Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 45-47; Psalm 105; John, chapter 21
Scripture: John 21:15-22 (NRSV) – When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After his he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
Observations: I’ve read this passage literally hundreds of times. I’ve preached from this passage numerous times. I’ve heard sermons and devotionals based on this passage. Most of the time, we focus on Jesus asking Peter, “Do you love me?” I’ve heard people analyze the different words for “love” that Jesus uses. I’ve heard others talk about the fact that he asked Peter three times because Peter had denied him three times. There are any number of other themes that arise from this passage, but today, God has focused my attention on one thing: “Follow me!”
“Follow me!” is Jesus’ encouragement to Peter when he talks about the way that Peter will die. “Follow me!” is Jesus’ warning to Peter when Peter starts to worry about “the other disciple” – presumably along these lines: “If I have to go through that, what about him? Will he have to go through that sort of thing too?” “Follow me!” is Jesus’ call for Peter to focus on one thing. When Jesus tells Peter, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go,” he’s reminding him of something he had taught the disciples all along: when we really follow Jesus, the world will fight against us. Following Jesus is not a guarantee of a comfortable life, where everything goes just the way we want. Following Jesus is an invitation to be part of a different kingdom, with different priorities, and we should never expect that this world’s kingdom will encourage and bless us. And the phrase, “when you are old,” ought to remind us that there is no promise of comfortable “golden years” to any of us, nor are we exempted from the rigors of following Jesus wholeheartedly as we get older. Satan wants to tell us to take it easy, and rest; God wants to light a fire inside us that keeps us going for as long as we’re here. Jesus’ call to us is the same as it was to Peter: Follow me!
Applications: God is reminding me today that the fields are white for harvest, and he is looking for workers. Why would we think that he’s looking for workers so we can take it easy? He’s looking for more workers, not replacement workers! The challenge today is to give God everything I have, every day, for as many days as I have. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Follow me!”
Prayer: Father, help me today to follow Jesus just that way – with everything I have. May I do your will to the best of my ability, so that your Kingdom may impact this world and help others to follow Jesus. Lead me in your ways today, and supply me with everything I need to do glorify you today. Amen.
Why are you weeping?
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 26, 35-36; John, chapter 20
Scripture: John 20:11-18 (NRSV) – But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have taken him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Observations: Two things stand out to me today as I read these verses. First, when Peter and John went into the tomb, there were no angels there; but when Mary Magdalene looked in, they were there. She had come to the tomb first, saw that the stone was rolled back, and assumed that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. (Verse 1 does not say that she looked into the tomb at that time.) Peter and John came, looked into the tomb, and saw that Jesus’ body was gone – but they didn’t see any angels. They went back to their homes, but Mary stayed there outside the tomb, weeping. Perhaps God sent the angels to comfort her, since she was weeping. The disciples were apparently more motivated by fear than sorrow; they didn’t stay there at the tomb, and later, when they were meeting together, “the doors of the house were locked for fear of the Jews” (verse 19).
But at second glance, the angels didn’t really comfort her; all they did was ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Did she even notice that they were angels? As she answered them, she turned away; I think I would have been staring at them! As she turned, she saw Jesus – but didn’t even know that it was him. Why? Had she been weeping so much that she couldn’t see clearly? I picture her turning, catching a glimpse of someone out of the corner of her eye, and never even lifting her eyes as he speaks to her. She was so bound up in sorrow that even the very presence of Jesus escaped her notice. But then he speaks to her – calls her by name– and in that moment, she realizes who he is, and begins to rejoice. And so maybe the question, “Why are you weeping?” – which both Jesus and the angels asked her – was comfort, because it helped her to turn her focus away from her sorrow and toward the hope that only God can give. It may not have been the sort of “warm and fuzzy” comfort that we often think of, but it was the best kind of comfort – the kind that pointed her toward joy.
The other thing that stands out is the fact that when Jesus appeared to Mary, he said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” I had always just thought that when he said that he had not yet ascended, he was referring to the fact that the Ascension – which would be 40 days later – was still in the future. But clearly he’s referring to something else, because he tells Mary to go and tell the disciples this – and he would see the disciples later that evening. So the “ascending” that he’s talking about must be something that happened that day, after his appearance to Mary, but before his appearance to the disciples. What did that entail? Scripture gives us no clear answer. As I think about it, I imagine a reunion with the Father, where Jesus the Son actually returns to see God face to face for the first time since “the Word became flesh.” All during his earthly life, Jesus had experienced God’s presence in prayer, in worship, and occasionally by hearing his audible voice – but now he would get to see God face to face. What joy that would be!
Applications: I’m just reflecting today on the absolute joy of Jesus’ reunion with the Father – the same kind of joy that Mary had when she realized that Jesus was there in front of her. Why was Mary rejoicing? Because she loved Jesus; she had spent so much time with him before his crucifixion, and then she had thought that she would never see him again. When she realized that he was alive, standing there in front of her, of course she rejoiced! And I imagine that Jesus experienced the same kind of joy at the thought of his reunion with the Father. God is reminding me that we can have the joy of experiencing his presence each day, as we spend time in prayer, in reading the Word, in worship, and in being the hands and feet of Jesus by serving others. If we can learn to experience the joy in those things, think of how great our joy will be when we get to see Jesus face to face!
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me today of the joy that you want your people to experience in their daily communion with you. Thank you, also, for the promise that this joy will pale in comparison to the joy that we will have when your Kingdom comes in its fullness. Help me today to live in ways that lift Jesus up, so others will be drawn to him. Help me to demonstrate the joy of knowing you. Amen.
Here is your King!
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 23 and 25; John, chapter 19
Scripture: John 19:7-16 (NRSV) – The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your king!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Observations: “We have no king but the emperor.” What a shocking thing for Jewish people to say! When God had brought them out of Egypt, he had told them that they would not need a king, because he would be their king. Of course, they had ultimately rejected that, asking God to give them a king so they could be like the nations around them. God did so; some of the kings were good, and led the people to follow God, but far more of them were wicked, and led the people into idolatry. Ultimately, that idolatry led them into exile (as Jeremiah prophesies in our passages from Jeremiah 23 and 25 today).
By Jesus’ day, the people were no longer worshiping idols like Baal, or Asherah – or Zeus and Artemis of the Greeks, or any of the Roman gods. They made a great show of worshiping God – but, as Jesus pointed out, their hearts were far from him. This passage shows that they understood exactly what Jesus had been saying all along: that he is God’s Son who came to call them to participate in God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately, this passage also clearly sets forth their response: “We have no king but the emperor.” They had come to view the peace, the prosperity, and the security of the Roman government as their kingdom, so they refused to accept the real King and pledge allegiance to his Kingdom.
Applications: God is reminding me today that we have only one King – the King of kings and Lord of lords. Our obedience to him must be more than mere lip service; we must live each day in submission and service to him. It is hard to picture our King with a crown of thorns on his head, beaten and bloodied, hanging on a cross – but we must remember that he paid that price to offer us life and citizenship in his Kingdom. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world (John 18:36); we must not get too connected to the kingdoms of this world. We must live each day as a proclamation, “We have no king but Jesus!”
Prayer: Father, thank you for the reminder that we are first and foremost citizens of your Kingdom. While we live in this world, help us to make the things of your Kingdom our priorities. Help us to live as salt and light in this world, so that others may experience your presence, your power, and your peace through your work in us. May your Kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as in heaven, by the citizens of your Kingdom. Amen.
Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 24; Psalm 112; Jeremiah, chapter 22; John, chapter 18
Scripture: 2 Kings 24:8-11 (NRSV) – Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done. At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and the palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign.
Observations: The thing that struck me today as I read this passage was that Jehoiachin only reigned three months in Jerusalem before God’s judgment on Judah came in the person of Nebuchadnezzar. I’m not sure what Jehoiachin was thinking as he became king, but the thought that came to my mind is that he probably thought he had plenty of time as king to figure things out. But in God’s timing, three months was all he got. The passage tells us that although Jehoiachin was only king for three months, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.” Three months was enough time for him to have realized his errors, repented, and turned toward the Lord. He may have thought, “My ancestor Manasseh reigned for fifty-five years, even though he did evil things. Many of the other kings had long reigns, too, in spite of not honoring God. So I’ve got plenty of time to figure things out.”
But he didn’t. Three months as king, and the Babylonians came. He and his family were carried off to Babylon, never to return. The seeds of disobedience had been sown in his life long before he became king, and when they continued to sprout after he became king, God had seen enough.
What a contrast we see in Psalm 112! “Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed…For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.” (Psalm 112:1-2, 6) Following God and obeying him will always lead us to the right places in the end. Sin may have its pleasure for a season; there is a way that seems right to man, but in the end, it leads to destruction – just as Jehoiachin discovered. But God’s blessings will be upon those who honor him.
Applications: God is reminding me today of the urgency in sharing his truth with people when we have the opportunity to do so. They may think they have plenty of time; we may think they have plenty of time – but we never know. That’s why it’s important to us to listen to God and walk in obedience each day! When we do, God will always lead us in his way – and we can trust that in the end, he will lead us exactly where we need to go.
Prayer: Father, help me to do just that – to listen to you and to walk in obedience today. As I acknowledge your provision of my daily bread, the things I need, I also acknowledge your daily direction, correction, instruction, and help. May I do your will today, so that your Kingdom may come in greater measure, on earth as in heaven. Amen.
Majesty and Holiness
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 18-20; Psalm 93; John, chapter 17
Scripture: Psalm 93 (NRSV) – The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!
Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.
Observations: The two words that the psalmist uses from the beginning of this psalm are “majesty” and “strength.” In fact, “majesty” and “majestic” are used four times in these five verses to describe the Lord. Dictionary.com defines “majesty” as “regal, lofty, or stately dignity; imposing character; grandeur; supreme greatness or authority; sovereignty.” (www.dictionary.com) God is all of that, and more! The psalmist, in trying to describe God’s greatness, doesn’t merely say that the Lord is majestic; he is robed in majesty. It surrounds him, envelops him. Not only that, but the psalmist gives us two comparisons to help us understand just how majestic God is: more majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, and more majestic than the waves of the sea. If you’ve ever stood on the shore of the ocean and looked out at its immensity, and listened as the waves crashed against the shore, just think – God is more majestic than that!
But at the end of the psalm, we’re reminded of another characteristic of God – his holiness. Holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore. Holiness is not just one characteristic of God; it is at the center of his character. It is so important that everything about him flows from his holiness. Everything, and everyone, that comes into his presence must be holy. To say that holiness befits his house reminds us that we cannot take it lightly when we come into his presence. Because we do not often hear the crashing of the waves and see the immensity of the ocean when we come before God in worship and in prayer, we need to be reminded of his greatness and his holiness in order to have a true appreciation for the majesty of God.
Applications: God is reminding me of the importance of understanding, and communicating, his greatness and his majesty to others. To truly worship God involves a sense of awe and wonder – not that we are constantly cowering or cringing in fear, but that we recognize God’s majesty and his power, and we honor his holiness by striving to be holy, as he has commanded us. We do not have to fear, because we also realize that God loves us; his power stands ready to fulfill his purposes in us. So we rejoice at the knowledge of God’s majesty, and we dwell in the light of his holiness.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed – HOLY – is your name. As I walk in your presence today, help me to recognize your majesty and your power. As you guide me today, help me to dwell in your holiness. Help me to honor you by doing your will, on earth as in heaven. Help me today to glorify you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Spirit of Truth
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 16-17; Psalm 96; John, chapter 16
Scripture: John 16:7-15 (NRSV) – Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Observations: Several things strike me from this passage. First, Jesus tells the disciples that it is to their advantage if he goes away. I’m sure they didn’t believe that for a minute! They were used to having him there, teaching them and fixing problems, and I’m sure that the prospect of him leaving them was terrifying! It is often that way with us: we get so used to things being the way that they are that the prospect of any change throws us into a tizzy. As a pastor, I’m used to seeing that resistance to change, and trying to help people through it, but the fact is that when the change involves me, I’m just as likely to resist it. But what Jesus tells the disciples is true for us, in a much broader sense: when God is at work, and things start to change, it is for our advantage.
The second thing that strikes me is what Jesus says that the Spirit will do when he comes. First, Jesus says that when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. Two things stand out to me: first, the Spirit has come, so he is doing all of those things in the world today. Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Advocate; that happened at Pentecost. That means that the Spirit is active in the world right now, proving the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. Second, Jesus says that the Spirit will do those things; nowhere does he tell the disciples that they are to do those things. When we focus on following Jesus (as the Spirit will lead us to do), the Spirit will use the fact that Jesus is alive in us to do his work.
The last thing that strikes me is that the Spirit will glorify me [Jesus], because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Spirit does is intended to glorify Jesus, just as everything that Jesus does is intended to glorify the Father. That means that the Spirit’s purpose is not to glorify us. If it glorifies Jesus to attract attention to us, the Spirit will do that; if it glorifies Jesus for us to fade into the background, unnoticed in the light of his glory, the Spirit will do that. We need to focus on just doing what the Spirit leads us to do. And since the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, he primarily leads us through God’s eternal truth – the written Word and the living Word. That’s why we need to stay in the Word each day!
Applications: God is reminding me that the litmus test for my actions must be, “Does this glorify God?” If I have to come up with some drawn-out rationalization for how this might glorify God, it’s probably not the right course! When I listen to the Spirit each day, allowing him to lead me through what God’s Word says, I won’t have to worry about whether it’s glorifying God; the Spirit will make sure that I do. It’s easy to get caught up in doing things that other people think we should do. I need to keep my focus on Jesus, and allow him to set my agenda.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the reassurance that the Spirit is leading me, and that he will lead me in ways that ultimately bring glory to you. Thank you for the reminder that the Spirit is already at work in the world, convincing the world of its sin and its need for you. I don’t have to convince the world of their sin; the Spirit will do that. I need to walk in obedience, so the Spirit can use me to demonstrate that there is an alternative to the way that leads to death, that they can find life and hope and peace in Jesus. May your Kingdom come in greater measure today, so people will see that there is life in Jesus. Amen.
"Do Not Pray For This People"
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 13-15; John, chapter 15
Scripture: Jeremiah 14:7-12 (NRSV) – Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night? Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! Thus says the Lord concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. The Lord said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.
Observations: It is a frightening thing to reach the end of God’s patience. Over the years, Israel had cried out to God for deliverance, only to turn back to their idols and their sin. The people of Judah even had the additional warning of seeing what had happened to the northern kingdom, when the Assyrians came and carried them off – but Judah continued in its idolatry and sin. Finally, God had reached the point where he would no longer withhold punishment.
This passage really caught my attention this morning, for two reasons. First, in verses 7-9, Jeremiah is obviously praying a prayer of repentance on behalf of the nation. Our iniquities…our apostasies…we have sinned against you. Jeremiah had not participated in those sins, yet he felt compelled as God’s prophet to repent on behalf of his people. What a powerful reminder to us! In a day and age when people are all too ready to “pass the buck” – “I didn’t do that; it’s not my fault; don’t blame me” – Jeremiah repents on behalf of the people, acknowledging their sin and begging for God’s forgiveness. As God’s people, we need to do the same. We need to acknowledge where we’ve gone wrong – not only individually, but as the Church, and as a nation. If we’re not willing to acknowledge those things, how can we call for people to return to God?
The second thing about this passage that strikes me is God’s response to Jeremiah: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. I’m not suggesting that God has directed me in this way, but I do think we need to recognize that praying for God to bless us may not be what God wants us to pray. When the Church fails – or even refuses – to proclaim God’s truth, why should God bless it? When a nation fails to honor God and obey his commands, why should he bless it? At some point, God may again say, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” I think he wants us to pray for their repentance, for their salvation, rather than for material blessings and protection. That’s not a popular message today, any more than it was in Jeremiah’s day – but that doesn’t make it any less true, nor any less important.
Applications: God is reminding me that our call, as the Church, is to do far more than pray for people’s blessing and welfare. We need to pray for their salvation; we need to pray that God will show them his way; we need to pray that God will help us to know what to do in order to help people find their way to him. If our nation, our culture, is failing to honor God, and leading people away from God, we should pray for them to wake up and turn back to God. Praying for blessings in those circumstances may serve only to deceive people into thinking that they’re on the right path. We need to recognize what God’s principles are, we need to live by those principles, and we need to proclaim them as God gives us opportunity to do so.
Prayer: Father, I confess that it is a frightening thing to think that you might again say, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” I have no idea how close you might be to that point, but it worries me. Help me today to live in ways that point people toward you, your truth, and your priorities, so they might turn to you and be made whole. It is a frightening thing to think about Jeremiah, and how he was hated and rejected for speaking your truth, because it wasn’t popular or comforting – but I know that I have to be willing to obey you, no matter what. Give me the strength to do your will, and to proclaim your message, regardless of the response. Hallowed be your name. Amen.
Greater Works Than Jesus
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 10-12; John, chapter 14
Scripture: John 14:12-17 (NRSV) – Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
Observations: That title – “Greater Works than Jesus” – sounds so presumptuous! As I was typing it, I thought, “What are you talking about?” Many times I’ve read this passage as a promise: Jesus will do whatever we ask if we ask in his name; he promised to send the Holy Spirit to be our advocate, and to lead us as the Spirit of truth; he will be in us. But today, I’m challenged and convicted by this passage, because Jesus says, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” If that’s true – and, of course, it is – then what does that say about my belief? If I believe, I will do greater works than Jesus did – not because of me, but because he has gone to the Father. I know he has gone to the Father, so it must be my belief that is the problem! And I think that is demonstrated by my reaction to the title. As soon as I hear it, read it, or write it, I immediately start to discount it – and convince myself that I’m being humble by doing so. But what if I’m not? What if my reaction is really the result of a lack of belief on my part? What if Satan’s just trying to deceive me by making me think that my lack of belief is really a demonstration of humility?
Jesus has promised to do whatever we ask him when we ask in his name. Now, I know that “in his name” is an important qualifier; I can’t just ask for whatever I want. But when I ask in his name – when I know what he would want to do, and my desire is to glorify him, not myself – he will do whatever I ask.
This promise has not changed. The power of God has not changed. The position of Jesus has not changed. The presence of the Holy Spirit has not changed. I need to believe more, and more effectively! And I think that Jesus is telling me that my belief is demonstrated in how much I ask him to do. The belief that Jesus is talking about is not belief that “I can do it”; it is an understanding that I cannot do it, but Jesus can. If I know that I can’t do it, and I believe that he can, why am I not asking him more?
Applications: I think the application is obvious: Jesus wants to do more in this world, because that brings glory to his Father. He’s calling me to believe more, and to ask more, so he can glorify the Father by doing the sorts of things that he came here to do. It’s a little scary – I guess because I know myself and how easy it is for me to think about myself rather than about Jesus. But if I’m really following him – if I really believe in him – I have to trust that he will do what is according to his will, and he’ll help me to recognize what’s not. I just need to ask more.
Prayer: Father, I confess that it is hard for me to do that. I don’t trust myself to know your will enough to be able to ask boldly; I don’t trust myself to remember that everything is for your glory. But I want to honor you, to obey you, to glorify you – so help me to ask, to ask boldly, and to keep asking; help me to know your will; help me to recognize when you’re telling me that what I’m asking is not your will; and help me to give you the glory for everything that you do. May your Kingdom come and your will be done today, by me. Amen.
Obey My Voice
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 7-9; John, chapter 13
Scripture: Jeremiah 7:21-28 (NRSV) – Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.
Observations: This command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way I command you, so that it may be well with you.” That’s still the command that God gives us today. He’s given us his written Word, so we know they way that he commands us, but he doesn’t want us to make it a mechanical obedience; he wants us to study his Word, to know what it says, and then to listen as he helps us to know how he wants us to live each day in obedience to his commands.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned about the belief in a “cheap grace” which “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship) Grace does not mean that obedience is optional. Just as God commanded the Israelites, he says to his people today: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.”
When we ignore God’s commands – when we live according to our own plans and wishes rather than resolutely following God – we become a nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline. For “nation” we can substitute “people” – or “church.” We see it time and time again, in Scripture and in the present day: people cry out to God when things are going badly; then, when God rescues them, they go back to doing things their way. It was the cycle the Israelites followed in the book of Judges. We see God’s deliverance each time, and we marvel at his grace, but we often forget that the pattern of disobedience and rebellion gradually led them downward. By the end of the cycle, the state of the people was described like this: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That is not God’s plan, nor his desire, for his people! God’s desire is for us to “obey my voice.”
Applications: God is reminding me today of the importance of teaching his people that he expects our obedience. Jesus’ death is not just a “get out of jail free” card, promising us entrance into heaven when we die; it is the power of God to transform us. When we forget that – when we lapse into the notion of “cheap grace” – we miss the depth and the fullness of the salvation which Jesus came to bring. The blood that purchased our forgiveness is also powerful to make us holy – and that’s exactly what God calls us to be.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the forgiveness, the transformation, and the cleansing that you provide through your Son, Jesus. Thank you for the call to be holy, as you are holy – to be exactly what you created me to be. Help me today to obey your voice, and to walk in the way that you command, so that your Kingdom may come and your will be done – by me, here on earth, as it is in heaven. Help me to know your truth; help me to proclaim your truth; and help everyone to listen to your truth. Amen.
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 5-6; John, chapter 12
Scripture: John 12:36b-43 (NRSV) – After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
Observations: Two things grab my attention today. First is the “struggle to believe.” John says that “they did not believe in him,” but he later says that “many, even of the authorities, believed in him.” It’s easy to believe in the face of miracles, but what is it that people believe? They believe that a miracle has been done; they may even believe that there is a supernatural power behind that miracle. But when John talks about people “believing in” Jesus, he’s referring to the kind of life-changing belief that Jesus is the one and only Son of God, who came to give his life for us. It is the “life-changing” part that is the struggle, as we see in the last verse of this passage: But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God. In the same way, a lot of people are willing to “believe” as long as that “belief” makes them feel better, or gives them some sort of hope – but when it comes to the life-changing transformation that Jesus calls us to, they’re not willing to go that far.
That brings me to the second thing: Isaiah’s prophecy that God “had blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts,” so that they wouldn’t believe. That sounds rather harsh to us – as though it’s not their fault that they didn’t believe. But God clarifies this in Jeremiah 6:19: “Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.” What God decreed through Isaiah is the same message that runs through Scripture, from beginning to end: disobedience has consequences. Any “belief” in Jesus that convinces us that sin is acceptable and disobedience is inevitable is not the “real” belief to which Jesus calls us. We cannot shy away from the inevitable results of “real” belief in Jesus. When he transforms us, there will be people who reject us; there may come a time when we will face danger because of our belief. We need to allow God to prepare us for that – and he will. “Real” belief is not dependent on circumstances, or results; it is based solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Applications: God is teaching me today that he prepares us to face the “big” challenges by going through the “little” challenges of day-to-day life: being willing to share our faith; making decisions based on how God leads us, rather than just what we prefer, or what others around us prefer. We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that the message of Jesus will be popular; the call to come and die will not be popular. But when we’ve already died with Christ, he lives in us – and we do not need to be afraid of anything that the enemy may throw at us. God is calling me to be more bold in speaking and doing what he tells me to, rather than worrying about how it will be received.
Prayer: Father, I confess that at times it is hard to be bold. With the man whose son was oppressed by a demon, I say, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Strengthen my faith today, and help me to be fearless in my obedience, so that your Kingdom may come and your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Amen.
Pastor Rick Rice
Pastor Rick has served as Senior Pastor at TCNAZ since August 1999. He and his wife Jill have three grown children: Allen, David (Brianna), and MacKenzie.
Previous blog posts can be found at "My Journey".