The Well: April
April 1: James 3,4
In these chapters James singles out as important aspects of good works the areas of our words, and the motives behind them.
We all recognize the power of words. The old saying “sticks and stones may breakg my bones but words will never hurt me” is really wishful thinking at best. In many ways angry, hurtful words can pierce the heart deeper than a sword. This is a common theme in the Proverbs (see: Prov. 12:18).
In 3:9, 10 James summarizes the great problem with the tongue. While we can use it to bless our God, it can also be used to curse those made as his image bearers, and this just isn’t right. To control the tongue is one of the most foundational “good works” because it evidences at a basic level of life that the controlling power in us is the Spirit of God rather than the anger of man.
Rather than through angry and hurtful words, it is through the meekness of wisdom that the truly wise are recognized. James contrasts earthly wisdom with the heavenly wisdom from above. In contemporary terms, he is contrasting the two primary worldviews of our day. Does humanity or God stand in first position as the starting place of wisdom? James perpetuates the worldview of Solomon from Prov. 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
This wisdom from above is characterized, not by anger or rash words, but by purity first, and then a peaceable disposition.
Failure to recognize the priority of heavenly wisdom has led to the quarrels and fights among James’ readers. They have taken on the ethos of the fallen society in which they are living, and are turning to anger when relational challenges arise. James aligns this kind of behavior with the adultery of Israel in the Old Testament. They were turning from their covenant-keeping God to align themselves with the ways of the world.
The remedy then, as now, is humility and repentance. Humility is shown in admitting sinful attitudes and actions while repentance is an intentional declaration that these will no longer be the ways of life. Rather, righteousness and heavenly wisdom will now be the fruits of faith in God. Living faith will be evidenced by good works.
Prayer: Father, I confess that many times my good works are done merely so I can gain the praise of others. Forgive me Lord, and may my life today overflow with good deeds, from a heart and mind that are humbled by the grace that has overflowed from your heart to me, through Jesus my Savior, Amen.
April 2: James 5, Philemon
James has primarily been speaking to those in the community who were facing the sever trials of persecution, isolation, and poverty. Now he turns to those “up and outers” whose wealth has insulated them from the trials of their neighbors. They had come to rely upon their wealth rather than God, and consider that their success in life meant that God was pleased with them.
James seems to be echoing his brother Jesus, whose parable of the wealthy landowner taught the principle that earthly riches can never purchase right standing before God (see: Luke 12:16-21). Jesus also said “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
As he closes his letter James once again turns to encourage those who are suffering. What is needed in times of persecution is twofold. First, be patient. Recognize that, like the farmer, one must wait out the period between planting and harvest. But, second, harvest will come! Jesus will return to settle all the accounts, and it is this great and blessed hope that will keep their souls anchored in goodness and righteousness.
They must remain steadfast, and take care of one another. There were, apparently, some among them whose spiritual fatigue had begun to overwhelm them. The “sickness” in 5:13-16 is most probably not physical, but rather a spiritual fatigue or weakness, perhaps brought about by protracted periods of persecution. Those weak in the faith are to be encouraged by the strong, and the rejuvenating power of the Holy Spirit – symbolized by the anointing oil – was a promise from God to those who truly recognized their weak condition, and genuinely were asking for renewed faith and spiritual strength.
The book of Philemon is a short letter from Paul to Philemon, whose slave Onesimus had run away, and in the providence of God, run into Paul. Through the gospel, God has drawn Onesimus to Christ, and now Paul is asking that Philemon receive him back, no longer as a runaway slave deserving death, but as a brother in Christ (vs. 16).
The story here is important. It shows the heart of Paul, but even more importantly displays the transformational power of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. The cast of characters depicts this dramatically. Paul was a Jew while Philemon was an Asiatic Gentile, probably living in Colossae. Onesimus was the worst of all people in that day, a runaway slave. Paul’s request is that his Gentile friend Philemon go against the culture of the day and receive Onesimus back as a “beloved brother.” This poignant picture, resembling the acceptance by the father of the prodigal son, is a real-life demonstration of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:21: Those who are in Christ are now a new creation!
Prayer: Father, the picture of Philemon putting aside his right to judge Onesimus and instead accepting him as a brother in Christ moves me to recognize that I am all too often ready to judge my brothers and sisters in Christ unfairly. Lord, help me to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, for your sake, through Jesus my Lord, Amen.
April 3: Luke 1,2
Luke was, perhaps, the only Gentile to author a New Testament book. A travelling companion of Paul, Luke wrote two volumes about Jesus and the expansion of his teaching. The first – The Gospel of Luke – details what Jesus “began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1) while the second – The Acts of the Apostles – chronicles what Jesus continued to do through his Apostles during the first generations of the church.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to narrate Jesus’ birth story. As a physician, Luke was very interested in the humanity of Jesus, and the idea that a virgin would conceive and bear a son was incredibly important to him.
A series of angelic visits form the outline of the birth story. First, the angel appeared to Zechariah to promise the birth of John. Next we see the angel, now named as Gabriel, visit Mary Nazareth to announce that she had been chosen to bear the Son of the Most High. To her credit, Mary surrendered to the will of God despite understanding that a pregnancy before marriage would forever change the course of her life and standing in society. We also remember that the angel visited Joseph (Matthew 1) to explain the truth regarding Mary, and alleviate any fear he had of fulfilling his promise to marry her.
The song of Mary, historically known as the Magnificat, chronicles the grace of God to the weak and common. Throughout the Old Testament God often chose to work through those society overlooked. He often chose the second son to carry the promise, and the despised to exalt his name. Now a lowly maiden from the tribe of Judah would bear God’s Son. In so doing, God has shown his strength to the weak, filled the hungry with good things while sending away the rich in weakness and hunger.
The promises are fulfilled in sequence. First, John the Baptist is born to Elizabeth whose conception had as well been the Lord’s doing. Next, the birth of Jesus happens as promised, and it here that we see the last visit of the angel. As the Levitical shepherds are out in the fields waiting for the Passover lambs to be born, the angelic choir announces the birth of the Lamb of God (John 1:29). He is carefully wrapped in the special linen cloths reserved for the lambs, and laid in a cold stone manger. It is clear that his parents had taken refuge in one of the birthing caves out in the fields that were used to care for the newborn Passover lambs. It was these special cloths that distinguished this child from all others, and gave the shepherds the clue they needed to find baby Jesus. They would have headed straight to the birthing caves, and found Joseph’s family.
The story ends with Luke showing that Jesus was raised as a normal Jewish boy, and was presented by his parents to the priests at age 12. And while we don’t have any other material regarding Jesus’ childhood, it is clear that he understood his mission and identity. He astounds the priests with his knowledge and reminds his mother that he has come to accomplish the business of his Father. This business is none other than the redemption of sinful humanity through the cross and resurrection. This will fill up the rest of Luke’s biography.
Prayer: Father, the story of my Savior’s birth always amazes me for in it I see the depths of your love for your creation, and for me. Thank you for not turning your back on
our sinful world, but rather determining to show your glory by forgiving our sin, and bringing us back to you, through faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior, Amen.
April 4: Luke 3, 4
Luke has carefully described the parallel birth stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, and the trend continues. As Isaiah (Isa. 40:3-5) and Malachi (Mal. 3:1) had predicted, God sent his messenger to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah. John the Baptist came proclaiming the coming of Christ, and calling on those who would accept his message to demonstrate their faith through baptism.
At that time Jesus would have had three options regarding ceremonial cleansing. The Temple rituals were in full swing, and the community of Qumran were also available to him. By coming to John, Jesus was identifying with his message over against that of the established religious system in Jerusalem, and the competing ideology of Qumran. His choice and action were validated by the voice of God the Father, and the descending presence of God the Spirit. The triune Godhead were united in inaugurating Jesus’ messianic mission.
Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back through David all the way to Adam. It is apparent that both Mary and Joseph were of the tribe of Judah.
After his baptism Jesus begins his messianic journey in an unusual way. Filled with the Spirit, he is led by the Spirit to the wilderness where Satan tempted him for 40 days. The number 40 reminds the reader of the 40 days of rain (Genesis 7) and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 14:33), both symbols of adversity. It is in the wilderness facing Satan that we come to see Jesus’ as the second Adam. The first man was tasked by God to rule over creation, worship God in obedience, and bring about a people that would recognize and reflect God’s glory. Through his rebellion, Adam failed on all three counts. Creation became riddled with death, while humanity found itself corrupted by the toxin of sin. But God had an answer. He would send the “he” of Genesis 3:15 through whom the original mandate for humanity would be accomplished.
The first step was to show Jesus as triumphing over temptation, and remaining faithful to God. This he does despite the onslaught of Satan. In each case the temptation to sin is overcome by reliance on the Word of God.
Jesus began his public ministry in his home town, and was rejected. Taking the scroll in the synagogue service he boldly declared that the prophecy of Isaiah 61 regarding the coming of Messiah was being fulfilled before their very eyes in him. This so antagonized the audience that they desired to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. This initial public reaction was a preview of the cross, but the plan of God called for Jesus to accomplish much more before the enemies of God would have their way.
The ministry of Jesus was comprised primarily of authoritative teaching backed up with miraculous signs. His power over death and disease, as well as the demonic and created spheres demonstrated that he was sent from God. Yet, it was the declaration of the good news of the kingdom that was predominant. While the crowds hungered for the spectacular, Jesus was focused on bringing the message of the kingdom, for he was sent for this purpose.
Prayer: Father, thank you for not giving up on your creation when Adam and Eve brought sin and death into our world. Thank you for sending Jesus, the second Adam, to do what no other man could do, and in so doing, rescue my soul from the penalty of sin and grant me righteous standing before you. I am yours – joyfully so! – all because of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, Amen.
The Well: April 7 -11
April 7: Luke 5,6
Like every teacher of his day, Jesus needed students. But Jesus’ mission was more than education. He intended to train those who would one day carry on his mission to build a “people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:8).
He also intended to show his students that he was more than just another man endowed with great wisdom. Through his miracles Jesus demonstrated the divine power necessary to one day overcome the effects of sin. He came to reverse the curse.
The amazing catch of fish not only astounded Peter and his partners, but it also demonstrated his power over creation. Peter himself recognized that something about Jesus brought his own sinfulness into view. In this, the first conversation between them, Jesus instructs Peter with what will become his life work, “catching men” as a preacher of the Gospel of salvation.
In cleansing the leper, and healing the paralytic Jesus did more than demonstrate his power sin’s effects on humanity, namely disease and death. In both cases the real point is that Jesus can “cleanse” that which cannot be otherwise cleansed. He can heal sin itself, the greatest disease of mankind.
Jesus’ appearance brings concern to the religious leaders of the day. His teaching and miraculous power are astonishing, and the people are more and more drawn to him. This competition threatens the status quo, and from this point on we see a conspiracy forming to undermine Jesus’ before the crowds. The next three sections present three different attempts to trap Jesus either in wrong teaching or wrong doing.
They began with a question about fasting, insinuating that Jesus’ is not teaching his students to follow the law. In a preview of his coming use of parables, Jesus answer them with a form of wisdom that they cannot overcome. What Jesus brings is not a new slant on the legalistic system of the day but the fulfillment of God’s plan to rescue through Messiah. This will mean that the Sabbath has found its goal in Jesus, the one in whom all may rest from their works. He alone is the Savior in whose righteousness those of faith may find acceptance before God.
Luke’s description of the Sermon on the Mount highlights Jesus’ proclamation that, in Him, the goal of the law has come. Those who are truly “blessed” of God will be distinctive, while those who follow their own selfish path will display that they are still heading for wrath. Ultimately, the “foundation” of their lives will be made evident, and those who have built on the rock will stand.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as I read of your power and your love it fills me with great joy to know that I am yours, and you are mine. Thank you for calling me to yourself, and help me to be distinctive for you today, in my love, my priorities, and my courage, through the power of the Spirit, Amen.
April 8: Luke 7,8
When God first called Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) he promised that one day, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” God’s plan from the beginning was to bring rescue through Abraham’s offspring to the nations. With Jesus’ healing of the Roman centurion in Capernaum we see the beginnings of his mission that will ultimately extend to the whole world. This Roman is also presented as having faith, in great contrast to those in Israel who were beginning to oppose Jesus.
The Old Testament predicted that Messiah would come with great power. Luke portrays Jesus’ power by describing the many miraculous acts he performed. It must be understood that miracles do not produce faith, as we will see in the growth of opposition to Jesus as he nears the cross. Rather, miracles were meant to validate Jesus’ assertion that he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
Miracles performed by wise teachers known as prophets were well known in Israel. When Jesus’ raised the widow’s son in Nain the cry went out that a “great prophet has arisen among us!” Yet, Jesus was more than just a great prophet as 7:18-23 show. When questioned by John’s disciples if he was the “one who is to come” Jesus points to the list the Old Testament gave regarding Messiah. They were to report back to John that all Messiah would do, Jesus was doing. Never before had a man done these things. He was Messiah.
But, even though Jesus had done all that was prophesied, his own people were rejecting his message and trying to undermine his popularity. He was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton even though he ate and drank as was normal and acceptable in that society. This only shows a growing bias against the righteousness of God, and the message of repentance.
Jesus was a master at turning traps into teaching moments. When confronted with a “sinful” woman wanting to wash and anoint his feet in the house of a Pharisee, Jesus takes the opportunity to explain the effects of forgiveness on the heart of faith.
Chapter 8 describes the beginning of Jesus’ teaching in parables. These stories will have a two-fold purpose. First, they will hide plain truth from those to whom faith has not been given while opening up the mysteries of the Kingdom to those to whom understanding has been given. While this strikes us as hard, it is true that God always does what is best and right, even when we can’t fully understand his ways.
The parable of the soils stands first in a long line of Jesus’ parables, and as such, sets a general understanding of the mission of Christ. The Word will fall on many different hearts, but only those that have been prepared, with rocks and weeds removed, will it
bring forth fruit. Only in those hearts that are prepared by the Spirit of God will the Word of God do the Work of God.
Prayer: Father, thank you for sowing the Word in my heart, and for allowing me to understand its truth and power. May it do its work in me, and may my heart be soft, able to discern how you want me to live and love today, as I encounter a broken world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
April 9: Luke 9,10
In these two chapters we again see a series of events from the life of Jesus. The men he has chosen to travel with him as his students he now sends out as his messengers. They are to carry his message – the gospel of the kingdom – into the surrounding villages. It is noteworthy that, in order to validate them as divinely commissioned heralds, Jesus also gave them power to do miracles. He also demanded that, as his ambassadors, they demonstrate their complete trust in him and commitment to their mission by refusing to worry about their temporal needs.
When the disciples returned Jesus took them to a place just north of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds followed them and, as the day turned to night, food became a problem. In what was yet another dramatic demonstration of Jesus’ divine power over creation, he simply multiplied the molecules of some fish and loaves and fed over 5000 people. Unlike John, Luke is content to leave the miracle without comment. His purpose at this point is simply to chronicle the divine power of Jesus.
But Luke wants it known at this point that Jesus’ mission is not simply to feed and heal. Of course, had he wanted to do so, Jesus could have eradicated both poverty and disease. But the redemptive plan, set in motion before eternity, called for rescue from sin and its eternal effects.
Jesus states, for the first time, that his mission will lead to great suffering on his part, along with rejection by the very ones he has come to rescue from the wrath of God for sin. Even worse, he will be killed, and then raised on the third day. All who would follow him must turn from self to identify with the cross that Jesus one day would bear. The cost of following Jesus as a disciple would as well cost everything.
On the mountain Jesus allowed three of his disciples a brief glimpse of his glory. This would have great impact on Peter later in life(see: 2 Peter 1:16-18). The high point is the voice of God the Father declaring that, though Elijah and Moses were great messengers of truth, the one that was now to be heeded was Jesus. He had come as the fulfillment of God’s progressive revelation. But many would continue to reject him.
Jesus expanded his mission by sending out 72 of those who had been following, seeing his miraculous works, and taking in his authoritative teaching. They went out two by two carrying the good news that the Kingdom of God had come to earth.
One of the greatest lessons Jesus taught ocurrs here in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Racial tension and outright prejudice was rampant in Jesus’ day. The people of Israel especially hated the Samaritans who were a mixed race descended from Jews who had intermarried with foreigners. Jesus told the story in answer to a lawyer’s
question “who is my neighbor?” The answer? Everyone to whom you can show compassion.
Prayer: Father, when I read about the priest and Levite, about Mary and Martha, I realize that my heart is often driven by convenience and selfish desires. Forgive me Lord, and help me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow you ... closely, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.
April 10: Luke 11,12
Prayer had always been part of Temple worship. Yet, Jesus often went away alone to pray. His disciples saw this and asked him to teach them about prayer. The sample prayer he gave them is just that, a sample. While it is beautiful it holds no special power. It does however give us a model reminding us that prayer is always done out of a heart of respect for, and dependence upon, Almighty God. Our God is also a great Father who delights to give good gifts to his children. In prayer we bring our needs and desires to him, and in prayer we also acknowledge that he knows what is best for us.
As Jesus became more popular with the people, the religious leaders found additional ways to undermine his message and growing fame. They could not deny his power of demonic forces but they could muddy the waters by asserting that Jesus was actually in league with Satan. Jesus overwhelms their lies with the truth that his power of the demonic realm comes from the very hand of God.
It was traditional for Israelites to require signs from those professing to be God’s messengers. But Jesus was no ordinary prophet. Instead of dancing to their tune and bringing about signs on demand, he instead declared that, in his coming, a preacher and message greater than Jonah had arrived, as well as a greater spectacle than Solomon in all his wisdom and glory. The light of God had come and it could not be hidden. Those who taught that external religious rituals were all they needed would be seriously disappointed. The Pharisees understood he was speaking about them, and this only intensified their desire to catch him in some error.
The teachings and lives of the Pharisees were a major problem in Israel. Like leaven in dough, their self-promoting legalism was permeating every level of society and driving out the simplicity of faith in God.
Jesus call was away from the externals of religion and to the reality of repentance of sin
and faith in the promises of God found in following Messiah. But some could not see benefit of leaving their traditions and convenient way of life. Like the rich fool in the parable, they considered that the material world was really where success was to be found. They looked around, felt pretty good about themselves, and never stopped to consider the eternal reality that God was not impressed with material wealth.
Those who did choose to follow Jesus were not to be anxious about the future. They had made the right choice, and their Father in heaven, who takes care of every living thing, would as well take care of them.
The chapter ends with Jesus telling the crowds that it is futile to be able to read the weather but not the spiritual climate of their own souls. This life on earth is not the final
chapter. Eternity is real, and this life is merely the preparatory season in which God is fitting us to live with him forever.
Prayer: Father, thank you for wanting my heart, for wanting my attention and my devotion. I confess that I am often awed by the trivial things this world throws in my way. Help me to see your mission as my purpose, your love as my refuge, and your gospel as the greatest gift I can ever give away. In Jesus’ Name, Amen
April 11: Luke 13,14
The chapter begins with the harsh reminder that Jesus is the Lord of All, positioned to be judge as well as Savior. Everyone deserves his wrath, but those who repent and turn to him will be overwhelmed by his grace and mercy.
Once again we see the increasing animosity the religious leadership of the day have toward Jesus. When he healed a severely crippled woman they criticize him for doing so on the Sabbath. Jesus pulls no punches: “You hypocrites! Your own law allows for good to be done!”
His interaction with the synagogue ruler is the perfect introduction to the message Jesus is bringing concerning the Kingdom of God. Like the mustard seed, it will begin small but end up mighty. Like leaven it will eventually dominate all creation. Like the narrow door, the Kingdom will not be appreciated by the many, but by the few. And in the day of judgment, many will be disappointed to find that, while they thought their religion had gotten then standing with God, they were strangers to him. Many who consider themselves to have been first in terms of spiritual worth will be left outside.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of spiritual arrogance was found in the city of Jerusalem. Home to the Temple, and the very center of Jewish religion, this city refused to recognize and honor the Son of God – their Messiah! – sent to rescue them from their evil hearts and wicked ways. The picture of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem shows how vast is his heart of love for humanity.
In the two parables of the banquet and the feast Jesus portrays the plight of those who, thinking themselves to have arrived spiritually, are actually far from the Kingdom. The first parable speaks to the necessity of humility before God while the second champions the virtue of generosity toward the lowly. In both cases, the religious leaders would have found themselves to be lacking in God’s eyes.
In contrast, those who would hear and believe the message Jesus was bringing would do well to assess the cost of becoming his disciple. His words are shocking here. Yet, what is underneath it all is a very simple principle: Commitment to Jesus as the Christ can never be half-hearted. Nothing else, as good as it may be, can be allowed to compete for first priority in the life. As well, all other things must ultimately be seen as avenues through which the priority of following Christ and making him known are to be demonstrated.
The chapter ends with the well-known example of salt. To be effective salt must come out of the salt shaker and have contact with its object. Yet, if the contact leads to compromise, all is lost. Those who would follow Jesus Christ must have a commitment
that allows them to swim upstream against the current of culture without being eroded by it. Citizens of his Kingdom are to be distinctive for their consistent reflection of Christ before a watching world.
Prayer: Father, I want to follow Jesus closely, allowing your truth and love to work in and through my life. But too often I am afraid to let your light shine. Grant me courage, Lord, to live out my commitment to you in a way that adorns the Gospel, upholds your Name, and is attractive to those you may draw savingly to Jesus, Amen.
The Well: April 14-18 April 14: Luke 15,16
These two chapters contain some of the most well known parables in the Bible. Jesus’ teaching is launched as a result of the prejudice of some religious leaders who considered his association with sinners to be unacceptable. In that day, a “sinner” was anyone who did not take seriously their obligation to keep the law of Moses. In fairness, the Pharisees and their followers had made the law so complex that it was extremely hard for the common folk to understand it, much less keep it conscientiously.
Luke strings together three parables with the common theme of something being found that had been lost. In these Jesus is pointing to the truth that he has come to “seek and to save” that which was lost (Luke 19:10). In so doing he fulfills the prophecies of Ezekiel 34:11-16) as the Good Shepherd. Accordingly, he begins with the lost sheep, continues on to the lost coin, and ends with the lost son. In each case, his intention is to show the great joy that is to be found in “finding” that which was lost. At issue is the way “sinners” should be treated. The Pharisees considered that they should be shunned. Jesus demonstrates that the heart of God is seek out those in sin, and bring them back to him, with great rejoicing. It is this grand “search and rescue” mission that stands at the forefront of the church’s privilege today.
The story of the lost son is particularly good as an example of what true repentance looks like. When the son “came to himself” he recognized the folly of his sin. He rightly understood that he no longer had any right to claim the privileges of a son. But his heart longed only to be restored to relationship. Willing to bear the consequences of his sin, he asked not for restoration to position, but only to relationship with his father. As a result of his humility and sincere repentance, he received both from a father who rejoiced that his son who was “dead” was now alive.
Chapter 19 begins with one of the most enigmatic parables in the Bible. On the surface it appears that the manager was deceitful, and that Jesus is commending him for it! But, a few historical facts can help. In that day, it was unlawful to charge interest. But, the wealthy would hire a manager who would oversee their affairs, and these men would pad the bills owed to the master with interest charges, thus giving the masters deniability while gaining extra income. When the manager was dismissed, her merely went to the debtors and decreased their bills down to what was actually legal and honest. His commendation came because he recognized that his present situation
called for honest activity in order to secure his future. This was Jesus point. The judgment coming in the future calls for intentional, honest appraisal of life now, and a sense of urgency to prepare one’s soul to meet God.
The chapter ends with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It may be that this was a popular type of eschatological story in Jesus’ day. We need to be careful here not to make all the details of the story carry weight when Jesus’ main point is simply that those who reject God all their lives will really have no excuse before God. It also supports the truth that the natural mind will not turn to God, even if someone rose from the dead, simply because it has been blinded by the “god of this world” through sin (see: 2 Cor. 4:3,4).
Prayer: Father, in these stories I am reminded of your great “seeking and rescuing” love. Like the sheep that wandered away, and the son that left to pursue his own desires, I ran from you. But, in your love and grace, you found me, and drew me safely to yourself. Thank you for saving me, for keeping me, and for reminding me that I have the privilege of partnering with you in the greatest rescue mission ever, through the Gospel of my Savior Jesus Christ, in whose Name I pray, Amen.
April 15: Luke 17,18
Luke strings several individual sections together as he traces Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (see: 18:31). It is as though the disciples are enrolled in a “walking Seminary.” As they travel, Jesus imparts to them important truths that they will need after his ascension back to heaven.
He exhorts them to be careful not to bring temptations to sin into the lives of “little ones”, both physical and spiritual. He reminds them that they are his servants, and must always move in the posture of a servant who realizes that it is only the goodness of the master that sustains him.
The cleansing of the lepers illustrates the heart of humility and recognition of the gracious work of God. The one who returned to give thanks was an example of how all those who have been “cleansed” must relate to Jesus Christ.
Apparently some Pharisees were with Jesus and they often posed questions for him. In response to their interest in the coming of the Kingdom of God Jesus was clear. It will not come in the ways you expect, nor at a time you can predict. But when the Son of Man returns, you will know it. As in the days of Noah and Lot, his coming will bring both judgment and salvation. Those who have walked in faith, believing the message of Jesus will see him as Rescuer, while those who have foolishly trusted in themselves, and their own religious rituals will face the justice of Almighty God. The moral? If you want to gain eternal life you must surrender your life to Jesus. In this case, to lose is to gain all.
As Jesus instructs his disciples on prayer he tells them a parable about a persistent widow. It connects with the previous passage through the last line that speaks about Jesus’ return. The parable is an example of the contrast between the worst in man and the best in God. If an unjust judge can be moved by persistence, how much more a loving Father who desires to care for his children!
The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector pit the high and low of society against each other. Ahead of him is Jerusalem with its religious hypocrites that will eventually lead him to the cross. Their spiritual hypocrisy is one of Jesus’ primary themes. Here he shows that it is not ritual but repentance that God loves, and to which he responds with saving grace.
The faith of the tax collector is illustrated in that of a child. When Jesus commends child-like faith, he is not suggesting that faith be uninformed but only that it be complete, sincere, and without reservation, like that of a child whose confidence in their parent is complete and without hesitancy.
But just what does this faith look like? The story of the ruler answers the question. True faith is not a tapestry of our best works. Rather, it is a sincere recognition that we can never live up to God’s standard, and must rely fully on the One sent to deliver us from our sin, and into his righteousness.
The chapter ends with yet another announcement from Jesus about his coming death and resurrection. The disciples are still unable to understand his meaning, and are like the blind man. Jesus opens his eyes, and he will do so for the disciples as well in the days to come.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, I admit that many times my faith is small and weak when it needs to be unrestrained. Forgive me for thinking more of my own strength and not enough of yours. You have always been faithful to me, even when I couldn’t see it, and I love you, and ask that – today – you would strengthen my resolve to live for you, through the power of Jesus, Amen.
April 16: Luke 19,20
As Jesus travelled down the Jordan valley, he came to Jericho and encountered an agent of the occupying Roman army, Zacchaeus. As a Jew he collected the taxes from his countrymen, and was allowed to collect more than was necessary and keep the difference. Consequently, the community hated him. But Jesus has come to seek and save the lost and despised, and his saving interaction with Zacchaeus introduces the reader once again to the essence God’s earthly mission.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he tells a story that parallels his return to the city. He is the nobleman who is now returning to see what his people had done with the resources he had left to them. The nation of Israel had been granted so many blessings and advantages by God. Through the years some had used them well, remained faithful, and done the will of their God. But others had squandered their blessings, as the next few days would demonstrate. They were about to reject God’s Messiah.
As he neared the city, the gates opened and a throng came out to greet him. They joined with the crowd accompanying him to bring him into the city in a triumphal procession. In the Roman world a “triumph” was a parade granted to a returning King or victorious General. In this case the city of Jerusalem was welcoming a King, but their expectations of a grand military leader would hardly align with this one who came riding on a donkey’s colt.
Before entering the city Jesus pronounced the judgment that would come upon the city as a result of their rejection of Messiah. In 70ad, when Titus’ Roman legions destroyed the city it was fulfilled.
Chapter 20 moves the conflict between Jesus and the leaders of Israel forward. Following his angry display over the commercialization of the Temple, Jesus answers their question about authority with the parable of the wicked tenants. They rightly understood that the story was all about their faithlessness over the years, and they increased their planning to get rid of Jesus. They attempt to trap him in conversations over taxes, the resurrection, and the relationship between David and Messiah. But in every case Jesus’ wisdom confounds them. Human treachery will never derail the sovereign plan of God to accomplish redemption.
The chapter ends with yet another warning about external religion. Those who lead others to believe they are right with God because of their personal piety or spiritual dedication will be judged harshly. God is pleased with those whose faith is displayed in humility, compassion, love, and faithfulness to the truth.
Prayer: Father, as I read about Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, I must confess that I often want him to be the kind of Savior that caters to my needs and wants. Forgive me Lord for selfishly forgetting that your agenda is always right, and that following your leading and obeying your truth is always my very best option, through the power of your Spirit, Amen.
April 17: Luke 21,22
The widow’s offering was used by Jesus to illustrate the tyranny of the Temple religious system that had forgotten about compassion. Instead of encouraging her to give all she had to live on they should have been taking care of her. That she is an example of all that is wrong with a self-righteous and burdensome religious system is seen in Jesus’ stern pronouncement that the Temple would one day be destroyed.
In response his disciples ask two questions: 1) when will this happen? and 2) what will be the signs leading up to such a disastrous event? Jesus answers with a description of a “near” event and a “far” event, both of which are displays of God’s judgment on the wicked.
He prophesies that Jerusalem will be overcome and destroyed, and its people carried off captive. As happened at the hands of Babylon in the Old Testament, the people of Jerusalem will be carried off by the Romans. This occurred in 70ad under Titus, and much of the Roman Coliseum was built by the enslaved Israelite people.
But Jesus moves on to describe the “far” event of which the “near event” is but a preview. One day the Son of Man will return in great glory and power, and this return will signal the righting of all wrongs. Jesus will return to settle all the accounts, and usher in the kingdom of God on earth.
As for timing, Jesus assures his disciples that the “near” event would certainly take place in their lifetime. He instructs them to stay awake, to prepare themselves to stand fast in their faith, and therefore be assured to one day stand accepted before the Son of Man.
As Jesus is travelling back and forth to Jerusalem each day, the religious leaders are plotting to put him to death. As we read the story we find that Satan is behind so much of the plan. He enters into Judas, yet Judas and others will be held responsible for their actions in crucifying the Savior (see: Acts 2:22,23). As the story unfolds we will see once again that the plan of God to accomplish redemption for sinners is never derailed, either by the opposition of his enemies or the disobedience of his friends.
Jesus celebrates a last Passover with his disciples, and uses the occassion to change the entire meaning of the meal. Always the Passover had looked back to God’s great deliverance from Egypt. But now it would celebrate deliverance from sin through the New Covenant, enacted on the cross in the death of Jesus Christ.
At the meal, Jesus once again declares to his disciples that self-promotion will not be part of their ministry strategy. These men, who will be the foundation of the church, must walk as their Savior walked, in humility, truth, and love.
The rest of the chapter chronicles the events that transpired following Passover, and through the night of Jesus’ arrest and the day following. Peter’s bravado soon turns to denial as Jesus predicted. He is mocked and beaten, and taken before the Council where he offers only this defense. Never again will the Son of Man be subject to human
authority. They can do their worst, but soon the crucified, risen Christ will retake his position in glory, at the right hand of the Almighty.
Prayer: Gracious Father, the stories of Jesus’ last days reminds me once again that he did not deserve the cross. He was the perfect One, and yet, knowing that he would be falsely accused and convicted, he still headed to the cross for my sin, and the sins of all who will believe. Thank you for abandoning our world and my soul to the corruption of sin. Thank you for sending the Savior, my Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
April 18: Luke 23,24
In the story of Jesus’ final hours it is interesting to note that neither Luke, nor any of the other Gospel writers describe his suffering in detail. In fact, there is nothing said about the pain of crucifixion in their description. They knew that it was never the physical suffering of Christ that won our forgiveness. Rather, the death itself, sacrificial and undeserved, that fulfilled the Old Testament imagery of the lamb slain as a substitute for sinners. It was Jesus, the Son of God, dying in our place that must occupy our attention.
Even in death Jesus was aware of those around him. Though rejected by his own people, and betrayed by one of his inner circle, he was never bitter or angry. Rather, he had a warning for those weeping along the path to the cross and compassion for those crucified with him. And in a grand display of redeeming love he asked his Father to forgive those to whom the task of crucifying him had been given.
In a final demonstration that the New Covenant had now replaced the Old, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies in the Temple from view was torn from top to bottom. Now, forever, in Christ, the way to the presence of God was open to all those would “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow” Jesus, regardless of their ethnicity, age, social standing, or gender.
According to Jewish custom, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross, prepared hastily for burial, and laid in a tomb with a large rolling rock sealing the entrance. Everyone of Jesus’ friends and followers believed that the story was over. But the plan of God was far from over.
Luke 24 presents three different appearances of the risen Christ, and they all have a common structure. First the women, then the disciples on the road, and finally the disciples find themselves afraid and confused at the possibility of resurrection. But rather than comfort them, first the angel, and then the Lord himself confront each of them for their lack of understanding. Next, they are instructed from the things Jesus had told them (in the case of the women) or by Jesus himself, from the Old Testament (in the case of the men on the road, and the disciples). Jesus makes it clear that what they have witnessed was long ago planned by God, and predicted by the prophets. Wouldn’t you have loved to hear Jesus’ explain how the Old Testament told of him?
After being instructed, the women, and the men on the road both ran off to tell others they have seen the risen Lord. When their eyes were opened to this magnificent truth they simply could not contain themselves. They had to tell someone!
Yet, in the case of the disciples this last part of the structure is missing. Or is it? We must remember, as Luke’s Gospel comes to an end, that he wrote a second volume! And in that volume he chronicles some of the many ways in which the disciples went off to tell the world about the salvation from God that had now been accomplished through Jesus, the Messiah, whose mission to seek and save the lost has now been completed with perfection. Hallelujah!
Prayer: Father, today I ask you to rejuvenate my heart, and let me once again make your mission my passion. May my life testify to your transforming power in my life, and
may my words and actions cause others to see you, and want to know you, through the power of your Gospel and Spirit, Amen.
April 21: Psalm 9,10
These two psalms are meant to be read together. They follow a definite literary pattern with each stanza beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
Both psalms call on the Lord to act as powerful King in defense of the righteous. Ps. 9 remembers the Lord’s defeat of wicked nations while Ps. 10 cries out for the Lord to rise up and defend the afflicted one.
In Ps. 9 David praises the Lord for his mighty deeds in maintaining the cause of the just by judging the wicked. In all likelihood vs. 5,6 remember God’s mighty power by which Israel crushed the Canaanites under Joshua when they first settled the land.
But the Lord has not stopped caring for Israel. He continues to sit on the throne and is still judging righteously. As a result, he is against the wicked but provides a refuge for the oppressed in times of trouble.
The subject of refuge is a constant theme in the Psalms, and is also declared to be a primary motive for praise to God and an ongoing witness of his mighty deeds. Worship is response to the way God has rescued his people.
Near the end of the Psalm David turns his thoughts to the future. The righteous judgment God has shown will one day be final The wicked will “return to sheol” while the needy and oppressed will be remembered. David’s final plea is for God to remind the nations that they are “but men” and subject entirely to the Almighty.
Psalm 10 takes a different path. It is written from the point of view of one who is afflicted and wondering why God continues to seem hidden.
Vss. 2-11 describe well the arrogance and boastful ways of the wicked man who seems able to defy God without consequence. He even renounces God and lives without any sense of accountability to him. He ambushes the innocent, takes advantage of the weak, and abuses the poor. The psalmist asks the penetrating question that is raised often today as well. “Why does evil happen if God is good?”
We are not given an answer except that God does see all the evil that is being done. He “notes mischief and vexation that (he) may take it into (his) hands” (vs. 14). This is the only answer we will ever be given. God does see it all, and is taking note of it all. And one day all the accounts will be settled righteously by the King who will deal with each person according to their ways.
Our problem is that we are so short sighted. We think everything should balance out in this life. But God is all about eternity. This life is merely a prelude to the next, and we can rest assured that those who trust in God and live obediently before him, whatever the cost, will find eternal refuge in him.
Prayer: Father, like David I often wonder why you allow bad people to prosper while the righteous suffer. Forgive me for doubting that you are good, and grant me the faith and patience to trust you in those times when I cannot see your purpose. For I know that you are good, all the time, as you have been to me through Jesus Christ, Amen.
April 22: Psalm 11,12
Psalm 11 is a delightfully crafted short reminder that, while the wicked seem to be winning, the Lord is watching all things and superintending all things to bring about his eternal purpose.
The psalm opens and closes with the reassurance that those who find refuge in the Lord will be taken care of and ultimately, live face-to-face with the Almighty.
But intervening verses tell an all too familiar story. Too often it appears that the wicked will overcome the righteous. Their ways are like arrows shot into the heart of those who fear God.
In vs. 3 we find the core of the Psalm. David wonders what we’ve all wondered. If the very foundations of a society are destroyed, what can the righteous do? If those values and convictions that hold back chaos and sin are pushed aside, how should those who love righteousness respond?
The psalmist gives a very simple if not completely satisfying answer. Despite the chaos of this world, the Lord is one his heavenly throne carefully and precisely superintending all things. He is testing the righteous, refining them in order to wean them away from a reliance on this world and once again focus their lives and hope in his promises.
But be assured that, one day, the Lord will “rain coals” on the wicked. Their end will be in “fire and sulfur and scorching wind” which are all symbols of lasting judgment. Their plight is certain, as also is the eternal promise to the righteous that they will dwell with God.
Psalm 12 is David’s cry to the Lord from the midst of a perverted people. It may have been penned during his early days when, after being anointed King, he was being pursued through the wilderness by Saul. At that point, Israel was in cultural shambles. King Saul was not a godly man, and the Law of God had little place in the hearts of the people.
Righteous David is tormented by the fact that the “faithful have vanished.” There seems to be no stopping the torrent of lawlessness and sin. All around the people lie, and make great boasts in their wickedness.
But David remembers the covenant of God, and calls on the covenant-keeping Lord to rise up, deal with the arrogant, and preserve the faithful by guarding them from a faithless people.
Prayer: O gracious and loving Lord, as I look around me in this world I also wonder where faith has gone. And yet, I know what you have done for me, in cleansing my past and granting me freedom to love you and others in your Name. Help me be a testimony to your love and truth today, as I rest in your promises and your strength, through Jesus Christ, my Savior, Amen.
April 23: Psalm 13,14
Once again, in Ps. 13, we hear the voice of a young David. God has promised him the throne yet he is on the run with Saul seeking to end his life. This period in the young King’s life taught him many lessons, and continues to do so for us today. The main lesson is this: when circumstances are against us, do we run away from God or to him? The answer to this essential life question will disclose the reality of our profession that we have entrusted our lives to Christ as Savior and Lord.
David begins with a set of 5 stunning question. It is often shocking just how honest and confrontational David is with God in his prayers. He doesn’t hide his anger at God, but rather brings it to him. And in every case, it is the time of prayer that realigns his heart with the steadfast love and truth of his promise-keeping Lord.
His prayer is simple: Answer me O God, and keep my enemy from taking my life. David is desperate. He is being pursued by the most powerful man in the realm. Yet, despite his circumstances he finds refuge in the promises of his God.
The psalm ends with confidence rather than bitterness. His heart has been emptied of anxiety and filled with trust in the steadfast love of God. His despair has turned to worship, and his memories of God’s past faithfulness brings about songs of praise.
Ps. 14 seems to be the reflections of David later in life when, as King in Jerusalem he is able to reflect on those who refuse to trust in the promises of their God. David has long put God to the test, and in every case found him to be faithful. Yet, he also recognizes that many have not followed his lead. These he now describes as fools.
In the ancient world a fool was not one without knowledge, but one who had gained knowledge but refused to live accordingly. One starts as a “youth” in need of knowledge. Some become “scoffers” who hear truth but want nothing to do with it. But a “fool” has gained knowledge, wrestled with it, and determined it isn’t true, and puts it aside in favor of his own “truth.”
This is the “fool” who declares that God does not exist. He has intellectually thrown off all accountability to God and now is determined to be his own god and act accordingly.
This Psalm describes those fools, and then declares that they are in great danger for the Lord is real, and on the side of the righteous. The Lord will bring salvation, and retribution in the end.
Prayer: Almighty God, my life is in your hands. Sometimes, Lord, I act as though I don’t need you, as though you are not my Master. Forgive me Father, and help me to live with you in mind in all things, in all ways, today as I move through the life you have given me, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
April 24: Psalm 15,16
Psalm 15 is meant to be contrasted with Psalm 14. In Psalm 14 the “fool” was described and his end declared. Here we see a description of those who “live” with God. The question being asked is this: What does the person who claims to live with God look like? The psalm describes the character of the godly person, not the means whereby we can gain God’s favor through our works.
The psalm opens with a penetrating question. Who is the one who lives with God? How will we identify that person? The answer come quickly, and simply. He or she will be recognizable for their righteousness. They speak truth to themselves, and not only to others.
In their relationships they don’t slander others or act in evil toward their neighbors. They are loyal to all who honor the Lord, despite their social standing or other worldly accomplishments. Yet, they do not offer the same to those who act wickedly.
In their business dealings they are honest above all, refusing to break a promise made. The comment about charging interest refers to the law that prohibited one Israelite charging another interest on a loan made for benevolent purposes. When someone was in need, it was unlawful to take undue advantage of him. The one who lives with God also never allows money to leverage his attitude toward another person.
When these traits are characteristic of those who profess to live with God it goes a long way to validating their profession. They can rest in the refuge of God’s presence secure in the fact that they will not be moved.
Psalm 16 seems to fit those times in David’s life when he was in some danger. Whether it was during his youthful fleeing from Saul, or later when his son Absalom raised a rebellion against him we cannot know. But more important is the steadfast trust David showed during these times.
Israel’s greatest temptation was always to idolatry, to placing their trust in the gods of the nations. Here David declares his commitment to God alone as his chosen portion. God has placed David’s lines (a reference to the division of the land in Joshua 13ff) in pleasant places. God has favored him mightily. As a result of God abundant faithfulness, David has set the Lord always before him as his guide, counselor, and security. Even in the midst of adverse circumstance he is glad.
In vs. 10 David writes better than he knew as Peter later shows in Act 2 where this verse is quoted in reference to the resurrection of Christ. Vs. 11 is well worth memorizing today as a constant reminder that God will keep his promises to those who find refuge in him.
Prayer: O Lord God, you have made me to see the path of real life. Forgive me for too often trying to walk another path thinking I would find greater joy. In you there is the fullness of joy, and I love you Father, for holding my hand today as I walk the path you have for me, in the power of your Spirit, Amen.
April 25: Psalm 17,18
Psalm 17 is a prayer of David and provides us with a nice model for an evening prayer. Vs. 1,2 set the tone. David needs God, and he calls upon him to listen and respond in righteousness to David’s requests.
Vs. 3-5 are David’s self-evaluation. He believes he has a right to ask God for help. He has managed his speech, avoided the ways of wickedness, and walked in the paths of righteousness. He is not boasting, but rather laying his life out before God as part of the covenant people who rely on their covenant keeping God.
Vs. 8 is the center-piece of the psalm and puts forth David’s primary request that the Lord keep him hidden safely in the shadow of his wings.
Vs. 9-12 describe the adversaries that surround David, while vs. 13,14 call upon the Lord to deliver David by confronting and subduing his enemies. The psalm ends with the assurance of David’s heart that, as he sleeps, God will work to preserve and protect him.
Psalm 18 is a very lengthy psalm of remembrance and praise. The subscript suggests that this was penned in response to those events in young David’s life when the Lord rescued him from the hand of Saul.
Vs. 1,2 form the opening declaration of David’s adoration for his God who is a rock of refuge, a stronghold of salvation, and a deliverer of his soul. Vs. 3-24 is a dramatic recounting of the Lord’s mighty rescue of David through times of great peril. He declares that God has been faithful to his covenant in that he has “rewarded the righteousness” of his servant. As he promised, God has been near to those who trust in him.
This is not to say that David’s life was without peril. Certainly David endured many harsh trials. Yet, his profession is that these trials only strengthened his trust and reliance on God, and his commitment to walk in his ways.
Vs. 25-36 describe the character of God in beautiful poetic terms. He saves the humble, and strengthens the weak, shielding them with salvation, supporting them with his hand, and wrapping them in his gentleness.
The psalm ends with David’s declaration of what the presence and power of the Lord has enabled him to do. He has been victorious over his enemies solely because the Lord has been faithful to him. In this we see that David was no super person. He was an ordinary man enabled by God to do extraordinary things as God was with him.
Prayer: Lord, today I want to take time to remember the times and ways you have been faithful to me. Bring them to my memory throughout this day so that I may praise you, and grow stronger in my trust in your promise to be my refuge and strength, a very present help in my every day journey, through the Spirit you have made to dwell in me, Amen.
The Well: April 28 – May 2 April 28: Leviticus 1,2
(Note: We will be reading through Leviticus in one-week segments interspersed in our walk through other biblical books).
Leviticus follows the progression of God’s relationship with Israel. In Genesis God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his offspring to be their God. In Exodus he demonstrated his faithfulness by rescuing them from Egypt. He brought them to Sinai where he came down in a cloud and gave Moses the laws that would identify the people as separated unto God. He also gave them the plans for his house – the Tabernacle – in which he would come to dwell in the midst of his people.
But having Almighty God living with you brings great risk. A holy God in the midst of a sinful people was a formula for disaster. Yet, God had a plan. He would provide very specific commandments for Israel to follow in order to live before the very face of God.
Three main themes dominate Leviticus: sin, sacrifice, and cleanness. Sin was inevitable for the people. But God provided a means of sacrifice whereby sin could be “covered” and a state of moral “cleanness” reacquired. By means of sacrifice, sinful Israelites could remain in close proximity to their God who was holy, holy, holy.
Chapter one explains that these laws were not given to Moses on Sinai but rather at the “tent of meeting.” This was a temporary tabernacle that was used while the actual Tabernacle was being built.
God sets forth the requirements for the burnt offerings, distinguishing between what was to be done if the offerings were cattle from the herd, sheep from the flock, or birds. The process of preparation and sacrifice illustrated the spiritual meaning and remained a constant reminder to the people that their activity was first an act of obedience to God.
The blood was sprinkled on the altar to emphasize the fact of substitution by death. The animal’s blood was spilt in the place of the sinner. Burnt offerings were sometimes referred to as holocaust offerings because no part of them was saved to be eaten. Rather, the entirety was consumed on the altar. While no specific meaning of the burnt offering is given, vs. 4 declares that it was sufficient to “make atonement” for the offerer.
Chapter 2 gives the laws concerning grain offerings which are sometimes called meal or cereal offerings. Four kinds are specified here: uncooked flour, baked bread in an oven, bread fried on a griddle, and bread cooked in a pan. In each case, a “memorial portion” was burned while the rest became food for the priests. God specified that no leaven was to be used. Leaven is often associated with corruption since too much yeast can spoil the bread. Honey was also not allowed although the reason is not known.
In the end, the grain offering amounted to offering the first portion of a meal in recognition that God was the actual provider of all things that nourished the body. The entire sacrificial system caused Israel to consider God in every activity of their day, including their preparation and partaking of food.
Prayer: Father, help me to understand more fully the weight of my sins, and the privilege I have of living in your presence, because of Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
April 29: Leviticus 3,4
Chapter 3 gives the rules for offering what is called a “peace” or “fellowship” offering. The Hebrew word includes the ideas of health, wholeness, welfare, and peace. The idea behind the offering is that the individual now joins in the meal with the priests and the Lord. This imagery of eating a meal symbolizes “peace” between man and God. It is interesting that God did not allow Israel to eat either the fat or the blood, both of which were detrimental to the body.
In previous offerings either the whole animal was burned with fire (burnt offering) or part was burned and part given to the priest (grain offering). In the peace offering, the fat portions are burned to the Lord, and the rest of the meat is divided between priest and worshipper. In this way there was symbolic peace and communion between those sharing the sacrificial. This peace was possible only because atonement had been accomplished through the blood that had been sprinkled on the sides of the altar.
The peace offering could be voluntary or could be part of a vow as we will see (7:12- 26). In the history of Israel this offering was given in abundance as it represented peace with God. When Solomon dedicated the Temple (1 Kings 8:63) he offered 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep, enough to feed the very large crowd that undoubtedly attended the celebration.
In chapter 4 we are introduced to the sin offering. As might be expected, this offering carries with it much more specificity than the previous offerings. The sin offering and the guilt offering (5:14-6:7) are very much alike. They were offered in similar ways but the animals used are different and the blood was handled in a different way.
The sin offering was a repentant sinner’s means of cleansing after going outside of God’s allowances. The sin offering was for general sins, while the guilt offering was used when the transgression injured others or hindered worship. Sins such as lying, stealing, and cheating were to be “covered” by a repentant sinner who intentionally brought the prescribed offering.
Laying hands on the animal to be sacrificed symbolized the substitutionary aspect of the event. The sins of the person were symbolically transferred to the animal that was then sacrificed. Then the priest would pronounce that the repentant offerer was forgiven. The stipulations for the sin offering continue on in 5:1-13.
Prayer: Father, as I read all that the Israelites were commanded to do for each of their sins I am again so thankful that my Savior Jesus has taken the penalty for all my sin, and paid it in full, once for all! But Lord, forgive me for allowing my security in Jesus to lessen my understanding of just how much my sin grieves your heart. May the sacrifice of Jesus stay in my mind today, so that I may see how horrible sin is, and avoid it out of love for you, through the power of your Spirit that dwells in me, Amen.
April 30: Leviticus 5,6
5:1-13 conclude the stipulations on sin offerings and give examples of those infractions that required the sacrifice. The laws on cleanness were not only for the purpose of public health but also to symbolize the necessity of moral cleanness before a holy God. It is interesting to note that the priests were actually the public health officials. In the New Testament, when Jesus healed lepers he often told them to go and show themselves to the priest.
Don’t think that every Israelite brought a sin offering each time they sinned, or that those who forgot about individual sins were automatically cut off from the covenant community. The sin offering was available for those whose consciences bothered them because of some known transgression. Rather than wonder about their standing before God they were given the privilege of the sin offering by which they could understand God’s great forgiving heart.
In 5:14 we meet the rules regarding the guilt offering. As mentioned before, this offering was reserved for those sins that harmed others or detracted from worship. Guilt in the Bible is not merely a feeling or negative emotion, but is a condition of the heart, regardless of whether or not we feel “guilty.” In Isaiah 53:10 the Messiah is said to die as a “guilt offering” showing that the death of Christ was vitally connected to the sacrificial system being laid out in Leviticus.
The guilt offering differed from the sin offering in that the blood is not sprinkled on the side of the altar, but rather the blood is place on the altar and burned along with the fat. The rules for the guilt offering continue through 6:7.
In 6:8-13 we begin an new section in which the duties of the priests are given in respect to the various offerings already introduced. Their first duty was to make sure that a fire burned continually on the altar, which would have necessitated constant attention and labor. Fuel had to be gathered and the fire maintained all day and all night. This symbolized the fact that there would never be a time in their lives when atonement for sin would cease to be necessary. Sin was constant, and so must be the fire necessary for atonement.
The description of the various offerings adds little to the material in chapters 2 and 4. What we do learn is that the priests were held responsible by God to facilitate the various offerings with great sobriety. They were representing the people before a holy God. They were privileged in this, and were responsible to make sure that God’s orders were carried out down to the last details. In the history of Israel, when the priests became lax, so did the people, and the spiritual health of the nation languished.
Prayer: Father, I confess that often I don’t take the privilege of worship, and praise, and confession, and instruction from your Word seriously enough. Forgive me Lord, and raise my appreciation of your holiness, and devotion to your service, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.