“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 38: AUGUST 29
1 THESSALONIANS 1 – HEBREWS 13:25
Today we read the last of Paul’s letters. As I mentioned yesterday, I like Paul. He comes across as almost ferocious at times in his epistles, but we know that everything he wrote and said and did was toward the betterment of those who looked to him for guidance. He didn’t mince his words, and he chose to be plain-spoken rather than to use a bed-side manner. His goal was to set a real-life example of what it means to be a believer, using Jesus as his example. Jesus hasn’t been with us in physical form for nearly 2000 years, so his followers have to set real-life examples to guide others. This is our job as Christians.
The example doesn’t change, the message doesn’t change; the only things that change are the words we use and how we deliver the message. We may use different words than Jesus and Paul, but our words have the same meaning as theirs. We may use a different delivery method than Jesus and Paul, but there’s no reason why it can’t be just as effective as theirs. If God’s Spirit is truly with us in our labours for the Kingdom, the message will get through loud and clear, regardless of our language or method of delivery.
- Throughout the letters we read today, Paul reminds the church that serving God is not without trials and tribulations, and that some of the tribulations will come from within the ranks of the church itself. False apostles, false prophets, and general all-round deceivers and inhibitors of the Word are not a phenomenon of the 20th and 21st centuries; they were a problem even in Paul’s day.
- A two-step approach is recommended to deal with people who misrepresent the Word. First, take them aside and explain to them where they’re going wrong. Don’t do this publicly and don’t try to humiliate them in front of others. Do it privately. If they don’t heed your advice and continue to preach “another gospel”, steer clear of them, warn other believers about them, and leave them for God to sort out. Pray for them, but let them be.
- Paul also advises us to live our lives always in anticipation of Jesus’ return. He reminds us that Jesus will come like a thief in the night, that is, while we’re asleep and most vulnerable. It will be too late at that point for us to prepare our souls. The time for doing what needs to be done is now.
- As well, Paul mentions the falling away that must occur before Jesus returns, along with the rise of the “son of perdition” who will demand to be worshiped as God. These events are moveable in their dates, but will definitely occur. We already see a very great falling away that is getting progressively worse with each generation. For every person who’s born-again, tens of thousands or more fall away. Even so, God’s Spirit remains as strong as it ever was. The Kingdom doesn’t diminish with the falling away of people. On the contrary, those who remain faithful to God become even stronger. A larger portion of God’s Spirit is given to them, according to the measure God deems appropriate.
- The description of the people who will live in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-7) is hauntingly close to the people we see today in the world. I see myself in the description, that is, the me I was before I was born-again. Paul calls the age that will have such people “perilous times”. It’s hard to disagree. Soon we won’t even be able to buy food without showing proof we’ve been injected with serpent’s venom. How did things get so bad? People turned from God, one by one by one by one. You turn from serving God, the only option is to serve the devil. He will come in and make his home with those people, and they will do his work. That is the world today.
- Paul’s letters to Timothy are quite touching. You can tell he’s trying not to fuss over him, but he doesn’t want Timothy to fall prey to the same snares that Paul himself might previously have fallen prey to. Paul’s like a mother and a father and an aunt and an uncle all rolled into one. That’s what happens when you start to groom those to take over your role. You want to protect them from making the same mistakes as you, but at the same time you need to let them make their own mistakes, as we learn best that way (through mistakes).
- Paul’s instruction for women to remain silent in the church was problematic for me today. So I asked God how I’m supposed to receive this instruction, and he said: “But you are silent; you don’t use audio on your blog.” 😀
- The authorship of Hebrews is still unsettled. It could have been written by Paul, or it could have been written by Luke or someone else close to Paul. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who wrote it; God speaks through it. That’s all that matters.
- The gist of Hebrews is the primacy of Jesus’ sacrifice over the dead works of the law, the primacy of faith over the dead works of the law, the replacement of the old covenant (what eventually became the Old Testament) with the new, and the importance of following Jesus as our example of how to live. The author also reminds us that following Jesus is going to bring us hardship in this world, but that whatever we suffer here is worth it for the reward of Heaven.
- Just a final note today on how people in Old Testament times used to get sprinkled by priests with the blood of sacrificial animals. This was done as a form of blessing and protection. They would even sprinkle blood on the scrolls containing God’s Word. So I’m sitting here thinking what those scrolls must have looked like (and smelled like) after being sprinkled with blood countless times. I’m really glad we don’t do that anymore! And I’m guessing that this ritual is the origin of the sprinkling of people with “holy water” that is done today by priests during masses and other events in the Catholic church. Here again is something that doesn’t need to be done (Catholicism is full of things that don’t need to be done). Jesus put an end to the need to be sprinkled by priests, whether with blood or alleged holy water. Catholic leaders seriously need to crack open a Bible and read it, rather than just holding it up like a trophy during their processions.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 37: AUGUST 28
2 CORINTHIANS 1 – COLOSSIANS 4:18
As I’ve mentioned numerous times in these reflections and elsewhere, the read-through was called to get you immersed in God’s Word. It wasn’t meant to be a Bible study or a close reading of any particular part of scripture. The purpose was to get the Good Book into your hands and God’s Word into you. What you chose then to chew on was between you and God.
(Whatever jumps out at you during the readings is what God wants you to chew on.)
I hadn’t planned on writing a daily reflection after each reading. That just kind of evolved. I thought it would be a good idea to give a wave every day to say “Here I am! I’m reading along with you”. So, here I am. 😀
It’s highly likely that what jumps out at me doesn’t jump out at you, and what I chew on isn’t always to your taste. I don’t know how many souls have joined in the read-through or if I’ve just been doing this by myself, but it doesn’t matter. What you choose to do or not to do is between you and God.
Here’s the thing about God – when he asks you to do something, he asks YOU, and you only are responsible for saying “yes” or “no” (insider’s tip – always say “yes”). So I put out the invitation for the Bible read-through because God asked me to, and I’m doing the read-through because God invited me to, and I’m doing the reflections because they just kind of happened and took on a life of their own, and here we all are.
But what you choose to do or not to do is between you and God. Our free will is inviolable, no matter what anyone tells you. Even God won’t override it unless we give him permission. Imagine that! The Creator of Heaven and Earth needs your permission to override your free will. If even God needs your permission to override your free will, who possibly on Earth can override it?
Of course the answer is no-one. If you want to do God’s will or not to do God’s will, it’s up to you. It’s between you and God. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
- Today’s reading takes us deeper into Paul’s letters. I like Paul. If I make it to Heaven, I’m looking forward to sitting down with him and having a drink. I don’t drink anymore on Earth, but I have a feeling I’m going to be having a few in Heaven (no hangovers in Heaven!) with all the visits I’ll be making and all the visitors who’ll have a standing invitation to drop by my place any time.
- Being in Heaven won’t be a problem (again, no hangovers!), but getting there takes some doing. Paul talks about everything we (might) have to endure to get to there. He even makes a list of sorts. For instance, in 2 Colossians 4:8-9, he says of believers in general:
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair’
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.
Then later in 11:24-27, he details his own experiences:
Of the Jews received I forty stripes save one.
Thrice I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered a shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.
In journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
- Paul went through all this (with worse to come), and yet it only made him more adamant to give everything he had to God and more committed to preaching the Word. Why is that? Why didn’t he give up after the first shipwreck or beating with rods? Most people would have. But Paul didn’t give up for the same reason that Jesus didn’t give up or any of the others didn’t give up – because God was always with Paul, no matter his circumstances, and God (not Paul) was the source of Paul’s strength. Rather than make him angry or resentful or self-pitying, each trial entrenched him deeper into God.
- We need to learn from Paul’s trials and how he dealt with them. I’m not sure if we’ll have to endure the same level of persecution as he did, but we’ll certainly face persecution and we’ll be forced to live as outlaws. Jesus warned us it would be like that. At the same time, he also said he’d be with us the whole time – he and God, through God’s Holy Spirit. And that’s how we’re going to get through our trials like Paul got through his.
- There’s a wonderful passage in the same letter about what is expected of us as ministers of God. It’s another list of attributes we’re expected to have. See which ones you have and which ones you need to work on. Remember, if you’re born-again, you should be actively preaching and teaching the Word, or preparing to do so. There are no seat-warmers in the Kingdom of Heaven!
Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed:
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.Colossians 6:3-10
- A few other passages jumped out at me in Colossians. One of them was about Moses, and how he always unveiled in face before God. I wrote a blog about this last year, about how we should never cover our face before God, and that we’re always before God if we’re genuinely born-again. This directive is inviolable. That means, no-one can override it, not for any reason.
- In Galatians, Paul spends most of his letter talking about the dead-end factor of the works of the law. Remember that he’s talking about the laws that I call fly-over scripture, not the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are definitely not dead works. Paul finds himself arguing again with people who want to hang onto the dead works (like circumcision) instead of leaving them dead and buried, where they belong. Yet again, he argues for the primacy of faith over works of the law, but he still reminds us that we’ll someday have to stand before the Judgement seat to give an account of all we did or did not do in the service of God. Those works count; the works of the law no longer do.
- Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are a compilation of sorts of his teachings on how to follow Jesus. One line in particular jumped out at me today:
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.Colossians 3:23
- It’s a reminder that whatever we do, God sees us. It doesn’t matter if anyone else acknowledges us or not, appreciates our efforts or not: God does. Jesus tells us to do our prayers and alms in secret, and that God will see us and reward us openly. Paul echoes this in saying to do everything as if unto God. Do it to the best of your ability. Do it with a cheerful heart. And do it knowing that if no-one else cares or even sees, God does. And surely that’s enough.
As we wind down (or power up, however you’re seeing this) to the final few readings, I hope you know that God is reading to you (if you ask him), opening your understanding and highlighting what you need to see and learn for your trials ahead. Our trials may or may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but we still need to face them as he did, knowing God is ALWAYS with us to bring us through. That’s his job. That’s what he promised: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
And God never breaks a promise.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 36: AUGUST 27
ROMANS 1 – 1 CORINTHIANS 16:24
We’re now in the final stretch of our 40-day run. If you’ve been with us from the start, you’ll know it’s been quite a marathon. We can see the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but the road ahead is still rocky and long. We need to keep our focus now more than ever. It’s tempting to slack off when you think you’re almost at your final destination, but remember that Jesus was tempted by the devil not at the beginning of his 40-day fast, but at the end. So keep going, my friends! This is where your prayers for strength and endurance will kick in.
- Paul’s letter to the Romans makes a clear distinction between those who were born genetic Jews and those who are reborn spiritual Jews by the will and grace of God. This is the context for his teachings on faith. Paul explains that in God’s new covenant with his new people, as expressed in Jesus in the New Testament, you no longer have to be genetically Jewish (that is, children of Israel) to live the promise of God. Since the time of Jesus, the promise of spiritual rebirth and admission to God’s Kingdom is given to all people, whether genetic Jews or not.
- You have to imagine how revolutionary this concept was at the time Paul wrote it. Most genetic Jews were still stuck in the mindset that they were God’s chosen and that gentiles were shut out of the prophesied promise by virtue of their genetics. But Paul had already experienced first-hand that gentiles were being reborn and filled with God’s Spirit, and God also gave him the vision (as we saw in yesterday’s reading) showing him that God put no distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, and by extension “clean” (i.e., Jewish) and “unclean” (i.e., gentile) people.
- Faith, then, in this context, was not presented as a contrast to works but to genetics. Paul argued that genetics no longer mattered, as it was through faith (not through genetics) that we become children of God. This was clearly prophesied in the OT, but it was also just as clearly overlooked or misinterpreted by those who stood to lose their exclusivity status with God.
- The theme of justification by faith rather than genetics continues in Paul’s insistence that circumcision needs to be of the spiritual heart (that is, the core of our being), not of other parts of our body. God looks at the hearts of people, not at their outward words and deeds. This, too, is scriptural, and this, too, was clearly overlooked in scripture (and is still overlooked) by those who stand to lose from it.
- Pau’s description of becoming a follower of Jesus compares it to dying and coming back to life. I think we can all agree that death is a major life stage. If spiritual rebirth in a person’s life is as definitive and monumental as death, then it is by far the most significant and defining event we will ever experience on Earth.
- If your spiritual rebirth does not look like Paul’s or like the disciples at Pentecost, you’re not genuinely reborn. This is not an accusation or a judgement; it’s just a spiritual fact. Rebirth comes over you like a spiritual earthquake that is off the Richter scale. There is no “I think I’m reborn” or “my pastor says I’m reborn” or “I was reborn at baptism when I was three weeks old” in genuine spiritual rebirth: It’s as definitive as death and as earth-shattering as a mega-earthquake.
- Also in Romans, Paul assures the Jews that they’re not all entirely cut off from God’s grace, but that they will have to overcome their dependence on “dead works”, that is, keeping the statutes and ordinances of Jewish law, and look instead to making their hearts right before God. What constitutes making one’s heart right before God is described towards the end of the letter and can be summed up as putting God first in everything you do and treating others as you want to be treated.
- The letter to the Romans also includes a long list of the sins of the age. Not much has changed over the centuries. Sadly, Paul could be describing Western culture today.
- Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has a completely different tone than his letter to the Romans. That’s because the Corinthians were facing different issues than the Romans, mainly squabbles and divisions among themselves and spiritual immaturity. Already, believers were forming into camps, adopting this or that doctrine while disputing the validity of others. We suffer from the same issues today. The only way to resolve them is to be in good standing with God and Jesus, know scripture, and apply what you’ve learned to your everyday life, regardless of the circumstances.
- God doesn’t expect or even want us to get everything right (“mistakes keep you humble”), but he does expect and want us to keep doing our best to follow the example of Jesus, which is what Paul always strived to do. God rewards half-efforts with a half-reward. But if you give it everything you’ve got, even if you’re wrong in some aspects, you’ll get your full reward. God looks to your heart and to your efforts; not to what you say you’ll do, but to what you actually do. To God, the effort you make to do his will is what counts, not whether you’re right or wrong about this or that doctrine. The direction of your will towards him is all that ultimately matters. Even so, we should rarely be wrong about doctrine if we’re following Jesus as our example and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
- In 1 Corinthians, Paul also explains the difference between living in the world and living in God’s Kingdom. The wisdom we receive from God as his child and follower of Jesus is “foolishness” to those who haven’t received it. I certainly thought it was foolish before I was reborn. I thought everyone who believed in God was an idiot. Little did I know that I was, in fact, the idiot.
- Make note about Paul’s teaching on lawsuits. Believers can use the threat of a lawsuit as a kind of weapon, but it should never be taken any farther than a show of force, just as a weapon should never be used to kill or wound, but as a show of force to deter violence. Paul says it’s even better to suffer being defrauded than to take someone to court before a worldly judge. Just before I was reborn, I had three lawsuits before the courts. The day of my rebirth, God showed me that I had to drop them all, and I did.
- Scripture is words in a book, but not just words in a book: it’s guidance for a course of action. Use lawsuits as a show of force, just as you would use a weapon as a show of force, but never follow through with lawsuits or violent acts. We don’t do those things anymore. In nearly every case, a show of force is sufficient as a deterrent. If it isn’t, Paul says let yourself be defrauded, and Jesus says give them double what they ask, and turn the other cheek. Again, this looks like foolishness to the world, but it’s God’s economy, and it will all work out to your benefit in the end. Do what’s right in God’s eyes, not the world’s.
- 1 Corinthians also includes two major teachings about caritas (God’s love working through us) and the use of speaking in tongues (that is, in a new holy way or in a foreign language that you haven’t learned). I’ve written here about caritas and here about speaking in tongues. Both gifts are supernaturally given from God; caritas is a selfless love that enables you to love your enemies, and tongues simply means speaking in a language you haven’t learned or speaking with words you haven’t spoken before. TONGUES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BABBLING ON IN INCOMPREHENSIBLE GIBBERISH, unless you think Greek or German is incomprehensible gibberish. Tongues, in scripture, either refers to speaking a foreign language or speaking in a way that radically differs from how you used to speak (which is what happens when you’re born-again and start preaching and teaching the Word). Do not be fooled by people who tell you that speaking demonic utterances is speaking in tongues. They are lying to you, whether purposely or not. Be fools for God, not fools for deceivers.
Like the Gospels, Paul’s letters are dense and difficult to discuss in a read-through approach. Even so, God wants us to grab whatever jumps out at us now and hold onto it, because those are the things we’ll need to put into practice in the weeks and months to come.
What jumped out at you in today’s reading? How do you think you’ll be putting it into practice in the rough and rocky road that lies ahead? Whatever it is, maybe you should start practicing it now, so it will be second nature to you by the time you really need it.
The BIBLE READ-THROUGH schedule is presented in PDF directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 35: AUGUST 26
ACTS 6 – 28:31
Today we move deeper into the book of Acts, reading all the way through to the end. It’s telling that the book is called “Acts” and not “Belief” or “Faith”. Many Christians cherry-pick verses from the Bible and, based on those one or two verses, claim that you only need to believe to be saved or have faith to be saved, but the very title of this book says otherwise. Belief and faith alone are not enough to save you; you need to ACT to prove your belief and faith: You need to put your belief and faith into ACTION.
Even so, those actions will only bear good and lasting fruit if they are accomplished by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, not by our own strength. That’s why Jesus cautioned the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received “the promise of God” (the Holy Spirit), and then they could start their ministry.
Doing the works of the law (the ones that we read about [or skipped over…] back in Moses’ books) are not enough to be saved. You need to do what God guides you to do, and you need to do it in his power and in his time. Saying “no” to God when he guides you to do something is the same as being disobedient to him. You don’t want to be disobedient to God. Good things do not happen to people who are disobedient to God, as we’ve seen throughout the Bible.
- After initially focusing on the acts of the original 11 disciples, the book then switches gears and focuses on the acts of the new convert, Paul. Of all Jesus’ followers at that time, Paul was by far the most visible and most dedicated. After his conversion, he lived his life as Jesus had lived his – as an unemployed, unmarried, childless, homeless, possessionless itinerant preacher whose whole existence centered on preaching and teaching the Gospel. He lived and breathed God’s Word, just as Jesus had.
- We are all called to follow Jesus like Paul did. How closely does your life mirror that of Jesus or Paul?
- As with every other time I’ve read this book, I was struck by how Stephen’s final words, when he was being stoned to death, were a prayer to God to forgive those who were killing him. Jesus did the same on the cross. We need to pay attention to this. God says he’s in charge of doling out revenge. Our job is not to get even or to hold grudges, but to let God repay all offences done to us.
- Remember that Jesus said to be offended in nothing; if we’re offended in nothing, we won’t be holding grudges or looking for revenge. Our job is simply to choose to forgive and to pray for those who hate us and treat us badly. That means everyone. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. No exceptions at any time or for any reason.
- Remember, too, that Jesus told us that God doesn’t hear the prayers of those who have unforgiveness in their heart. If you’re having a hard time hearing from God lately, it’s likely not due to an earwax build-up, but to a grudge or resentment that’s clogging up your prayer line. Let the grudge and/or resentment go, and then you’ll hear clearly from God again. Take the time to practice forgiving now, because it will likely be your final test. It was for Jesus and Stephen. No-one with a hard heart gets into Heaven. You don’t want your final words on Earth to be a curse. Practice choosing to forgive now, and it will stand you in good stead when you need it most.
- In reading Acts, I was also struck again by how Paul didn’t fight against the Roman ptb when they arrested him. At no time did he fight against them. Neither did the other disciples fight against or protest the ptb. God had told Paul that he needed to go to Rome, so Paul permitted himself to be arrested in order to be taken to Rome as a prisoner. On the other hand, in situations where Paul was being attacked by angry mobs, God rescued him time and time again.
- There is a clear distinction between God rescuing Paul from mob attacks and God protecting Paul during his arrest and final incarceration in Rome. The same pattern played out with Jesus. Until it was their time to go home, they were constantly being rescued, but when it was their time, they submitted to the ptb and endured whatever they had to endure to the end. These scenarios are not just Bible stories; they are guidance for us. They are meant as an example of how we are not to submit to angry mobs (God will rescue us from those), but are to submit to authorities when our time has come. We’ll know it’s our time, because God will tell us. If he told Jesus and he told Paul, he’ll tell us.
- Paul was a genuine convert. Like most genuine converts, he signed up 110% for the program. He held nothing back. Even after God showed him how much he’d have to suffer, he still stayed the course. Genuine converts are unstoppable. That’s why there’s more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. God’s angels know that in genuine converts they’ve won a strong human ally on Earth. The ranks of God’s holy warriors are expanded every time someone genuinely repents and genuinely converts. The converts join the ranks of God’s holy warriors.
What do you think of the book of Acts? Do you see yourself anywhere in there? Do you relate to anyone in particular or wish you were more like a certain someone? Jesus is our main example of how we should live our lives, but Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and the others show us what “living like Jesus” looks like in the real world. We make mistakes. We disagree and fight with each other. We misapply and misinterpret scripture. We get tired and lost and hungry and sometimes need to get away from it all (like Jesus did).
But no matter what, we keep going. That’s what the book of Acts ultimately shows us – we need to live our faith and belief through actions, and that no matter how badly we mess up, we keep going. Even those with the greatest of belief and the greatest of faith occasionally messed up, but they kept going. They never gave up. That’s what made them great in God’s eyes. As Jesus says: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is posted below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 34: AUGUST 25
JOHN 1 – ACTS 5:42
I always have to take breaks when I read John’s Gospel. Jesus lays so much on the line, I need time to digest and absorb it. You get the sense that Jesus told John a lot more behind the scenes than he told the other disciples, and that these private revelations were then interspersed in this Gospel with Jesus’ public teachings.
- There are many themes in today’s reading, but three emerge in particular. The first is the overwhelming tyranny of the religious powers-that-be in Roman-occupied Israel. People were terrified to cross the chief priests, temple elders, Sadducees, etc., because it would mean certain punishment, such as getting cast out of the synagogue or being stoned to death. These guys didn’t fool around. They were tyrants in the truest sense. Even some Pharisees who believed that Jesus was the Messiah didn’t want to openly admit it, because they knew they would face the wrath of the religious ptb if they did. If they weren’t outright killed, they would at the very least lose their position in society and be run out of town, as Jesus was run out of Nazareth. Today’s cancel culture and government-by-mandate are hauntingly similar to the tyranny of first-century Israel.
- This tyrannical approach to governing also affected where Jesus could preach and teach, as he had to avoid areas where he knew he’d be arrested. Rather than command respect or serve as voices of Truth, the religious ptb ruled by fear, much like the Roman Catholic Church did during their 1000-year reign of terror known as the Inquisition. There was no God in what any of these tyrants did, even though they were supposed to be God’s servants.
- A second major theme in this reading is the move from brick-and-mortar worship to spiritual worship. Jesus tells the Samarian woman at the well that people don’t have to worship in any particular place anymore (including the temple in Jerusalem), because they can worship wherever they are in Spirit and in Truth – that is, sincerely, and through the presence of God’s Spirit. Jesus also states that the flesh (that is, the works of the law) are not the way to God; the only way to God is by the Spirit, because God is Spirit.
- There was enormous push-back to this doctrine, and Jesus lost a lot of followers when he introduced it. That’s because most people think of religion as a set of duties that you have to perform “religiously” (such as attend church, give to charities, volunteer your time at a homeless shelter, etc.) and to be seen doing these duties. Religion, for most people even today, isn’t something you do in private; it’s a public show of belief. But Jesus turned that assumption on its head, saying that prayer and worship should be done in private, and that all acts of the law were dead gestures. Jesus, in John’s book, was all about relationship-building, not church buildings.
- Which leads us to the third principle theme of today’s reading, which is our ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus and God. This doctrine was revolutionary at the time when Jesus first taught it, and for many still is today. Jesus taught that worshipping God and having a relationship with him were the same thing. Further, God was not only our God, but our Father, too. The same relationship Jesus, as Messiah, had with God we could also have. Many minds were blown at these revelations, but Jesus’ teachings were not really understood until Pentecost, when the first of Jesus’ disciples were born-again. Then, by the power of God’s Spirit, they understood what Jesus meant and started to experience the relationship for themselves.
- Overall, then, John’s Gospel emphasizes the spiritual aspect of Jesus’ teachings more than the other three Gospels. The OT was pretty much about doing certain things according to laws and statutes, so that worship meant checking off a pre-set list of to-do’s. But Jesus ripped up that list and showed us instead how to have an intimate relationship with God. To worship God was no longer to go into a temple or synagogue, but simply to be with him and to do whatever he advised you. The Ten Commandments still stood, but the rest of the law no longer had any standing.
- Today’s reading also starts us on the book of Acts, beginning with Jesus’ ongoing appearances for 40 days and 40 nights (God loves that time span!). We also see the spiritual rebirth of the disciples at Pentecost. From that point onward, Jesus is no longer on Earth in physical form, but he’s with us through God’s Spirit, just as he promised.
- In the first chapters of Acts, Peter emerges as a clear leader. Jesus was obviously grooming him throughout his ministry years, and even though Peter failed a very important test by denying he knew Jesus the night he was arrested, he was given another chance after he sincerely repented. God doesn’t give up on us if we don’t give up on him.
- Love the description of how the disciples were beaten and then rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name”. Contrast that to how, today, Christians are outraged when they face perceived persecution and then demand restitution. Christianity today is pretty much where the children of Israel were just before Jesus’ first coming – very worldly, precious little understanding of Truth, and near zero desire to learn it.
From what we read today, what can we apply to the government-by-mandate situation that’s growing worse day by day? Well, if we’re on the run, we don’t have to worry about attending church, because we carry our church with us. We are the church; no matter where we are, God and Jesus are with us, through God’s Spirit.
We also don’t have to worry about tyrannical powers-that-be, because Jesus never worried about them. He avoided them, even skirting entire areas to keep out of their clutches, but when they got in his face, he spoke God’s words that were given to him at that moment. We don’t have to fear the ptb; we should just be aware of what they’re up to and do our best to avoid them. Don’t purposely antagonize them, but don’t cave to them, either. They are the world. As long as you remain loyal to God, they have no power over you until it’s your time.
Finally, make sure you maintain your relationship with God and Jesus through God’s Spirit and through God’s Word. Having a strong relationship with God and Jesus is the key to surviving what is coming.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH appears in fabulous PDF directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 33: AUGUST 24
LUKE 9 – 24:53
“Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.” Jesus says this in response to a woman’s comment about how blessed his mother must be, to have him as a son. Note that Jesus doesn’t only say that those who hear God’s Word are blessed, but those who hear and keep it. The keeping is as important as the hearing, maybe even more important.
- Lots of people sit in pews on Sunday, hearing God’s Word, and then walk out of the building and live their lives like unbelievers. Yes, Mary was blessed to have Jesus as a son, but we’re all the more blessed, according to Jesus, if we both hear the Word and keep it. Jesus’ job was preaching and teaching the Word, as is ours when God gives us the signal. But it’s not our job to force people to keep God’s Word. That’s up to them, whether or not they want to keep it. Your job is (or will be) to preach and teach the Word, and theirs will be to keep it. And we are also held to the same standard, whether we’re already teaching the Word or still just learning it. It’s not enough just to hear it and teach it: You have to keep it.
- I mentioned, when introducing this Bible read-through nearly 40 days ago, that we’re going to need to feed on God’s Word, if we’re going to make it through what’s coming in the very near future. And if you’ve been paying attention to the news of the world over the past few days, you know what I’m talking about. The walls are closing in. The read-through is intended to get you immersed in the Word, like when you take a running leap off a dock and jump into a lake any old way, without worrying about your diving form. You can work on that later. All that matters right now is that you’re immersed in God’s Word and that it’s feeding you. And you need to stay immersed for the rest of your days, or you won’t make it home.
- Jesus says we have to both hear (or read) God’s Word and keep it. It’s a two-step process. But we can’t keep what we don’t hear. That’s one of the reasons why so many Christians have gone so far astray – they simply haven’t heard or read. They hear only what the worldly church wants them to hear, which usually concerns the importance of giving money to the church. No matter how compelling a sermon is, at some point it turns into a plea for donations. That’s how you know you’re in a worldly church.
- As Jesus said: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. God doesn’t require you to pay any money to hear his Word or to learn what you need to learn to survive your tests and temptations. If you feel compelled to give money for hearing God’s Word, you are dealing with a false prophet. Jesus said there would be a lot of those at the end of the times of the gentiles, and so there are, just as there were a lot of false prophets at the end of the times of the Israelites that marked Jesus’ first coming. More than anything else, false prophets are the sign of the end of an age and of a falling away. False prophets can only thrive where people don’t know and don’t keep God’s Word.
- Regardless of the time of the age, God’s Word stays the same. His directives stay the same. The Commandments don’t change. Treating others as we want to be treated doesn’t change. Loving our enemies doesn’t change. We see this exemplified in how Jesus handled his betrayal, arrest, torture, and execution. He didn’t waver from keeping God’s Word. He didn’t break the Commandments. He continued to treat others as he would want to be treated. And he even showed love and forgiveness towards those who were torturing and executing him. Nothing changed in how he kept God’s Word.
- Jesus is our example. We are his followers, which means we’re to live our lives as he lived his, and to respond to situations as he responded. That’s what it means to be his follower. But Jesus could not have done what he did in the face of such brutality if it weren’t for God guiding and strengthening him. He could not have done it on his own.
- We also will not be able to keep God’s Word without God’s help. The members of the early church who lived their lives on the run were supernaturally protected by God because they not only heard the Word, they kept it, whether it was convenient for them or not, and whether they felt like keeping it or not. They were under God’s protection because they chose his way; God will not protect those who choose against his way, even if they persist in calling themselves his children.
- The three Gospels that we’ve already read (Matthew, Mark and Luke) give similar retellings of the final hours of Jesus’ life on Earth in human form (that is, in an imperfect mortal body, such as the one we’re in now). He shares the Passover meal with his closest followers, instituting a new way to keep it in memory of him. Then he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. When he is fully strengthened and resolved (by God’s help, not that of his followers), he embraces his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, calmly goes with the soldiers arresting him, and submits to imprisonment. The next we see him, he is being tortured and then brought before Pontius Pilate and Herod, where he basically just repeats back to them what they say to him, but otherwise remains silent. He mounts no defence. After his sentencing, he is taken to be crucified.
- In none of this does he struggle against his accusers or torturers. In none of this does he curse them or taunt them. Knowing it’s his time and also his job, he submits to their abuse and then actually prays for them. This is Jesus modeling to us, his followers, that we’re to keep the Commandments, treat others as we want to be treated, and love our enemies, regardless of the circumstances. At no time did he try to escape. At no time did he lash out or struggle. At no time did he curse. By God’s strength and guidance, he endured in the same way he had endured for all of his time on Earth. Nothing changed in his response to the world.
- As I mentioned yesterday, I hate reading about Jesus being tortured. Maybe part of my hating to read about it is knowing that, as his follower and given the times, I will likely suffer the same or similar end as Jesus. All his followers will. Note that Jesus didn’t want to be tortured. He prayed until his sweat fell like drops of blood to get God to change the content if not the course of what had to be done, but God wouldn’t budge. Scripture had to be fulfilled, and Jesus finally accepted it. We need to accept it, too, because it’s scriptural that our end will also be nasty, if we’re genuinely a follower of Jesus – as is the master, so are the servants.
- Maybe part of the loathing I have for reading about Jesus’ torture and execution is knowing it’s waiting for me, too. Jesus didn’t want it and tried to find another way to accomplish the same outcome, but it wasn’t possible. We’ll likely also try to find some other way, when our time comes, but that’s when we need more than anything else not only to remember what we heard in God’s Word, but to keep it. That means no cursing our enemies, no struggling, no resisting, no grandstanding, no planning our defence in advance. We need to face whatever is coming our way exactly as Jesus faced it – on the move and avoiding it until it was his time, and then submitting to it.
Blessed are those who hear God’s Word, and keep it. It’s all well and good to read the Bible (we need to; it’s our mother’s milk), but it’s just as important to do what it says. Of all the words you’ve read over the past 33 days and nights (and all the words you’ve yet to read over the next 7), it will someday come down to whether or not you actually keep them. Your final test will be your hardest. Resolve now not only to hear but to keep God’s Word, so that when your time comes, you face it like Jesus.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 32: AUGUST 23
MARK 7 – LUKE 8:56
Much of Matthew’s gospel is reflected in Mark’s gospel (and vice-versa), but Luke’s gospel introduces some new stories about Jesus, so I’ll be highlighting those today. I’ll also continue to bang some people over the head about the importance of giving everything you’ve got to God, and by extension to Jesus in being his follower. I doubt that you would have read this far in the reflections if you aren’t already giving it everything you’ve got, by your own estimation. But there still might be a few things you’re holding back. Scripture says that God is the jealous type and wants us all to himself. If we expect him to protect us and provide for us and strengthen us, we need to do our part and give ourselves only to him.
- I left off yesterday’s reflection with Jesus giving the religious ptb an earful (not that they heard anything other than that they were being disrespected). One thing I didn’t mention was how Jesus cautioned his disciples and the people he healed (and the demons he cast out) not to tell anyone about him. It was like he wanted to move through the world anonymously. Why was that? The main reason was that the more his name and accomplishments became known to the Jewish and Roman ptb, the more of a target he was to them, as they were afraid he’d mess with their status quo and disrupt their plans. Jesus needed to keep a low profile as long as possible so that he could move from district to district, preaching and teaching the Word. We need to learn from that.
- False prophets love to have their names and deeds broadcast as far and wide as possible. They don’t have to worry about catching the attention of the ptb, because liars know liars as one of their own, so they’re in no danger from the world. We, on the other hand, need to keep our heads down over the next months and years, because like Jesus, we’re going to be targets. The less we comply with the dictates of mainstream society, the more outlaw we become and therefore the more targeted and vulnerable.
- God puts us on his rock, as David says, so that we can better see what’s around us and what’s coming, not so that we can make a spectacle of ourselves. God doesn’t support grandstanding. Jesus never grandstanded. He did everything low-profile, other than for the incident in the temple (which was a long time coming and well-deserved) and his triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Both of these needed to be done to fulfill scripture.
- So keep your eyes and ears open and your head down. God has put you on his rock so that you have the advantage of seeing and knowing. Use that advantage to your benefit, not your hurt. Let people know you’re a follower of Jesus, but don’t blare it. Shine it. Let them know not by an advertising campaign, but by your everyday words and deeds, like Jesus.
- The description of the end-times in Mark is much like the one in Matthew. But what’s important in the description is not that this follows that or this has to be done before that is done, but that we continue to do what we do as followers of Jesus. Nothing should change in how we interact with the world, whether it’s tribulation time or not. We still put God first in everything, we still keep the Commandments (ALL OF THEM), we still treat others as we want to be treated, and we still love our enemies. None of that changes. We aren’t suddenly given permission to kill people because it’s the tribulation. No. When Jesus says to get a weapon, we get a weapon, we use it as a deterrent, not as a tool to hurt or kill people. The Commandments still stand, regardless of the times we’re in.
- As followers of Jesus, we’re always to live with “loins girded”, that means, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. God will likely give you more than a moment’s notice, but maybe not. Maybe like Jesus says, you’ll be out somewhere away from wherever it is you’re living, and you’ll get the signal to leave without going back for so much as your jacket. Jesus doesn’t say this stuff to hear himself speak. God spoke directly through him, so when Jesus says to leave with just the clothes on your back, you leave with just the clothes on your back, because that’s God giving you orders. If you defy God (and you have the option to do that), things won’t go well for you.
- Many Christians now are focusing on preparing to survive the tribulation times. Many are also in panic mode. Jesus never panicked. He told us always to watch for the signs of the times and always to have our loins girded, ready to leave at a moment’s notice, but other than that it should be business as usual for us. We don’t stop putting God first in everything just because it’s the tribulation. We don’t stop keeping ALL the Commandments or stop treating others as we want to be treated. We don’t even stop loving our enemies. We maintain the Christian status quo, even in tribulation times. I don’t see Jesus changing anything, not at his arrest and not even at his crucifixion. I see him still putting God first in everything, still following the Commandments, still treating others as he wants to be treated, and still loving his enemies. None of those things should change as long as we’re on this Earth, tribulation or no tribulation. This is what it means to endure to the end.
- How we prepare for our daily needs also doesn’t change. I’ve written before about it, but it bears going over again. As followers of Jesus, the only prepping we need to do is stocking up on the Word of God and deepening our relationship with God and Jesus. That’s it, unless God tells us specifically to do something else. The thousands who came to hear Jesus teach were fed both spiritually and physically by God, through miracles. David and his men ate the showbread at the altar, even though it was meant for the priests only. God gave Jesus and his disciples permission to harvest and eat corn, even though it was a Sabbath. If you put God first in everything and follow Jesus, God will provide. Prepping not only shows weak faith but also lack of knowledge of God’s Word. That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this read-through now – to remind ourselves of how Jesus lived his life, because that’s how we should be living ours, and Jesus prepped only with prayer. Prepping of food and other supplies says to God: “I don’t trust that you’ll provide for me, so I’m stocking up as a Plan B. I’m also planting a garden as a Plan C.” Jesus never planted a garden and wasn’t in one place long enough to tend it, and yet God always provided for him, one way or another. We need to stop taking our cues from the world and from those who say they’re Christians but by their actions show they’re not. Followers of Jesus live as Jesus lived, and he never had a six-month stock of toilet paper. ‘Nuff said.
- Luke’s gospel goes into greater detail about John the Baptist than either Matthew or Mark, so we get more of the background story and also learn about the blood connection between John and Jesus. They were cousins on their mothers’ side. We don’t know how much time they spent together as children or teenagers, but we do know that John the Baptist knew that Jesus was very special and considered him to be a far greater prophet than he. Whether he truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah is up for debate. Had he believed, he wouldn’t have sent his followers to Jesus to ask if he was the Messiah. It’s possible that John’s blood ties with Jesus kept him from seeing Jesus as anything but his cousin who also happened to be an up and coming great prophet. Jesus’ mother was also limited to seeing him as the same – a prophet, but not the Messiah. Jesus stated that a prophet is not without honor except in his own home and country, and he was living proof.
- What does John the Baptist’s doubt in Jesus’ messiahship have to do with our relationship with Jesus? And how does it affect us in the months and years to come? First of all, Jesus was absolutely clear that his cousin was the prophesied prophet who would preach in the spirit of Elijah (Elias, in most translations). John the Baptist was the prophesied messenger. That meant that Jesus had to be the Messiah. Secondly, John was partially spiritually blinded by his relationship to Jesus and also by not being born-again. No-one had been born-again at that point; Jesus was born with the Spirit, but John was like the OT prophets – it was with him sometimes, but not all of the time. That’s why Jesus referred to John as being of a woman born rather than of God born – when you undergo spiritual rebirth, you’re born of God.
- These two points – John’s doubt in Jesus’ messiahship and John not being born-again – are not things that should hamper us in following Jesus. We should know beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus is the Messiah because we are genuinely born-again. If you have doubts about Jesus’ messiahship or about whether or not you’re actually reborn, you need to take it up with God in prayer right now, because if you’re not reborn, you won’t make it through what’s coming. You will falter and you will fall and you will stay down for the count. And none of those who stay down for the count will make it home.
- John the Baptist, of course, made it home, along with all the other heralds of Jesus (OT prophets). Spiritual rebirth was not granted at that time, so it wasn’t a requirement. But ever since the resurrection of Jesus, rebirth is a requirement. No rebirth = no ability to endure to the end = no Heaven as a reward.
I’ve purposely not gone over the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus yet. We’ll look at those chapters tomorrow, for all three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). I hate reading about how Jesus had to suffer, but we need to see how he handled it and learn from it, because suffering will definitely be on the menu for us in the months and years to come.
The PDF of the BIBLE READ-THROUGH schedule is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 31: AUGUST 22
MATTHEW 13 – MARK 6:56
Still can’t shake the feeling that we’ve gone from dark woods into a bright clearing, now that we’ve left the Old Testament behind and are in the new one. Don’t get me wrong – I love the OT. I love everything that has God’s Word in it. But there’s a whole different feeling in the New Testament compared to the old. Maybe it’s just because Jesus is in the building and gives God a reason to be happy for a while. Poor God! He gives us everything, and we still let him down! We should be grateful that at least Jesus gets it right: “Here is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased…. Listen to him.”
I’m going to do the reflections slightly differently for the last ten days of our read-through. The material is just too all-over-the-map to do a summary and it also repeats (in the Gospels). So instead of doing an overall impression, I’ll be cherry-picking chapters and verses here and there from the readings and doing a commentary on them. My focus will remain highlighting scripture that will be useful for us in the difficult months to come.
- The reading starts with the parable of the seeds. We’re all in that parable, whether we want to see ourselves in it or not. There are four options of who we could be. We’re either 1) the ones who have no time for God’s Word at all, or 2) the ones who accept God’s Word until it tries to push us past our comfort zone and then we let it go, or 3) the ones who would love to spend more time getting to know God and Jesus and putting the Word to work in our lives, but we’re just so slammed by our jobs and studies and family obligations and other things that keep getting in the way, that all we have time for is an hour on Sunday (though maybe not every Sunday….), or 4) the ones who give everything we’ve got to God, making mistakes and falling down but getting back up and keeping on going, and doing our best to do what’s right in God’s eyes, regardless of the personal cost.
- We’re all one of those four options. Let’s hope we’re the fourth one, and if we’re not, let’s aim to be the fourth. Because if you don’t give God and Jesus everything you have now, you’re not going to make it through the months and years to come. That’s just a spiritual fact of life that we all need to face and get right, before it’s too late.
- Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth must have been hard for him. These were people he grew up with and had lived among until he’d started his ministry work. His family was there, too. In fact, he was so familiar to these people, that they were blinded by him being the son of Mary and Joseph and couldn’t conceive that he just might also be the son of God. Their inability to make that leap of faith meant that Jesus could not do much beyond heal a few of them. The greater the faith, the greater the miracle.
- Is your faith strong enough for God to work through? If you suspect it might not be, you need to build your faith. How do you do that? The same way you build your muscles. Step out in faith, and your faith muscles get exercised and grow bigger. Wait for the witness of your eyes to confirm something, and your faith muscles will shrink and grow flabby. I don’t know about you, but I want to be spiritually buff and have six-pack faith abs, like Jesus. We can all have those. We just have to work our spiritual muscles whenever and wherever we can by doing what is right in God’s eyes, not necessarily in ours.
- The next sections of our reading today form a parade of miracles showing that Jesus was anything but just another prophet. He even outdid the miracles performed by Elijah and Moses, feeding thousands from just a few loaves and fishes and walking on top of the sea rather than having to part it to walk on dry land. I always find it amusing when unbelievers or even so-called Christians try to find a scientific basis for the miracles – that is, they try to explain the supernatural by using laws of nature. It can’t be done. These were miracles – they were beyond the laws of nature.
- The supernatural realm is the one that God operates in. He can also move things naturally, but moving them supernaturally is his specialty. Everything done supernaturally is done by his power and permission, and nothing can be done supernaturally without his power and permission. All supernatural beings are under his control, and every supernatural act that occurs on Earth has God as its source. The supernatural power may go through different beings (including humans), but there is only one source: God.
- I’ve had so many miracles happen in my own life that I’ve lost count. The biggest one, of course, was my spiritual rebirth. After I was born-again, God took me on a tour of my life and showed me all the things that had happened to me over the years that I couldn’t explain, and he said to me “I did that”. It all made sense then. Without knowing God, life on Earth doesn’t make much sense. We try to cobble together meanings, but they eventually contradict one another or fail to explain something altogether. When you know God, everything clicks into place. He is the one thread that you pull to unravel all of life’s mysteries.
- Poor Peter! He was the first of the disciples to be called by Jesus, and also the most headstrong. He assumed a kind of co-pilot position with Jesus, not only because of his strong personality and the fact that he was the first to be called, but also because Jesus was grooming him to take on the leadership role. Peter did, in fact, become the leader after Jesus went home to Heaven. In this reading, we see Jesus, in one verse, commending Peter for knowing by God’s grace that he was the Messiah, and then in the next verse, chewing Peter out for “thinking as man thinks, not as God thinks”. Peter was being groomed to lead, and leaders have a tougher training regime than non-leaders. Think about that the next time you’re going through something you know is straight from God. “Those to whom more is given, more will be expected.”
- The parable of the rich young ruler continues our theme today of what it takes and what it costs to be a genuine follower of Jesus. You need to follow the Commandments, yes. You need to treat others as you want to be treated, yes. You need to love your enemies, yes. But you also need to be willing to walk away from everything and everyone you love, cherish and value and not look back. This is the one that makes most Christians squirm and go “but, but, but”, like the rich young ruler.
- It’s all well and good to say “I’m a Christian”, when the only thing that demarcates you from everyone else in the world is that you wear a cross or go to church on Sunday. I’m not telling you that you need to be willing to leave everything and everyone you love; JESUS is telling you that you need to be willing to leave everything and everyone you love, including your spouse and kids. All the disciples left their jobs and houses and families when they were called to follow Jesus. Following Jesus became their full-time occupation. In fact, it was a training time for them, so that when Jesus went home to Heaven, they could take his place and teach others how to follow him. If you’re not either full-time following Jesus or full-time teaching others how to follow Jesus, you need to realign your priorities or you’ll be stuck in the same hole as the rich young ruler.
- Jesus’ take on marriage, divorce, and adultery is crystal clear. Even so, I have heard preachers defend divorce and remarriage (while the divorced spouse is still alive) by changing the meaning of the terms. Jesus says that fornication is the sole grounds for divorce (an example of this is when his mother fell pregnant prior to the consummation of her marriage). No other reason is considered justified in God’s eyes. And yet, most allegedly Christian households are now remarriages with the divorced spouses still alive. This goes 100% against Jesus’ teachings on marriage and divorce.
- If you’re in a situation where you’re living in violation of Jesus’ teachings, you need to take a good hard look at your priorities. You need to consider whether you’re going to continue violating those teachings or do the right thing and follow Jesus’ advice. It’s up to you, but doing the right thing and following Jesus is obviously the better choice. Jesus says those who love husband or wife more than they love him are not worthy of him. Those who are not worthy of him won’t have a shot at Heaven. If you’re in this situation, please choose Jesus. Now is not the time to put things off until later.
- The parable of the two sons is the story of most born-again believers. We said no to God at first, but were reborn and have since said yes, whereas many who were “born into the faith” said yes as a matter of course, but ended up doing nothing beyond showing up in church every now and then. That’s not to say that all those who grew up as Christians fell away, but many did, and the rest tend only to do the bare minimum (church once a week). It’s the born-agains who started out a mess, but who then ended up saying yes and continue to say yes. That’s the main reason why Jesus said you need to be born-again to enter the Kingdom. If you’re not born-again, Christianity doesn’t make much sense beyond being nice to people (and you don’t need to be a Christian to be nice to people).
- The marriage dinner of the king, with the invited guests who made excuses, one after the other, of why they couldn’t attend, continues our theme today. What excuse have you made not to do what’s right in God’s eyes, not to give up everything you have in order to follow Jesus? We’ve all made excuses. I don’t stand here separate from you; I’ve made excuses, too. But it’s not what we’ve done before; it’s what we’re willing to do now, knowing what’s right.
- “Many are called; few are chosen.” If you’ve been called (and if you’re reading this, you likely have been), then you need to be doing everything in your power to be chosen. It’s not enough to be called; you also need to be chosen. The guy who got into the wedding feast but wasn’t wearing the right robe got the boot. You can call yourself a Christian and do “Christian things” (like go to church, wear a cross, feed the poor, go to Bible study, etc.), but if you don’t keep the Commandments as Jesus taught us to keep them (including the one about marriage and divorce), and if you don’t treat others as you want to be treated, and if you don’t love your enemies, and if you’re not genuinely born-again – your chances of being chosen are not great. That doesn’t mean that you can’t up your odds by starting to do today what you know is right in God’s eyes. But if you know you’re doing something that isn’t right and you persist in doing it, good luck being chosen.
- Heaven is not something so cheap that just anyone gets in. Jesus says it’s for those who are willing to walk away from everything in their lives to follow him. There’s no mystery there; Jesus means exactly what he’s saying. And if you need an example, look at the disciples. Every one of them walked away from who they were to become who they needed to be in order to be chosen. They were called, but they weren’t yet chosen. They had to be proved before they could be chosen. Judas Iscariot was called like the rest of them were called, but he clearly wasn’t chosen.
- Jesus’ head-buttings with the religious powers-that-be must have been a sight to behold! Remember that the Sadducees and Pharisees, etc., were the highly educated, well-to-do, and well-connected class, and Jesus was (in their eyes) just the son of a carpenter from a have-not part of the country. Their open disdain for him must have been intense. But Jesus not only gave as good as he got, he bested them every time, even up to and including during his mock trial when his silence in the face of their accusations caused them to contradict themselves. I can imagine God looking down on the battles and saying “Good one, son!” whenever Jesus scored a point.
- We’re all going to have run-ins with the religious ptb (some of us have already had them) if we’re genuinely born-again and genuinely following Jesus, because the religious ptb are as much our enemies as they were Jesus’. Some of the ptb are now openly anti-christ, teaching doctrines that violate every Commandment. The religious ptb today and all their adherents in the worldly church are exactly like those in Jesus’ day, so we can expect the same head-buttings that Jesus experienced and likely the same death as he and his followers endured. This is the price of being not only called, but proved and chosen.
- The rest of today’s reading concerns the end of the world and Jesus’ crucifixion. The descriptions of these events are more or less the same as those in tomorrow’s reading, so I’m going to end my Sunday sermon (lol) here and pick up tomorrow at Mark’s end-times chapter.
Hope you’re enjoying the read-through as much as I am and seeing all kinds of new things you hadn’t seen before. God loves feeding his children when they’re hungry!
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 30: AUGUST 21
ZECHARIAH – MATTHEW 12:50
Today is a very special day in our read-through. Not only are we now officially three-quarters of the way through our Bible journey, we also turn the corner from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and we see the fruit of the labours of all the prophets in the person of Jesus.
But even more important than that (and you ask what could possibly be more important than that?!) – TODAY IS ZACHARY’S BIRTHDAY!
Zachary was named for the prophet Zechariah and is the much loved son of Brian, who sent me a note a while back to say he would be participating in the Bible read-through. Brian let me know that his son Zachary was named after the prophet and that when he, Brian, was mulling whether or not to do the read-through, God showed him that our reading of Zechariah took place exactly on Zachary’s birthday (August 21). Brian knew then and there that the read-through had his name written all over it, and decided to join in. I promised Brian we’d give Zachary a shout-out on his big day, so here it is:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ZACHARY!
I also promised Brian that we’d send some prayers Zachary’s way. We know better than to pray in public and make a show of it, so let’s quietly and in the privacy of our heart include Zachery in our prayers today, asking God to give Zachary a wonderful wonder-filled birthday full of everything and everyone that makes him happy, and to let him know that he is deeply loved by his family and by God.
ALL THE BEST TO YOU, ZACHARY, ON YOUR SPECIAL DAY!
- Zechariah is a powerhouse among prophets. Like others before him, he warns the Israelites to turn back to God or suffer the consequences of their rebellion. Zechariah prophesied during the years of the Israelites’ return to their land from Babylon, including during the rebuilding of the temple. His visions mostly concern the end-times and the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people. We’ll see some elements of his visions again later in the book of Revelation.
- The prophet deeply understood that God’s promise was to those who sincerely worshiped God and that it would take the form of a spiritual realm. In one of his visions of Jerusalem, he says that God will be the wall of fire around the city and the glory in the midst of it, so that there will be no need for actual physical walls or a physical temple. This is spiritual Zion, spiritual Jerusalem, the holy mountain and the Kingdom of God – different names for the same place – that is a constant theme of the OT prophets and that finally has its fulfillment in Jesus. The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago heralded the coming of the Kingdom.
- Malachi’s book ends the Old Testament with a final warning to God’s people. But instead of heeding the warning like the Ninevites heeded Jonah’s warning, the Israelites are defiant against the accusations. They see nothing wrong in how they live their lives or worship God. They think of themselves as ‘good people’, and are resentful of being called out for their sin of hypocrisy.
- As a contrast, Malachi describes another group of people who “spoke often one to another” about God, and who sincerely worshiped in Spirit and in Truth (as Jesus later describes). These people will be rewarded with the promise of God. Malachi prophesies that God makes a clear division between those who sincerely serve him and those who only appear to serve him. You’ll want to make sure that you’re one of those who sincerely serves God, because the ultimate reward of the hypocrites is the same as that of the wicked.
- Reading the opening lines of the New Testament was to me like walking into a bright and sunny clearing after days of wandering through dark woods. I even pored over every word of the genealogy, I was so happy to have finally arrived in Jesus Land! I first read the New Testament of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on the day I was reborn. I’ve since read it so many times I’ve lost count, but each time it’s just as fresh and invigorating as it was the first day I read it. Today was no exception.
- When Jesus makes his first public appearance as the Messiah and is recognized by John the Baptist as such, I hung on to his every word. Not surprising, Jesus’ first public directives were that he and we should do all that is required of us by God, even if we don’t understand at the time.
- The first twelve chapters of Matthew’s book cover the birth of Jesus up to the early days of his ministry. He chooses his disciples, who immediately drop everything to follow him, and he lays out the foundation of his doctrine during the so-called sermon on the mount, much like Moses did at Mount Sinai. And already in the first few chapters we see Jesus going head-to-head with his real enemies (the religious powers-that-be) while preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God not only to the children of Israel who had gone astray, but also to those who were too poor to have received a formal education in scripture.
- A big feature of Jesus’ early ministry years was his miraculous healings. Nothing was beyond his healing powers, which came from God. He gave to his chosen disciples the same ability to heal. That miraculous ability is still with us today, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. No other intervention is required.
- Jesus also warned his disciples to preach and teach and heal for free. No donations button; no request for ministry support. FOR FREE. Period. Those who are truly God’s people well know and follow this directive. As for those who don’t, “by their fruits shall ye know them”, and God will deal with them in his time.
- Today’s NT reading is truly too rich to go into every detail, but the overall thrust is that the Kingdom has come in the person of Jesus, that the summation of the law and the prophets is to treat others as we want to be treated (including our enemies!), and that we should put God first in everything we do, even and especially if it involves a complete and total leap of faith.
I hope you’re as thrilled as I am to have finally come out of the OT woods and into the clearing of the New Testament. I love reading about Jesus, and even though he’s all over the OT, he takes center stage in the NT. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. This is our joy and our very great pleasure – to read Jesus’ words, which are God’s Word, straight from the source.
It’s a time for a celebration as we enter the final stretch of our 40-day journey together, and how fitting that it’s also time for a birthday party!
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 29: AUGUST 20
JOEL – HAGGAI 2:23
Today’s reading truly is a parade of prophets! We cover nine books, so obviously we can’t do the justice to each book that it deserves. However, we can touch on specific aspects and note how all nine books share similar themes of warning, punishment, repentance, restoration, and, of course, Jesus and his Kingdom. There are also some horrifying end-times scenarios that are referred to (and in some cases reworked) later in the New Testament. As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry – there are no “minor” prophets in scripture, just some prophets who have shorter books than others. No-one who faithfully speaks God’s Word can be considered minor.
- In describing his vision of the Day of the Lord (i.e., the day of God’s final vengeance), Joel presents a terrifying scenario. He sees soldiers who are not quite human (or not at all human) and who display super-human or better said supernatural abilities, such as walking up walls and not being wounded by what should be fatal blows. These beings are described as having a horse-like appearance. We’ll read about them in greater detail in the book of Revelation. Here in Joel, we learn that the role of these super-human supernatural beings is to utterly destroy the earth with fire to the point where rebuilding is impossible – before them is an Eden, behind them is a wasteland. Reading about this scenario that is prophesied to come to pass (and it will come to pass), we can only hope that we’re not still around when these beings are set loose on the world, as “nothing shall escape them”.
- In stark contrast, we also read in Joel about the age when God’s Spirit will be poured out “on all flesh”, not just on prophets from among the tribes of Israel. Remember that during Joel’s time, God’s Spirit visited very few people. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension that the Holy Spirit started to be poured out on genuine followers of Jesus through spiritual rebirth. This has continued for the past nearly 2000 years. Most of those who have received God’s Spirit through rebirth are not genetically children of Israel, though spiritually they are. Ever since Jesus, the bloodline has been spiritual, not genetic.
- After describing a global war scenario, Joel ends his book with a prophecy about Zion, the holy mountain, and spiritual Jerusalem, which we know from previous readings all refer to the same spiritual realm. No “strangers” will pass through this place; in other words, only God’s people are there. It will be a place of peace and plenty, and where there is rest and safety from spiritual enemies. This is a classic description of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as established by Jesus. If you’re genuinely born-again, you live there now. (Thank you, God, and thank you, Jesus!)
- Amos prophesied during the same time as Isaiah and Hosea, and so saw the same problems as the other prophets. Amos’s book presents a litany of sins committed by the enemies of Israel and Judah, as well as sins committed by Israel and Judah. The prophet warns that the children of Israel are being punished in the form of drought, crop failure, sickness, war, etc., as a wake-up call. If the wake-up call isn’t heeded through genuine repentance, worse will follow in the form of total destruction. Preceding the destruction will be “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord”. This, by far, is the worst form of punishment – to be separated from God. Yet those days are coming, and in some parts of the world are already here.
- Amos’s book ends with another prophecy of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as does the book of the next prophet in our parade today, Obadiah. However, Obadiah’s main prophecy concerns the vengeance that God will wreak on Edom (that is the children of Esau, Jacob’s brother who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew). The Edomites participated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the surrounding cities. As their reward, and despite their heritage, Obadiah prophesizes that Edom will be allotted the same punishment as the rest of the heathen; God will put no distinction between them. Meanwhile, the children of Esau’s brother Jacob (that is, Israel) will once again be blessed by God after they repent.
- This is a theme that runs through all of the prophecies in today’s reading – the blessings that will come to God’s people after their repentance. It is made particularly clear in the book of Jonah. Unlike most of the prophets, we’re not given a time frame for this book. Maybe that’s for the better, because it reads somewhat like the book of Job – a timeless cautionary tale of God’s ultimate goodness and mercy to those who do what’s right in his eyes.
- At first, Jonah runs from doing God’s will, but he ends up causing grief to everyone around him in the form of a storm at sea. Not wanting the others to perish for his own sin, Jonah throws himself into the water and is swallowed by a whale. While in the whale, he repents and prays to God. God hears his prayers, gets the whale to vomit Jonah onto dry land, and off Jonah goes to the do the deed he ran from initially – to warn Nineveh to repent or suffer destruction.
- To Jonah’s surprise, the people of Nineveh immediately repent in sackcloth, and God changes his mind about destroying the city. But instead of being happy about this outcome, Jonah is angry and depressed, so depressed, in fact, that he wants to die. Jonah believes that Nineveh should have been destroyed for its sins, not spared, but God explains to him that the people of Nineveh are so lacking in perception that they “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand”. Even so, they repented when warned. If God had destroyed them despite their repentance, it would not have been just. The book doesn’t say, but we can only assume that Jonah eventually comes around to see things as God does. God is merciful to the genuinely penitent. This is good information that we can use.
- The last five books of today’s reading (Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Haggai) all share similar themes of denouncing the sins of Israel and Judah, calls to repentance, and punishment both to the enemies of the children of Israel and Judah, and to the children of Israel and Judah themselves if they refuse to repent. The rich Jews who mislead and feed off the poor Jews are given a special shout-out in Micah as deserving of particular punishment by God. It’s also worth noting that the book of Haggai reports the beginning of the rebuilding of the second temple and a return to Jerusalem, as inspired by God through the remnant of his penitent people and through the King of Babylon at the time. Through these five prophets, God promises Israel and Judah the same reward he promises through all the other prophets – admission to his holy mount Zion if they repent, stay the course, and do his will.
- Also, and as with the other books of prophecy we’ve read over the past week, Jesus and God’s Kingdom appear throughout these books as well. Jesus clearly and openly dominates the NT, but he also dominates the OT, though in an indirect and mostly figurative way; God purposely hides him behind veiled speech. Nonetheless, Jesus and his Kingdom are what God’s people are striving for over the more than 2000 years of their journey to the empty cave.
I hope you enjoyed the parade today! It can be a bit frustrating at times if you want to stop and mull over a particular chapter or verse, but the purpose of the read-through is to grab what you can and keep moving. When we finish our 40-day journey, we’ll have time then to return to whatever is calling to us in some special way.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.