Devotional 57: In Vain They Worship

Defilement Comes from Within

15 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; [a] and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’[b] But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’[c]Thus you have made the commandment[d] of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And[e] honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”[f]

We are implored by Jesus to come, take, learn, and find rest when we exchange our yoke for His (Matthew 11:28-30), yet the Pharisees burdened themselves and the people with trimmings, trappings, and rituals that added to the Father’s commandment, while at the same time absolving themselves of keeping the Law.

Do we render the the commandments of G-d to no effect, not only through our traditions, but also through our desires? If we are honest, we all have the potential.

We too, as believers who love G-d amid our own struggles, have from time to time asked ourselves this question since the time of Eden: Did G-d really say….? in order to gratify our flesh in the immediate moment.

The self is a powerfully tempting spiritual stronghold for evil, and it is through our frailty  of mastering it that we are brought to suffering. For if Heaven is paradise, surely feeling good here on Earth is justified.

What we forget in pursuing earthly pleasure is that it’s fleeting at best, and damaging at worst.

We are to worship G-d in spirit and truth (John 4:24)

We are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Luke 10:27)

We are to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3)

We are to acknowledge that every good thing comes from Him (James 1:17)

And we are to give Him thanks and praise (Psalm 150:6)

The modern world sees this as outdated, imaginary, foolish, and limiting, when in fact it puts a hedge of protection around us and our loved ones since our lives are living stones, ministering to a lost and dying, dry and thirsty, spiritually bankrupt and morally compromised world.

Brothers and Sisters, let us be in the Word, which G-d says is higher than His Name, which is a lofty height indeed, since His Name is above all others. Determine for yourself to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Corinthians 2:2), with the promise of his power to restore us to life through faith in Him, raising us on the last day.

That’s all we need to know, and all we’ll ever need.

The rest is for the fire.

Let our worship not be in vain, for the sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. Let s not be taken in by the empty, erroneous, and transient doctrines of men seeking control, wealth, power, and vanity, thanking G-d they are not like the poor man standing next to them, instead of thanking Him for their blessings.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We are grateful that You speak to our weakness in doing that which we know You’ve commanded us. We thank You for the things we know of You, and revealing the Father’s will to us through grace, reconciling us to Him through faith in Your atoning work.

Those things the Father has hidden are, as King David said, knowledge to wonderful for us to attain (Psalm 139:6) We can no more fathom the Father’s mind than we can know all there is to know about His creation.

From where we stand, we are baffled that He made us at all, since it cost Him to send You to die for us, that we might be sinless before Him. On our best days as servants, we are bumbling and inept before You, and it is You who add to the numbers, and the Spirit who strikes the heart with conviction and reveals the Truth of the Word.

Yet the Father says He will return to us if we return to Him. (Zecharia 1:3)

So let us go to the House of the Lord, if not physically, then in our hearts and thoughts.

Let’s anoint our lips with oil to praise, light the incense of our hearts to give thanks, and make our worship pleasing to Him.

Lord Jesus, edify us, and seal the Word to our heats and minds, that we may not add men’s foolish doctrines to it and render the Father’s Word to no effect. Let its double-edge cleave knowledge and wisdom from foolishness and vanity.

In Your Name, we ask it.

Amen

Devotional 16: They were Astonished at Him

The only story we have of Jesus as a child outside of the Christmas story is found in the second chapter of Luke, where Jesus was missing for three days after his parents had returned to Nazareth, each thinking He was with the other.

 

In Luke 2:46 – 47 we read:

    46) Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking questions. 47) And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

These words come again with Christ as an adult in Luke 4: 31-32:

   Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. 32) And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.

The occurrences of the words ‘astonishment’ followed by ‘authority’ appear several times throughout Jesus’ ministry, because His authority, His claims to divinity and being the Son of God, never wavered.

Who He was, and why He came never changed in His preaching, despite the intense pressure the religious leaders brought to bear on Him to recant.

His words were consistent regarding the issues surrounding our salvation, and His call to it consisted of three essential parts:

 

  • Repent: God will not wink at sin or compromise on what His Word says. In Psalm 138:2 David writes that the Lord God has exalted His Word above His Name, therefore if His Name is above all names, how do we get to thinking that He will nullify or compromise His Word, and therefore it doesn’t apply?

  

  • Believe: The Father will not brook doubters, for we read in the Gospel of John 3:18: He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

 

  • Follow: The Father will only acknowledge those who acknowledge His Son. In John 15:23 we read: “He who hates Me hates My Father also.”

And when Jesus was transfigured on the high mountain, we have the second manifestation of God’s approval of His work, as we had at the beginning of His ministry, when He came to John the Baptist.

In Matthew 17:5 we read:

     And while (Peter) was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

       We have other admonitions by Jesus to take up our crosses, count the cost, forsake that which we love for His sake, and to be ready for persecution.

These are admittedly not easy, but for the sake of our salvation, if Jesus teaches with astonishing authority, the uniqueness and consistency of His words are designed to penetrate, to reach us, to break down our resistances and remove our excuses for not doing them

In effect, they sift those who claim to believe from those who truly believe.

We have, interceding on our behalf, not only the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Chief Judge, but also a Master Teacher whose words are still being discussed some 2,016 years after His birth, even to the point of denying His existence.

Such is the manner of bold, authoritative teaching.

Take the Gospel seriously, because it’s not pick-and-choose, and it’s best you not be found lukewarm with one foot in the world.

Our Lord has overcome the world, and He is the Living Word.

As He overturned the money tables, so too, will He flip backwards and topple all who seek to wink at God’s mercy and say, “I’ll do it at the end.”

The ‘end’ may come suddenly, and sooner than you think, and you’ll have died in your sins, as well as your ‘sleep.’

Therefore I pray:

      Father in Heaven, make me to understand the neediness of my time, and give me what I need to change what has to be changed in my own life, and to affect the lives of others for Your kingdom.

      Help me, like Issachar’s sons, to understand the times, and know what to do.

     Help me to subject myself to the authority my Lord and Savior would wield over me as He teaches me to follow Him into Your Presence, in reverence to You, in faithfulness to Him, and in obedience to Your Holy Spirit.

     By the Power of His Blood and in His Holy Name I ask it, believing I have already received.

      Amen.

 

 

 

Devotional 12: “Unless you repent…” (Luke 13: 1-5)

Repent or Perish

13 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Lord Jesus dispels the concept of ‘worse sinners’ receiving ‘worse punishment’ (except when he berates the cities that didn’t repent and believe in Him though he performed works in them; Matthew 11: 20 – 22)

The key is to repent, but today, in addition to not wanting to call sin, ‘sin,’ we remain unsure of what that means or looks like.

Various definitions and parameters set by denominations only serve to confuse us further.

Hollywood portrays it as just a matter of saying ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s an apology, not forgiveness.

Sins, once committed, can’t be undone, and as Paul says, the battle between flesh and spirit is one we will fight until our final day. But as he also says, we’re not to go on sinning so grace may abound (Romans 6:1)

Proverbs says we will perish ‘without remedy’ (Proverbs 29:1) if we keep hardened necks and refuse to bow.

We must confess (agree with God you’re in sin, then confess to God, and to our brethren, not to a priest; we have a high priest that has made atonement already).

It is simply not possible without God’s help to live a sinless life, but we can get as close as we ever will if we keep our vision focused, guard our hearts, place a watch over our mouths, and make a covenant with our eyes. These will be imperfect, but we are called to come out of the world, and so we must do our best, and repent when we fail at that.

Therefore I pray.

I thank You, O Lord, for your long-suffering mercy.

Without it, for the things I’ve looked upon, I should be struck blind.

For the things I’ve coveted, I would lose my hands.

For the unforgiving hardness of my heart, which was once softened by the healing balms of Your mercy and grace toward me, and once basked in the warm promises of Your holy Word, I would burn eternally for having turned my lukewarm back to You, to revel in worldly pleasures, mocking Your sacrifice and the coming Judgment.

And like King Saul, die in my sins of disobedience, having played the fool.

Therefore now, Lord Jesus, I come once again to You, reeking of the world, unable to stand in Your presence, to ask once more, like a beggar, for you to clean and purify me, that I may stand among the spotless and blameless of Your selection, before the white throne, where the children of the Lord, the sons and daughters of the king, the righteous, do not beg.

Forgive my doubting, help my unbelief, and rub the mud of Your mercy over my spiritual eyes, so they would open more fully, be more perceptive and discerning, and bold to test, rebuke, cast out, and restore to Yourself a straying soul.

 I would not be a greater sinner in Your sight, that I would perish from Your sight forever.

Remember me, O Lord, when  You come to claim Your bride.

Or let me meet you in the air, beloved Savior, and pull me from this hellish husk of flesh; cast my sins from me, and dry my tears that I may dwell in the House of the Lord forever, because Your goodness and mercy followed me all the days of my earthly life, into eternal life.

By the Power of Your Holy Name, I ask it,

Amen