M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 6

Today’s readings are from Genesis 6, Matthew 6, Ezra 6 and Acts 6.

Genesis 6 is the beginning of the flood narrative (Genesis 6-8).  Verse 5 is a good description of total depravity…

5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

In the midst of judgment, Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).  Was that favor/grace free?  Or was it because “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9)?  Was it because Noah “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22)?

“The same explanation for Enoch”s rescue from death (“he walked with God”) is made the basis for Noah”s rescue from death in the Flood: “he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).  Thus in the story of Noah and the Flood, the author is able to repeat the lesson of Enoch: life comes through “walking with God.”” [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 119.]

Matthew 6 is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, dealing first with righteous that is performed “in order to be seen/noticed” and therefore praised.  I can remember Dr. Stanley Toussaint, a professor I had for a Summer class at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, every time he would say “paid in full,” would pound the desk to emphasize–this is all you get!  But righteousness done in secret, seen only by God, will be rewarded by Him.

The last part of Matthew 6 deals with worry.  Three times Jesus says “do not be anxious” (25, 31, 34). But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus is interested in more than handing down commands. He wants to get at our hearts.

So Jesus gave His followers 7 reasons we shouldn’t worry.  First, life is more important than the things of life (v. 25).  Second, you’re more important to God than the lillies and the birds, but He makes sure they have what they need (v. 26).  Third, it doesn’t accomplish anything!  Nothing gets better by worrying (v. 27).  Fourth, God really does care about you (vv. 28-29).  Fifth, worry is what pagans do.  In other words, it’s an act of unbelief! (vv. 30-32a).  Sixth, what is even more important is the kingdom.  Seek it (v. 33).  Seventh, grace comes each day.  For today’s troubles you have today’s grace.  Tomorrow’s grace will come tomorrow (v. 34).

Years ago I heard Phil Keaggy sing this song:

Worry is assuming responsibility for things that are out of our control. That

Years ago I heard Phil Keaggy sing this song:

Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”

And here is a great bedtime song for worriers, sung by the Haven of Rest Quartet:

Ezra 6 plays out one of the Proverbs.

Proverbs 26:27 says…

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.

In other words, when you plan evil against God and His people, it will come back to bite you!  The letter that Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai had sent, trying to get the Israelites in trouble for rebuilding the wall, declaring that they had no authority to do this, was turned on its head.  Darius found the decress which Cyrus had made (because God had stirred his spirit, Ezra 1:__) and made Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai support the building project by getting out of the way and providing animals for sacrifice.

Verse 14 says…

They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia;

Notice what came first, the “decree of the God of Israel…”

The Passover was eaten “by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Acts 6 records the internal problem of some people being neglected.  Deacons were chosen to serve them, and at least two of those deacons, Stephen and Philip would do much more than merely waiting tables.  Stephen began preaching Christ and he was brought before the council, the Sanhedrin.


Resources for Investing in the Next Generation

These are some resources for following up on the sermon from Sunday morning (1/6/19) entitled Investing in the Next Generation (Psalm 78:1-8).





New Morning Mercies, January 5

My mother gave me Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies for my birthday last year.  I’ve been reading it each day this year.  Today’s devotional was excellent and reminds us of the wonder of God’s still amazing grace.

He wrote:

If you obey for a thousand years, you’re no more accepted than when you first believed; your acceptance is based on Christ’s righteousness and not yours.

The fact is that sin is a bigger disaster than we think it is and grace is more amazing than we seem to be able to grasp that it is.  No one who really understands what Scripture has to say about the comprehensive, every-aspect-of-your-personhood-altering nature of sin would ever think that anyone could muster enough motivation and strength to rise to God’s standard of perfection.  The thought that any fallen human being would b e able to perform his or her way into acceptance with God has to be the most insane of delusions.  Yet we all tend to think we are more righteous than we are, and when we think this, we have taken the first step to embracing the delusion that maybe we’re not so bad in God’s eyes after all.

This is why the reality check of Romans 3:20 is so important.  Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”  If you prayed every moment of your life, you could not pray enough prayers to earn acceptance with God.  If you gave every penny of every dollar that you ever earned in every job you ever had, you could not give enough to deserve acceptance with God.  If every word you ever spoke was uttered with the purest of conscientious motivations, you would never be able to speak your way into reconciliation with God.  If you gave yourself to an unbroken, moment-by-moment life of ministry, you could never minister enough to achieve God’s favor.  Sin is too big.  God’s bar is too high.  It is beyond the reach of every human being who has ever taken his or her first breath.

This is why God, in love, sent his Son: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  You see, there was and is no other way.  There is only one portal to acceptance with God–the righteousness of Christ.  His righteousness is given over to our account; sinners are welcomed into the presence of a holy God based on the perfect obedience of another.  Christ is our hope, Christ is our rest, Christ is our peace.  He perfectly fulfilled God’s requirement so that in our sin, weakness, and failure we would never again have to fear God’s anger.  This is what grace does!  So as the children of grace, we obey as a service of worship, not in a desperate attempt to do what is impossible–independently earn God’s favor.

Amen to that!  Worship the God of grace!  Find in on Amazon Smile–New Morning Mercies–and donate to Moving Works.

Hosea and Gomer (Hosea 1:1-3)

Derek Kidner begins his comments on the first chapter of Hosea by saying:

“It is the people you love who can hurt you most.  One can almost trace the degree of potential pain along a scale—from the rebuff you hardly notice from a stranger, to the rather upsetting clash you may have with a friend, right on to the stinging hurt of a jilting, the ache of a parent-child estrangement, or, most wounding of all, the betrayal of a marriage.”

And that is exactly what we see here in the opening words of the book of Hosea—a tragic betrayal in the life of Hosea, which mirrors the treacherous betrayal by Israel to their God.

This morning we want to talk about Hosea and Gomer and God’s initial command to Hosea, found in vv. 1-3 of Hosea 1:

1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”  3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

We talked last week about the time frame of Hosea’s ministry, that it occurred in the decades immediately preceding the fall of Samaria and Assyria dispersing the people of Israel into foreign countries.  It was a time that initially experienced great prosperity and political stability, but in the 20 years leading up to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. it was a time filled with political intrigue and instability, moral decay and idolatry.

One might notice that Hosea mentioned only one king of Israel, Jeroboam II, while mentioning four kings of Judah, the southern kingdom.  Why did he skip over Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, Pekahiah and Hoshea?

Kings of Israel during the Ministry of Hosea, 760 to 720 B.C.

Dynasty of Jehu
Jeroboam II 793-752 B.C. Gave throne to his son
Zechariah 753-752 B.C. Assassinated
Dynasty of Shallum
Shallum 752 B.C. (one month) Assassinated
Dynasty of Menahem
Menahem 752-742 B.C. Gave throne to his son
Pekahiah 724-740 B.C. Overthrown in coup d’état
Dynasty of Pekah
Pekah 752-732 B.C. Assassinated
Dynasty of Hoshea
Hoshea 732-722 B.C. Died in exile

Well, it is probably because he regarded Jeroboam II as the last legitimate king of Israel.  Those who followed him were a batch of assassins and ambitious political climbers who had no right to the title “king.”  Also, it may be that Hosea hoped for better things from Judah.  Although he sometimes criticizes them, he prays that they would not follow Israel’s lead (4:15).

By the way, we know nothing of Beeri, Hosea’s father, but the inclusion of his name here keeps us from mistaking him and the last king of Israel, Hoshea.  These are variations of the same name, which also includes Joshua and Jesus.  The meaning of Hosea’s name is “Yahweh has saved.”

While Hoshea’s policies would lead to Israel’s collapse, listening to Hosea’s prophecies could be their salvation.  But would they listen?

In the midst of this period in Israel’s history, the “word of the Lord came to Hosea.”  This forms the beginning of Hosea’s ministry.  He was likely a young man at the time, possibly in his late teens to early 20’s.

It was not unusual for God to require his prophets to do some strange things as practical object lessons for stirring up the imagination or heart of His people.  God asked Isaiah to walk about naked and barefoot for three years as a sign of the coming exile of Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:3-5).  Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year near a small model of Jerusalem under siege (Ezekiel 4-5).  He was also forbidden to mourn when his wife died (24:15-18).

A prophet’s call could be agonizing.  Almost anything could be asked of him.  It would be difficult to find a more shattering demand than the one given to Hosea.

Here God says to Hosea

“Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”

The NIV says…

“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”

What both of these versions miss is the plurals, “wife of whoredoms” and “children of whoredoms.”  Like “men of bloods” (Psalm 5:6) and “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3) the plural indicates the frequency (even constancy) of the act, which shows that she was characterized as a whore already.

Obviously this seems very strange, even immoral, for God to ask Hosea to marry an adulterous woman.

Did God actually ask Hosea to marry a sexually promiscuous woman and why did he command Hosea to do this?  Also, is there just one woman presented here, or two women between chapter 1 and chapter 3?

Scholars throughout the centuries have tried to deal with this sticky moral issue.

Some say that Hosea’s words here are a mere parable or allegory with no basis in history.  But that seems unlikely, since he says she was the daughter of Diblaim in verse 3.  She is a real person with a real name and a real father.

Others say Hosea’s real-life wife was faithful, but chapter 1 is a metaphor and chapter 3 is a prophetic symbol of God’s compassion.  But it is difficult to imagine that Hosea’s preaching would have much impact if people knew that none of it was true, just a story to prove a point.  To have made up this story about her would have been cruel.

Others say chapters 1 and 3 are historical but two different women.  Hosea married two different prostitutes.  But the context helps us understand that Gomer is also the woman of chapter 3.  Notice that Hosea is told to “again” go and love her.

Some say that Hosea married Gomer, who was already an immoral woman.  She was faithful in the birth of the first child, but returned to harlotry and the two additional children are of doubtful paternity.  Or, she was possibly faithful in the births of all three, but then returned to harlotry.

That God would call Hosea to marry a sexually immoral woman does not violate the prohibition in Leviticus 21:14, for that applies only to those in the priesthood.

I believe that the language of verse 2 indicates that she was already a “promiscuous woman,” one given to sexual immorality.  After marrying her, she remained faithful for awhile—through the birth of the first child, or possibly all three.

She then abandoned Hosea for other lovers.  She became a prostitute, receiving fees for her favors (2:5b) and wearing the ornaments of a prostitute (2:2b).  In the process, she fell into destitution, went from lover to lover, and ultimately ended up as a slave.

Certainly Hosea’s action of marrying a woman known to be sexually immoral and then remarrying her pushes the envelope.  It is the very offense of Hosea’s action that strongly confirms that this is the correct interpretation.

“God has divorced Israel just as Hosea has divorced Gomer, but in both cases grace triumphs over righteous jealousy and the demands of the law.  Like the cross itself, Hosea’s action is a stumbling block.  A man does not normally take back a woman who has behaved the way Gomer did.” (Duane Garrett, p. 49).

Hosea’s tragic marriage doesn’t disqualify him from ministry, but serves as his credentials for speaking for Yahweh.  The fact that God’s word came to Hosea and told him to do this is the foundation of his ministry and his qualification for speaking for God.

The NIV translates the reason for Hosea’s marriage as “for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”  So Hosea was to be bound to this woman as his wife in covenant union.  For better or for worse, the path of his life would be linked to hers.

Hosea would be like Yahweh, who also bound himself to a willful and wayward people (Deut 9:6).

Whereas the ESV has “children of whoredom,” the NIV more helpfully translates simply “have children with her.”  Now, it is possible that one or more of the children were the result of illicit love affairs by Gomer, and not really Hosea’s children.

Another possibly is that Hosea also took in children from Gomer’s previous sexual alliances.  In other words, he adopted her illegitimate children.

But it is more likely that God is talking about Hosea’s own progeny, but that they, being born of a promiscuous woman, would bear the disgrace of their mother’s behavior.  Of course, these children also represent Israel, and they would follow in the footsteps of their mother and be idolatrous as well.  In this sense Gomer may stand for the nation and her children the individual Isrealites.

“The reason for God’s astonishing command to Hosea is that ‘the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’  In other words, God specifically tells Hosea to enter into the same kind of marriage that Yahweh himself is in.  Hosea is to experience the sorrows of God and thus speak in God’s place to the nation.  The Hebrew also implies that Israel’s acts of adultery against God have taken the people progressively further away from him.  Every act of apostasy and immorality has driven a wedge deeply between them and their God.” (Duane Garrett, p. 54)

For centuries Israel’s relationship with God had been cast in the form of treaties.  Hosea introduces the idea that Israel is married to God in a covenant relationship, the very closest relationships we experience.

Just as it is shocking that Gomer pursues other lovers against the backdrop of Hosea’s undying love, so it is to shock Israel that they were betraying Yahweh’s undying love by playing the harlot with the Baals.

In our culture, where prostitution as a profession has achieved respect in many circles, and where promiscuity is widely celebrated as a legitimate life style, it is difficult to hear the depth of the offense that would have been generated in Hosea’s time by this divine command. Perhaps the closest we can come is to consider a command to “marry a sexual addict.”

In Hosea, Gomer’s irrepressible unfaithfulness mirrors the headlong rush of Israel “looking for love in all the wrong places,” thus endangering its very existence as God’s people.

God says that “this land is guilty.”  This is likely a reference to the nation itself, but it serves to recall the promises that God had made to Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), as well as the exodus and conquest under Moses, Joshua and the Judges.  “It pricks the consciences of Israel with the reminder that their land was a gift from God, to be used in celebration of his covenant, and to be retained only by total loyalty to him.” (David Alan Hubbard, p. 67)

Yet, that land and its people were involved in “great harlotry”—engrossed in spiritual adultery.

These three short verses help us to see two things which stand out.  First, Hosea is obedient to this command.  Verse 3 says “so he went and took Gomer,” normal Old Testament language for getting married.

Whether Hosea knew the depth of pain he would come to feel from Gomer’s infidelities and rejection, he certainly knew that he was in for a significant amount of pain.  She was, after all, a woman given to sexual immorality.

Sometimes being obedient to God results in more pain, not a happy life.  Hosea enters into the worst sort of marriage, something none of us would wish on our own worst enemies.

Hosea’s intimate insight into the heart of God led precisely to his involvement with the anguish of God, that is, that anguish in which love is itself in the center of the pain, crushed and yet still alive.  Hosea’s willingness to bear the pain becomes the possibility of divine revelation, as he takes it on both in the passion of his preaching and in the very fabric of his daily life. (Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, p. 5).

Like Gomer, Israel had become unfaithful to God soon after their “wedding” at Mt. Sinai.  God did, in fact, predict that Israel would prostitute themselves with Canaanite gods (Deuteronomy 31:16).

The most direct example of Israel’s spiritual harlotry in the wilderness is Aaron’s initiative to construct and worship the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-35).  Interestingly, this event took place at Mount Sinai immediately before God entered into covenant with Israel as a people…The people asked Aaron to shape an idol for them to worship because they lost faith in God in the absence of Moses’ presence. This loss of faith is not exceptional in the Exodus narrative; it is symptomatic of Israel’s relationship with God during the first few months following their departure from Egypt (Exodus 16:1-8, 17:1-7).

Jeremiah, however, does say this:

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.

There is a similar expression in Hosea 2:14-15.

The Lord recalled how His people used to love (Heb. hesed) Him devotedly when they were following Him through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. Those were the days of Israel’s betrothal as a youth, before she settled down with the Lord in the land (cf. Hos. 1—3). Even though the Israelites were not completely faithful to the Lord in the wilderness, their commitment to Him then was much stronger than it was in the days of the prophets.

Why then, did God choose to redeem Israel if not because they were a people faithful to Him?  Ezekiel repeatedly claims that God stuck by Israel because the reputation of His word was at stake (Ezekiel 20:5-6, 20:9, 20:14, 20:22).  These texts explicitly state that God brought Israel out of Egypt because of His promise to their forefathers (Exodus 2:23-24).

In Deuteronomy 7 God explains to Israel why they are receiving the land then possessed by the  Canaanites:

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

This is not to say that there were no Israelites who remained faithful to YHWH, merely that the reasons the Bible gives for God’s deliverance of Israel are the covenant promises God made to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-21), Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5), and Jacob (Genesis 35:9-15), not the righteousness or greatness of the people (Exodus 7:7-8).  Ezekiel later writes that God stayed faithful to Israel because of His reputation, despite their rejection of Him.  The prophet is pointing out that being faithful to His promises is a fundamental part of God’s nature; the Bible is riddled with expressions that verify this (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, James 1:17), the most explicit being Hebrews 6:18 which states that “it is impossible for God to lie.”

And aren’t we glad that this is true?  God chose us and chose to love us not because we were good or obedient or faithful to Him.  Precisely the opposite.  God loved us and Christ died for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).  God justifies “the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

Throughout the Bible, especially in the prophets, God is depicted as being torn between his hatred of sin, and his love for sinners.  The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah demonstrate God’s love for His people, and his reluctance to give up hope that they will return to Him.  In His love for humanity, the Creator humbles Himself before the universe as He takes on the role of a lover spurned, a lover who refuses to give in even when the object of His love turns around and spits Him in the face through public prostitution.

“The prophecy of Hosea is a tapestry of grace.  As the prophet loved a woman whose crudeness and brazenness must have hurt him deeply, so God’s grace comes to his people in their unloveliness.  Our spiritual condition is never so low that God cannot woo and receive us back to himself as Hosea received Gomer.” (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, p. 17)

Let me close with words from John H. Johansen:

So Hosea became the first prophet of repentance, anticipating the Prodigal Son in his appeal to the Prodigal Nation.  This is the greatest thing about his message—the persistence of God’s love.  Unfaithful as Israel had been, and certain as was her down, this fact did not obscure the divine love.  God’s love is constant; it is not canceled by human sin.  No wonder Hosea stands as the greatest Old Testament exponent of the redeeming love of God. (John H. Johansen, “The Prophet Hosea: His Marriage and Message, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, p. 179)

It speaks of the love of election and Calvary.  Thus, A. W. Pink wrote

Christ died not in order to make God love us, but because He did love His people. Calvary is the supreme demonstration of Divine love.  Whenever you are tempted to doubt the love of God, Christian reader, go back to Calvary. (Attributes of God, p. 81).

You can listen to Grace Still Amazes on KENA at 7:45 a.m. on Sundays and Saturday at 7 a.m., Sunday at 8 a.m., and starting Sunday January 6, 2018 will also air at 11:45am on Sundays on KAWX.  Often this posting will be longer and include more material than the radio broadcast, which is 15 minutes.

Duane Garrett’s commentary in the New American Commentary series, has the best discussion of the issue of whether Hosea actually married a sexually promiscuous woman (Hosea, Joel, pp. 43-49).  Also, click on the metaphor marriage of hosea, leif fredheim (journal of interdisciplanary undergraduate research)

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 5

Today’s reading is Genesis 5, Matthew 5, Ezra 5 and Acts 5.

Death, death, death, that’s what Genesis 5 is about.  Truly, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:17).  Death is as certain as taxes.  These people lived long lives, but eventually they died.

It ” is appointed for man to die once” (Hebrews 9:27).  Our life is in God’s book (Psalm 139:16b) and “the end” will come.  This reminds me of a story, this version retold by W. Somerset Maugham, and then a couple of slight changes by me.  It is called “Appointment in Samarra.”

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, ‘Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and saw the woman standing in the crowd and he came to her and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” “That was not a threatening gesture,” she said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Image result for generation of adam

Adam was the only ancestor who did not see Enoch taken up to heaven. Adam died around 57 years before Enoch was taken up to heaven.

Methuselah is the person with the longest life in the Old Testament. Note that his death correspond exactly to the date of the flood. God used Methuselah to warn the generations before him that God will judge the people for their sins. And note that God gave the warning 687 years after his creation, while giving them over 900 years to repent.

The promises given in Matthew 5:1-12 are kingdom related.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t talk about “eternal life,” what we would regard is the primary promise of salvation.

Note that four beatitudes speak of emptiness (poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hungering and thirsting), but once filled the next four beatitudes speak of a life that is filled.  All good, except the inevitability of being persecuted.

We live out our new identities (salt, light) in the world, not in the cloisters of the church.  People need to see our new and different lives to give God the glory.

Jesus came to “fulfill” the law.  His perfect life and substitutionary death means that when I trust in Christ, the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in my stead.  His righteousness is credited to me.  He fulfilled the law by keeping it perfectly and by dying, the just for the unjust, on the cross.

Jesus then turns right around and says that his disciples must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:19-20).  He then goes on to give several examples of how the law is meant to deal not only with external behaviors, but with inward motives and desires.  That makes keeping the law all the more difficult.  In v. 48 we are told that we must be “perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.”

How is this even possible?  It goes back to the reality that we cannot keep the law, as Romans 8 says…

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Only Jesus Christ lived a perfect life.  One function of the law is to reveal to us just how impossible it is for us to fully and consistently obey it.  An unbeliever “cannot” (Romans 8:7) keep it.  But Jesus Christ did, and offered his life as a sin offering.  Go back to Romans 8:3-4, one of my favorite passages…

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled [NIV, fully met] in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.



Kings Reigns Scripture
Cyrus II (the Great) 559–530 Ezra 1:1; 4:5
Cambyses 530–522  
Smerdis 522  
Darius I 521–486 Ezra 5—6; Haggai; Zechariah
Xerxes (Ahasuerus) 486–464 Ezra 4:6; Esther
Artaxerxes I (Artashasta) 464–424 Ezra 4:7-23; chs. 7—10; Nehemiah; Malachi
Darius II 423–404 Neh. 12:22

Acts 5 starts with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira after bringing their offering to the apostles.  We are told in vv. 1-2 that they kept back a part of it for themselves.  They must have presented it, promoting that it was the full amount.

So, you don’t have to be afraid of presenting your offerings to God, just be honest about it.

Ananias and Sapphira presented an appearance of commitment to God that was not true of them.  They were insincere, appearing to be one way but really not being that way.  Had Ananias and Sapphira never professed to be as committed as they claimed when they brought their gift, God probably would not have judged them as He did.  They lacked personal integrity. (Thomas Constable)

I love this “cheerful giver”

The result of this is that “great fear came upon the whole church” (Acts 5:11) and “more than ever believers were added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14).

Even when brought to court, Peter preached Jesus! (vv. 29-32).  After being beaten, they went out “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).  And they kept doing (Acts 5:42) what they were told not to do (Acts 5:40).

Links I Like

January 5

Every Saturday I intend to post some links from other blogs that I enjoyed.  Others do a great job of this, like Tim Challies (A la Carte), Mike Kelley (Wednesday links), Aaron Armstrong (Links I Like–I didn’t borrow from him, seriously!), Stephen Bedard (Midweek Apologetics Roundup and Weekend Leadership Roundup) and Mike Leake (Read This!) among others.

Some of the links I read and liked this week were these.  Click on the blue title and a link will pop up, then click that.

Practical Tools to Grow Your Love Bank

Kavitha Goldowitz says “What do relationships and financial planning have in common? Both need constant monitoring, attention and consistency. You don’t just open a bank account and then lay back, relax and say, “well, I’ve done it…that’s it”. We all know that opening a bank account is only the beginning of a long and continuous process of monitoring your spending and making consistent deposits to grow your balance.

She offers three ways to grow your love bank.  I wish she had fleshed out the first one more.

Come Away and Rest

It is only January 3, but some of us already need to hear Jesus say, “Come away by yourselves… and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).  Jeremy Bailey, writing for Evangelical Magazine, says we need the sabbath.  He says that our sabbath is not a particular day and has been invested with “a greater and more glorious meaning.”  I think what he means is that through Jesus Christ, we can rest from our efforts to please God.

Mary Poppins Returns: Echoes of the Gospel?

Seven Things to Know about Mary Poppins Returns

Becky and I had the opportunity to go see Mary Poppins Returns at the Silver Screen in Mena, Friday night.  It is a great family movie, as full of magic, creative music, and family values as the original (with even a cameo appearances by Dick van Dyke–not as Bert but as Mr. Dawes Sr. (he had double roles in the original), a role he picks up in Mary Poppins Returns.

In Mary Poppins Returns: Echoes of the Gospel? Steven Ingino explores some of the possible intersections between the movie script and music and the gospel.

Seven Things to Know about Mary Poppins Returns is a good introduction to the film, how it differs from the original and how Julie Andrews intentionally distanced herself from the movie so Emily Blunt could develop her own persona.

Caring for a Friend with a History of Promiscuity and/or Abortion

I included this one by Brad Hambrick because he always has good insights on counseling.  My favorite insight was his fifth point that “redemption is as eager to see suffering comforted as it is to see sin forgiven, because it reflects the heart of a Good Father.”  In counseling people who have entangled themselves in this lifestyle, it is just as important to comfort them in their suffering as it is to confront them with their sin.

Another article mentioned in the above article by Brad Hambrick is…

How Do I Find a Counselor Who Is a Good Match for My Needs?

There are seven steps to identifying a counselor who is a good match for your needs.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading January 4

Today’s Bible readings come from Genesis 4, Matthew 4, Ezra 4 and Acts 4.

Genesis 4 is about Cain’s sin (4:1-8), judgment (4:9-15) and progeny (4:16-24), with a final statement (of hope) about Adam and Eve’s third son Seth (4:25-26).

This reminds me of a joke that Marcus Herod made a couple of Christmas ago: “How long was Cain mad at his brother?  As long as he was Abel.”

Why did God not receive Cain’s offering?  We know from Hebrews that Abel’s offering was “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4).  Was it because Abel followed God’s lead in killing an animal as a substitute for himself, acknowledging how serious sin was, whereas Cain’s offering was a nonchalant view of sin.

For further reading:

The Offering of Abel__A History of Interpretation, Jack P. Lewis (JETS)

Cain and His Offering, Bruce K. Waltke (WTJ)

Notice the image of temptation in verse 7: when we don’t do what is right, sin crouches at the door ready to spring on us.  Sin doesn’t lie passively waiting for us to pick it up and try it on.  No, it is always crouching right outside the door.  We let sin in and entertain it.

[For an alternative understanding of Genesis 4:7, one which I just received today among the blogs I subscribe to, is one by David Schrock.

‘sin crouching at the door’ or ‘a sin offering at the gate’__michael morales on genesis 4 7, david schrock]

Cain was a whiner (v. 13-14) and God had mercy on him (v. 15).  While he complained that he would be driven from God’s presence, his real fear was in being killed.  That is shown by Cain going away from God’s presence (v. 16).

Years ago, I heard Bill Gothard say that “what parents do in moderation, their children will do in excess.”  This was certainly true of Lamech (v. 24).  By the way, that is not always true, but generally so.

Unlike Cain and Israel, Jesus was doing everything right–following the lead of the Spirit and fasting (Matthew 4:1-2).

Matthew 4 shows Jesus successfully dealing with temptation.  Cain failed when sin crouched at the door, Jesus did not.  Again, sin is active, “the tempter came [to him]” (Matthew 4:3).

The use of the first class conditional sentence here by Satan, “If you are the Son of God” means that Satan was not casting doubt on whether Jesus was the Son of God, rather Satan was trying to get Jesus to illegitimately use his sonship, to abuse it.  He was trying to get Jesus to act independently of His Father, to pursue a crown without a cross.  He was prompting Jesus to prove Himself in the wrong ways.

Jesus succeeded against Satan, unlike Eve and Adam, and Israel, unlike the best of us.

Was it a legitimate offer, Satan promises to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (vv. 8-9).  I believe it was.  Under God’s authority, Satan is the “god of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air,” so he can legitimately promise power, prestige and possessions.  Of course, Jesus will eventually reign over all the earth, a promise made by His Father (Psalm 2), but the path to the crown lead through the cross.

When Jesus began to preach, he picked up on the same theme John the Baptist was preaching on (compare 3:2 with 4:17)–“repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Ezra 4 records outside opposition to the rebuilding of the temple.  First, outsiders desired to join with the returned exiles, to help them rebuild the temple.  Me, I would have accepted their help.  But Zerubbable and Jeshua had more discernment than I, of the true motives of these people.

Being rebuffed by the leaders in Jerusalem, they trumped up charges against them and brought them before the king of Persia, thus stopping the rebuilding of the temple.  The prophet Haggai’s ministry occurs at this juncture, rebuking the people for building their own homes when God’s house lay unfinished (Haggai 1).  Zechariah’s ministry also occurred during this time. (Preview of coming attraction: Ezra 5 shows the people resuming the work and finishing the temple.)

Acts 4 shows that Peter, who had cowered before the servant girl only a few months before, stood bravely before the very group that had sentenced Jesus with blasphemy and called for His crucifixion, and proclaimed Jesus.  What made the difference?  The filling of the Spirit (see Acts 4:31).

The religious leaders were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John (Acts 4:13).  I love what is said about them.  They were uneducated, common men, but they had “been with Jesus,”  That is our primary qualification for ministry–that it is obvious to others that we have been with Jesus, spent time in His presence, learning from Him.

Notice that miracles cannot be denied (Acts 4:16).  They were the way that God established the apostolic message as truth.

While the religious leaders couldn’t hold them (due to their popularity), they commanded them to stop preaching Jesus.  While Peter said, we cannot but speak about what we have seen and heart, when they returned to their brethren, they prayed that God would “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29).  That is certainly what we need today–boldness to speak.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 3

Today’s reading is from Genesis 3, Matthew 3, Ezra 3 and Acts 3.

Genesis 3 recounts the fall of mankind into sin.  I find it interesting that the temptation, which involved the lust of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and pride of life (1 John 2:16) said,,,

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (3:6)

That description of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is almost exactly like every other tree in the garden.  Genesis 2:9 said…

And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So all the trees were pleasant to look at and good for food.  The only difference is that the name of the tree and Satan’s temptation, offered to “make one wise.”  Isn’t it amazing that Adam and Eve had access freely eat of any tree of the garden, and they were all beautiful and delectable…and they chose the ONE tree God about which said, “Keep out”?

Satan’s temptation was first to question God’s word (3:1, “did God actually say…?”), then directly denied the truth of God’s word (3:4, “You will not surely die”), then Satan questions God’s goodness, spinning it as if God was withholding something from them.  This “something” would make them like God, independent of God.

Why would Eve want to know “evil” (3:5)?  She had never experienced it before and possibly had no idea what it was.  Up until that moment, she had never known anything but “good.” Possibly again it was the idea that God was withholding something from her, the belief that ultimately God wasn’t good.

Of course, all the consequences, immediate and long-term, were negative.  First, their eyes were opened (to evil) and they saw that they were naked (cf. 2:25), but now for the first time they felt shame and tried to cover themselves.  We all attempt to hide, being ashamed of what we’ve done and who we are.

The second response to their newly experienced sinfulness and falleness was to hurl blame upon one another–Adam to Eve and Eve to the serpent.  Each of them was at fault, so each was judged.

The proto-evangelium (first gospel), and the reality that history from then on would be filled with spiritual warfare, is found in Genesis 3:15…

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Here God says that in the perpetual battle between Satan and the women (and her offspring), Satan will gain seeming victories, but will ultimately and completely be defeated by her offspring–Jesus Christ.

Verses 20-21 offer hope in the midst of judgment.  Adam still called his wife Eve, the “mother of all living,” even though their actions brought death into the world.  Also, God provided them a new, and better, covering, the skin of an animal requiring death (thus initiating the reality that a living substitute would have to die for sins to be pardoned).  Was this animal a “pet” of Adam and Eve, one well-known and precious to them, as the ultimate sacrifice would be to God the Father??

Matthew 3 is about the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus.  I’m always reminded when I read of the Father’s affirmation of his son here in Matthew 3:17 (and add Matthew 17:5) we get a composite statement, “This is my beloved Son, with who, I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”  Every son needs his father to regularly tell him:  “I love you.  I am proud of you.  You do ___________ well.”  I believe I first heard this from Robert Lewis in his Authentic Manhood course.  Dads, take a moment to write to your son(s) and tell him these three things, even if they are adults.  Then do it regularly.

The first part of Ezra is about the rebuilding of the temple.  According to Ezra 3:1-6 the returned Israelites were offering all the offerings, but the temple of the Lord “was not yet laid.”  When the foundation was laid (3:10), they worshiped (3:11).  However, some of the “old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid.”  They compared Solomon’s temple with this puny temple and couldn’t help grieving.  Did they grieve over their sins which had caused Solomon’s temple to be destroyed, or were they grieving simply because the glory of this temple (and therefore their prestige as a nation) was so meager in comparison?

Acts 3 is about the healing of the lame man (3:1-11) and Peter’s sermon (3:12-).  The healing of the lame man resulted in “And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (3:10) and the people “came running” to Peter and John.  That is when Peter preached the gospel to them.  This is why I say that gifts like healing, miracles and tongues were given to (1) arrest people’s attention (wonder and amazement, running to listen) and (2) attest to the authenticity of this “new” gospel.

Notice the interesting juxtaposition in Acts 3:15 of the title “Author of life” referring to Jesus, whom “you killed” but whom “God raised from the dead.”


M’Cheyne Bible Reading January 2

Today’s Bible reading is Genesis 2, Matthew 2, Ezra 2 and Acts 2.

In the narrative in Genesis 2:18-23 it is God who identifies Adam’s need for a companion.  But before God meets that need, he helps Adam to feel that need by giving him the task of naming the animals.  As they came before him he would doubtless notice that many of them had companions according to their kind.  But he did not.  No animal matched him, until…

It is tempting to preach only to people’s felt needs, but like God we must surface other, deeper needs in people’s lives so that they will feel the need and desire a change.

I remember some speaker from the past, likely my Bible College days, who interpreted

23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

“Wowza! Dy-no-mite! She’s like me, but different!”

The wise men followed a star to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem.  They surmised that it was “his star,” that is, the star of the Messiah, king of the Jews.  Jehovah Witnesses believe that this was Satan’s star, because it identified where Jesus was and Herod wanted to kill him.  While it is true that Herod wanted to kill his competition to the throne, it wasn’t the star, but Herod’s murderous intent that was Satanic.  The wise men were warned by God not to tell Herod this news.  It seems, therefore, that they were led by God all the way–from the east, to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, then to leave and go home.

If this were Satan’s star, why not lead Herod to Jesus?  Why did he need the wise men?  The star led the wise men to Jesus to worship him.  It was Herod’s hard heart that led him to try to kill Jesus and kill the children (in an effort to kill Jesus).

So why did God bring the wise men (pagans) to Jesus?  Because God had already purposed that Jesus would spend time in Egypt (see the prophecy in 2:15).  The gifts of the wise men prepared them financially to make that trip to Egypt.

And the winner is—the sons of Senaah (Ezra 2:35).  They gathered 3,630 family members to return to Israel.  The loser was the sons of Adonikam (Ezra 2:13).  They didn’t have the least, but they had 666 (bad number).

The early church–Spirit filled, preaching Christ, devoting themselves to the teaching and to one another–and growing (Acts 2).