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Application

nuclear_explosion

I will probably upset someone with this devotional based on today’s Bible reading. It’s because I don’t share the most popular view of eschatology. As a result, I see this passage very differently than many people. But we need to seek to understand and apply the Bible according to the Bible and not according to popular theology and popular Bible teachers. The majority can sometimes be wrong.

I recently got into a text discussion with a friend over this very topic, eschatology, the study of the End Times. It’s the only view that many Christians have ever been exposed to. The popular view of today’s passage looks to the future for the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, often with an America-centric slant. The popular view sees all of this passage as being in the future. But is this Jesus’ focus?

If you read Matthew 24, Jesus appears to deliver the entire chapter in one speech. In other words, look at the passage as a whole to seek to understand what Jesus is saying. He begins with a prophecy that the Temple will be destroyed. Next, He describes signs of the end of the age. The next three sections in the chapter deal with Jesus’ Second Coming, concluding with a strong statement that no one will know the day or the hour.

Obviously, the destruction of the Temple isn’t in the future; it happened in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem. But the rest from Matthew 24:3 could have happened in the past, are now happening, or will happen in the future. Is Jesus giving us a step-by-step description to guide our worldview? Or is He simply giving us a “watch for these signs and be alert” warning?

I believe He’s giving us a warning to watch and be alert rather than a timetable. The central application point is Matthew 24:12-14.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:12–14 (ESV)

Application

Jesus couldn’t be more clear that the timing of His return is unknowable. So why do so many seem to be obsessed with when He will return? Shouldn’t we instead be faithful with proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (v. 14) and stay alert (v. 42, 44, 46), faithfully loving and serving Him?

If you tend to focus on the timing, step back a bit and look at the passage as a whole. Look at the book of Revelation as a whole. You’ll find that our call is to make sure we’ve been saved (had a conversion experience) and that we will be saved in the end (ultimate salvation for those who endure and not fall away) as well as to bring as many to heaven as we can.

Make sure that your love for Him and His people doesn’t grow cold. (Matthew 24:12) Be faithful today. Be obedient today. Be watching today. Get to know and love God better today. Live to God’s glory today. Sure, watch for the signs. But concentrate on growing deeper in your relationship with Him today.

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

This devotional was originally published May 4, 2019.

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"Virgin" or "young woman"?

Today’s Bible reading looks back to Isaiah 7:14 and finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Did Matthew go too far in applying this prophecy to Jesus?

Isaiah 7:14’s context is that God extends to King Ahaz an unusual offer to ask for a sign. When he refuses, saying he doesn’t want to test God, Isaiah steps forward and gives the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. He says that in the time it would take a young woman to be married and give birth to a child and for that child to come to the “age of accountability”, God would deliver His people from their Exile. In other words, God would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy in about a decade.

So what’s the problem? Isaiah says God would provide this sign in just a few years. Yet Matthew says Isaiah’s prophecy was about Jesus, born of a virgin young woman, Who came on the scene several hundred years later. So who’s right Isaiah or Matthew?

They’re both right!

Oftentimes, the writers of the New Testament — and even Jesus Himself — will quote from or allude to a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (their Bible) and find the fulfillment of that passage in Jesus and the New Covenant. In this particular instance, Isaiah uses the Hebrew word for young woman, not necessarily a virgin young woman. (Note: Hebrew has two different words for 1) a young woman and 2) a virgin. If Isaiah meant virgin, he could/should have specified virgin; instead he used the general term young woman.) Yet, Matthew clearly understands the passage as referring to a virgin, specifically Mary, a virgin, a woman who has “known no man”. (Luke 1:34) In fact, Matthew points out that Joseph keeps Mary a virgin until after Jesus is born. (Matthew 1:25)

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew freely reads and applies Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus, just as Peter applies Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28–32) to the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:17–21) In other words, even if Isaiah isn’t specifying a virgin in 7:14, Matthew sees that Jesus, born of a virgin fulfills the prophecy.

I said earlier that both Isaiah and Matthew are right. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah the deliverance of God’s people in a few years. He may have — but didn’t have to — see Jesus as the fulfillment. The prophecy was fulfilled in two ways: immediately, and several hundred years later.

Application

Why make such a big deal about this? Because it matters! Critics say that Isaiah’s prophecy wasn’t fulfilled in Jesus because Isaiah used the word for young woman instead of virgin. This is a backhanded accusation that Jesus wasn’t born in a virgin birth. It’s an attack on Jesus. And it’s an attack on the reliability of the Bible.

But Isaiah didn’t have to know that virgin-born Messiah would be the fulfillment of His prophecy. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth doesn’t live or die on Isaiah’s prophecy. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth lives or dies on Matthew and Luke’s testimony and description of the unique conception of Jesus in Mary’s body.

How did it happen? All I know is what the angel told Mary and Joseph: The baby was from God. (Matthew 1:18, 20) The angel didn’t give Mary and Joseph “The Talk”. He just said Jesus had been conceived in a unique way. (Luke 1:35, 37) And the coming of Jesus would bring a new intimacy with God and mankind. (Matthew 1:23b)

The Bible is trustworthy. Don’t let the critics try to convince you otherwise. The Bible can stand up to the allegations and accusations of the critics. Every one of them has died and will die. But the Word of God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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And now, the rest of the story

Apollos was an eloquent preacher. He was well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew his stuff. But he wasn’t “up to snuff”.

In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us about an Alexandrian preacher named Apollos. Look at the positive words Dr. Luke uses to describe him: eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus. (Acts 18:24-26)

But Luke adds that Apollos only knew of John’s baptism. So Aquilla and his wife Priscilla take him aside and teach him more accurately. What was lacking? What needed clarification?

If Apollos only knew of John’s baptism, he didn’t know about the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection. Those are some very important things! The Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are what make Christianity more than just another religion or a cult of Judaism. With those two realities, Believers are empowered to live the life that the Jewish Law prescribed. Radio commentator Paul Harvey would have said that the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are “the rest of the story”.

Application

Yes, Apollos preached about Jesus accurately. But he needed to know — and experience — more accurately. And by taking him aside and explaining the rest of the story, Aquilla and Priscilla changed his trajectory from being an eloquent preacher to being an empowered preacher. Being eloquent wasn’t enough for Apollos. And it isn’t enough for you or me. We also must be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the obedient life to which we’ve been called.

It’s relatively easy for someone to go out and get an education and then teach the truths of the Bible. But being empowered by the Holy Spirit takes the education to “a-whole-nother” level. God doesn’t want us to simply transfer knowledge from one person’s head to another person’s head. God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) as the Holy Spirit applies the truths to our hearts.

Are you being renewed? Are you seeking to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit? (Ephesians 5:18)

Don’t settle with mere head-knowledge.

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