Daily Devotional Readings: Year One - April
1st April: Genesis 25:19-34
Esau was a fool. He chose his own way rather than the Lord's way. Jacob was a 'heel'! 'Born with his hand holding on to Esau's heel..., he was named Jacob (Heel)' (26). A crafty twister, a manipulating cheat, there was nothing about him that merited God's blessing. He was not superior to Esau. Like Esau, Jacob was a sinner. Esau was not inferior to Jacob. Both were guilty before God. Why, then - in God's purpose - does 'the elder' (Esau) 'serve the younger' (Jacob) (23)? The answer is grace, the 'amazing grace' of God. Grace lifted Jacob. The glory belongs to God. Grace could have lifted Esau. By grace Jacob valued the birthright (God's blessing). His way of seeking God's blessing was devious. Nevertheless, he was seeking for God - and God, in His grace, found him and made him a new man (32:28). 'Wonderful grace of Jesus, Greater than all my sin'!
2nd April: Genesis 26:1-35
'History repeats itself'. Sin has a 'like father, like son' quality about it - Isaac is like Abraham (7; 12:13, 20:2, 12-13), Jacob is like Isaac (7; 25:31,27:19). Grace repeats itself. God is faithful. He gives forgiveness and victory over temptation (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Deceived by 'the father of lies' (the devil), 'man' denies the truth (John 8: 44). 'Let God be true, and every man a liar' (Romans 3:4). In verses 19-22, there's 'the story of the three wells' - 'Dispute', 'Opposition', 'Room'. Things went from bad to worse, then there was progress. There is room for both, when there is no more quarrelling. Isaac worshipped God, and was recognised as God's man (25,28). We are to be recognised as God's people, but remember - verse 34 - even the Lord's people can make mistakes!
3rd April: Genesis 27:1-40
The deception of Isaac by Jacob (prompted by Rebekah) is a sad episode, yet God - in grace - really bestows His blessing on Jacob. Beneath Jacob's deceit, there was a real desire to be blessed by God. To Esau (the late arrival), Isaac says, 'I have blessed him - yes, and he shall be blessed. I blessed him, and blessed he will remain' (33). Once the blessing had been given, it could not be recalled. The blessing could not be undone. Power bestowed by God could not be removed. This had nothing to do with 'Jacob's righteousness'. It had everything to do with God's faithfulness. The good work begun by God, will be completed by Him (Philippians 1:6). This was true for Jacob (28:15). It is true for us - 'All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ'. To this, we say 'Amen' and 'To God be the Glory' (2 Corinthians 1:20)!
4th April: Genesis 27:41-28:9
What a tangled web! Jacob has cheated Esau. Now, Esau is saying, 'I will kill my brother Jacob' (41). What are we to make of all this? We must look beyond the human scene. Behind it all, there is 'God Almighty' (3). God will fulfil His promises. Nothing will distract Him from His ultimate purpose of salvation. We look at the complex series of events involving Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. God looks beyond all of that to Jesus Christ. He looks beyond the nation of Israel. His purpose concerns 'the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8). 'The blessing of Abraham' refers not only to the 'land' (4). There is also 'the promise of the Spirit' (Galatians 3:14). We are to live 'by the power of the Spirit', and not 'according to the flesh' as Esau did when 'he went to Ishmael (the child of Abraham's unbelief...)' (9; Galatians 4:29).
5th April: Genesis 28:10-22
Just another night (11)? No! - this was a night to remember, a night Jacob would never forget. God came to him with His wonderful promise of love: 'I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you' (15). At Bethel ('the house of God'), powerfully transformed by the presence of God - 'Surely the Lord is in this place' (16) - , Jacob consecrated himself to the Lord. 'If' (20) means 'Since'. See Romans 8:31, 'If (Since) God is for us, who can be against us?'. Giving the tenth (22) - this is not legalism, a kind of repayment scheme. There can be no 'salvation by works'. We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our giving must always be a heartfelt expression of thanksgiving to the God of grace: 'Loving Him who first loved me'. We are saved 'to do good works' (Ephesians 2:10) - not because we do good works!
6th April: Matthew 16:5-23
What a contrast there is between Jesus Christ and the religious leaders of His day. Three times, we are told to 'guard against...the Pharisees and Sadducees' (6,11-12). These men had religion without salvation. They claimed to have faith in God, yet they despised Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of sinners. We are to guard against the 'Pharisees and Sadducees'. We are to glory in Christ, God's Son, our Saviour. In Christ, 'the Son of the living God' (16), we have a Saviour against whom 'the gates of hell shall not prevail' (18). Our faith is like Peter's - sometimes strong (16-17), often weak (22-23). Our Saviour is always strong. We 'are weak, but He is strong' - may we never 'outgrow' this simple testimony, as we confess our sin and glory in our Saviour who forgives sin.
7th April: Matthew 16:24-17:13
There will come a time when the glory of God will be fully revealed - 'the Son of man is going to come in His Father's glory' (27). Here on earth, there are 'foretastes of glory divine': verse 28 may be understood in connection with the transfiguration (2) - the divine glory of heaven breaking through into our human life on earth. Revelations of glory prepared these men for discipleship. They turned their eyes upon Jesus (8). They looked full in His wonderful face (2). The things of earth grew strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace (Mission Praise, 59,712) - 'Lord, it is good for us to be here' (4). The 'mountain top' experience could not be preserved - no 'three shelters' (4)! We can continue to worship, hear Jesus' words and look to Him (6-8), rejoicing in His suffering for us (12) and awaiting His return to 'restore all things' (11).
8th April: Matthew 17:14-27
Epilepsy is an illness. In this case, there was something more - demonic involvement (18). The disciples failed and were called to greater faith (16, 20). They were 'greatly distressed'. Troubled by talk of His death, they failed to hear this: 'He will be raised on the third day' (23). Jesus paid the annual temple 'tax' (24-27). His first allegiance was to God, yet He did not ignore His other responsibilities. There is a lesson for today's Church here. We are to be one body of Christ - not two groups, 'spiritual' and 'social', each looking down on the other: 'too earthly-minded to be any heavenly good', 'too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good'. We need the high spiritual principles: 'we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word' (Acts 6:4), but we must not forget the ordinary things that need to be done!
9th April: Matthew 18:1-14
From Jesus' reply to the question: 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' (1), we learn much about the valued place children are to have among us. Our attitude to children is to be marked by humility, respect, responsibility and - above all - love. (a) humility: We teach the children. We can learn from them (2-4). (b) respect: Physically, we may look down on them. Spiritually, we must 'not look down' on them (10). They are to be highly valued. (c) responsibility: What kind of influence do we have on the children? - This is a question of the greatest importance (6). (d) love: Our 'Father in heaven' loves the children (14). The kind of welcome we give to children shows the kind of welcome we give to 'Jesus' who 'loves the little children' (5). May God help us not to fail the rising generation.
10th April: Matthew 18:15-19:2
Discipline and forgiveness are not opposites. They belong together. Discipline is to be part of our caring. If it is not carried out in a caring way, it is not the discipline of the Lord. It is the expression of human arrogance. Where there is a genuine desire to honour God and do His will, we have more than some human beings imposing their own will upon others. We have God at work, purifying His Church. The link between discipline (15-17) and forgiveness (21-35) is prayer (18-20). Without prayer, we will never achieve a true balance between discipline and forgiveness. We must avoid a harsh legalism which knows nothing of God's love. We dare not soft-pedal the moral demands of discipleship. God is holy. God is love. We need both holiness and love - for the sake of the 'large crowds' who need the Saviour (2).
11th April: Psalm 5:1-12
This is a morning prayer: 'morning by morning', we are to come before the Lord 'in expectation' of His blessing (3). The Psalmist prays with great earnestness. His prayer is a 'sighing' before God, a 'cry for help' (1-2). He acknowledges the holiness of God: 'You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil, with you the wicked cannot dwell' (4). The words of verse 9 apply to every one of us. Paul quotes this verse in support of the conclusion that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:13, 23). There is, however, a way of coming to God. It is 'by His mercy' (7). Each of us has been declared guilty by God (10; Romans 3:19-20). For the fallen, God has provided a way of forgiveness. For the guilty, He has provided a way to gladness (11; Luke 2:10-11). 'Hallelujah! What a Saviour!' (Church Hymnary, 380).
12th April: Genesis: 29:1-30
The tables are turned on Jacob. The trickster is tricked! The 'trick' was according to the 'custom' that the elder daughter should be given in marriage before the younger one (23, 25-26). Seven years became fourteen years (18-20,27,30). Jacob did receive his heart's desire, but there was a lesson to be learned: Going God's way is better than getting your own way. 'All things work together for good to those who love God' (Romans 8:28) - this doesn't mean that we always get what we want. We must learn to 'let go and let God have His wonderful way', and to say, 'This God - His way is perfect' (Psalm 18:30). Out of love for Rachel (18,20), Jacob served Laban for an extra seven years. We would serve Christ better if we loved Him more. Jesus still asks the question, 'Do you love Me?' (John 21:15-17).
13th April: Genesis 29:31-30:24
Leah progressed beyond her own concerns (32-34) to the most important thing: 'This time I will praise the Lord' (35). Of the many children, the most significant, in terms of God's purpose of redemption, was Joseph (22-24). An answer to prayer, it was the work of divine grace (22). 'Rachel was barren' (31) yet the Lord gave her this testimony: 'God has taken away my disgrace' (23). We move from one Joseph to another - the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We see an even greater work of grace: the birth of our Saviour. Rachel was to have a second son, Benjamin (24). Through Christ, God has many sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4-5). Rachel rejoiced in the gift of a son, her son. We rejoice in the gift of the Son, God's Son. Through the Spirit of God's Son living in our hearts, we are God's children and He is our Father (Galatians 4:6).
14th April: Genesis 30:25-31:21
Jacob was still a complex character, trying to arrange his own prosperity (37-43). There is, however, another, better reason for his prosperity - God had promised to bless him, and God did bless him (28:15). Inner desire, favourable circumstances, the divine Word - all three were present in Jacob's decision to leave Laban and 'go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan' (18). (a) Inner desire - Jacob had been badly treated by Laban, and he did not want to work for him any longer (2); (b) Favourable circumstances - Jacob had grown 'exceedingly prosperous' (43). He didn't need to keep on working for Laban; (c) The divine Word - Inner desire and circumstances were not enough to confirm God's guidance to Jacob. He needed God's command and promise (3). Let God 'guide' by His 'light and truth' (Psalm 48:14; 43:3).
15th April: Genesis 31:22-42
As we try to unravel the complexities of Jacob's dealings with Laban, we must remember this one thing: 'If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac (the God before whom Isaac bowed in reverence) had not been with me...' (42). This is the spiritual dimension. We must not lose sight of this. Life can be complicated at times, but we must not forget this: God is with us. Jacob, who was renamed 'Israel' (32:28), confessed his faith: God is with me. Later on, the nation of Israel confessed its faith in God: 'If it had not been the Lord who was on our side...', it would have been disaster. 'Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth'. The Lord is with us still. With the Psalmist, we say, 'Blessed be the Lord'. He is the God of our salvation (Psalm 124).
16th April: Genesis 31:43--32:21
Jacob and Laban were not exactly the best of friends. Nevertheless, they came to an agreement that they would not continue feuding with each other (52). Jacob prepares to meet Esau (1-21). From verses 9-12, we learn some important spiritual lessons - (a) Make sure that God is your God, and not only the God of your father and grandfather (9). (b) Confess your unworthiness of 'all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness' of God (10). (c) Pray to God for salvation - 'Save me I pray...' (11). (d) Stand on the promises of God - 'You have said...' (12). Jacob, soon to be renamed Israel (32:28), was preparing to meet Esau. There is, in his prayer, the way of being prepared for a more important meeting: 'Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!' (Amos 4:12). Confess your sin, pray for salvation, stand on God's Word - make it personal!
17th April: Matthew 19:3-30
Even though 'large crowds followed Him' still 'the Pharisees' opposed Jesus (2-3). Jesus' teaching regarding marriage has perfect balance. Marriage is God's purpose for 'male and female' (4-5). 'Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven' (12). There is no compulsion in these matters. Each one must seek God's will. Celibacy should not be viewed with suspicion. This way can also be chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. It must not be suggested that celibacy is the only truly 'spiritual' way. Jesus calls for humility (14,30). What we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us (23-26). The Gospel humbles us and exalts God. Before we can be exalted by God and with Him, we must be humbled by God and before Him. 'Eternal life' (16) begins when, conscious of our sin - 'Who then can be saved?' (25) - we look to Christ alone for salvation.
18th April: Matthew 20:1-28
The workers served for different lengths of time (1-7). They received equal payment (8-16). This a parable of grace. Some have served the Lord a long time. Some have served Him a short time. The length of time is not the most important thing. More important is this: each one of us has been saved by grace. We owe it all to the Lord, the Giver of salvation. In verses 17-19, Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection. These are the great events upon which our salvation rests (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). If we are to follow Christ, we must walk the way of the Cross (22). He suffered for us. We must be ready to suffer for Him. His glory did not come without suffering. Our glory will not come without suffering. Do not seek 'greatness'. Go the way of the Cross (26-28).
19th April: Matthew 20:29-21:17
Four times, Jesus is called 'the Son of David' (30-31, 9,15). Christ is greater than David. He is David's 'Lord' (22:41-46). Christ is not only 'the Son of David'. He is also the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4). We rejoice with the Psalms of David. We rejoice even more in the Gospel of Christ. Our response to Christ is to be marked by discipleship, depth and devotion. Discipleship - The blind men 'received their sight and followed Him' (34). They did not receive their sight and then forget about Him. Grace is to be followed by gratitude. Those who have received grace are to give themselves to the Lord in gratitude. Depth - The crowds were enthusiastic (8-9) but superficial (27:20-23). Pray for depth, a true and lasting response to Christ. Devotion - Pray that the spirit of praise will overcome the spirit of pride (15).
20th April: Matthew 21:18-46
Jesus entered the city (10). He entered the temple (12). He went 'back to the city' (18). He entered the temple (23). Here, we have the pattern for Christian living - in the place of worship, out into the world, back to the place of worship...Worship, witness, worship... The two go hand in hand throughout the Christian life. We will encounter unbelief - even in the place of worship (23). God's servants - the prophets - were rejected (35-36). God's Son - Jesus - was rejected (37-39). We live in a situation where the threat of judgment is very real (19). Nevertheless, there is hope. Christ is 'the Church's one Foundation' (Church Hymnary, 420). Through Him, we will bear fruit which will bring glory to God (42-43). We have been slow to believe, but God is 'swift to bless'. No more 'I will not' - let there be repentance, entering God's Kingdom and doing His will (29- 31).
21st April: Proverbs 2:16-34
We read the warning about 'the adulteress': 'her house leads down to death' (16-18). We also hear the warning of the Gospel: 'the wages of sin is death' (Romans 6:23). We are told that 'none who go to her return or attain the paths of life' (19). Left to ourselves, none of us would return to God, none of us would find the way to life (Romans 3:10-12). Some seek 'prosperity' (1). They seek 'a good name in the sight of...men' (4). We must not, however, make these things the be-all and end-all. There is more to life than material possessions, more than high ratings in the popularity stakes. There is eternal life - 'the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23) - and the forgiveness of sins - 'justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ' (Romans 5:1).
22nd April: Genesis 32:22-32
At the place called Peniel, Jacob 'saw God face to face' (30). We see 'the glory of God in the face of Christ' (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jacob wrestled with God and became an overcomer (28). Christ wrestled with the powers of evil, and has won a mighty victory for us. When He cried out from the Cross, 'It is finished' (John 19:30), this was not an admission of defeat. It was the declaration of victory - the victory has been won, the victory is complete. 'Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Corinthians 15:57). For Jacob, crossing the Jabbok involved a spiritual 'crossing over'. Jacob became Israel, a new man (28). After he had been 'touched' by God, Jacob was 'limping' (31-32). This was a reminder of his own weakness. His true strength was in the Lord. Wait on the Lord, and renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31).
23rd April: Genesis 33:1-20
From Jacob's meeting with God, we come to his meeting with Esau. Before we start thinking of this as a big 'come down', we should note Jacob's word to Esau: 'truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God' (10). Jacob is describing his meeting with Esau in terms of his encounter with God at Peniel: 'I have seen God face to face (32:30). Before we dismiss Jacob's words as 'a bit over the top', we should remember Jesus' words: 'as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me' (Matthew 25:40). We are not to choose between loving God and loving our neighbour. We are to love both (Matthew 22:37-38). We honour God. We are to honour other people. The two go together - reverence for God our Creator and respect for people, created in God's image (1 John 4:20-21).
24th April: Genesis 34:1-31
This chapter is about sin - the name of God is not even mentioned! We might well say of this chapter: 'the less said the better'. We should, however, notice that Jacob is still turning out to be a big disappointment. Despite all Jacob's potential (28:15-17,20-22; 32:28-30), there is still, in him, a great deal of self and not very much of the Lord. We see this in verse 30: 'You have brought trouble on me by making me odious...my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household'. Where is God in all this? It seems that Jacob has become so preoccupied with himself and his own interests that he has forgotten all about God. Amazingly, the next chapter begins, 'God said to Jacob, "Arise..."'. God was still calling him to higher things. What love! God doesn't give up on us. He keeps on calling us back to Himself.
25th April: Genesis 35:1-15
'God appeared to Jacob again ...and blessed him' (9). The Lord's blessing does not come only once. Again and again, He blesses His people, leading us on to a closer walk with Him. God knows what we have been - 'Your name is Jacob' (10). He knows how often we have failed Him, yet still, He loves us. Still, He holds out before us a new and better future - 'Israel shall be your name' (10). God is inviting us to enter into a future of fruitfulness (11): 'I choose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that you fruit should abide' (John 15:16). Special mention is made of 'the place where God had spoken with him' - 'Bethel' (the house of God) (15). We cannot expect to be fruitful witnesses if we are not faithful worshippers. Listen for God's Word. Take His Word with you - and share it with others.
26th April: Genesis 35:16-36:43
Two prisoners looked out from the same cell. One saw the sunshine and the other saw mud! - two ways of looking at every situation: 'Benoni' (son of my sorrow), 'Benjamin' (son of the right hand) (35:18). Spot the missing name in chapter 36? - God. Many never think of God (Psalm 10:4). Esau's hardness of heart was more than personal. It has continued for generations - 'two nations...two peoples...' (25:23). He has 'spiritual' descendants too - God's Word warns us: 'See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God...like Esau' (Hebrews 12:15-17). Salvation does not come to us because of our good works (Romans 9:10-13). Every attempt to save ourselves meets with the divine condemnation (Malachi 1:1-4; Romans 3:19-20). Thank God for your own salvation. Never feel superior because of it. Pray that hard hearts will be brought to Christ (1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Romans 1:16).
27th April: Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus speaks in parables. Some hear, understand and believe. Others miss the point altogether. One man was 'not wearing wedding clothes' (11). He was dressed in the 'filthy rags' of his own 'righteous acts' (Isaiah 64:6). He was not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 21:1-2, 7:9-14). Without Christ's righteousness we are naked and ashamed. Sin brings shame. Before sin, there was nakedness without shame (Genesis 2:25). After sin, 'they realized they were naked...and made coverings for themselves' (Genesis 3:7). Spiritually we are naked before the all-seeing eye of God (Hebrews 4:13). Christ says, 'buy from me...white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness' (Revelation 3:18). God says, 'Come, buy ...without money...Seek the Lord...call on Him... He will have mercy...He will freely pardon...' (Isaiah 55: 1, 6-8). Do you want to enter God's Kingdom? Make sure you are clothed in Christ's righteousness.
28th April: Matthew 22: 15-33
The Pharisees were subtle - just like the 'ancient serpent who is the devil' (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 20:2). They tried 'to entangle Jesus in His talk' (15). They wanted to trap Him and bring a charge against Him. They asked Jesus about payment of taxes to Caesar (17). Jesus moved beyond this question to our greatest responsibility: 'Render ...to God the things that are God's' (21). If we must speak words of political significance - 'Render.. to Caesar the things that are Caesar's' (21) - , let them arise out of this: Giving God His rightful place in His Church, the nation and the wider world. Jesus' words to the Sadducees, in verse 29, were not simply a protest against the religion of the Sadducees. They were a protest for the Scriptures and the power of God. A positive faith is much more helpful than a purely negative reaction!
29th April: Matthew 22:34-46
The Pharisees had failed. The Sadducees had failed. Now, 'they come together' (34). There were differences between them, yet they were prepared to lay aside their differences and join forces in their common opposition to Jesus. They were trying to get Him to set one commandment above all the others. They would then say that He had insufficient respect for the other commandments. Jesus answered them wisely: Love - for God and our neighbour - embraces all the commandments. They have fired questions at Jesus. Now, He puts a question to them (42). He seeks to raise their thinking beyond the human level - Jesus is not merely 'the son of David' (42). He is the Son of God. Greater than all of the great men, He is 'our Lord and our God' (John 20:28). No more trick questions. Give the answer of faith: 'You are...the Son of the living God' (16: 16).
30th April: Psalm 6:1-10
What a pitiful picture: 'languishing ... troubled ... sorely troubled ... moaning ... tears ... weeping ... grief ... weak' (1-7). Transformation - Overwhelmed by evil becomes overcoming evil. 'O Lord - how long?' becomes 'The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication' (3, 8-9). We look at our circumstances. We ask, 'How long must this continue?'. We look at Christ's Cross. We say, 'He has won the victory'. His victory becomes ours, as we say, in faith, 'the Lord accepts my prayer' (9). We look beyond our present circumstances to Christ's Second Coming. When He returns, the tables will be turned. In a moment, there will be complete shame for His enemies (10; 1 Corinthians 15:25) and complete salvation for 'those who are eagerly waiting for Him' (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Hebrews 9:28).