat and relate to their husbands, that children should honor their parents, that we should not steal, cheat or lie, but the Bible does not tell us who we should marry, what career path we should pursue, when and how to discipline our children or which church to attend. But this does not mean the Bible is completely silent in these matters. In Proverbs 3:5 we read: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” So often we think we need to figure everything out. But we are told in this verse is that we need to trust in God with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding. Verse 6 goes on to say, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” In other words, if we put God first in everything, if our heart’s greatest desire is to please God and honor him and live in obedience to his word, God will make our path straight. He will make it clear to us which direction we should go in. The writer then tells us “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” So often when we stress over things we have no control over, it can begin to take physical toll on our bodies. We can feel tired and depressed, moody and irritable. Recently I came down with a severe case of shingles. It happened during a time when I was under an enormous amount of stress. I was worried about many things that I really had no control over, but I worried and stressed about them as if I did have control over them. Later I discovered that the single most common cause of shingles is stress. I sometimes wish Jesus had said in Matthew 6:34 ‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for you might come down with shingles.’ But he didn’t. What he said was, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” And that’s really all he needed to say. Or, as Proverbs tells us, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Trust in God and not in your own wisdom and you will feel better both spiritually and physically.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-5 we have a passage that is known to Jews as the “Great Shema.” Shema is the Hebrew word for hear and, thus, this passage is called the Great Shema because it begins with the words “Hear, O Israel…” Jesus, when asked what is the greatest commandment, listed the Great Shema as the first and greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matt 22:37). What is interesting about the Great Shema is that it comes right on the heels of Deuteronomy 5 where God just finished reminding the Israelites of how he had entered into a covenant relationship with them and that that covenant relationship was sealed with the giving the Law—the Ten Commandments. And then all of the Ten Commandments are recounted in chapter 5. And then in chapter 6 God says to them, “Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey,” and then the Great Shema. Thus, what God was communicating to the people of Israel is that all the commandments can be summed up in this—love. Love for God. God wants his people to live in obedience to his commandments but not out of obligation or duty, but out of love. And what does it mean to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. God explains in vv.6-9, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Notice: you shall tech them diligently to your children; you shall talk of them when you sit and when you walk and when you lie down and when you rise up; they shall be on your hand and between your eyes and on your door posts. Thus, loving God with all your heart, soul, and might means your entire world revolves around God. It means the whole of your life is committed to pleasing God, honoring God, glorifying God. What God desires most from us is love.
Very soon I will be posting here short 2-minute articles designed to encourage Christians in their daily walk with Christ. We live in such a fast pace world and we have so much information thrown at us that often there is not much time to do any serious reading. Though that is certainly not a good excuse and every believer should find the time to engage is serious Bible study and the reading of good theology books, it is the reality of the world we live in and of most people's lives. Thus, my hope is to provide my readers with something short but deep, a quick read that will give them much to think about throughout the day. So check back soon to find my "Daily Thoughts" posted here or, better yet, subscribe to my website and receive my Daily Thoughts direct to your in-box, as well as full-length articles written periodically.
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