VIDEO Not By Chance

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. Luke 1:5

The story of the Gospel didn’t start with Mary, Joseph, or Bethlehem. It began with an aged couple in the Judean hills—a priest named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. That’s where Luke begins the story of Jesus in the first chapter of his Gospel. We don’t know the exact year of Zacharias’ birth. Perhaps it was 70 B.C. or earlier. But he served quietly and faithfully for decades, not realizing his life was no mere accident on God’s calendar. He and Elizabeth had each been born at the precise time to place them in the historical lineup for the coming of the Messiah. They lived in the days of Herod; and despite their age and humble circumstances the fullness of time had arrived—and they were a part of it.

God’s ultimate providence over our lives places us where He wants us and when He wants us there. Each of us is born at the exact moment in time that God has ordained. Our times are in His hands. We are here on earth for a reason.

Look around, then, and see how God wants to use you!

Indeed, all things come to us not by chance, but by His fatherly hand. The Heidelberg Catechism


Elizabeth and Zechariah

Cuddling In

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7

“Daddy, will you read to me?” my daughter asked. It’s not an unusual question for a child to make of a parent. But my daughter is eleven now. These days, such requests are fewer than they were when she was younger. “Yes,” I said happily, and she curled up next to me on the couch.

As I read to her (from The Fellowship of the Ring), she practically melted into me. It was one of those glorious moments as a parent, when we feel perhaps just an inkling of the perfect love our Father has for us and His deep desire for us to “cuddle in” to His presence and love.

I realized in that moment that I’m a lot like my eleven-year-old. Much of the time, I’m focused on being independent. It’s so easy to lose touch with God’s love for us, a tender and protective love that Psalm 116 describes as “gracious and righteous . . . full of compassion” (v. 5). It’s a love where, like my daughter, I can curl up in God’s lap, at home in His delight for me.

Psalm 116:7 suggests that we might need to regularly remind ourselves of God’s good love, and then crawl up into His waiting arms: “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” And indeed, He has.

By:  Adam R. Holz

Reflect & Pray

When was the last time you rested quietly in God’s love? What barriers, if any, might keep you from experiencing the Father’s delight for you?

Father, thank You for Your perfect love for me. Help me to remember that love and to rest in Your goodness and delight in me.

How Are We Born Again?

John 3:9-16

Yesterday we learned what “born again” means, but do we know how it comes about? Is it something we choose or something God does to us? And are Jesus’ words in John 3:7— “You must be born again”—a command or a factual statement?

Actually, the new birth requires both the work of God and the response of man. The Father is the one who took the initiative by sending His Son to bear divine wrath for our sins. In that way, God could forgive us while remaining just. Then His Spirit opens our hearts to understand this: The perfect Son of God died in our place so we wouldn’t perish but instead would have eternal life.

Our role in this relationship is to respond in faith, believing in who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf. This isn’t just intellectual acknowledgment but complete abandonment of ourselves to Him. We see our sin as a great offense against God, recognize that Jesus is our only hope, and rely fully on Him for our forgiveness and salvation. He is now our Lord and Master, and our desire is to no longer live for ourselves but for Christ alone. 

The Oracles of God

“Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Romans 3:2-3)

This striking synonym for the Scriptures (“the oracles of God”) occurs just three times in the Bible. In our text, Paul is emphasizing the great privilege and responsibility that was committed to the Jews when God gave His “oracles” to them, a word implying “divinely inspired utterances.”

The author of Hebrews rebuked those Hebrew Christians who had still not learned the very “first principles of the oracles of God,” despite having been professing Christians for a long time (Hebrews 5:12). Finally, the apostle Peter urged his readers: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). That is, anyone who presumes to speak for the Lord must “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). It is not our words but His words that are “quick, and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12). In fact, Stephen called them “the lively [or ‘living’] oracles” (Acts 7:38).

In all these references, it is clear that these “oracles of God”—that is, the Holy Scriptures—constitute the very utterances of the living God. They were given to and through believing Jews and are preserved for us now in our Bibles. They obviously should be believed, studied, obeyed, and proclaimed by all who consider themselves to be Christians.

The fact that many people reject the Bible, even claiming it is wrong in what it teaches, is irrelevant. Such claims merely display human arrogance. God’s Word has been “for ever…settled in heaven” and “is true from the beginning” (Psalm 119:89, 160). It will endure even after this present world has passed away (Matthew 24:35) and will finally be the criterion by which its detractors will be judged in the last day (Revelation 20:12; 22:18-19). HMM

The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12

THE Sermon on the Mount has been twisted to suit more divergent views than any other portion of our Lord’s message. Some have made it the summary of His teaching, as though He said nothing else; while others have transferred it over into a future age with a purely Jewish application, as though it meant nothing for us today. It is true that His message has Israel primarily in mind and its literal fulfillment will be in the kingdom age to come when Christ rules over Israel, but it has a personal spiritual application for us now.

The well-known beatitudes set forth the characteristics of the citizens of His kingdom, and we who believe today should bear these marks of the Mount. The poor in spirit are those who know themselves to be nothing and that their only sufficiency is in Him. They are not necessarily the poor in pocketbook, though, doubtless, most of the poor in spirit are poor in purse. To be poor in one’s own spirit should be the counterpart to being rich in His Spirit: “having nothing, yet possessing all things.”

The mournful are not merely those who mourn in trouble, but rather those who lament their own spiritual weakness and poverty—whose cry is, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” Such tears precede great blessing unless one wallows in self-pity and gets no further.

The meek are the lowly and gentle, not milksops and dish-rag characters as some think. These shall inherit the earth in spite of those who say the only way they could ever get it would be to inherit it. It is the Lamb who finally prevails.

To hunger and thirst after righteousness is a lost experience with most professing Christians—who are too shallow and superficial, or else too fed-up with the lollipops of earth, really to crave deeper blessing. A deep spiritual feast must emanate from a deep hunger and a big appetite!

The merciful are those who are long-suffering toward others, considerate of human weakness, full of love which “suffereth long and is kind.” The pure in heart are those who follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. If the heart be pure there will be no trouble with the conduct, for out of the heart are the issues of life.

The peacemakers are not merely those who arbitrate and settle quarrels, although that is included, but those whose spirit creates an atmosphere of peace. Having peace with God and the peace of God, they make for peace wherever they go.

Few are the persecuted and reviled today for His sake. And, mind you, we are blessed only when we are evil spoken against falsely for His sake. “Falsely for His sake” brings in two important qualifications.

Christians are the salt of the earth, purifying, preserving, creating a thirst for the Water of Life. They keep the earth from putrefaction, as will be proven when the Church is removed. When it is without savor—an empty profession—it is trodden under foot in contempt. We are also the light of the world (Phil. 2:15) even as He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), and our business is not to uniquely shine our light but simply to let it shine that others, seeing, may glorify not us but our Heavenly Father.

Our Biggest Problem

God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.—Psalm 51:10

What is the biggest problem we face? Some would say ill health; others, lack of money; still others, uncertainty about the future or fear of dying. My own view is that the biggest problem with which human beings have to grapple is the problem of guilt. It is the most powerfully destructive force in the personality. We cannot live with guilt—that is, truly live.

When I was a young Christian, I heard some great preaching in my native Wales, most of which focused on how God was able to release us from the guilt of inbred sin. Nowadays, apart from a few exceptions, that message is hardly heard in the pulpits of the Principality, nor for that matter in many other pulpits. The emphasis ceased to appeal to the modern mind and so was discarded. However, it is now coming back to us through the science of psychology. Someone said that the point at which psychology and religion meet is at the point of guilt. Christianity and the social sciences underline what the human heart knows so well: it cannot live comfortably with guilt.

In this simple prayer of Jesus, however, we have an adequate answer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” If we have fully accepted the forgiveness of God and we know that our sins have been forgiven, then the result is a pervading sense of peace. The human heart cannot be put off by subterfuge; it needs reconciliation, forgiveness, and assurance.

Prayer

O God, my Father, I see that within the ways of men, You have a way—a way that is written into the nature of reality. And that way is the way of forgiveness. May I ever walk in it. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Further Study

Jn 8:1-11; Ps 40:12; 38:4; 73:21

What made the Pharisees leave?

How did Jesus respond to the woman?

A Portrait of Love’s Obedience

Revelation 13:8

In a commanding voice the Lord instructed Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:1-15). The message was clear and has significance for us as a portrait of love’s obedience.

If ever an account so clearly parallels the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it is this. Significant beyond its time, the record was not kept simply as a trial of faith for one man. Affirming the historical and religious importance of that event is, in the midst of a mosque in Jerusalem, the rock upon which Isaac lay beneath the point of Abraham’s dagger.

Isaac was Abraham’s life, the heir apparent to his father’s treasures. “Take now your son,” (Gen. 22:2) said the Lord. No comforting preamble, just a succession of statements, ending with one command. Isaac must be sacrificed!

The burnt offering of Hebrew animal sacrifices became known as the “holocaust”—an offering totally consumed and ascending in the smoke of its altar fire. Such an offering connotes complete consecration to God.

Steadily up the steeps of Mount Moriah, Abraham ascended toward the rocky summit. That moment is symbolic to Christ’s walk toward His crucifixion. Abraham and Isaac simply prefigured the provision by God as Christ became “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The experience of both Isaac and Jesus is filled with holocaustal meaning. Each walked on a Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow). Each would have its peculiar altar and fire, offerer and victim. But in Abraham’s case the angel of the Lord, satisfied with Abraham’s obedience and Isaac’s submission, halted the process by saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy… Now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Gen 22:12).

In Jesus’ case God the Father, satisfied with His Son’s gracious love, accepted Him, with no one else to stand in His place. Jesus’ life was offered with the only words that would finalize the essential act: “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

The crucifixion event culminates in the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

David Laeger, The War Cry