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Adoption

Once again, Jesus highlights the importance of relationship over religion. In today’s Bible reading, He drives home His point as He quotes Isaiah.

The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service— yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me. Isaiah 29:13 (CSB)

Over and over again throughout His ministry, Jesus highlights passages from the Old Testament (His Bible) that emphasize that He is all about relationship, not religion. In our passage today from Matthew 15, the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” (Matthew 15:2 CSB) These religious leaders were all about religion. They were all about rules. They were all about doing the good things and not doing the bad things.

Religion looks good. Moralism looks good. Good behavior looks good. But beneath the good-looking veneer of religion, moralism, and good behavior lies the ugly truth that without a relationship with Jesus Christ, you cannot have a right standing before God. (John 17:3, Matthew 7:21-23)

Five hundred years ago, the Reformers definitively answered the question, “How can a person be justified before God?” or “How can people have a right standing before God?” They said that according to God’s Word, people can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And they said that God alone is glorified in justification.

Notice in that statement, there is no mention of religious rituals. There is no mention of baptism. There is no mention of religious behavior. There is no mention of cleaning up your life first. There is no mention of praying a prayer. There is no mention of anything like that. It is only by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ that anyone has any hope of being right with God. Period.

And that’s why religious people in Jesus’ day — and ours too! — don’t get it. They think it’s up to them to make themselves good enough to be accepted by God. The only problem with that is that no one has ever been good enough to be accepted by God.

as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Romans 3:10–12 (CSB)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 (CSB)

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:21 (CSB)

Application

So what about you? You probably call yourself a Christian, a Believer, a Christ-follower. So? You can call yourself anything you want. You can “self-identify” however you want. But the condition of your heart is what matters.

On what basis do you make a claim to be right with God? If your claim has anything to do with you or your behavior, you probably need to go back to the previous paragraphs and rethink your claim.

Sure, good behavior is important. But if you have a right standing before a Holy, Sovereign God, it is only because of what has been done for you, not by you.

That’s good news! That’s the gospel!

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.

If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’re probably at least a little familiar with Matthew 2, today’s Bible reading.

Normally when we think of the Christmas story, we think of the shepherds and the three Wise Men who bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus in the stable. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the story is presented in the Bible. Some well-meaning people came up with the idea of trying to reconcile the differences between Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth. It makes for great Christmas and Easter Pageant material, but they got it wrong. Luke talks about the shepherds coming to Bethlehem and finding Jesus wrapped up in “swaddling clothes” and lying in a manger. But Matthew talks about the Magi (aka “wise men”) visiting baby Jesus in a “house”. Obviously, the Magi showed up after Jesus’ birth night when someone had made room for this newborn and his parents. But I digress…

Who were these Magi?

Most likely they were Gentiles of high position from a country, perhaps Parthia, northeast of Babylon, who were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This special revelation may simply have been in the sky, as might be indicated by their title “Magi” (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star which they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East with copies of Old Testament manuscripts. [1]

I agree with this assessment, especially in light of this reference in Daniel 2:48:

Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many generous gifts. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon.

As the Magi were men of learning, devoting special attention to astronomy and the natural sciences, eventually all men celebrated for learning were called Magi, whether belonging to the priestly order or not. [2]

To sum this up: the Magi were highly educated men who had been influenced by Daniel while he was exiled in Babylon.

One thing to note is that the distance from Babylon to Bethlehem is about 500 miles each way. At 10-20 miles per day, they traveled from one to two months. They entire journey would have taken 2-4 months.

In order to have the Magi arrive on the scene at the time of Jesus’ birth, they would have had to left the region of modern-day Baghdad to Bethlehem 2-4 months before he was born. Just before they got to Bethlehem, they stopped in Jerusalem (5 1/2 miles from Bethlehem) and asked Herod where the new King had been born.

Application

I’ve brought up a lot of academic information before getting to this application point. So what difference does it really make who the Magi were? It makes a lot of difference!

Way back in the Old Testament days, God used the Exile of the Jewish people to put Daniel in a position to influence the wise men of Babylon. Those wise men’s descendants and students, would be the ones to announce to Herod that a new King was in town.

It boggles the mind to think of all of the moving pieces God had to set in place in order to orchestrate this phenomenal feat. But for a God Who spoke the universe into existence out of nothing, this was no problem. No problem at all!

What a Mighty God we serve!
And what a Mighty God Who adopts His kids!

[1] Source: John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-). Mt 2:1–2.
[2] Source: James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible, Rev. ed.]. (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998). 399-401.

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A few days ago, I used this graphic and I feel that today’s devotional demands that I re-use it. Today’s Bible reading discusses this very thing in Galatians 4.

In Galatians 4:6–7, Paul brings out the fact that believers are not servants; they are sons. There is a tremendous difference between the responsibilities of a servant and the privileges of a son.

Several years ago, some friends of ours adopted a baby girl from an unwed teen. It was a win-win-win and to this day, the girl’s (or young woman now!) biological mother is still involved in her daughter’s life. But as our friends went through the legal process of adopting their daughter, I learned that US adoption laws are based on Biblical adoption laws. I also learned a mind-blowing fact about adoption: Adoptive parents are legally more responsible for their adoptive children than they are for their biological children. Being an adopted son or daughter brings tremendous benefits, even over being a biological child, including the security of knowing that if you are an adopted child, you can never be disinherited.

Application

Believer, do you see you see yourself as a servant of God? Or do you see yourself as a child of God? How you see your relationship will determine how you feel about God, how you pray to God, how you give to God, and how you talk about God.

If you are an insecure servant of God and get into trouble, you will respond, “I’ve messed up. My Father’s going to kill me.” But if you are a secure child of God, you will respond, “I’ve messed up. I need to call my Dad.” One view brings a response of paralyzing fear, while the other brings a response of feeling lovingly supported.

If you are a child of God, rejoice!
You have a loving Father Who will never disown you.

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Today’s Bible reading is Galatians 3. In it, Paul asks, who bewitched you into believing this horrible lie? (Galatians 3:1)

Covenant Promise, signed in Jesus' blood

He looks back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish Nation who was justified by his faith, not by obedience to the Law (the Law wasn’t even given for 430 years after Abraham). God promised Abraham that the Holy Spirit would be given through Abraham’s seed. (Galatians 3:16) Seed is singular because it refers to Jesus rather than the people of the Jewish Nation. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. And those who have faith are the true children of Abraham — not those who obey the Law. (Galatians 3:9)

Application

Do you believe? Do you trust in Jesus’ payment for the penalty of your sin? If so, you are a true child of Abraham and an heir of the promise!

God’s promise to Abraham — and his heirs — was signed in the blood of Jesus.
That’s good news! That’s the gospel!

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