Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today

If you want to read the list of footnotes, which accompanied the original article, click on this link – The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today.
_________________________________
Ernest Best was Professor of New Testament at the University of Glasgow. Robert Davidson was Professor of Old Testament at the University of Glasgow. The late George Macleod was the Founder of the Iona Community. Each of these men has exerted a significant influence on the ministry of the church of Scotland. Comments made by Best, Davidson and Macleod provide an appropriate point of departure for this short study concerning contemporary preaching. In his book, From Text to Sermon, Best writes, ‘The preacher … ought to avoid merely using the text as a jumping-off for what he wants to say.’ 
When invited to introduce a former student Rev. Fraser Aitken to his first charge, Neilston Parish Church, Davidson preached from Ephesians 3:8, concerning Paul’s description of his ministry in terms of preaching ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Macleod’s book, Speaking the Truth in Love, contains this arresting remark concerning ‘preaching’ which, though it ‘may be without doctrinal error hardly stirs a soul’. Taken together, these three comments highlight three essential features which must surely characterize evangelical preaching in every generation. Our preaching should be grounded in Scripture, centred on Christ and empowered by the Spirit. The Scriptures, the Saviour and the Spirit here we have a ‘threefold cord’ that cannot be broken. By stressing the importance of the Bible for contemporary preaching we are not simply being ‘traditional’. We ground our preaching in Scripture because we find Christ in the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27; Jn. 5:40; 2 Tim. 3:15). We do not base our preaching on Scripture simply because we wish to be ‘Biblicists’. We preach from Scripture because the Spirit points us to the Son through the Scriptures (Lk. 24:2; Rom. 10:17). This ‘threefold cord’, the Scriptures, the Saviour and the Spirit, must be preserved if contemporary preaching is to be truly evangelical. Today’s preachers are, like Paul, called to ‘preach the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Our situation is not however precisely the same as Paul’s. We are to preach the Word of God ‘as addressed to modem man’.  This application of the gospel to the situation of modem man requires to be handled in a careful and sensitive manner. We dare not remain locked in the past if we are to speak a word which has genuine relevance for the present day. On the other hand, the threat of modernism’ is real. We can be so easily ‘squeezed into the mould of the world’s way of thinking’, rather than allowing our minds to be renewed by ‘the living and abiding word of God (cf. Rom. 12:1-2 J. B. Phillips; 1 Pet. 1:23). Where modern thinking is accorded an undue importance, the gospel can be seriously distorted. This kind of distortion takes place in the theologies offered to us by Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich. Commenting on Bultmann’s theology, G. C. Berkouwer writes, ‘The fact that he proceeds from a pastoral and missionary motive namely, to preserve modern man from rejecting the New Testament because of its mythical structure – does not diminish by one iota the theological presumption of this undertaking’. K. Hamilton describes Tillich’s theology thus: ‘Jesus Christ and the biblical revelation have been fitted into a structure already complex without them.’ One particularly serious consequence of this type of theological reductionism is selectivity in the use of Scripture. This may be illustrated with particular reference to the theology of Bultmann. Discussing Bultmann’s exegetical procedure, N. J. Young offers a penetrating analysis. Bultmann’s norm for understanding the New Testament is the theology of Paul and John as interpreted by Bultmann. Those parts of the New Testament which do not accord with Bultmann are not given careful attention. Paul and John, as well as the rest of the New Testament, are treated in this way.This method of exegesis, ‘in which a variety of views are acknowledged, but only one selected for attention, leaving the others virtually ignored’is particularly noticeable when he discusses Paul’s eschatology. He acknowledges that there is evidence that Paul does have an ‘apocalyptic eschatology with its expectation of a cosmic catastrophe’.Nevertheless, Bultmann pays no further attention to this aspect of Paul’s eschatology. What are we to make of this approach to the New Testament? This is what Young says: ‘If some parts of the New Testament prove to be impervious to a particular hermeneutical approach … it may be because the hermeneutical approach is not adequate for the task, not because it claims too much.’Young contends that there is a better way than Bultmann’s way. ‘A proper recognition of the diversity of the New Testament witness… makes unnecessary Bultmann’s attempt to achieve harmony by silencing those voices which appear to him to be off-key.’Best makes this point more positively without any direct reference to Bultmann’s theology. ‘Christ is greater than any single description of him, and we need the variety we have in the New Testament.’What relevance does this discussion of Bultmann’s selective exegesis have for the preacher? N. Weeks, clearly alluding to the kind of theology propounded by Bultmann, makes an astute and most important observation: ‘The belief that modem man cannot understand biblical concepts becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that men cannot accept such truths, then we will not preach and teach them. Hence they will not be received because faith comes by hearing the word preached. If we would preach the ‘whole counsel of God’ from the pulpit, there must be a thorough searching of the Scriptures in the study. Selective exegesis can never be a real option for those who would seek to ground their preaching in the Scriptures. To dissociate ourselves from Bultmann’s method of reading the New Testament is not to involve us in stepping back from the complexities of biblical interpretation. Rather, we stress that the complex business of biblical interpretation will never permit one particular line of interpretation to take a stranglehold over our thinking. Whenever a particular method of interpretation dominates our thinking, it becomes our authority. Scripture the authoritative Word of God is then moulded to fit what we think it should be. The interpretation of Scripture is not to be separated from the authority of Scripture. Divorced from an authoritative Word from the Lord, biblical interpretation can become a very confusing business. We are not, however, forced to choose between a real involvement in the complex issues of biblical interpretation and a naive biblicism which refuses to get involved with the difficult questions. It has been said that ‘the Bible is like a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim’.There are many areas where differences of interpretation can leave us quite confused. Nevertheless, we are still able to affirm that Jesus Christ is the centre of the biblical message. We are still able to experience the power of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to Christ through the Scripture. By refusing to align ourselves with Bultmann’s approach to the New Testament we are not dissociating ourselves from his concern with relevance. We are, however, stressing that there is another concern to which we must give careful attention faithfulness: ‘In seeking for relevance we must not renounce faithfulness.’We must not set relevance and faithfulness over against each other, as though we are forced to choose between them be faithful at the expense of relevance; be relevant at the expense of faithfulness. Relevance and faithfulness belong together. Relevance is not to be divorced from faithfulness but grounded in faithfulness. God’s Word is seen to be ‘the living and abiding word of God’ as God’s people believe it to be and proclaim it as ‘the living and abiding word of God’. The faithfulness which is ever relevant involves a real commitment to walking in the Spirit as ‘ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2. Cor. 3:6). J. Veenhof, expounding the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, emphasizes that it is the Holy Spirit who binds faithfulness and relevance together. He ‘makes it clear that this ancient word never becomes antiquated but is permanently relevant’.This relevance is always a matter of something more than mere words. Our lives as well as our words must be faithful to the Word of the Lord. Faithfulness and relevance do not belong only to the study and the pulpit. There is a life to be lived in the world as well as a sermon to be preached in the church. Our lives are to be a ‘letter from Christ’, ‘known and read by all men’ (2 Cor. 3:2). In the pulpit, faithfulness and relevance are to be held together. In the study authority and interpretation are to be held together. If, in the study, Scripture is not honoured as the authoritative word of God, there will not be faithful preaching from the pulpit. A commitment to faithfulness carries with it a concern for relevance, since God ‘is not God of the dead, but of the living’ (Matt. 22:32). He is the living God and his Word is to be proclaimed as the living Word. If we are to speak a word of relevance, we need to interpret God’s Word for this generation. It is not sufficient to affirm the authority of the Bible, if we do not give serious consideration to understanding what God is saying to the world of today. The preacher, who seeks both faithfulness and relevance, will seek to understand the relationship between authority and interpretation. In the preface to his book, A Theology of the New Testament, G. E. Ladd writes, ‘All theology is a human undertaking and no man’s position can be considered final.’
However strongly we affirm the authority of Scripture, we dare not elevate our own theological understanding to the level of Scripture itself. When we recognize clearly the distinction between authority and interpretation, we will not be afraid of interacting with theological perspectives different from our own. We need openness without a loss of the divine Word. We need not make the ideal of ‘open-mindedness’ so prominent in our thinking that we end up empty-minded, with no clear conviction concerning the divine Word. Nevertheless, we must surely welcome the kind of openness described by G. C. Berkouwer in the foreword to his book, A Half Century of Theology: ‘A curiosity that works itself out in passionate study and serious listening to others promises surprises, clearer insight, and deeper understanding no matter from which direction they came.Our interpretation of the vital relationship between authority and interpretation is directly connected to our understanding of the dual character of Scripture as both the Word of God and the words of men. Scripture speaks to us with authority because it speaks to us as the Word of God. The study of Scripture involves us in the complex business of interpretation, since it speaks to us as the words of men, words written at various times and places by many writers. E. Schillebeeck describes the dual character of Scripture in a helpful way: All human speech about what comes ‘from above’ (‘it has been revealed’) is uttered by human beings, i.e. from below … However human it may be, this language is not an autonomous human initiative.G. C. Berkouwer offers an insightful perspective on Scripture as both Word of God and words of men. He describes ‘scripture’ as ‘the human witness empowered by the Spirit’.He stresses the divine origin of this witness: ‘This witness does not well up from the human heart but from the witness of God in which it finds its foundation and empowering as a human witness … This Scripture finds its origin in the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ, and witnesses of him through the human witness.’Berkouwer emphasizes that this ancient word speaks with relevance to every generation: ‘These witnesses are not ‘lifted out’ of their time and milieu, but as living witnesses could interpret in their era what was destined for all times.’He helps us to understand both how we are to approach Scripture and how we are not to approach Scripture: ‘Believing Scripture does not mean staring at a holy and mysterious book, but hearing the witness concerning Christ.’It is within this context of a human yet divine, ancient yet permanently relevant witness concerning Jesus Christ that we are to understand our confession of faith. The Bible is the Word of God: ‘The respect for the concrete words is related to this and the ‘is’ of the confession points to the mystery of the Spirit, who wants to bind men to Christ through these words, through this witness.The faith with which we are to receive God’s word has been well described by Calvin: ‘The word is not received in faith when it merely flutters in the brain, but when it has taken deep root in the heart.’From Berkouwer and Calvin the preacher can learn much. Faithful, relevant, authoritative preaching is preaching which focuses upon Christ, preaching which is empowered by the Spirit, preaching which calls for faith that takes deep root in the heart. With this understanding of preaching, we will take care to hold doctrine and experience together. J. 1. Packer emphasizes that ‘revelation is … much more than propositional’.E. Schillebeeckx emphasizes that ‘the right propositional understanding of revelation … must be kept in a right relation to the experience with which this propositional language is associated’.Developing this theme further, Schillebeeckx describes Scripture as the point of contact between the spiritual experience of the biblical writers and today’s readers and hearers who are now being invited by Scripture to enter into the same experience of the living God: ‘As a testimony to the experience of those who created it Scripture is an offer a possibility that this experience can be extended to others’.There is the relationship between the words of Scripture and the power of the Spirit. Rightly understood, the words of Scripture are not mere words. They are words which speak with power. Jesus makes this point within the context of his own ministry. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn. 6:63). Paul, like Jesus, could not conceive of ministry as a thing of words only. True ministry is ministry empowered by the Spirit: ‘My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4): ‘Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction’ (1 Thess. 1:5).
In our preaching of God’s Word today, we must  pray earnestly for this dual ministry of the Spirit: “The Spirit … opens up the Scripture to us and ‘opens’ us to the Scripture.”
Being opened up by the Spirit to the Scripture can be an uncomfortable experience. Where the Word of God is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the situation described in the letter to the Hebrews; “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (4:12-130.
Scripture does not only speak of salvation. It also speaks about sin. Scripture does not only speak of the love of God. It also speaks about the holiness of God. When Jesus spoke of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He said this: “When He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).”
There are uncomfortable truths concerning which the Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).
If we would be faithful preachers of God’s Word, we must preach what people need to hear, and not simply what they want to hear. This is not only the way of faithfulness. It is also the way of relevance. Those who seek relevance at the expense of faithfulness turn out to be irrelevant. Their shallow ans superficial preaching turns out to be no real substitute for “the living and abiding Word of God” through which alone the hearers can be “born anew” (1 Peter 1:230. Before we can truly appreciate the grace of God in the gospel, we must understand that “there is no human solution to the human problem.” This can be a painful experience. we do our hearers no favours if we pay little attention to the uncomfortable truths of God’s Word. G. C. Berkouwer ends his discussion, “The Voice of Karl Barth” with these words: “He discovered the powerful witness of the ‘tremendous’ word that always speaks against us so that we can learn to stop speaking against it.”
To appreciate Barth’s emphasis on the centrality of Christ, we must first hear the Word speaking against us. Concerning the message of the Bible, Barth writes; “”The Bible says all sorts of things certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing – just this: the name of Jesus Christ.”
In the presence of Jesus Christ, we learn that we are sinners, but we also learn that Christ loves sinners. Unlike the Pharisees, who despised ‘sinners’, Jesus Crist “receives sinners” (Luke 15:2). In the presence of Christ, we encounter both perfect holiness and perfect love. In Christ, we discover “an unmerited abundance of love.” This love leads us to a special kind of obedience – the obedience of love: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In Christ, we face the claim of love upon our lives. This living presence of Christ, inviting us to receive salvation and calling us to embark on the pathway of discipleship is the depth-dimension of preaching. On the face of it, preaching involves a preacher giving an address to a congregation. There is, however, something much deeper than that going on when the Word of God is preached. In an article entitled, “Biblical Theology and Preaching”, D. G. Miller highlights this depth-dimension of preaching: “In a real sermon … Christ is the preacher. The preacher speaks through the preacher … The biblical view of preaching is to confront men with the question, “What think ye of Christ?” And out of this question, to have the encounter shift into the dimension of a personal confrontation by Christ, who himself asks, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the unique task of the Christian preacher.”
Describing further the purpose of preaching, Miller continues: “Preaching must always be for decision. Our aim is not merely to inform the mind, to stimulate the feelings so that men have a rather pleasant emotional experience: it is rather to strike directly at the will with the demand for decision … until we have confronted men with the issue so that they either have to surrender or rebel further, to accept it or reject, believe or disbelieve.”
This decision concerning Jesus Christ is also a decision concerning the meaning, purpose and direction of our own lives – “Deciding about him is at the same time deciding about ourselves.” As we hear the story of Jesus Christ, the Word of God tells us the story of our own lives – what we are and what we can become. The call for decision is a call to leave behind what we are in our sin, and move on to what we can become in Christ.
If evangelical preaching is to make a significant impact on today’s world, it dare not rest content with giving theological lectures. stressing the relevance of the Bible to our life today, D. E. Stevenson describes the Bible as “a hall of mirrors” and offers this advice: “Look into it properly and you will see yourself.” The preacher dare not place himself far above the people, preaching a message which goes over the heads of the people. The preacher, no less than his hearers, must sit under the Word of God. If he is to preach a message which is relevant to the life of his hearers, he must first find in Scripture a Word that is relevant to his own life. This involves much more than being an academic theologian who seeks intellectual stimulation from his study of the Bible. The preacher is not to remain a stranger to the people. He dare not speak as a theologian, proud of his education yet detached from his hearers’ life-situation. The preacher is to be a friend to his hearers. He lives among them. He meets them in the streets and at the shops. He visits them in hospital and at home. He teaches their children at school. He hears about and shares the joys and concerns of the community in which he lives. Within this very human context, the pulpit must not become an ivory tower of irrelevance. Though not merely human – he is an “ambassador for Christ”, bringing to his hearers “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20), the preacher must not ignore the very human context in which the Word of God is to be preached. In preaching from the Scriptures, he proclaims a Word which transforms the present, and not merely a word that belongs to the past. The preacher, who is sensitive to the pastoral relationships which exist between himself and the people, will not preach messages which could be preached anywhere and at any time. He takes account of the particular situation into which he is called to preach God’s Word. He seeks to hear and to speak the Word which God wants to speak to this people at this time. The method of preaching will vary from sermon to sermon, from one series of sermons to another. The manner in which we preach remains constant. It is to be preaching grounded in the Scriptures, centred on the Saviour and empowered by the Spirit.
Such preaching has relevance, not only for the Church but also for the world. The Gospel cannot be kept within the ‘four walls’ of the Church. Paul described the Gospel in this way – “The Gospel for which I am suffering and wearing chains like a criminal.” He then went on to say, “But the Word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9). Sometimes, the preacher will feel like Paul – imprisoned within his circumstances. he may feel imprisoned within a clerical strait-jacket. He may feel imprisoned within the limitations of being only one man, able to do so much and no more. Like Paul, however, the preacher can lift up his eyes to the Word of God, which is able to break free from such imprisoning limitations. When the Word of God is preached, it is not simply a proclamation by one man within the ‘four walls’ of the Church. It is a proclamation which reaches out into the world. It is carried by the hearers into their life-situations. this fact encourages the preacher to believe that the message he preaches may be just the spark which sets the Church on fire with a real desire to pass on the Good News of Christ’s love to the needy world. The possibility of being the spark, which lights a fire, gives the preacher greater boldness. It assures him that his preaching is not as insignificant and ineffective as he may sometimes feel it is. there is, however, a humbling factor here. The preacher receives boldness in the answer to the prayers of God’s people: “Pray … for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19). There is no true boldness in preaching without the prayers of faithful men and women who call upon God on behalf of the preacher.
With the supporting prayers of God’s people, the preacher goes into the pulpit. Through the continuing witness of God’s people, the preached word goes beyond the pulpit into the world. The preacher is one among many within the fellowship of the Lord’s people. His ministry is significant, but so also is the ministry exercised by others. As we consider the relationship between the pastor and the people, we must never forget that the spark which gets the fire going is the power of the Holy Spirit. In all the works of ministry – the ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the people, there is something we must never forget: “We are servants of the word and not its masters … Not only are we servants of the word … we are unprofitable servants.”

Daily Devotional Readings: Year One - January

1st January: Psalm 119:105-112
We begin the year with the words of verse 105: 'Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path'. This a great text with which to begin the year. It is a great starting-point for these studies in God's Word. As we journey through life with God and His Word, we discover that there is a Word from the Lord for every part of life's journey. There is never a time when God has nothing to say to His people. Sometimes, He speaks to us from places which seem rather unlikely. As we explore His Word, we learn that He is the true and living God, ever ready to bring to us something new, something fresh, something that will send us on our way rejoicing, something that will strengthen our faith, something to deepen our commitment to Christ, something to increase our love for the Saviour. As we receive God's Word - 'a lamp to our feet and a light to our path' - we are to pray, 'renew my life, O Lord, according to Your Word' (107).
2nd January: Psalm 23:1-6
Turning to 'the Shepherd Psalm', we focus our attention on verse 5: 'You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows'. We are to feast on God's Word. We are to be filled with God's Spirit. The 'table' is the place of feasting. 'Oil' is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. As we feast on God's Word, we will have good cause to say, again and again, 'God is good': His 'goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life' (6). The Lord never fails us. He always comes with His life-giving Word, the Word of life, through which our life on earth becomes the beginning of life eternal, the pathway to a life in which the fullness of God's love will be revealed in a way that we can hardly begin to imagine: 'I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever' (6). This is what Christ is preparing for us (John 14:2)!
3rd January: Psalm 42:1-11
As we read God's Word day-by-day, we are to pray for an increase of our desire for God: 'My soul thirsts for God, for the living God' (2). This is the spiritual experience, referred to in verse 7: 'Deep calls to deep'. This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10 - Through His Spirit, God is at work in us, revealing to us 'the deep things of God. God has given us His Spirit for this reason - 'that we may understand what God has freely given us' (1 Cor.2:12). God wants us to explore, with Him, the meaning of the great salvation which He has so graciously provided for us in Jesus Christ. Learning of God's salvation, we will say with the Psalmist, 'I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God' (11). This song of praise will grow strong in both our personal devotions - 'a prayer to the God of my life' (8) - and our public worship - going 'to the house of God' (4).
4th January: Genesis 1:1-3
'Genesis' means 'beginning'. These opening verses challenge us to get our priorities right - (a) The priority of God (1). God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. (b) The priority of God's Word (3). God is the first to speak. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord. (c) The priority of God's Spirit (2). All was 'empty', all was 'darkness', yet the 'Spirit of God' was at work, and transformation was set in motion. Here, we have God's priorities, set out in the Bible's first three verses - Putting God first and listening to His Word, we are to pray for the moving of God's Spirit, 'hovering over' our lives to transform them. For those who make God's priorities their own, there is a promise of great blessing (Psalm 1:1-2). It is the great blessing of knowing Jesus Christ, our Saviour, as 'God with us' (Matthew 1.23).
5th January: Genesis 1:4-13
God speaks, and it is done (3,6-7,11). God is pleased with what He has done (4,10, 12). This is the pattern of God's original creation. It is to be the pattern of our life as a 'new creation' (2 Corintinians 5:17). God speaks to us and we say, 'Your will be done' (Matthew 6:10). We say, 'let it be to me according to Your Word' (Luke 1:38). God looks on such obedience, this 'walking in the Spirit' (Galatians 5:16, 22-23), and He sees that it is 'good' (Micah 6:8). In these verses we read of the separation of the light and the darkness, the separation of the waters and the dry land, and the fruitfulness of God's creation. There are lessons for us here. We are to 'walk in the light' (1 John 1:7). We are to to the Spirit's 'living water' flow in us (John 7:39-39). Walking in the light, letting the living water flow - this is the way of fruitfulness.
6th January: Genesis 1:14-25
The Bible's opening chapter is a great hymn of praise, emphasizing that all things have been created for the glory of God (Revelation 4:11). Nothing can be permitted to distract our attention from the Lord. He alone is worthy of worship. The creation of the 'lights' makes no reference to the sun and the moon. These were worshipped by neighbouring peoples. They are not gods. They are simply 'lights'. Our worship is to be given to God alone. The waters teemed with living creatures. The land produced living creatures. Here, we have a picture of life. There is life where the living water of the Spirit is flowing freely among God's people (Ezekiel 47:5-9). This water brings life to the land (Ezekiel 47:12). Moving with the flow of God's Spirit, we are to pray that 'the water of life' will flow freely 'for the healing of the nations' (Revelation 22:2).
7th January: Genesis 1:26-2:3
We now come to the creation of humanity, male and female. Our creation is described in a distinctive way - created in the image of God (26-27). We are different from the rest of creation. We have been given dominion over 'all the earth' and 'every living creature' (26,28). We are different from God. He is the Creator. We are His creation. Created in God's image, we have been created by Him and for Him. Though we have sinned (see Genesis 3, Romans 3:23), now - in Jesus Christ - we have begun to live as a new creation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) and that 'all things were created by Him and for Him' (Colossians 1:16). This is the Saviour who is at work in us, enabling us to live as a new creation! Creation has been 'completed' (2:1). Salvation will be completed (Philippians 1:6)!
8th January: Genesis 2:4-14
We read of 'the breath of life', producing 'a living being' (7). Separated from God through our sin, we have become spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:18; 2:1), we have been 'born again', 'born of the Spirit'. This new birth is brought about by the breath of life, the wind of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). As the river watered the garden (2:10), so our lives are to be watered by 'the river' which flows 'from the throne of God and of the Lamb' (Revelation 22:1). As we read of the 'tree' which features in our fall into sin (2:9; 3:2-6), our thoughts turn also to the 'tree' which forms the foundation of our salvation - Christ 'Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness' (1 Peter 2:24). In our hearts, we say, 'God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Galatians 6:14).
9th January: Genesis 2:15-17
We noted, in 1:1-3, the importance of getting our priorities right - God, God's Word, God's Spirit. Here, we emphasize the importance of these priorities. We are under God. We must remember that He is God (15). We are to obey God's Word (16). Here we learn that the act of obedience is an act of freedom. In Christ, we are set free to obey God. God says, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden'. He does not then say, 'You are free to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. He says, 'You must not'. The act of disobedience is not an act of freedom. By choosing the way of sin, we show that we are in bondage. We are not free. We are the captives of sin, and we need to be set free - by Christ (John 8:32,36). We come to know God, choosing good rather than evil, as we follow the way of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Hebrews 5:14).
10th January: Genesis 2:18-25
We come here to the creation of woman. Her creation is bound up with the creation of man. She is created from man's 'rib' (21-22). The 'rib' is taken from his side, emphasizing that man and woman are to be together, side-by-side, not one in front of the other. The 'rib', rather than the head or the feet, emphasizes this togetherness rather than any superiority-inferiority relationship. The 'rib' is close to the heart. Woman is close to the heart of man. Both are close to the heart of God. The contrast between humanity and the animals is again clear. Among the animals, there was 'no suitable helper' for the man (20). The animals had been 'formed out of the ground' (19). Humanity has come from 'the breath of life' (7). Like the animals, we come from 'the dust of the ground', but there is more: the Breath of God, created in His image to glorify Him!
11th January: Genesis 3:1-5
We have read about the beginning of creation (1:1). Now we come to the beginning of sin. In these verses, we have temptation. Note that temptation is not sin. It only becomes sin when we do what the tempter suggests (6). Temptation comes from 'that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan' (Revelation 12:9). Satan reverses the priorities of God, God's Word and God's Spirit. God is 'our Father' (Matthew 6:9). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan quotes and questions God's Word (1). He not only questions God's Word . He contradicts it (4). Satan is spiritual, an evil spirit. We must be aware of his schemes, and , in Christ, we must take our stand against his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). When Satan says, 'Did God really say?' (1), we must wage war for God, filled with His Word and Spirit (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
12th January: Genesis 3:6-9
Once we were innocent. Now we are guilty. The story of Adam and Eve is repeated over and over again. This is our story as well as Adam and Eve's story. Even in the face of sin, we see something else. We see the God of love, seeking to restore the fallen to Himself. In His words, 'Where are you?', we catch an early glimpse of the Gospel of salvation: 'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). Adam and Eve had lost their way. Now, God was looking for them to bring them back to Himself. In the question, 'Where are you?', there is the searching question, 'What have you done?', but there is also the passionate appeal, 'Will you not return to me?'. This is the call of mercy: 'Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, "O sinner, come home"' (Sacred Songs & Solos, 414). Our loving Father is waiting patiently to welcome the returning prodigal (Luke 15:20).
13th January: Genesis 3:10-15
Having chosen the way of sin, we are 'naked' and ashamed (10). The Gospel teaches us that 'there's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin'. We can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We can bring the 'filthy rags' of 'our righteous acts' (Isaiah 64:6) to God, and we can exchange them for the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Putting our trust in Christ, we need not be ashamed in God's presence (Romans 10:11). There must be no 'passing the buck' - the man blaming the woman, the woman blaming the serpent (12-13). We are to confess our sins and receive God's forgiveness (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness comes to us through the Cross where the suffering Saviour becomes the victorious Victor and the subtle serpent became the defeated devil. This is the message of verse 15: through the Cross, God has provided for us a full salvation!
Tues. 14th January: Genesis 3:16-24
Sin has consequences. Human life could never be the same once sin had entered it. The effects of sin can be seen in the whole of life. The most profound effect of sin is summed up in verse 22. We cannot reach out our hands and take hold of eternal life. There is no way to heaven which begins with the word 'I'. We must begin with God - 'God so loved the world...' (John 3:16). No sinner can open the door of heaven: 'Christ only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in'. Sin leads not to heaven but to 'death'. If we insist on trying to get to heaven by our own good works, we will earn our 'wages' - 'the wages of sin is death'. Come as a sinner to Jesus. Come to Him, saying, 'Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling' ( Church Hymnary, 83). Look to Him alone for salvation, and know the truth of God's Word: 'the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23).
15th January: Matthew 1:1-17
From the beginning of the Old Testament, we move to the beginning of the New Testament. This may be the beginning of the New Testament, but it is not the beginning of God's revelation. It is not the beginning of His redemption. The birth of Christ is the continuation of the history of salvation, recorded in the Old Testament. Matthew takes us back to Abraham (1-2; Genesis 12:1-3). Recalling the great events of the Old Testament, he takes us through forty-two generations. This history is the story of God's grace. We may illustrate this with two striking examples. Rahab (5) was a 'prostitute', yet, by the grace of God, through faith, she also takes her place with the people of God (Hebrews 11:31; Ephesians 2:8). The story of David and Uriah's wife (6) is a story of deceit (2 Samuel 11) - 'where sin increased, grace increased all the more' (Romans 5:20)!
16th January: Matthew 1:18-25
The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel' (23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is 'God with us'. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (18,20). He is still 'God with us', when we are 'born of the Spirit' (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a 'virgin birth'. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, 'This is the way it happened' (18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing - sending His Son to be the Saviour of the World - why should we doubt that God took things out of man's hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: 'He will save His people from their sins' (21).
17th January: Matthew 2:1-6
We think of this chapter as 'the story of the wise men'. It is not so much about the wise men. It is about Jesus. He is the central character. We are not told how many wise men there were. The word, 'three' does not appear (1). We are not told their names. We are not told exactly where they came from - just, they came 'from the East' (1). The important thing is that they made their journey. They came, seeking Jesus: 'Where is he...?'. They came 'to worship Him' (2). The wise men were led to Jesus not only by 'His star' (2) but also by the Scriptures. When asked where the child was to be born, they answered by quoting from the Scriptures (5-6; Micah 5:2). Wise men are still led to Christ through the Scriptures. Reading the Scriptures, we become wise for salvation as we find Christ who is our Wisdom (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
18th January: Matthew 2:7-12
Bethlehem was a 'little town'. Humanly speaking, it did not have any great importance. Its importance is derived from the fact that it was the birth place of our Saviour. When we think of Bethlehem, we do not think so much of the place as the Saviour who was born there. Herod says that he wants to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus (8). Satan was speaking through Herod. Satan has no intention of worshipping God, and neither had Herod. Satan 'comes only to steal and kill and destroy'. Christ comes to give 'life...to the full' (John 10:10). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Herod was not a worshipper of Christ but a servant of Satan. The wise men worship Jesus, then they return to their own country. We know nothing about their return journey, their destination or their life in their own country. Their whole purpose was to point away from themselves to Jesus.
19th January: Matthew 2:13-23
The story unfolds according to God's saving purpose and not Herod's Satanic schemes. Herod dies. Jesus lives. The purpose of man is defeated. The purpose of God prevails. Jesus' time in Egypt is full of prophetic significance (15; Hosea 11:1). Egypt was the place of bondage. God turns everything around, making it the place of protection (Exodus 1:11; 13-15). The emphasis is not on the place. It is on what God is doing, as He fulfils His purpose. From Bethlehem to Egypt and then to Nazareth - the young Jesus is being taken from place to place - all in the perfect plan of God. Again, the emphasis is not on the place but on God's purpose. Nazareth was a humble place, dignified by the fact that God chose it to be the home of His Son. Our concern is not with wise men or famous places. 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus'. 'Stand amazed in the presence of Jesus'.
20th January: Psalm 1:1-6
As well as journeying through the Old and New Testaments, we will read a Psalm at fairly regular intervals. The first Psalm contrasts two ways - the way of the Word and the way of the world, the way of blessing and the way of judgment. Encouraging us to build upon the solid foundation of God's Word, the opening Psalm sets the tone for what is to follow. To whet your appetite for the Psalms, here are some early lessons: stability in the Lord (1:1-2); service for the Lord (2:11); salvation of the Lord (3:8); sanctification from the Lord (4:4-5); singing to the Lord (8:4); strength in the Lord (9:9). These are some of the blessings promised to those who 'delight in the law of the Lord' (1-2). With a God like this - full of so much blessing for us - what else can we do but rejoice in Him?
21st January: Genesis 4:1-5
The name of Abel appears among 'the heroes of the faith' (Hebrews 11:14). The story of Abel is a story of grace, faith and obedience. Abel's sacrifice was a blood sacrifice while Cain's was a fruit sacrifice (3-4). The blood sacrifice points forward - via the Old Testament sacrificial system - to the greatest sacrifice of all - 'the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin' (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). The blood sacrifice points to salvation by grace - 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness' (Hebrews 9:22). Abel's sacrifice was an act of faith: 'By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did' (Hebrews 11:4). The blood reminds us that true faith is always faith in Christ and never 'faith' in anything we can ever offer to God. Abel was obedient, bringing 'the firstborn' to God. 'In the course of time Cain brought some...'.
22nd January: Genesis 4:6-16.
In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the 'mirror' of God's Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness - 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt' (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from 'the presence of the Lord' to 'the land of wandering (Nod)' (16). This is the work of Satan in our lives - Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Even in the land of wandering, the hand of God is upon us. This is the meaning of 'the mark of Cain' - 'so that no one who found him would kill him' (15). Even in our wanderings, God is waiting in mercy for us to make our way back to Him by coming in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Even when 'sin' is a good bit more than 'crouching at the door', it can be 'mastered' through Christ (6; Hebrews 7:25).
23rd January: Genesis 4:17-26
The story of Cain and Abel is a continuing story. Abel died, yet 'by faith still speaks, even though he is dead' (Hebrews 11:4). Cain 'went out from the presence of the Lord'. He became 'a restless wanderer' (14,16). What a contrast there is between these two brothers! For Abel, there was glory in the presence of the Lord - 'By faith he was commended as a righteous man' (Hebrews 11:4), he was 'justified by faith' (Romans 5:1). Cain was quite different. Far from God, he had no peace. He was haunted by his sins. What does God's Word say to us about Cain? - 'Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother...because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous' (1 John 3:12). Cain's sinful influence continues. We must be on our guard. The chapter ends with hope: 'At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord' ( 26).
24th January: Genesis 5:1-17
From the story of Cain - taking God for granted (the opposite of grace), approaching God proudly (the opposite of faith), rebelling against God (the opposite of obedience) - , we come to a list of names and numbers. In this first part of the chapter, there is nothing of any note. Perhaps, this is the significant feature of this long list of names. There is nothing considered to be worthy of special note, except the length of their lives. What a sad reflection on the value of a life when all that can be said is this: He lived, and he died! What we must remember is this: the quantity of our years is less important than the quality of our living. How long we live is less important than how well we live. We have been 'created...in the likeness of God' (1), yet so often we miss out on this spiritual dimension. We have been 'blessed' by God (2) - 'Count your blessings'.
25th January: Genesis 5:18-32
In this second part of the list, two names get a special mention - Enoch and Noah (22,24,29). The reference to Enoch is the more memorable of the two. Enoch's life was characterized by grace, faith and obedience. The life-story of so many others could be told without reference to God. Enoch's story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, 'he died'. Enoch's life on earth points beyond itself (24). Enoch had 'walked with God' (22, 24 ). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into 'what we hope for', 'what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The reference to 'the Lord' in Noah's life (29) prepares us for what is to come (chs. 6-9).
26th January: Matthew 3:1-12
This chapter begins with 'John the Baptist' (1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased' (17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is 'more powerful' than ourselves (11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, 'Christ must increase, I must decrease' (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in verse 11 - ' I baptize with water... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire'. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour - We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8).
27th January: Matthew 3:13-17
Considering the contrast between Jesus and John - John is not fit to carry Christ's sandals (11) - , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 15: 'it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness'. When Jesus uses the word 'proper' (or fitting), does He use it to mean 'according to convention'? No - He means that 'it is fitting' into God's perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as 'the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus' baptism directs to Pentecost - the descent of the Spirit (16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus 'fits' our need perfectly!
28th January: Matthew 4:1-11
God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (3:17). Now, the devil challenges God's Word: 'If you are the Son of God...' (3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the 'if you are...' approach is just the same as his 'Did God really say?' method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is 'crafty' (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in verse 9 - he wants Jesus to 'bow down and worship' him. In Jesus' victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture - 'It is written' (4, 7, 10). We learn that true life comes from God (4), true safety is found in God (7); and true worship is given to God (10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God's Word: 'every Word that comes from...God' ( 4).
29th January: Matthew 4:12-17
Having overcome His enemy, Jesus begins His ministry. Satan will be back - Luke ends his account of Jesus' temptations with these ominous words, 'When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left until an opportune time' (4:12). Satan will try again, but - for now - he has failed to stop Jesus setting out on His ministry, a ministry which brings light into the darkness. The light is shining brightly - 'the Kingdom of heaven is near' (17). Jesus' ministry is viewed as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophecy had been given: Death will be overcome, men and women will be delivered from 'the shadow of death'. Now, in Christ, the prophecy has been fulfilled: by His death, Christ has destroyed 'him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil' and He has set 'free' those who live in 'fear of death' (Hebrews 2:14-15).
30th January: Matthew 4:18-25
Christ's victory over the world was won for us (1 John 3:8: 5:4-5). Jesus was not a loner. He was a team leader: 'From victory to victory His army He will lead' (Church Hymnary, 481). At the very outset of His ministry, He set about putting together His ministry team. Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples. He called them to follow Him. His call was both gracious and demanding. It is gracious because it is the Saviour who calls us: 'Follow Me'. It is demanding because He calls us to follow, to submit to His Lordship: 'Follow Me'. These men were called to a new kind of 'fishing' (19). Jesus' ministry reached 'great crowds' through His 'teaching ...preaching ...and healing' (23-25). This chapter sets the scene for Jesus' ministry. We see the Word of the Lord triumphant over Satan, fulfilled in Christ, and effective in the lives of the disciples and the crowds.
31st January: Proverbs 1:1-7
Scripture speaks of different kinds of 'wisdom'. In Proverbs, wisdom is closely associated with godliness. In Ecclesiastes, wisdom - viewed as mere human intelligence - is described as 'meaningless, a chasing after the wind' (1:12-18). This contrast is continued in the New Testament, where Paul describes Christ as our 'Wisdom', contrasting this Wisdom with 'the wisdom of the world' (1 Corinthians 1:18-25,30). The purpose of Proverbs is set out in its opening verses. Notice the vital connection between 'understanding' and 'doing' (2-3). We are to be 'doers' as well as 'hearers' of God's Word (James 1:22). We are to 'keep what is written' in God's Word (Revelation 1:3). The great theme of Proverbs is stated in verse 7: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge'. Christ is our Wisdom. We will never be wise unless we build our lives on Him (Matthew 7: 24-27).

Daily Devotional readings: Year One - February

1st February : Genesis 6:1-8
The story of Noah is the story of God's grace - 'Noah found grace' (8). Noah lived in very difficult times (5-7), yet 'Grace found Noah'. His testimony could be summed up: 'Amazing grace...I once was lost but now am found' (Mission Praise, 31). Expanding on the thought of 5:29 - 'this one (Noah) shall bring relief from our work and from the toil of our hands' - we may allow our thoughts to turn to Christ and say to Him: 'Not the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law's demands...All for sin could not atone, Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling' (Church Hymnary, 83). In these two statements - 'Noah found grace' and 'this one will bring...', we see both salvation and service. We are saved to serve. Once we ourselves have been found by grace, we are to seek to bring others to Christ that they also may be saved by Him and become His servants.
2nd February: Genesis 6:9-22
To view the flood exclusively in terms of judgment is to see only one side of what God was doing. As well as judging, He was also saving - 'In this ship a few people - eight in all - were saved by water' (1 Peter 3:20). The ark points forward to Christ 'who came back from death to life', Christ who 'saves' us (1 Peter 3:21). God was working out His purpose of salvation. In Noah's day, the remnant of faith was very small, yet the promise of God's love was given to them - 'I will establish My covenant with you' (18). Even when wickedness threatens to overwhelm us, we still have God's promise of love, 'the new covenant in Christ's blood' (1 Corinthians 11:25). 'The blood of Jesus, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin' (1 John 1:7). Knowing that Christ loved us and died for us, we are to be like Noah (22). We are to walk with the Lord and serve Him.
3rd February: Genesis 7:1-24
Here, we pick up on the words of verse 16 - 'the Lord closed the door behind them'. What was going on outside of the ark is contrasted with the haven of salvation inside the ark. What was it that made the ark a place of salvation? - The Lord. What is it that makes Jesus Christ the Source of our salvation? - God has given Him the Name that is above every name, the Name of our salvation (Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 4:12). From the ark, we learn of (a) the one way of salvation - The ark had only one door. Jesus is 'the Door' which leads to salvation (John 10:9); (b) the eternal security of salvation - All were safe inside the ark. In Christ there is eternal security (John 10:28); (c) the absolute necessity of salvation - Outside of the ark, there was certain death. Refusal to come to Christ for salvation leads to judgment: 'How shall we escape...?' (Hebrews 2:3).
4th February: Genesis 8:1-22
Following the flood, we have this simple yet striking declaration: 'the ground was dry' (13). Safe from judgment! This is the message which comes to us from the Cross: 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). The judgment has fallen upon Christ. We are no longer swept away in the judgment. We can stand on solid ground: 'On Christ the solid Rock I stand' (Church Hymnary, 411). He is our Support in 'the whelming flood'. God said to Noah, 'Come out of the ship' (15). We are in Christ. He is the Source of our salvation. God has brought us into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). He does not bring us into Christ solely for our own benefit. We are sent out to be fruitful (17: John 15: 16). We are to 'abide in Christ'. This is the way of fruitfulness (John 15: 4-5). We are not sent out alone. Strengthened in 'the ship' (in Christ), we step out with Christ and for Him.
5th February: Genesis 9:1-19
'When you see a rainbow, remember God is love'. The rainbow reminds us of the gracious promise of God (13-15). If the love of God is revealed in the rainbow, it is more fully revealed in the Cross: 'We sing the praise of Him who died, of Him who died upon the Cross...upon the Cross we see in shining, letters 'God is love', He bears our sins upon the tree. He brings us mercy from above'. When we read the Old Testament stories, we must learn to see their place within the fuller Story, the Story of God's salvation: 'I will sing the wondrous Story of the Christ who died for me'. This is the greatest Story of all - 'the Story of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love,...the Story of wonderful redemption, God's remedy for sin'. 'This is our Story. This is our Song, praising our Saviour all the day long'. This is 'the Story to tell to the nations' (Church Hymnary, 258,381,132; Mission Praise, 59,744).
6th February: Genesis 9:20-29
What a sad episode this is! It teaches us that yesterday's victories can become today's defeats, if we do not keep close to God. We read, in Hebrews 11:7 of Noah the man of faith, but here we have a very different picture. The lesson is clear - 'The arm of flesh will fail you; Ye dare not trust your own'. We must not look to our own strength to keep us in the way of faith and obedience. It cannot be done. We fail. 'God can do anything but fail'. We must affirm our faith in God - 'All my hope on God is founded'. In man, there is no sure foundation - only 'change and chance'. There is nothing that will last - 'only pride of man and earthly glory' (Church Hymnary, 481,405). Can we be guided through change and chance? Yes, but we must learn from Noah's fall - Past grace is no guarantee of present growth - , and we must keep our eyes on Jesus, 'the Author and Finisher of our faith' (Hebrews 12: 2).
7th February: Matthew 5:1-2
Here, we have the introduction to 'the Sermon on the Mount' (chs 5-7). Reference is made to both 'the disciples' and 'the crowds'. The disciples are taught with a view to becoming teachers of the crowds. Peter learned from Christ and later he taught the crowds (Acts 2:14-42). The Sermon on the Mount was heard by the crowds as well as the disciples. Jesus spoke to the crowds. His ministry to the disciples had a dual purpose. It was for their own spiritual strengthening. It was training for the time when they would be entrusted with the Lord's commission: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you' (Matthew 28: 19-20). Do you read God's Word solely for your own benefit? Or, do we have an eye for ways in which we can learn to share His Word with others?
8th February: Matthew 5:3-12
'The Beatitudes' show us God's way of blessing. We might also describe them as the Be Attitudes, since they show us what we are to be. Jesus teaches us that the way to happiness is the way of holiness. The only alternative to the way of holiness is the way of hypocrisy. There can be no true happiness when we are walking in the way of hypocrisy. Holiness is to take shape in our lives - the shape of Jesus Christ living in us. This is the truly happy life: the Christ centered life. We are not to live according to present appearances. We are to live in the light of the future Reality of God's heavenly Kingdom. Some of Jesus' later statements can be viewed as an exploration of the meaning of the Beatitudes. The general principles (3-10) are to be applied personally: 'Blessed are you...' (11-12). We are not only to read the Beatitudes. We are to live them.
9th February: Matthew 5:13-16
Holiness is to be seen. Happiness is to be shared. We are not to be secret disciples. It will not be easy to live the life of Christ's disciples. In a world of much corruption, we are to be 'the salt of the earth' (13). In a world of much darkness we are to be 'the light of the world' (14). If we are to bring the refreshing light of Christ into our world, we ourselves must receive spiritual refreshment as we let the light of God's Word shine on our lives. Reading God's Word can never be a purely personal thing. Being 'the salt of the earth' and 'the light of the world' - this is what Jesus says we are - , we read Scripture with a view to learning how we are to live in the world. Don't lose your saltiness. Be salty enough to create a thirst for God in other people. Don't let your light grow dim. Let it shine brightly. Remember - all the glory belongs to God (16; Psalm 115:1).
10th February: Matthew 5:17-20
In verse 20, Jesus refers to 'the scribes and Pharisees'. Jesus warned against the shallow superficiality of these men who were more concerned with outward appearances than inner reality. This conflict with the Jewish religious leaders lies close to the surface in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says, 'This is their way. This is My way', He is not calling in question the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures: 'Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them' (17). He is in conflict with 'the hypocrites' (6:2 5,16). He is warning against the 'false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves' (7:15). What a difference there was between Jesus' teaching and those who 'preach, but do not practise' (23:3) - He spoke with 'authority', they did not (7:29). May we be like Jesus!
11th February: Matthew 5:21-37
The teaching of Jesus here may be summed up thus: The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Jesus' teaching was much more penetrating than the pronouncements made by the scribes and Pharisees. Not content to scratch the surface, Jesus asked the deeper question, 'What's going on in your heart?'. Jesus' teaching has real spiritual depth. He takes seriously the biblical teaching that 'the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt' (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that we need a 'new heart' (Ezekiel 36:26). The Pharisees were bogged down in intricate details - Do this. Do that. Do the other. All the emphasis was on what we do. Christ was much more direct - Get the heart right. Ask God for a heart of love (21-26), purity (27-32), and truthfulness (33-37). Do not say, 'Look what I've done' (7:22). Let Christ live in your heart; let Him change you.
12th February: Matthew 5:38-48
The Pharisees lived by law. Jesus lived by love. The law of God - 'holy and just and good' (Romans 7:12) - had been distorted by the religious hypocrites. They were saying, 'love your neighbour and hate your enemy' (43). 'Love your neighbour' is found in Leviticus 19:18. 'Hate your enemy' is not found in the Old Testament. For the Jews, 'neighbour' meant their own kind. They wrongly concluded that Gentiles were to be hated. Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that we are to love our enemies as well as our friends (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus' disagreement is not with the law of God. It is with man's misuse of it. Jesus' teaching is simple - Love is not to be limited. It is demanding - love is all-embracing. We dare not bring love within our reach. We always fall short. We can only come to Christ. Confessing our lack of love and trusting in His perfect love, we learn to love.
13th February: Psalm 2:1-12
In this Psalm we read of a conflict. On the one side there is 'the Lord and His Anointed' (2). On the other there are those who 'conspire and...plot' (1). The conspiracies and plots of men will come to nothing. The saving purpose of God will be fulfilled. This purpose will be accomplished in Christ, the One to whom God says, 'You are my Son' (7), the One to whom God says, 'I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession' (8). God calls us to worship Christ - 'Kiss the Son' (12). This call to worship Christ is accompanied by a warning against judgment and a promise of salvation. As sinners, we are under God's judgment. Trusting in Christ, we are saved (12; John 3:36). We are to take delight in Christ. This is the thought conveyed by the phrase, 'Kiss the Son'. We delight in God's Son, and we delight in God's Word which leads us to Him.
14th February: Genesis 10:1-32
What a lot of names! Why is all this included in God's Word? It may describe the historical context of God's unfolding purpose of providing salvation for sinners, but what does it say to us? The inclusion of so many obscure names emphasizes that everyone - however obscure - is important. 'God so loved the world' (John 3:16) - not only the 'important' people but all people. Names are important to God. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls His sheep 'by name' (John 10:3). Among the many names there is an interesting reference to 'Nimrod, the first mighty warrior on the earth...a mighty hunter whom the Lord blessed' (8-9). First among 'the cities of his kingdom' was 'Babylon' (10). Alarm bells ring! - Babylon's rebellion! The privilege of God's blessing brings the responsibility of maintaining His blessing. We must be 'mighty warriors' for God (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:10-20).
15th February: Genesis 11:1-9
Human pride sets itself up against the authority of God. This is the oft-repeated story of the 'Tower of Babel'. The end of godless men is sure - 'Tower and temple, fall to dust' (Church Hymnary, 405). Sin can be analysed psychologically in terms of the human attitude of proud independence ('let us make a name for ourselves', v.5), sociologically in terms of sin's pervasive influence on a whole society (this was the sin of a whole society), and theologically in terms of the divine judgment which human sin brings upon itself (5-9). What a contrast there is between the Tower of Babel and the great declaration of Proverbs 18:10 - 'The Name of the Lord is a strong tower'. In Babel there is scattering (9). In the Lord, there is safety - 'A righteous man runs to it and is safe'. Do not imagine yourself to be strong (Proverbs 18:11). True strength is in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:27).
16th February: Genesis 11:10-32
Another list of names! Again, there is something here for us - God is moving on. These many names summarize the times between Noah and Abraham. We must look beyond this list of names. We must see them in connection with His Story. History can be tedious, until we see it as His Story. From the human standpoint, things seem to have come to a dead end: 'Now Sarai was barren; she had no child' (30). There are, however, no dead ends when God is at work. From verse 30, we move on to 12:1-3. We read on though the story of Abraham. We learn of the faith of Sarah and the faithfulness of God (Hebrews 11:11-12). We follow the Story on to Christ, who is the fulfilment of the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16). This is the Story of 'the God of Abraham', the 'God of love'. Through Christ our Saviour, we will 'sing the wonders of His grace for ever more' (Church Hymnary, 358).
17th February: Matthew 6:1-18
Jesus says that we are not to be like 'the hypocrites' (2,5,16). The word 'hypocrite' means 'play actor'. It refers to 'putting on a performance'. This performance may be extremely religious, but God is not in it. The hypocrites live according to 'the letter' of the law, but they know nothing of the power of 'the Spirit' (2 Corinthians 3:6). The hypocrites' religious performance gets along very well without God. His presence is not sought, welcomed or treasured. The hypocrites draw attention to themselves. They do not direct attention away from themselves to God. There is a better way than the way of hypocrisy. It is the way of holiness. Our lives are to be centred on Christ - 'it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me' (Galatians 2:20). We must not forget: apart from Him we can do nothing. We are to abide in Him (John 15:5) - in true holiness.
18th February: Matthew 6:19-34
On the one side of Christ's disciples, there are the hypocrites. On the other side, there are 'the Gentiles' (32). The hypocrites represent religion without reality. The Gentiles represent the world, living for material things only, refusing to take spiritual realities seriously. We are to be different from both the hypocrites and the Gentiles. Our top priority is pleasing God, not impressing men. We are to live for God's eternal Kingdom rather than living for a world which is passing away. Living for Christ is very different from worldly living. Our life is to be governed by heavenly, and not earthly, priorities (19-21). We are to walk in the light, refusing to be overcome by the darkness (22-23). We are to trust the Lord, refusing to let unbelieving anxiety rule our lives ( 25-34).
19th February: Matthew 7:1-14
Jesus' teaching regarding Christian living can be related to His teaching in 'the Lord's Prayer' (6:9-13). We are not to pray one thing and do another. We are to live the Lord's Prayer. We receive forgiveness from God. We are to show His forgiveness to others. We receive good things from God. We are to be generous in our giving to others. Before you can live the Christian Life, you must receive the Christian Life - Christ living in your heart (Revelation 3.20). Before you can walk in 'the way', you must enter by 'the gate' (13-14). Jesus speaks of two gates, two ways and two destinations. He tells us that some will be saved and many will be lost. What we must remember is this - Christ is 'the Door' (John 10:7), 'the Way' (John 14:6) and 'our Hope of glory' (Colossians 1:27). The gate may be narrow, the way hard, but never forget this - Christ is 'the Gate' and 'the Way' that leads to life.
20th February: Matthew 7:15-29
Whenever we are seeking to follow Christ, there will be dangers - false prophets (15-20), empty profession (21-23). Clearly, our faith must be grounded in the Son of God and the Word of God. This is the point of Jesus' parable of the two builders and the two houses (24-27). We must build upon Christ. We must build on the Word of God. Jesus' 'sermon' ends in verse 27, and is followed - in verses 28-29 - by a statement of its effect upon His hearers. Down through the centuries, Jesus' teaching continues to make this impression on people. His words come to us with authority, addressing us with remarkable relevance. We imagine that our time is very different from Jesus' time, yet Jesus' words make it very clear - things are not so different after all. Still, we hear Him speaking as One who has authority. His Word is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable.
21st February: Proverbs 1:8-19
If we are to be saved, we must follow the Wisdom of the Proverbs: 'Listen, my son, to your father's instruction' (8). We must follow the 'Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing', the living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ (Church Hymnary, 191). Satan is seeking to destroy us - 'let's swallow them alive, like the grave' (12). To 'go along with' those who do not honour the Lord Jesus Christ is to 'rush into sin' (15-16). To live by faith in Christ is to be 'kept by the power of God' for full salvation (1 Peter 1:5). There are choices to be made. You remain a fool if you choose not to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5-8). The fool is 'a double-minded man', trying to live for the Lord and for the world at the same time. Will you be wise or foolish? - The choice is yours. Remember this has more to do with the moral choices you make than with how 'well educated' you may be.
22nd February: Genesis 12:1-20
This is a divine Story, carried forward by God's grace and power. God's very great promises (1-3) find their ultimate fulfilment in the coming of God's eternal Kingdom (Revelation 21:10). We have not reached our heavenly destination. We are still caught in the tension between obedience (4) and disobedience (11-13). We are conscious of our human failure, yet we rejoice in the divine faithfulness. We read of Abraham's sin (10-20), yet we look beyond this to God's salvation. This is not simply the story of Abraham. It is the Story of Abraham's God. This becomes clear in the change of name. Abram ('exalted father') draws attention to the man. Abraham ('Father of Many') points to God's purpose (17:5). Like Abraham , we are to worship God (7-8). We are to say, 'He is exalted'. We are to say, 'Christ must increase, and I must decrease' (John 3:30).
23rd February: Genesis 13:1-18
Life is full of choices. Lot made a selfish choice (10-12). He allied himself with 'the men of Sodom (who) were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord' (13). Abraham made a godly choice, and he was blessed by the Lord (14-17). The lesson of Abraham's choice is the lesson of Matthew 6:33 - Seek God's glory and find His blessing. We read later of Lot's restoration (19:29). This is 'amazing grace'! How much better it would have been if Lot had chosen the Lord's way in the first place! The choices we make reveal the people that we are. The worldly man, Lot, thought only of himself. The spiritual man, Abraham, concerned himself with doing the Lord's will. The worldly man takes for himself (11). The spiritual man receives from the Lord (15). Our sin comes from ourselves. Our salvation comes from the Lord. Confess your sin. Receive God's forgiveness.
24th February: Genesis 14:1-24
Following an account of military conflict, we come to a passage that is full of Christ (18-20). In Melchisedek, we see Jesus. In Hebrews 7:3, we learn that Melchisedek resembles the Son of God. We read on, in verse 4, 'See how great he is', and, in our hearts we say, 'How great is our Lord Jesus Christ'. Melchisedek is 'the King of Salem (peace)' (18), pointing to Christ through whom we have 'peace with God' (Romans 5:1). Melchisedek brings 'bread and wine' (18), pointing to Christ whose body was broken for us and whose blood was shed for us (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Melchisedek spoke of the divine deliverance from enemies (20), pointing to Christ's victory over Satan (Colossians 2:15). In this episode we see the origins of tithing. It is not a legalistic practice. God had been good to Abraham. In grateful worship, Abraham responded, giving the tenth to Him (20).
25th February: Matthew 8.1-22
In verses 1-17, we read of three people who received the Lord's blessing - the leper was cleansed (1-4), the centurion's servant was healed (5-13), Peter's mother-in-law was healed (14-17). Reading verses 18-22 together with Luke 9:57-62, we learn of three people who did not receive the Lord's blessing (Matthew mentions two, while Luke adds a third). Christ calls us to decision. Some say 'Yes' to Him and they are blessed. Some say 'No', and they miss out on the blessing. Christ touches our lives, and we are made clean (3; 1 John 1.7) - 'The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives' (13; Church Hymnary, 374). Through the entrance of His Word, we receive a new Spirit (16; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Cleansed and healed, we are to live as Christ's disciples. There is to be no half-heartedness: 'I will follow you, Lord, but...' (Luke 9:61). Yes, Lord!
26th February:. Matthew 8:23-9:17
In 8:23-9:8, we read of three great miracles, in which Christ demonstrates His power over nature (23), demons (28-34) and sickness (1-8). Following such mighty works of power, the next verse seems so ordinary - Jesus said, 'Follow me'. Matthew 'rose and followed Him' (9). Matthew's conversion may seem so unspectacular, but it is no less a mighty work of God than the great miracles which preceded it. Where does the desire to follow Christ come from? Does it come from our own sinful hearts? No! It comes from the Word of Christ, spoken in power and love - 'He drew me and I followed on, charmed to confess the Voice Divine' (Mission Praise, 499). In the human heart there is resistance - we say, 'I am "righteous". "I have no need" of a Saviour' (12-13). This resistance is broken down by Christ when 'new wine is put into fresh wineskins' (17).
27th February: Matthew 9.18-38
In Jesus' miracles, we see Him triumph over sin, death and hell. As well as healing, there is forgiveness (9:5-6), the raising of the dead (18,24-25) and the casting out of demons (33). The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) did not like what was happening, and they came up with their own explanation - 'He casts out demons by the prince of demons' (34). Jesus gives us another, better, explanation: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...' (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel. We are to bring the Gospel to other people. Jesus was 'teaching...preaching...and healing' (35). What opportunities there are to bring the healing power of Christ into many hearts and homes! These opportunities will be missed if 'the labourers' remain 'few' (37). Many are 'harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd' (v.36). We must not fail them!
28th February: Psalm 3:1-6
This Psalm begins with the human situation - 'O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, "God will not deliver him"'' (1-2). It ends with the divine provision - 'From the Lord comes deliverance' (8). How does the Psalmist rise above his deeply distressing circumstances? He takes his problem to the Lord. The Psalm's opening words, 'O Lord', indicate the way toward its triumphant conclusion. Why is the Psalmist not overwhelmed by depression? - He is looking to the Lord. This is not a case of 'positive thinking' on the part of David. This is deliverance from the Lord. There is no simple 'psychological' explanation for David's change of mood. He is delivered by the Lord. He is raised from his depressive mood by the Lord, 'my Glorious One, who lifts up my head' ( 3). What He's done for others, He can do for you!

Daily Devotional Readings: Year One - March

1st March: Genesis 15:1-21
God is greater than our circumstances. God had given great promises to Abraham, yet there appeared no sign that His promises were being fulfilled. The circumstances seemed bleak, and Abraham felt despondent. Abraham was full of questions. In verse 2, he asks, 'What can you give me...?'. This is the question of salvation. What does God give? He gives salvation. In verse 8, he asks, 'How can I know...?'. This is the question of assurance. We ask for assurance. God gives it - the assurance of salvation, the assurance that salvation has been given and received. Where are we to look for answers to these questions? Are we to look to our circumstances? Are we to look to our feelings? No. We look to the 'Almighty God' (2,8). Trusting in Christ, the 'Passover Lamb...sacrificed for us', we receive a sure salvation (6:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).
2nd March: Genesis 16: 1-16
From salvation and the assurance of salvation, we turn to Satan and the activity of Satan. Sarai came with temptation (1). Abraham yielded to temptation (2). Temptation becomes sin when we yield to it. In Abraham, we see the conflict between 'the old man' that he was and 'the new man' God was calling him to become (17:5; Galatians 5:17). He chose the way of unbelief. Listening to the voice of Satan, speaking through Sarai, he walked straight into immorality. Unbelief and immorality belong together (Romans 1:18). We must guard our hearts with respect to both what we believe and how we behave. We must not imagine that Satan will win the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. Satan will try to overcome God's gracious purpose, but he will not succeed (Revelation 20:10). 'Hallelujah!... the Lord our God the Almighty reigns' (Revelation 19:6).
3rd March: Genesis 17:1-27
Amazing grace - this is the marvellous theme of this chapter. Abram became Abraham (5). Sarai became Sarah (15-16). What they were belonged to their sinful past. What they became was the work of God's grace. What a contrast there is between human sin and divine grace. We look at ourselves. We see sin, and we lose hope. We look at the God of grace, and we say, 'Sin shall not have dominion. Grace is victorious' (Romans 6:14). Abram and Sarai appeared to be hopeless cases. They had failed the Lord, but He did not fail them. He made them new people. They became the father and mother of nations. To those who do not deserve His love, God still renews His 'covenant', His promise of love (2). He still says, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love' (Jeremiah 31:3). In the Cross of Christ, we have the greatest 'sign of the covenant' (11; Romans 5:8).
4th March: Genesis 18:1-15
Is anything too hard for the Lord? (14). We need to hear these words as God's call to greater faith. Sarah, like Abraham, had heard God's promises, yet 'she laughed to herself' (12). We can hear God's Word, and still remain, in our hearts, men and women of unbelief. The Word of God does not benefit us when we do not receive it with faith (Hebrews 4:2). God knows what is in our hearts, just as He knew what was in Sarah's heart (13-15). He knows the human heart, 'deceitful above all things' (Jeremiah 17:9), yet He continues to love us. He does not give up on us. He perseveres with us. He could have given up on Sarah as a hopeless waste of His time, but He did not. 'The evil heart of unbelief' is always with us, but God is constantly at work to create in us 'a clean heart' ( Hebrews 3:12: Psalm 51:10). 'Soften my heart, Lord' (Mission Praise, 606).
5th March: Genesis 18:16-33
In the face of the threatened judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah, we find Abraham engaging in mighty intercessory prayer. He is not concerned only about himself and his own salvation. He is prayerfully committed to seeking the salvation of others. This is a mark of spiritual maturity - a deep concern for the salvation of sinners, leading to earnest intercessory prayer for them. Abraham drew near to God (23; James 4:8). He pleaded with the God of grace to have mercy on the city (23-25; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 1:15; John 3:17). With a deep love for the people, Abraham prays with boldness and persistence (27,32; Hebrews 4:16). A great many people refused to honour God, yet His purpose was not hindered. The remnant seemed impossibly small. It was the beginning of blessing for all nations. 'To God be the glory, Great things He has done' (Church Hymnary, 374).
6th March: Matthew 10:1-20
Jesus gave authority to His disciples (1). He gives authority to us. It is the authority of the Word and the Spirit - 'you will be given what to say' by 'the Spirit of your Father speaking through you' (20). Christ's disciples were being trained for a great work to be done in the Name and the Power of the Lord (28: 18-20). If we are to communicate the Word in the power of the Spirit, we need to see our life as life in the Spirit and life under the Word. Scripture calls us to 'be filled with the Spirit' (Ephesians 5:18) and to 'let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly' (Colossians 3:16). To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. To let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is to be filled with the Spirit. We are to live in the power of the Spirit. We are to live in accordance with the Scriptures.
7th March: Matthew 10:21-42
Jesus tells us that 'a student is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master' (24). Our Teacher is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Master. Jesus emphasizes that 'it is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant like his master' (25). This is the goal of the Christian life - we are to be like Jesus. This will not be an easy life. There will be persecution (22; 2 Timothy 3:12). In this situation - going the way of the Cross with Jesus (38) - we need to hear and heed the Word of the Lord: Do not fear man. Fear God (28). The fear of men is to be avoided. The fear of God is to be treasured greatly. There will be conflict with those who do not honour God (34-37). We must remember: pleasing God is more important than pleasing people. Our prayer is that our hearers will receive Christ as well as ourselves (40).
8th March: Matthew 11:1-19
Much is said about John the Baptist here, yet the whole purpose is to draw attention to Jesus the Saviour. Jesus is superior to John. He is the One to whom John pointed. There are two responses to Jesus. We can take offence at Him: 'Blessed is he who takes no offence at Me' (6). We can hear what He says, receiving Him with faith: 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear' (15). In His time, Jesus asked the question, 'To whom shall I compare this generation?', giving the answer, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn' (16-17). The promise of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not rejoice. The warning of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not repent. This is the story of our generation. May God help us to lead people of this generation to Christ, the 'Friend of sinners' (19).
9th March: Matthew 11:20-30
In John 16:8-11, Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit, convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Before there can be conversion, there needs to be conviction of sin. None of us can come to the Saviour of sinners without first seeing ourselves as sinners who need the Saviour. God uses the warning of judgment to send us to the Saviour - there 'will be...judgment', so make sure that you 'come' to Christ for salvation (24,28; Luke 3:7-8; Hebrews 2:3; 3:7-15). Before there can be growth in grace, there needs to be conversion. Before we can live a righteous life, learning from Christ (29; 1 Peter 1:15-16), we must come to Christ for rest, being declared righteous by Him (28; Romans 4:5-8). In Christ, we have salvation, set free from judgment - 'no condemnation' - and set free for righteousness - 'living according to the Spirit' (Romans 8:1).
10th March: Proverbs 1:20-33
This section begins with the words, 'Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares' (20) and ends with the words, 'whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm' (33). The Gospel is not to be kept to ourselves. Christ is to be proclaimed. Why is it so important that we tell others about our Saviour, Jesus Christ? - It is because He offers salvation to all who come to Him: 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved' (Romans 10:13). Later on, in Proverbs, we read, 'he who wins souls is wise' (11:30). Those who are wise will pray for a greater fulfilment of the Lord's promise: 'you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses...' (Acts 1:8). Filled with the Holy Spirit, we will speak the Word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).
11th March: Genesis 19:1-29
In Genesis 3, we read of humanity's fall into sin. Here, we see the awfulness of human sin and the awesomeness of divine judgment. We must take God with the utmost seriousness. If we refuse to take Him seriously, He will continue to take us seriously - in His judgment! Sin leads to judgment - that's the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is sadness in the story of Lot. A compromised believer for whom the world had no respect, he chose Sodom. This choice brought him nothing but sin and shame - 'and now he wants to play the judge!' (9). The amazing thing is that God did not give up on this 'backslider' - 'the Lord was merciful to them...He brought Lot out of the catastrophe' (16,29). What a great thing it is to have God's salvation: 'everything we need for life and godliness' to 'escape the corruption in the world' (2 Peter 1:3-5).
12th March: Genesis 19:30-20:18
These are stories of deception and deceit. Lot is deceived by his daughters (30-38). Abraham deceives Abimelech (1-18). Even with the divine provision for godliness, we need to be constantly on our guard. Even those to whom we had looked for help can turn out to be a hindrance. Lot was drawn into incest. This had drastic effects - 'the father of the Moabites, the father of the Ammonites' (37-38)! Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and overcome by him. Abraham concealed the whole truth by telling a half-truth (12). Abraham was regarded as 'a prophet' (7). He ought to have lived the life of a prophet, a true life. We are to be true - the people of God.
13th March: Genesis 21:1-21
We have here the contrast between Isaac, the child of promise, and Ishmael, the fruit of unbelief. Ishmael was born as a result of impatience, the failure to wait upon the Lord. In the birth of Isaac, the initiative belonged with God, and the glory belonged to Him. In Christ, we are the children of promise - 'children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God' (John 1:13). God did not forget Ishmael. There were blessings for him (17-21). The difference between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between common grace and saving grace. Many people know much of the grace of God in 'the common things of life' (Church Hymnary, 457). There are so many blessings for them to count. Still they fail to appreciate God's greatest gift - His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thank God for this and that and...Jesus!
14th March: Genesis 21:22-22:14
Here, we see Abraham in his relationship with the world (22-34) and his relationship with the Lord (1-14). Abraham deals honestly and wisely with the pagan king, Abimelech, who acknowledges Abraham's closeness to God - 'God is with you in all that you do' (22). We are to be honest and wise in our relationship with the world (Romans 12:17; Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:12). Our relationship with the world is to be grounded in our relationship with God. In the testing of Abraham, we catch a glimpse of 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). Christ is the Lamb whom God will provide (8). In verse 14, we read, 'On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided'. On Calvary's hill, Christ died to bring us to God, so that we might learn to live for Him in this world (1 Peter 3:18; 2:24).
15th March: Genesis 22:15-23:20
After the renewal of God's promise (15-18), Abraham went to Beersheba (19). He returned to the place where he had 'called...on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God' (33). This is a good 'place' to be, the 'place' of calling on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. As we read of the death and burial of Sarah, we must remember this: the Lord is the Everlasting God. The death of Sarah took place in God's time. Her death signified that her work had been done. She had mothered the child of promise. Beyond the death of Sarah, there was the continuing purpose of God. The cave at Machpelah (23:19-20) became the burial place for Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. We see the continuity of history, and we thank God for His continuing faithfulness down through the generations.
16th March: Matthew 12:1-21
Much of Jesus' ministry was carried out under the watchful eye of the Pharisees. The controversy with the Pharisees was intensifying (2, 14). The Pharisees were out to get Jesus. For all their religion, they had no time for Jesus. Still, there are the critics, those who try to undermine our faith in Christ, those who attempt to draw us away from serving Christ. We must remain resolute in our faith, believing what God says concerning His Son: 'Here is my Servant whom I have chosen, the One I love, in whom I delight' (18; 3:17; 17:5). As we read of Jesus, the chosen Servant of God, loved by the Father and bringing delight to the Father's heart, we should give thanks for all that God has done for us in Christ (Ephesians 1: 4-6), and we should commit ourselves afresh to the service of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:58).
17th March: Matthew 12:22-37
Opposition from the Pharisees was growing all the time (24). Jesus had to rebuke them in very strong words (30, 32,34,36-37). This was not exactly a 'How to win friends and influence people' approach! Nevertheless, this was a time for strong words. Jesus' ministry illustrates the principle: 'a time to tear down and a time to build' (Ecclesiastes 3:3). There was a time for 'whoever is not against us is for us' (Mark 9:40). This was the time for 'he who is not with me is against me' (30). There was a time for speaking of the Spirit as 'the Comforter' (John 14:16,26). This was the time for the warning about the 'blasphemy against the Spirit' (31). The opposition was severe, but Jesus was victorious - He 'drove out demons by the Spirit of God', in Him 'the Kingdom of God had come' (28). In Him, we are victorious (Romans 8:37; Revelation 12:11).
18th March: Matthew 12:38-50
Jesus did not 'mince His words' with the Pharisees. He described them as 'a wicked and adulterous generation' (39,45). They were men who, by their stubborn refusal to listen to Jesus, had placed themselves under the judgment of God. The Pharisees may have had no time for Jesus, but there were those who were eager to learn from Him. Out of 'the crowd' (46), Jesus was calling to Himself those who were learning what it really means to be related to Him (50). Jesus directed attention away from His human connections to His divine authority. Sometimes, people make too much of the wrong things - 'Blessed is the womb that bore you...' (Luke 11:27). They need to be reminded of the things that really matter: 'Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it' (Luke 11:28). As God's children we are to do His will (50; John 14:21).
19th March: Matthew 13:1-23
Jesus spoke in parables. He spoke of everyday things, teaching lessons concerning the Kingdom of God. He was a story-teller, and yet He was more than that. His stories had a message, a life-changing message, a message designed to lead His hearers into new life, the life of God's Kingdom. The parable of the sower may be described more fully as the parable of 'the sower, the seed and the soil'. Some respond to God's Word in a shallow way. In others, there is greater depth of response. Some 'enjoy' the preaching without really responding, in faith, to Christ. Jesus says, 'He who has ears , let him hear' (10). Receive God's Word in obedient faith, and your knowledge of God will increase (12). This is the way of childlike faith and spiritual growth. Beware of proud unbelief and spiritual decline (12; 11:25)!
20th March: Matthew 13:24 -43
Jesus' parables are so rich in spiritual content. They speak with an indirectness which is very direct! They may be parabolic in form, but they do go right to the heart of the matter in a way that is very challenging. The parable of the 'wheat and the weeds' (24-30, with explanation given in 36-43) contrasts a real believing response to Christ with an empty profession of faith in Him. There is also something else - leave judgment to God. He knows those who are His and those who are not. The parable of the mustard seed (31-32) is a word of encouragement - Do not give up hope that the seed of God's Word is growing, slowly and surely, in the hearts of those who do not appear to be bearing much fruit. The parable of the yeast is also encouraging - What a difference even a few believers can make to a whole community!
21st March: Matthew 13: 44-58
Be patient. Do not doubt the power of God's Word. Once God's Word has begun to exert its influence among the people, great things will happen. The beginnings may seem small. Remember: nothing is insignificant when God is in it! Some may be on the verge of the kind of joyful discovery of Christ, described in 44-46! The parable of the net (47-50) is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares (24-30). The separation of 'the good' and 'the bad' comes 'at the end of the age' (48-49). The Gospel is 'old' and 'new' (52) - we've known its teaching for years, yet there are always some 'new treasures' for us to discover. It's sadly possible to hear the Word of God without believing it and enjoying its blessing. Don't let Christ be 'a prophet without honour' (57). Honour Him in your heart and life.
22nd March: Psalm 4:1-8
There is a great message of the Gospel here. By ourselves, we are sinners, turning God's glory to shame, loving delusions and seeking false gods (2). By grace, God has done something about this - 'the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself' (3). When we pray, 'Answer me' (1), we have this confidence: 'the Lord will hear when I call to Him' (3). The Lord hears the sinner's prayer, 'Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer' (1). Jesus Christ is God's Answer to this prayer. Christ brings relief (salvation).This salvation arises from the mercy of God. In Christ, we have a 'joy' and 'peace' which the world can neither give nor take away (7-8). When the seeking sinner comes with the question, 'Who can show us any good?' (6), the Gospel Answer is always the same - Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
23rd March: Genesis 24:1-21
The servant was sent on a mission. He was 'to get a wife for...Isaac' (4). When Christ entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11), He was on a mission. He had come for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 21:2-3). The servant was not to 'get a wife...from...the Canaanites' (3). The Church is to be made 'holy,...a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless' (Ephesians 5:26-27). The servant carried out his mission carefully and prayerfully (12-14). Jesus was careful to fulfil the words of the prophet - entering Jerusalem 'on a donkey' (Matthew 21:2-7). In His journey to the Cross, Jesus was concerned with this one thing - 'to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work' (John 4:34). The servant prayed, and the answer was given (15-16). Not my will but Thine, Lord!
24th March: Genesis 24:22-49
The detailed account of Isaac's marriage highlights the guidance of God. He directs the life of His people. This is our testimony - 'the Lord...has led me on the right road' (48). The great lessons of this story are stated in verse 27 - (a) the 'steadfast love' of the Lord; (b) the 'faithfulness' of God; (c) the guidance of God - 'the Lord has led me'; (d) worshipping the Lord - 'Blessed be the Lord...'. We are to seek God's guidance, rejoicing in His love and trusting in His faithfulness. Looking to Christ, who went to the Cross for us, we are to say, with Him, 'I have come to do Thy will, O God', 'I will praise Thee', 'I will put my trust in Him', 'Here am I, and the children God has given Me' (Hebrews 10:7; 2:12-13). To those who do His will, praising Him and trusting Him, God will give much blessing - 'an overflowing blessing' (Malachi 3:10).
25th March: Genesis 24:50-67
In verse 60, we read of the blessing of God upon Rebekah - 'Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies'. This refers to the long-term fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham. Through the death of Christ, the Lamb of God, 'a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation,' will sing the song of salvation, 'Salvation belongs to our God...and to the Lamb' (Revelation 7: 9-10). This is what we must pray for in our own community. In homes where Christ has not been honoured, there will be transformation. The Lord's messengers will be received - 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' - and the Lord's Name will be praised - 'Hosanna in the highest!' (Matthew 21:9). Such blessing will be given to those who spend time with God (63; Joshua 1:8).
26th March: Genesis 25:1-18
What will we leave behind us? What will we pass on to the next generation? In this passage of many names, there is a challenging contrast between the influence of Abraham and Ishmael on the next generation. In verse 11, we read, 'After Abraham's death, God blessed his son Isaac'. In verse 18, we find that 'Ishmael's descendants lived in hostility toward all their brothers'. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, there is a great prophecy concerning the death of Christ. We read of His suffering, as He becomes 'an offering for sin'. We learn also of His glorious future - 'He will see His offspring and prolong His days' (53:10). Unlike Abraham (175 years) and Ishmael (137 years), Jesus did not live a long life on earth (33 years), yet 'He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied' - 'many' will be 'accounted righteous' (11).
27th March: Matthew 14:1-14
John the Baptist was 'arrested' and 'put in prison' (3). Shortly after this, he was 'beheaded' (10). John was a faithful man. He was 'faithful unto death' (Revelation 2:10). His death arose directly from his faithfulness to God. He died as a 'martyr'. Following the death of John, news came to Jesus, who was to die as our Saviour. How did Jesus react to this news?- First, 'he withdrew...privately to a solitary place (13). Then, having renewed His strength in the presence of His Father (Isaiah 40:31), He stepped out again into the sphere of public ministry. He continued on His way, the Way that would lead Him to the Cross. What are we to learn from John, the faithful martyr, and Jesus, the faithful Saviour, who gave Himself in death for us? We are to be faithful to God. If suffering lies ahead of us, He will make us strong.
28th March: Matthew 14:15-36
We read of the feeding of the five thousand (15-21) and the walking on water (25-33), and our thoughts go to Calvary. From the feeding with bread and fish, we move to the bread and wine, symbols of Jesus' body broken for us and His blood shed for us (26:26-28). From the confession of faith - 'Truly You are the Son of God' (33), we move to the Cross to hear the centurion's words of faith; 'Surely He was the Son of God!' (27:54). We see Jesus, the Man of prayer (23), the Healer (35-36), and we look to the Cross, where we experience the healing influence of His prayer for us; 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing' (Luke 23:34). 'Thank You for the Cross, The price you paid for us, How You gave Yourself, So completely, Precious Lord, Now our sins are gone, All forgiven, Covered by your blood, All forgotten, Thank You, Lord' (Mission Praise, 632).
29th March: Matthew 15:1-20
The Pharisees were preoccupied with washing the hands (2), yet they missed out on the most important thing - the cleansing of the heart. They were obsessed with 'correct' religious ritual, yet they sent Christ to the Cross. They honoured God with their words, yet in their hearts they were far from Him (8). We must pray for the cleansing of the heart: 'Purify my heart, Cleanse me from within And make me holy. Purify my heart, Cleanse me from my sin, Deep within' (Songs of Fellowship, 475). When Jesus was buried, He was wrapped in a 'clean linen cloth' (27:59). This was followed by His mighty resurrection. Without lapsing into hypocritical obsession with outward appearances, we make this simple comment: the 'resurrection' of God's work among us will come as we pray earnestly for the cleansing of our hearts.
30th March: Matthew 15: 21-16:4
Above all Jesus' miracles, we celebrate His mighty resurrection from the dead (28:5-7). This miracle is referred to in 16:4 - 'the sign of Jonah': Jonah was raised from 'the belly of a huge fish', Jesus has been raised from 'the heart of the earth' (12:40). We are to 'remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead' (2 Timothy 2:8). In the girl's healing (21-28), we see the risen Lord's great triumph over evil - evil men tried to put Him down, but He did not stay down (Acts 2: 23-24). In the feeding of the crowd (36-37), we see the risen Lord's ongoing ministry of feeding His people. Here, we compare verses 36-37 with the Lord's Supper: (a) He took bread; (b) He gave thanks; (c) He broke it; (d) He gave it to the disciples; (e) The bread is shared with the people; (f) All are satisfied. All glory to the risen Lord !
31st March: Proverbs 2:1-15
There is a real call for spiritual growth here. We are to accept God's words, storing up His commands, turning our ears to wisdom and our hearts to understanding (1-2). If we are to grow in the fear and knowledge of God, we must pray for insight and understanding. These blessings are greater than silver and hidden treasure (3-5). In the Christian life, there is both promise and warning. There is God's promise - you will be led in a way that 'will be pleasant to your soul' (10). There is His warning - make sure that you do not 'leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways' (13). It is very important that we take time to read God's Word, since it is 'the Lord' who 'gives wisdom'. We must listen for God's Voice, speaking to us through Scripture (6). As we listen to Him, we will be led in 'every good path' - protected and victorious (7-9).