Devo 27

“And we have this prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  2 Peter 1:19

Have you ever felt yourself in a dark place?  Friend, even without feeling it, without Christ you are there now!  So please, pay attention!  I’m about to shine a lamp for you and Lord willing daylight will dawn, and the Bright and Morning Star will rise in your heart. You see, without Christ, your situation is just like that of the Israelites in Isaiah 59:2,3.

“Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden HIs face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity;  your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.”  

In verse 9-13 Isaiah describes clearly the human condition because of our sin.

“We hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes… We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.  For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us;  for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.”

This is a dark and hopeless situation indeed.  But Isaiah continues and offers the very kind of illuminating and hope-filled prophetic word Peter was confirming in the passage above.  In verse 16, God affirms that due to fallenness of our nature there is not a single thing we can do to make things right with Him.  So get this.  “His own arm brought him salvation.”  He knew we couldn’t save ourselves so He came down and made atonement for us.  But how?  The very next chapter in Isaiah gives us a hint of what’s to come.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;  but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

First, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, was born in human form.  Right before that a man name John was born who was appointed to

“go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of  death.”

Next, Jesus lived a perfect sinless life, fulfilling the righteous requirements of God in every way thus becoming the spotless lamb, willing and able to give His life as a sacrifice for all who lived in rebellion against Him.  The Son of God handed over His body to be brutally beaten and hung on a Roman cross, a laughing stock to those He came to save.  And as he He hung there, this rejected Savior of man, this forsaken Son of God, thick darkness came over the land.  He died.  He was buried.

Three days later, after the sun had risen, Jesus’ friends came to His tomb.  But THE SON had RISEN!  Not only had He conquered sin, He had beaten death!  And He offers that same sin slaying, death destroying power of new, everlasting life to all who trust in His righteousness alone as the means by which they can stand before a holy, wrathful, and yet graciously merciful God.

Do you see this lamp shining, showing you the only way out of your eternal peril?  Has the Son of God, the Bright Morning Star risen in your own heart?  He IS risen, friend.  He IS risen indeed.  And He’s coming again as judge.  Are you ready to stand before His soul- penetrating light in life or in death?  Today can be the day of salvation for you!  Call on Jesus and be saved!

 

Devo 26

“They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.”  Isaiah 49:10

Well, I’d hoped to have a neat and tidy little devo to go with this week’s readings but I’ve honestly just been left scratching my head.  The problem is Jonah.  You might wonder how a fish story ends up in an astronomy blog but the book of Jonah is about a lot more than a really big fish.  This tiny book is all about a really big God.  A God who hurls winds, quiets raging seas, appoints great fish for rescue missions and relocations, plants for botanical cabanas, a worm for demolition, and sun and wind to sap ones strength and scorch ones head.   All these elements of nature obey God’s bidding, except for man.  Jonah, like all people, rebels against his Creator and creation becomes his scourge.  

Nineveh is no exception.  Nineveh deservedly awaits God’s wrath.  But instead God sends His word.  He sends Jonah to scatter the seed.  Jonah proclaims Nineveh’s impending destruction and Nineveh believes God’s word and repents in fasting and sackcloth!

So God relents, just like Jonah suspected He would.  “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  And that really ticks Jonah off—so much so that he just wants to die.

It’s fascinating to me what Jonah does next.  He scattered the seed of the word like he was told, Nineveh repented like he was afraid they would, God has mercy just like he figured, and now instead of going home, he builds himself a shelter on a hill overlooking Nineveh and sits in it “till he should see what becomes of the city.”  Why?  We’ve already read that because the Ninevites responded to the word in repentance, God did not destroy the city.  So what was Jonah waiting to see? 

I think Chapter 4, verse 6 gives us a little hint.  “The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.”  At least that’s what the ESV says, but they also include a note that says “discomfort” or “evil.” Well, I don’t know about you, but that was a little disconcerting for an amateur Bible reader like myself.  I don’t know a thing about Hebrew but this sure made me wish I did! 

My trusty Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Hebrew Lexicon verified the typical translation of “ra ah” as “evil” or less often as “disaster.”  A far more knowledgeable friend of mine confirmed that this is the only time “ra ah” is ever translated as “discomfort.” If that IS an accurate translation than I can totally accept the consensus in the stack of commentaries my husband has accumulated on this particular book, Colin Smith’s “Jonah: Navigating a God-Centered Life” being the best of the bunch.  But if it isn’t an accurate translation and the plant was intended to save Jonah from something a whole lot worse than “discomfort,” than God’s immediate removal of that comfort before it even has a chance to be effective sheds a different light on Jonah’s situation (insert head-scratching here)  (probably mine AND yours now).

Now, back to that other question about what Jonah might possibly have been waiting to see from the hilltop.  Interestingly enough, the next reading on this week’s list is from Mark 4, the end of which has Jesus showing the same power God exhibits over the wind and the waves in the book of Jonah.  But in the first part there’s this parable about the sower.  Now all of this week’s readings had a scorching sun in common but these 2 had something else as well, namely the preaching of the word and the springing up of plants.  

In Mark 4:13, Jesus explains that when the word is sown, it can fall where Satan will immediately snatch it up again, or it can fall on rocky ground and spring up quickly and with great joy but because it has no root it withers at the first sign of persecution (this is the scorching sun analogy).  The word can also fall among thorns and get choked by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things.”  But when the word is sown on good soil prepared to receive it, it will bear much fruit.  

I have to wonder if that might be what Jonah is waiting to see from his shelter on top of the hill.  He had sown the word and rather to his dismay, Nineveh had responded in repentance.  So God had pity on them.  But would it last?  Would Nineveh be like the rocky soil, or the thorny soil or was it actually going to bear fruit?  Was there maybe just a chance that he might be able to witness this wicked city’s  destruction after all?  

I don’t know exactly what was going on in Jonah’s heart but God’s way of addressing it was to appoint this plant to spring up and save him from either its effects or the sun’s.  We know God’s purposes always succeed, so whichever malady God was saving Jonah from, the removal of the plant must also have been necessary to the success of the mission.  For before the sun had even arisen God appointed a worm to devour it.  

Jonah responds in his usual rash manner.  God graciously describes his outburst as misplaced pity for the plant.  But then He says something that I think gets to the heart of the whole book. 

“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”  

Oh friend!  Do you not know that if you have received the word of the Lord, the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that gospel has taken root in your life and born fruit, that it is only by the mercy of God that it has done so?  Were it not for the pity of our heavenly Father, we would be facing the same destruction Nineveh was, only on an infinitely greater scale.  But God in His great mercy and steadfast love, takes out our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, ready to receive His implanted word.  He makes it take root.  He makes it grow.  He causes it to bear fruit.  And according to James 1:18, He does this according to His own will, not ours.  “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.”

In the preceding verses James contrasts those deep-rooted plants that joyfully and steadfastly face trials and persecutions with those that spring up quickly and just as quickly fade away when the scorching sun of adversity hinders their worldly pursuits.

Was Jonah one of those plants?  Was he, as Smith suggests in his book, so exceedingly delighted in the comforts God had provided as to become “vine-centered,” freely accepting the good from God’s hand but cursing the worm and the wind (111)?

Our last reading of the week is a heavy one, but it’s one that can’t be ignored.  Revelation 16:8 says there will surely come a day when God is going to allow the sun to so increase in intensity that people will be “scorched by the fierce heat.”  Their response will be to curse the name of God rather than “repent and give Him glory.”  

Smith suggests that Jonah must have repented and given God the glory or such a God-exalting, self-humiliating testimony could never have been written (141).  Maybe it was the plant and its subsequent demise that was used to save him from his own “vine-centeredness.”  I’m left with so many questions.  Perhaps some of you real scholars out there can enlighten me.  In the mean time, all I can do is keep scattering the seed.

Devo 25

“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

My homework for our ladies Bible study had me in Genesis 2 and 3 this morning.  I’ll take Genesis any day over Ecclesiastes.  I never know what to do with Ecclesiastes.  Genesis is just so PURPOSEFUL.  Every single element of creation intentionally placed to play its part in the great drama of redemption.  Types and shadows of the coming Messiah, the last Adam and the bride He purchases for Himself, the Sabbath rest that is to come, the New Heavens and Earth where we, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, will dwell securely— these just seem to jump from the page at me.

So it was a reluctant leap for me this afternoon from the loftiness of Genesis into the murky waters of Ecclesiastes.  But when I dove in, I found Eden all over again.

Solomon’s descriptions of life under the sun, read like a dirge of lament over what was lost in the garden.  The purposefulness of creation carries now an air of purposelessness, or vanity, as the Preacher calls it.  Here sits the king in Jerusalem, another imperfect ruler like Eden’s first, in the imperfect shadow of the City of God, and all he can see is how nothing on earth can ever be made right again as long as sin and death reign.  

“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”  He asks.  Generations come and go.  The sun keeps on rising and setting and there is nothing new under it (Eccl. 1:3-9).  You work.  And then you die.  “All are from the dust, and to dust all return (Eccl. 2:20).  Is he not echoing the very words of God to Adam in Genesis 3:19?  

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Welcome to the curse.

Was the curse intended to make us happy and contented with our lot?  No!  Solomon’s depression over the situation in which we all find ourselves makes perfect sense.  What wouldn’t make sense is for one to revel in the vanity of life and somehow find fulfillment therein.  He even tests this approach to see if it would work.  And in doing so only ends up repeating all of Eve’s first foibles.  

When the serpent challenges God’s authority by twisting His command thusly, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Eve should have rebuked his error but instead she falls prey to it and adds her own twist to God’s command not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  “Neither shall you touch it,” she adds. 

In the same way, Solomon twists the creation mandate by adding to it.  He doesn’t just stop with the God-given task of building houses and planting vineyards, gardens, parks, and fruit trees and making pools of water to irrigate it all.  Instead of being content to work and tend his gardens, he acquires slaves to do the work for him.  And instead of cleaving to one wife he collects concubines.  And just as Adam is led astray by his wife, Solomon’s many wives and concubines turn his heart away from the one true God as well.

Like Eve, Solomon’s choices are governed by his appetites.  Eve “saw that the tree was good for food.” He searched his heart how to cheer his body with wine (Eccl. 2:3.) Eve saw that the tree was “a delight to the eyes.”  Whatever Solomon’s eyes desired he did not keep from them (Eccl. 2:10).  Eve saw that the tree “was desired to make one wise.” Solomon, too applied himself to know wisdom, with an infamous fervor, only to discover that “in much wisdom is much vexation and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow (Eccl. 1:18).”

Tragically, Eve discovered the same thing.  “She took of its fruit and ate and gave some to her husband.” Just as the serpent foretold, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to both good and evil and they immediately saw their own nakedness.  Solomon reached for wisdom and his eyes too were opened to all the vanity and evil and oppression and vexation under the sun. “I applied my heart to know wisdom” but this also he perceived to be “a striving after the wind (Eccl. 1:17).”

Adam and Eve commenced their striving after the wind right away.  

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen. 3:7).”

Oh the vanity!  As if that would cover their disgrace!  And then vanity of vanities, as soon as they become aware of God’s presence in the garden, they hide!  

Two truly remarkable things happen next.  The first is, God calls Adam’s name. Think of the power behind that summons!  “Samuel! (1Sam.3),” “Lazarus! (John 11),” “Saul! (Acts 9).” One has to assume that had God not come calling for them, Adam and Eve would have tried hiding forever.  But when God calls, you come out, you wake up, you rise from the dead, you fall to the ground in repentance. 

Adam’s response is also noteworthy. He claims to have been hiding due to their nakedness, except that was AFTER they had sown themselves the leafy loincloths.  But amid the soul- penetrating sound of the voice of God, all our pretenses fall away, don’t they?  Our own vain attempts at self-righteousness are exposed for what they are, filthy rags.  

And so God stoops to clothe his pathetic, naked, rebellious creatures.  He slays an animal and makes them skins and in so doing Adam and Eve are given a glimpse of what their disobedience will some day result in —the brutal death of God’s own Son, who will willingly lay down His life so that we might be clothed in His own righteousness, creating a way for us cowering creatures to once again come boldly into God’s presence without shame. 

THIS, my friends, is the righteousness Jesus was encouraging us to seek after in Matthew 6:28-32.

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Solomon’s royal robes were no more impressive to God than Adam and Eve’s leafy loincloths.  We, all of us, are as helpless in covering our own nakedness as the grass of the field.  God, Himself must do the covering.  And He does it gloriously.

Just think!  Those words in Matthew were the very words of the one wise “Shepherd” referenced at the end of Ecclesiastes.  “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” Solomon concludes, which is exactly what Adam and Eve failed so miserably in doing.  And it’s where we all fall short as well.  That’s why we need the ‘Shepherd’s’ righteous covering.  That’s why we need His wisdom and not our own! 1 Corinthians 1: 21-24 says,

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, BUT TO THOSE WHO ARE CALLED, both Jews and Greeks, CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD AND THE WISDOM OF GOD.”

And what does Christ, the very wisdom of God, command us to do?  Take of Him and eat! 

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever (John 6:58).”

Is God calling your name?  Come out and be clothed in the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ!  Reach for Him, the Living Bread, the Beauty and the Wisdom of God!  Take of Him and eat and live forever!