Today’s readings are Genesis 20, Matthew 19, Nehemiah 9 and Acts 19.
Genesis 20 records Abraham’s time in Gerar, and lying about Sarah, again.
1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.
Casual English Bible
Basically this chapter records Abraham’s lie (“Meet my sister”) and getting caught at lying. Apparently it was a “half-truth” but it put Sarah and God’s promise of a son to Abraham at risk. Helyer says…
“Apparently, shortly after the announcement of a birth one year hence, Sarah is again taken into another man’s harem. The reader is to infer that if there is an heir, he is in danger of being reckoned as Abimelech’s not Abraham’s. But Yahweh intervenes once again and preserves Sarah (20.6b) and restores her to Abraham.”
Our world is filled with fake news, misrepresentations and half-truths today. How about you?
In verse 6 God says, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me.” God directly intervenes, at times, to keep us from sinning, or give us a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). Also, note, as David does in Psalm 51:4, that Abimelech was not sinning only against Sarah and Abraham, but against God as well.
It’s a sad day when pagans are telling believers “You have done to me things that ought not to be done” (v. 9).
This is always Abraham at his best, when he is interceding for others:
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the LORD had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
In Matthew 19 Jesus begins heading towards Jerusalem first entering “the region of Judea beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 19:1).
Matthew 19:3-12 is Jesus’ teaching on the subject of divorce. Divorce is not God’s design or desire (19:4-6), but God allows formal divorce (to protect the wife) due to hardness of heart (19:7-8), the exception being when adultery occurs (19:9). The disciples then assumed it would be better not to marry (19:10), but Jesus said only those who could receive the saying (better not to marry) should do it.
To summarize, Jesus held a very high view of marriage. When a man and a woman marry, God creates a union that is as strong as the union that bound Adam and Eve together before God created Eve from Adam’s side. Man should not separate what God has united (cf. Rom. 7:1-3). However, even though God hates divorce, He permits it in cases where gross sexual indecency (fornication) has entered the marriage. Similarly, God hates sin, but He permits it and gave instructions about how to manage it.
Paul urged His disciples not to divorce (cf. 1 Cor. 7:10), but if they divorced, he urged them not to remarry (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8, 11, 27). However, he did not go so far as prohibiting remarriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:9, 28). He encouraged them to realize that living unmarried after a divorce is a realistic possibility for many people, but he conceded it was not possible for all (cf. 1 Cor. 7:9). A primary consideration should be how one could most effectively carry on his or her work of preparing for the kingdom (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34).
Jesus again commends childlikeness (19:13-15). The difference between this lesson, and the one in chapter 18, is that there the focus was on the childlike quality of humility that is so important in a disciple. Here Jesus broadened the lesson to include other childlike characteristics (dependent, needy, trusting, vulnerable), all of which are important.
Instruction about wealth begins with the incident with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). This man approached Jesus not on the basis of grace, but law, asking “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (19:16) So Jesus also dealt with him on the basis of law, facing him with the commandments, to which the young man says, “I’ve done all that.” (19:17-20). So Jesus gets to the heart of the issue, the idol that still captured his heart, his wealth.
21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
I don’t think Jesus makes this requirement on everyone, but particularly those whose hearts are held captive by materialism.
22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
I’m sure the disciples, especially Judas, were cringing, wondering why Jesus was doing anti-evangelism, chasing promising candidates away. He had a habit of doing so (John 6). He was a rich, young man who was a ruler. He had everything one would desire in a follower. But Jesus made it harder on him, not easier.
Of course, ultimately, the law is preached so that all of us come face to face with our inability to keep it. I imagine if this young man would have cried out, “Have mercy on me,” Jesus would have.
Verses 23-26 indicate the difficulty, but not impossibility of rich people entering the kingdom.
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”
Still craving after earthly possessions Peter? Jesus points him to something better!
29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
The revival continues in Nehemiah 9. First, there is genuine sorrow over their sins (v. 1), then separation from sinful practices (v. 2). They would read the Law for six hours each day and worship and confess sins another six hours (v. 3). A prayer of confession comprises the rest of the chapter (9:5-38).
It begins, as the Bible does, by describing God’s greatness seen in His creation of the cosmos (v. 6), and then His grace and faithfulness in calling Abraham, promising him the land of Canaan, and fulfilling that promise (vv. 7-8). The returned exiles could identify with God’s miraculous deliverance of their forefathers when they were slaves in Egypt (vv. 9-11).
The returnees could also appreciate God’s supernatural guidance of them and His faithful provision for them until He brought them to the Promised Land (vv. 12-15). They also voiced thanks to God for choosing them and for giving them His Law (vv. 13-14). While the second Exodus motif is strong in the biblical writers’ concept of the restoration, the idea of pilgrimage and procession to Zion is equally strong.
In spite of their forefathers’ rebellion (vv. 16-17a): God forgave them and graciously guided them (v. 19), provided for their physical needs (vv. 20-21), and gave them victory over their enemies (v. 22). He also multiplied them (v. 23), brought them into the Promised Land (vv. 24-25a), and established them there (v. 25b).
During the period of the judges and during the monarchy, the Israelites disobeyed and rebelled many times. Nevertheless, God delivered them when they repented (vv. 26-29) and sent the prophets to turn them back to Himself (v. 30). This shows God’s further grace and compassion toward His people (v. 31).
The returned Jews then called on God to remember their sufferings in exile (v. 32). They acknowledged that the exile was a consequence of their disobedience to God’s Word (vv. 33-34). Even in exile, most of the Israelites had not returned to God (v. 35). Consequently, much of the Jewish nation was still in bondage to its Persian rulers (vv. 36-37).
Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies spoke about Nehemiah 9 on January 16:
They really are two foundation stories of a God-honoring life. They must be held together; neither side can be forsaken. Every day you and I give empirical evidence to the existence of both. Here are these foundation-stone realities: you still have sin living inside you and God is abundant in mercy.
[I like the way John Newton put it. A new, young pastor William Jay came to Newton wanting advice about the ministry. Newton was in his bed, health failing. Late Jay came to realize the richness of a single line he had written down. Newton’s final recorded words were: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior” (Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life, p. 49).]
The words of Nehemiah 9 describe us all: “They…did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules” (v. 29). Maybe it’s a thoughtless word, a selfish act, a prideful thought, a moment of envy, a flash of lust, a willing act of disobedience, an attitude of vengeance, or a minor moment of thievery; maybe it’s your wanting your glory more than God’s, failing to give grace where grace is needed, bending the truth, giving in to an addiction, or working to make these kinds of things in your life look not as bad as they actually are. In some way, we all give daily proof of the truth that sin still lives inside us. None of us is yet sin-free. We all continue to fail in word, thought, desire, and action. It is humbling but important to admit, because it’s only when you admit how deep and comprehensive your problem is that you get excited about the rescue that only God’s mercy can supply.
We aren’t just left in our sins. Nehemiah 9 continues, “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (v. 31). You can be courageous in admitting your sin precisely because God is richly abundant in his mercy. He comes to you in mercy not because you are unable to help yourself. Since sin means that you are a bigger danger to you than anything else in your life and since it is impossible for you to run from you, there is only one hope for you. It is that someone with power, wisdom, and mercy will invade your life, forgive your sins, and progressively deliver you from the hold that sin has had on you. That mercy comes to you in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his mercy is always fresh, uniquely fashioned for the sin struggles of this new day.
Acts 19 continues the third missionary journey of Paul.
Both the map and the chart are from Never Thirsty
In Acts 19:1-7 Paul encounters a group of John’s disciples. Were they “Old Testament believers,” just following John’s message, or not believers at all? Paul asked these men if they had received the Holy Spirit, probably because he saw some incongruity in their claim to be admirers of John and their evident lack of the Spirit.
Thomas Constable writes:
John had predicted the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; cf. John 1:32-33). Their response to Paul’s question probably indicates that they did not know that the Lord had given the Holy Spirit as John had predicted. It did not indicate that they knew nothing of the existence of the Holy Spirit, since John had predicted Holy Spirit baptism. Their response enabled Paul to see that his first assumption about these disciples was incorrect; they were probably not Christians.
This discovery led Paul to raise another question to clarify his second assumption: “What” (which) baptism had they experienced, or with whom did they identify in baptism? They replied that they had undergone “John’s” water “baptism.” This response told Paul that they had not experienced Spirit baptism, and therefore were evidently unsaved.
As with the new converts in Samaria, these Ephesian disciples received “the Holy Spirit” when an apostle, this time Paul, “laid his hands upon them” (cf. 8:17). They did not receive the Spirit by water baptism. In Samaria, this identification of the coming of the Spirit with Peter and John first authenticated God’s giving of the Spirit in a non-Jewish context. Here, similarly, the identification of the coming of the Spirit with Paul authenticated God’s giving of the Spirit in a town in which demonic religious activity flourished (cf. vv. 13-19).
Paul then reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and later the Gentiles at the hall of Tyrannus.
The Celsus library. Some believe the building to the left was the school of Tyrannus. Leon Mauldin
For two years he taught there (Acts 19:8-12), until trouble was stirred up. First, the seven sons of Sceva tried to exorcise demons in the name of Jesus, but got their tails whipped (Acts 19:13-16). It showed that Jesus was a more powerful god than the forces of darkness worshipped there in Ephesus. It resulted in a deep work of repentance:
18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. [several million dollars!]
As a consequence of the repentance described in the preceding verses, the church became purer as well as larger (cf. 5:1-11). Luke gave us this sixth progress report to mark the end of another section of his book. The section we have just completed (16:6—19:20) records the church’s extension in the Roman provinces around the Aegean Sea.
Thomas Constable notes:
While in Ephesus, Paul had considerable contact with the church in Corinth. He wrote that church a letter that he called his “former letter” in 1 Corinthians 5:9. Then sometime later he wrote 1 Corinthians, probably near the spring of A.D. 56. Timothy traveled from Corinth to Ephesus, then evidently went back to Corinth, and returned later to Ephesus (Acts. 18:5; 1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11; Acts 19:22). Following Timothy’s visit to Corinth, Paul evidently made a so-called “painful visit” to Corinth (2 Cor. 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2), and then returned to Ephesus.
After that painful visit, Paul wrote another “severe letter” to Corinth from Ephesus (2 Cor. 2:3-4; 7:8-12; 12:18). These facts come to us through Paul’s two epistles to the Corinthians, the first of which he wrote during the years he used Ephesus as his base of operations. He undoubtedly had other contacts with many other churches about which we know nothing. Luke’s purpose was not to give us a complete record of Paul’s ministry or the church’s growth as a whole. It was to document the church’s advance to the heart of the Roman Empire (1:8), and to show, by repetition, how Jesus Christ was building His church (Matt. 16:18).
21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Paul evidently sensed that, having laid a firm foundation in Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea region, he needed to press on to Gentile areas yet unreached (cf. Rom. 15:23).
Paul wanted to collect money for the poor Judean saints, from the more prosperous Christians in the Aegean region, and then deliver it to them in Jerusalem (cf. 24:17; 1 Cor. 16:1-4). He realized that returning to Jerusalem would be dangerous for him (cf. Rom. 15:30-32), but he determined to go nonetheless.
A riot broke out in Ephesus because the gospel was bankrupting the idol industry (19:23-41).
Only one column remains of the famous Temple of Artemis. Leon Mauldin
It was one of the seven wonders of the world and here is one artist rendition of the temple.