Posts Tagged With: devotional

A Fervent Prayer for Help in Keeping God’s Commandments–Psalm 119 Devotional (Tau)

ת Tau

169 Let my cry come before You, O LORD;
Give me understanding according to Your word.
170 Let my supplication come before You;
Deliver me according to Your word.
171 My lips shall utter praise,
For You teach me Your statutes.
172 My tongue shall speak of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness.
173 Let Your hand become my help,
For I have chosen Your precepts.
174 I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise You;
And let Your judgments help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
Seek Your servant,
For I do not forget Your commandments.  Psalm 119 nkj

The psalmist cries to the LORD for help, but in what?  He asks God to teach him His statutes.  There is a teaching through the ear.  When we hear the word of God, like when it is preached, we are being taught.  Likewise also when we read it.  But there is an inner teaching of the Holy Spirit as well, that all those who are born again (from above) enjoy.  We notice 5 things mentioned by the Psalmist:

  1. He has sinned against God terribly and possibly often. (v176a)
  2. He remembers God’s commandments. (v176b)
  3. Despite his sin, he desires to follow the law of God and delight in it. (v174, This is a characteristic of those who are born again of the Holy Spirit.)
  4. He prays a fervent prayer for the inner teaching of the Holy Spirit to make him to understand and keep the law of God–to go and do good instead of sin, obedience instead of rebellion. (v169, 170)
  5. He praises God for the answer to prayer, when he is enabled to keep His commandments.(v175)

Let us follow the example of the psalmist.  We are sinners.  If you can relate to the confession, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep,” you’re like every other Christian.  If we hear, read, and delight in God’s law, as all those who are born from above will do, then let us pray fervently to ask God to give us understanding to keep it: His statutes and commandments, and to give us victory over sin in our life.  And praise Him for the gift of repentance that He gives in answer to prayer.

This brings us to the end of Psalm 119.  If you’ve been blessed by these posts, send me a message and let me know, as I consider whether to continue with other Psalms.  You might also consider subscribing to this blog by entering your email address in the widget on the right side of this page to receive new posts directly.

Advertisements
Categories: Bible, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Word of God is our Peace and Treasure–Psalm 119 devotional (Shin)

שׁ Shin

161 Princes persecute me without a cause,
But my heart stands in awe of Your word.
162 I rejoice at Your word
As one who finds great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor lying,
But I love Your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise You,
Because of Your righteous judgments.
165 Great peace have those who love Your law,
And nothing causes them to stumble.
166 Lord, I hope for Your salvation,
And I do Your commandments.
167 My soul keeps Your testimonies,
And I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies,
For all my ways are before You. Psalm 119 nkj

The word of the Lord is such a blessed thing for Christians, that we have “great peace” because of its commandments and promises, no matter what else life brings, even if the rich and powerful come after us for no reason.  The word of God is worthy of perfect praise.  Seven is the number of perfection in Scripture.  Those who have it have found a great treasure or “spoil” (KJV).  Far more than the loot or booty that the world may offer those who seek after it, the word of the Lord brings security and satisfaction to those who trust in Him as He has spoken in it.  We are blessed as Christians in America to have a glut of Bibles printed–and not only do we have Bibles, there are still faithful churches to be found, much more than in most other parts of the world, where the Bible is faithfully preached for our learning and understanding.  Meditate on God’s word, thank God for it, treasure it, and be at peace today and everyday.

Categories: Bible, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Tender Mercies of the Wicked are Cruel, but the Lord’s Mercy is Good–Psalm 119 Devotional (Ayin)

ע Ayin

121 I have done justice and righteousness;
Do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Be surety for Your servant for good;
Do not let the proud oppress me.
123 My eyes fail from seeking Your salvation
And Your righteous word.
124 Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy,
And teach me Your statutes.
125 I am Your servant;
Give me understanding,
That I may know Your testimonies.
126 It is time for You to act, O Lord,
For they have regarded Your law as void.
127 Therefore I love Your commandments
More than gold, yes, than fine gold!
128 Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things
I consider to be right;
I hate every false way. Psalm 119, nkj

The Lord is good.  His mercy can be relied upon, but “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” Proverbs 12:10  The world oppresses and marginalizes, especially Christians that it sees as different and other.  In the midst of cruelty and oppression, the psalmist cries out to the Lord, where he knows he will find refuge.  Are you turning to the Lord with Life’s problems and hardships, or to something or someone else?  His hope is that the Lord will right all wrongs, especially violations of His law.  It is up to God to punish and not to us.  Leave that to Him.

The greatest blessing that the Lord gives to His people, is that He writes his law upon their hearts, His statutes and commandments.  Trouble in life is often caused by our own sin.  God’s grace teaches us to obey him more faithfully, so that we do not repeat the same sins that got us into trouble.  It is a grace from God.  Starting your day, pray and ask God to teach you His statutes, and go trusting that he will answer your prayer.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Bible, Pastoral | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Fatherly Punishment: Zechariah Devotional, part 12, chapter 8:10-17

God reminds us through the prophet Zechariah that blessing comes to those who learn from His loving chastisement, not to those who obstinately continue as if nothing has happened when He punishes us as our Father.  If we love God and are thankful to Him, it will show in our obedience to Him, in reflecting His justice, love and mercy to others, especially in the Church of Christ.

Zechariah 8:10 For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction: for I set all men every one against his neighbour.

11 But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the Lord of hosts.

12 For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.

13 And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.

14 For thus saith the Lord of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the Lord of hosts, and I repented not:

15 So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not.

pruned vines in May, Wikimedia Commons

For God’s people, (which in Old Testament times was the nation of Israel, and is now known as the Church of Jesus Christ, made up of Christians of every nation), sin angers God.  When we stray against God, he sends his rod to chasten us, not out of hatred, but out of His fatherly love, in order to correct our attitude and restrain our bad behavior.  There are times, as in the history of God’s people Israel recounted in the words of the prophet, when we provoke God’s anger through sin.  Chief among these sins is the sin of idolatry, of having false gods.  This can be the blatant idolatry of bowing down to false gods represented by images invented by man’s imagination, as the Jews engaged in before they had been taken to exile in Babylon, or it can be in the more subtle form of the rule of other life priorities in our hearts, the place where God’s rule is meant to be seated and expressed in our life together as the Church.  These other priorities may be money, work, family, or community, which are blessings if used for God’s glory, when they are not allowed to take priority over God in our lives and hearts, but are idols if they are allowed to be more important to us than him.  God forebears for a long time in the face of such idolatry, when he allows the material blessings to continue.  But sooner or later out of love our Father removes certain blessings in order to discipline His people, to teach us to be more faithful to Him as His obedient child, noted in verse 10 above as the removal of economic blessing and the introduction of strife between the people.  But as with any loving father, His punishment does not last forever.

There is a blessing promised, when the Church will flourish and Her hard times will be remembered no more, as even bystanders looking from the outside see that God is in her midst to bless and keep her.  This blessing involves a remnant being kept by God from among the people, while those who remain in their sinful rebellion, who, instead of repenting of their sin and learning from God’s punishment, continue obstinately in their former ways, are cut off from the people of God.  The promised blessing is for those who prove to be faithful as a result of God’s chastisement, who learn obedience to Him from it.

Let us be those who learn the lessons that God gives us opportunity to learn, teachably, receptive to what He instructs us in his word and by the events that transpire, for we know that He is in sovereign control of everything that happens to us.  God teaches us in his word, and applies it to our lives often through the events that transpire.  Let us be open to what He has to teach us so that we will receive the spiritual peace and prosperity that He promises, which is so much better than even material blessing.

16 These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates:

17 And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.

The blessing of God is received in thankfulness when we keep His commandments.  When we speak the truth to one another, love truth, and make just and right decisions as His Church, it shows that we are His people, beloved by Him, chastened but not killed, walking in thankful obedience in response to His grace to us.  When we love our neighbor and keep our word, for His glory, out of thankfulness for the blessings He has showered upon us, it shows His work written upon our heart, that we have been taught of Him and know Him.

 

Categories: Bible | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Zechariah Devotional, part 11, chapter 8:7-9, Strength from Heaven

God chastens his own as a loving father punishes his children.  He does it not to hurt us, but to help and heal us when we go astray.  If we keep focused on the salvation that God has promised us, the eternal life that we have to look forward to in him, this will spur us to achieve great things as his Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit, as the grace of God and our thankfulness to him spur us to good works.  The special promise remains with us, that God is our God, and we will be his people forever.

Zechariah 8:7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country;

And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.

God has caused his people to be taken captive, the northern tribes by Assyria, and Judah by Babylon, and now Judah has been restored to the land.  Now God gives a more general promise to save his people wherever they might be, from the east to the west, from anywhere on earth.  At no time in the Bible’s history were the northern tribes of Israel restored to the land of Israel, or enabled to gather to Jerusalem for Passover and other feast days, but they were intermingled as an ethnic group with the Assyrians until they ceased to exist.  This promise, then, concerns something greater.  In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is the Church, Israel restored at Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8), all of God’s chosen ones of every nation from everywhere under heaven, that is, spiritual Israel, will be saved from all their enemies that oppress them: especially, death, sin and the devil.

Jerusalem was the place of God’s presence among his people Israel in Old Testament times.  This presence is now found in the New Jerusalem, the Church of Jesus Christ, where God indwells and communes with His own (Revelation 21:2).  It is in the Church of Jesus Christ that truth and righteousness are found, for in her his word is proclaimed and his law is kept.  We who gather to this Church enjoy a special relationship with God that the rest of the world does not, to have him not just as God, but to be his people and to have him for our God forever.

Though we walk through life as a valley of tears, struggling against indwelling sin, suffering from death and disease, and being tempted and buffeted by Satan, yet God has saved us from being slaves to these things.  The living hope that we have in him sustains us through all the difficulties of the Christian life.  Though all of the world may be against us, yet our happiness in God is secure, knowing that He is present among us, especially when we gather to worship every Lord’s Day as his people, and that He will be our God forever.  Though our enemies are stronger than we, we feel secure knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.

“Building of Solomon’s Temple” Comestor’s Bible, 1450, Wikimedia Commons

God’s grace strengthens us for the work that he would have us to do together.  His peace enables and invigorates us to build his temple.  Although Christ is the builder of his Church, yet he gives us an important role in the work, that of proclaiming the free grace of God in Jesus Christ to sinners of every category and walk of life, and of growing up together in him by his word and Spirit, and walking in mutual discipline according to the law of love.  God’s salvation is assured.  With the outcome secured, we are free to work.  It is hard work, but worthwhile and refreshing.  There is no more important or worthy labor on earth than to work for the purity, peace, and prosperity of the Church.  It is vital, and wonderful.

Let our hands be strengthened and not slack off in this work.  If we allow our own prejudices and preferences to take hold, instead of adhering steadfastly to the word of truth, and the rule of righteousness that God has completely given in the Holy Scriptures, Christ’s Church will be structurally damaged and her construction stymied.  But with God’s grace in our hearts, obedience to his word as the only rule for everything we do in the Church, and love for one another in the unity that God’s truth brings, we will engage in this work with pure intentions and a singularity of purpose, that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will yield great blessing in the building project, as Christ’s own rule (contained in the Holy Scriptures) is gloriously kept and displayed in us as the Church to a watching world.

Categories: The Church | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Precious Promises: Zechariah Devotional, Part 10

Zechariah Devotional, Part 10

God’s promises sometimes seem far-fetched, especially when they are very different from what we see in our daily lives.  It is often hard to believe God’s promises when they so contradict what may seem to appear before our eyes.  In our passage (chapter 8), Zechariah received a word of encouragement from the Lord to His people.  Let us recall that in the previous century they had gone through some very tough times and been ransacked by wicked nations, but God’s promise for a future salvation brought a sustaining blessing that carried them through to those times ahead.

Again the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying,

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.

Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain.

These verses speak of God as a jealous God.  We may often be accustomed to think of jealousy as a negative personality trait or a form of insecurity, but there is a such thing as righteous jealousy.  A woman with a cheating husband has a right to be jealous for his affection.  And just as you would not want to mess with a mama grizzly bear’s cubs, so God’s tender affection for his chosen ones burns with hot fury against any who would come against us.  Israel may have been punished by the Lord’s fatherly hand by evil nations, but woe to those nations!  It would be better for them if they had never existed than to face the jealousy of God for his chosen ones.  He who was angered by Israel’s past sins will not be angry forever.  This applies to the Church, which is the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), today as much as it did in Zechariah’s day.  He will yet establish Zion.  God is jealous for His people and will never utterly forsake them, but will raise them in Christ and bless them forever.

As the Church of Jesus Christ, it seems like we are a dim light shining in an ocean of darkness.  So many churches have lost the last flicker that remained of their light, whether through compromising the pure word of God in order to conform to the world, or by outright closing their doors.  But God is jealous for His Church, which is Mt. Zion, the New Jerusalem. (Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 21:2.)  The Lord who has established her has promised to yet build her so that she continues to be the place of His presence with men. (Matt 16:18)  Though the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ is experiencing difficult times, there is a promise of future blessing to come.  Let this be a comfort and sustaining source of joy for us when we think about our place in this world as the mountain of God on earth, the place of His presence and glory.  Let us continue diligently in worshiping God and doing everything that Christ commanded, knowing that our God does not dwell in buildings made with hands, but in the hearts and praises of his people gathered in His name.

This mountain of God is to be called a “place of truth.”  The Church is where God’s truth is proclaimed and believed.  The word of God is central to her worship, and the Holy Scriptures are the sufficient standard and regulative norm of all of her activities.  We can be sure of God’s presence as long as the truth of his word is proclaimed among us.  Where His word if faithfully proclaimed, that is where He is.  Unto this mountain which is the “place of truth” we must gather and never forsake it.

This mountain of God is a holy place.  It is “set apart” for Him, which is the meaning of the word holy.  In the Church of Jesus Christ, common worldly ways of doing business do not hold sway, but only the commandments of the Lord administered through the offices He has appointed.  The Church is holy because it has been set apart by God for himself.  Just as the whole is holy, the individual members of the body are holy.

Do you think of yourself as set apart for God in day to day work and activities?  Although Christians must and do engage in lots of things that are very common ways of life even for non-Christians, like work, recreation, family ties, etc., yet the Christian is set apart for the Lord.  There should and must be a noticeable difference in the way that we do things versus the way the world does things.  This comes out especially in motives.  Whereas those of the world are looking out for their own self-interest as commonly understood, their safety and income, those belonging to the Lord are firstly and foremostly concerned with minding the things of God.  They are “set apart”, holy, and consecrated to Him so that nothing will entice them to do something contrary to the glory of God.  And, although we all fail deeply in many ways all the time, there is a high calling to holiness in Christ for all who are in him.  Let us be diligent to be holy, to be consecrated to God when we gather to worship as His church and also in whatever we do in life, for this is God’s work in us, to make of us this mountain his holy place.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.

And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts.

God confronts the doubting spirit of His people.  They had been in a state of war and slavery for so many years that it was almost too much to imagine children playing in the streets and old men and women alive in the city.  It is hard to imagine such things when all the old people have died and the young children cannot be allowed to play outside.  The modern culture that surrounds us commonly looks down upon children and the elderly.  Yet despite what our modern culture would have us to believe, having children is a blessing from God, and so is living to an old age.   What is impossible for us to imagine is possible with God.  His miracles are far beyond any of our expectations.  There will come a day, God says, fulfilled by Christ for His Church, when peace will be won and victory so established that His kingdom reigns in majesty, symbolized here by the peaceful and unworried presence of children and old men.  While this prophesied blessing is partly fulfilled in the kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth, especially in the churches where His word is purely preached and the sacraments administered with discipline, the full fulfillment must await the consummation, when Christ Jesus will return.  Every tear will dry from our eyes and all will experience God’s peace.  On that day, and we will not have to worry about any enemies harming us, and perfect peace and happiness will reign forever.

God’s gracious plan in Christ brings peace to us that we can now only taste a little and imagine, but someday we will dine on the full meal.  We can trust it because it is God himself who has promised, as unlike what we see before our own eyes as it may be.  We can work diligently building His holy Temple assured that He who has promised will bring it to pass in His own timing.  Thank God for this precious promise.  Let it sustain us in difficult times.

Categories: Pastoral | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

True vs. False Religion: Zechariah Devotional, Part 9

In December 518 B. C., the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, 2 years after his first vision. (Duguid)  By this time, the temple had been dedicated, but it wasn’t yet completed.  Since being restored to the land of Judah, after the Jewish people had been captive in Babylon for 70 years, not everything had gone as planned.  The Lord had been gracious to restore His people to the Promised Land after they had been taken away, but they had been lazy in the rebuilding effort, getting distracted by other concerns instead of focusing on serving the LORD in Spirit and truth.

Zechariah 7:1 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu;

When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the Lord,

And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?

Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying,

Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?

And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?

Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain?

The two messengers sent from Bethel to the north of Jerusalem were asking a logical question.  Ever since the first temple had been destroyed, they had been observing a fast in the fifth month of the year (according to the Jewish calendar) to mark the event, ask forgiveness, and plead God’s mercy.  They had also been fasting in the seventh month of the year to mark the date of the assassination of Gedaliah the imperially-appointed Jewish governor. (Jeremiah 41:1-3, Duguid)  Now that the temple had been rededicated, were they required to keep observing these fasts?, they came to ask.  The question makes sense, but the LORD takes the opportunity to give a deeper and more meaningful rebuke.  That is, were they truly fasting out of sorrow in their hearts, and repenting to the LORD, or had they just been going through the motions these last seventy years?  Before exile in Babylon, when they were eating and drinking, not fasting, were they giving glory to God in their feasting or were they vainly exalting themselves and ignoring the God of Israel?  What difference does feasting or fasting make if their hearts are not tuned and eager to hear the word of the LORD, which he had spoken through the prophets before enslavement and exile in Babylon, like through the prophets Jeremiah and Haggai?

National Cathedraw, Washington DC; wikimedia commons

Let us remember that the service which God requires, although it includes external means which are absolutely vital for the spiritual life of our souls (the hearing of the word, public prayer, songs of praise, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper), yet going through the motions externally is not enough.  We can fool ourselves into thinking we are good Christians by having our names on a membership role, by going to church, and by partaking of Holy Communion.  These things are required of Christians in God’s holy word.  But the vital life of the soul is what matters most to God, and these external things are meant to feed it by placing Christ before our eyes and in our ears and hearts.  If our hearts are hard and our ears are dull to the word that the Lord speaks in His church, these good things will not do us any good.  That service which God requires starts in the heart, which only God sees, and flows out in obedience to everything God has commanded, the way we speak and worship, and also, the way that we act in love toward those who need it most.

 

And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying,

Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:

10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.

11 But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.

12 Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.

13 Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts:

14 But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.

Through the mouth of His prophet Zechariah God speaks the same word to His people that He’d spoken through the prophets that had come before.  Just decades prior, in the gate of the temple of the LORD, Jeremiah stood and said,

Jeremiah 7:3 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.

The temple of the LORD is intended to be a meeting place of His people within His presence, so that they will become more like him, to think His thoughts and reflect His mercy.  But tragically, the people of Judah trusted in the physical structure of the Temple as a symbol of God’s favor upon them, assuming that he would always stand with them no matter what, instead of examining their hearts to be sure that they stood with him.  What was the result?  God sent them away from that place, enslaved and cruelly mistreated by a barbarous army of marauders, in order that in future generations the Jews might learn to serve the LORD from the heart.

Let us remember their example.  Maintaining a beautiful church building and keeping the traditions that remind us of God’s favor to us in the past are not enough, if we do not know Him, enjoy Him, and reflect His love to others.  A true relationship with the Lord, standing by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is intended by God to yield fruits of obedience in our lives.  Grace in the heart breaks out in action: in acts of obedient worship and in love to others.  The God who saved us through Jesus Christ and gathered us together as His body is the same God who said,

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. 

National Cathedral, Washington DC, capitolescapes.com

Let us as the people of God draw near to Him, not just with our feet every Sunday, but with our hearts, and daily in meaningful prayer, so that we may be made more like him.  And let our lives abound with the love of Christ, opening our hearts with mercy, grace, and forgiveness to the most forsaken and looked-down-upon among us, welcoming the stranger, the oppressed, the hurting, and the disadvantaged to experience the love of Christ as we have, through our example of love to them.  If we do not, God will have no choice but to remove us from our place with the whirlwind, ripping through our empty traditions like a tornado, as He did to His hard-hearted people of old when they were packed off to the evil land of Babylon.

 

 

Categories: Bible | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

An Endless Supply of God’s Spirit: Zechariah Devotional, Part 6

By Pastor Riley Fraas

In this chapter of the book of Zechariah, the prophet receives another word-picture from the Lord, given by an angel.  Remember that the Jewish people had been restored to Jerusalem, brought back from captivity in Babylon by the decree of Emperor Cyrus of Persia, whom God had stirred up to support this good work.  The work of rebuilding the destroyed temple had begun, but the building project languished in an incomplete state.  The people of God had grown tired and disinterested in the project, and enemy nations living nearby had taken advantage of the situation to stymy the project, persuading King Artaxerxes to order the construction to stop (Ezra 4:23.)  The future looked bleak for finishing what had been started (the rebuilding of the temple,) but God had more messages of hope to give to his people to motivate them with encouragement to rebuild and to trust in Him to provide necessary materials and undo obstacles.  This chapter gives us encouragement that our hope is not in our own efforts or abilities, but that we may labor in hope that God will complete that which He has started.

temple destruction

Zechariah chapter 4

1And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.

And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:

And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.

So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?

Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.

Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.

Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.

Zechariah had fallen asleep.  The Angel woke him up to give him another prophetic revelation of what God had planned for His people.  How often is it that we receive God’s words of comfort and are lulled to sleep by it instead of paying careful attention and actively applying it to our hearts and lives[i]?  Yet God’s messenger the angel is gracious and patient to wake Zechariah out of his sleep with even more comforting words of hope, of what God has in store for his people.  God is gracious to awaken his people by continuing to prompt them, despite their sleepiness.  In the time of Zechariah, the center of God’s presence among his people was located in Jerusalem.  The Church of God at the time was located there, symbolized in the vision God gave to Zechariah by one golden lampstand with seven lamps burning on it.  This was something that was commanded to be used in the temple of old, which must have seemed to Zechariah to be but a faint memory of past glory after all those years in Babylon, but the angel shows it to him to give him hope that the temple will be rebuilt and that God will be worshiped as in old times.  The lamps’ supply of oil would never go out because it is supplied by God Himself, “by my Spirit”, and not by the efforts of men.  Although the people of God may seem lazy and distracted at times to do the hard work of building the temple of the Lord, God Himself will sustain her through a supply of his own Spirit.  He has mysterious ways of keeping the spiritual life of his chosen people aflame by his Spirit.

lampstand_bowlToday, in the new covenant, the Church of God is no longer depicted by only one lampstand, but by seven lampstands (Revelation 1:20), symbolizing the dispersion of the worship of God in many locations over the entire world.  (Seven is the number of perfection and completeness in the Bible.)  The Church of God is no longer confined to one location in Jerusalem, but is spread out over the entire world.  Though the building of God’s Church through evangelism and discipleship may seem like a futile and useless effort to the eyes of human understanding, God promises to bless His people still.  We may seem small and insignificant in the eyes of the world and ready to die out at any moment.  But the One who gives the life of the Spirit to His Church is the One who gives it a continual supply of His Spirit that will never go out.  Our faith as Christians, and as the Church of Christ, is not in our ability to build the Church, but in the promise of Him who said, “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18  The Church of Jesus Christ will never end, and it will be completed, through God working in it by a never-ending supply of his Holy Spirit.

Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you.

10 For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

11 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?

12 And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?

13 And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.

14 Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.

It is easy to think little of small beginnings.  Though the Church of Jesus Christ, as we see it in the world, may seem to be relatively few in number and weak in comparison to all of the forces of evil in the world that combat it, the One through whom God has started the work will also finish it.  Zerubbabel is the King of Judah and ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:12)  He came out of captivity in Babylon with the nation of the Jews to rule as God’s anointed.  He is a picture and foreshadowing of King Jesus, the Christ (anointed One) and Ruler of God’s people.  God promises that the temple will be rebuilt completely within Zerubbabel’s reign.  Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.  What has been started through Him will be completed by Him.  God places one olive tree on either side of the lampstand pictured to Zechariah, symbolizing His endless provision of oil to the lampstand.  These are trees planted by the Lord, two “anointed” ones.  The two trees most likely are symbols of the two prophets that God sent to Judah during this time of rebuilding: Zechariah and Haggai, to encourage the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:1.)  Through his Spirit, God anoints and appoints the ministry of the word to bring his gracious words of comfort and grace to his people.  The Church of Jesus Christ is the “pillar and ground of truth” in the world (1 Timothy 3:15.)  By means of his Spirit, he supplies her with life, and the offices necessary for her nourishment, especially the gospel ministry.  Let us never forget where the life and strength of the Church comes from when we grow weary and are tempted to think that it is completely insignificant.  Through His holy Church God is accomplishing His purposes in the world to save many souls and make disciples of Christ for His everlasting glory.  He will accomplish His purposes despite the opposition of the world.  As the Church of Jesus Christ, this is our comfort and hope.


[i] Cf. Matthew Henry’s commentary.

Categories: Pastoral | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Dirty Clothes Get Changed: Zechariah devotional, part 5

In the third chapter of Zechariah the LORD gives a fifth vision speaking of deliverance and restoration.  It in it we see Satan, the accuser of the people of God, and the Angel of the LORD, a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son, standing with Joshua the high priest.

Flickr_-_DVIDSHUB_-_Tough_Mudder_(Image_5_of_8)

Zechariah 3:1-3 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.  And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?  Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. 

The scene begins with a cast of three: The Angel of the LORD, Satan, and the high priest named Joshua.  The Angel of the LORD is God the Son prior to his having been conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary.  He is the LORD, (“LORD” in all caps stands for Jehovah or Yahweh in most English Bibles,) called by the covenant name of God.   Jesus the Son of God is God Himself, equal to the Father, and when He speaks, even Satan must listen.  “Satan”, meaning, “adversary” is the accuser of the people of God, their self-appointed prosecutor and accuser before the seat of God’s righteous judgment.  An angel fallen from heavenly glory after having rebelled against the Most High, he stands to “resist” God’s chosen people represented by the high priest named Joshua.  The high priest was one called and set apart to minister the commandments of God in the temple, make sacrifices, represent God to the people by preaching the word of God and performing the required ceremonies, and representing the people to God in prayer on their behalf.  The name, “Joshua” means in Hebrew, “The LORD saves”, commonly transliterated into Greek as “iesous” and is the same as the Latinized “Iesus” or “Jesus.”  This is the name of the high priest who was serving in the temple when Zechariah prophesied these words.  Even his name points to the Lord’s salvation through One named Jesus, who is our great High Priest forever.  When Satan accuses the people of God of sin, Christ Jesus, here termed “the angel of the LORD”, defends them based on the truth that He is on their side.  Of what can Satan accuse God’s elect?  (Romans 8:33)  He rebukes Satan for accusing Joshua, and in him God’s chosen people.  Joshua’s garments are filthy, stained with muck.  Despite his uncomely appearance, clearly visible in the light of a torch pulled out of the fire, Satan’s accusations don’t stick.  The devil’s accusations of God’s chosen people are just empty words.  No matter how darkly stained our garments, God will defend us and not condemn us.  But why?

4-5 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him.  And unto him he said, Behold, have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.  And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.  So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments.  And the angel of the LORD stood by. 

The High Priest's Holy Garments --www.esvbible.org

The High Priest’s Holy Garments –www.esvbible.org

The Angel of the LORD is the one speaking here.  He is God the Son, who will clothe Joshua with new priestly garments.  Here is the answer to the question of how God’s chosen people are to be acquitted and justified by God rather than condemned as Satan would prefer.  It is through a change of clothing wrought by the Angel of the LORD.  He places a new garment and a tall priestly hat: a “mitre” upon Joshua.  Although the sins of God’s chosen people are many, yet He will place His own (Christ’s own) righteousness upon them as a new garment replaces the filthy one.  Our beauty and acceptability to God is not based on our own righteousness or good works, for even at our best we are just filthy rotten sinners; it is based on Christ’s own righteousness imputed to us as our covering, clothing our sinful nakedness with the splendid beauty of holiness which is pleasing to God, Christ’s works.  He stands by us His elect (v. 5) as our comfort and assurance that God has forgiven us our sins and accepted us for His (Christ’s) sake.  What assurance of salvation!  What comfort!  There is nothing in this universe which compares to the glory of God seen in the justification of sinners deserving only condemnation by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

6-10 And the angel of the LORD protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.  Here now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH.  For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.  In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.   

Being forgiven of his sins, justified in God’s sight, and with the help of God’s Son standing by him, Joshua the high priest is obligated to devote himself genuinely and fully to the service of God out of thankfulness for the grace he’s received.  This applies to all those who have been saved by grace, to all citizens of chosen Israel.  Have you been forgiven of all your sins and counted righteous in God’s sight for the sake of Christ?  Then live accordingly by thankfully obeying all His commandments, trusting in His aiding grace to do His work in you as He stands by you.

“The BRANCH” is a reference to Jesus Christ, a branch grown from the family tree of David.  (Jeremiah 23:5)  He is the eternal God, knowing all things, symbolized in verse 9 as a stone with seven eyes representing Him who sees and knows all things perfectly.  (7 in the Bible is the number of perfection.)  The promise of forgiveness and justification is in Him, through Him, and to Him.  It is in reference to Christ the “BRANCH” that this vision promises such blessing.  Because of Him, a great period of blessing will come in, when neighbors will have fellowship together and enjoy the good things of the LORD represented as the fruit of the vines and fig trees.

God’s message in this prophetic oracle is that although Israel would be delivered of her enemies and restored fully from captivity to foreign nations (Babylon and Assyria), yet her sins would remain.  These would be taken away by replacing his filthy rags with new glorious garments.  Our salvation is not first and foremost about the healing of our physical bodies or restoration from earthly difficulties, but about the forgiveness of our sin and justification by God’s grace in imputing Christ’s righteousness to us.  Let us remind ourselves of these blessed truths of God’s word daily in order that we may be inspired to live for Him with thankful hearts overflowing with praise for what He has done.

Categories: Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zechariah Devotional, part 4: God’s Plans Are Greater Than Our Expectations

Cattle stockyard. Mendota, California.Zechariah 2 I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand.

Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof.

And, behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him,

And said unto him, Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein:

For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.

The second chapter of Zechariah continues with a series of word-pictures, symbolizing what God has in store for His people.

There is a man with a measuring line, a method of measuring the city, similar in use to a yardstick.  Why is he measuring the city?  He’s apparently measuring the size of the new city, which will be much greater than anyone would think[i].

They have been scattered and abused by nations like Assyria and Babylon, but God is her Builder.  Although only small remnant was allowed by the Persian Emperor Cyrus to return and rebuild the city, and the rebuilding seems at this stage quite pitiful compared to its former splendor, God’s building plans are far larger than the remnants’ imagination.  Human ability seems weak, but God is planning to bless His holy city to such an extent that it will have too many people and cattle living in it to be contained within walls!

Isn’t it true that the churches of Jesus Christ in our day and age seem to be small and few?  Is there not a small remnant calling upon the name of the Lord?  But God’s plans for His people are much bigger than our imagination.  Even today, the good news of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God is going forth throughout the nations.  And knowing what a great God we have, don’t think for a minute that God can’t do it right within our midst!  His plans for us are greater and more abundant than anything we can expect or think.

Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the Lord.

Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.

For thus saith the Lord of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.

For, behold, I will shake mine hand upon them, and they shall be a spoil to their servants: and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me.

Although the world has troubled God’s holy people, just a shaking of His hand over them will be their undoing.  God will continue to bring back the rest of His people who are exiled in faraway Babylon, and join them to His flock in Jerusalem.  And all those who held them in bondage will suffer for their crimes, for God is a God whose jealous love burns hotly for His people whom He loves.

Even in our day and age, God has His chosen people scattered here and there, whom He is bringing into blessed and sweet communion with His Church, His holy Bride.  Whoever they are, wherever they are, wherever they came from, he will bring them out of their captivity to sin and the thrall of Satan to enjoy the blessed fellowship of the redeemed, in His own timing.  And He is doing this even now.  We can be assured that all the purposes of our great God will be accomplished in this.  The sins will be purged away and Satan will pay for his crimes against God’s elect for holding them under his sway, until the day of their blessed deliverance, when grace made them alive and they were made willing and able to respond positively to the savory gospel promises by the work of the Holy Spirit within them.

10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.

11 And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee.

12 And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.

13 Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation. 

Here the promise and fulfillment come together in description in a prophetic song of victory.  This is one of those choice and delicious passages of the Old Testament which triumphantly proclaims God’s grace pervading the nations—not only one nation.  There will come a day, says the prophet Zechariah, when the grace of God will extend beyond national lines, to join nations which have not known Him unto His people.  “Many nations,” says he, “will be joined to the LORD”, to be “my people”!  That is, they will come and be citizens of Jerusalem, in the midst of which He dwells.

We can all be thankful for God’s grace in saving not only one nation, but some of every nation, including ourselves!  And He made us all one in Christ.  We see this mighty action of God having worked itself out in history through the proclamation of the gospel and the effectual application of it to many souls by the Holy Spirit across the entire globe from shore to shore to shore.  There is scarcely a nation or a language on the entire earth today in which the Father is not worshiped in the name of His Son Jesus Christ.  And let us be sure that He is not finished yet.  He is adding yet more to the number of the redeemed, to the citizenry of that Holy City which shall never pass away.


[i] Some Insights gained from the ESV Study Bible

Categories: Bible, Pastoral, The Church | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.