Did you ever consider that a fly who comes in your house and is trapped inside could be a violation of the law?
I didn’t until last week.
The rabbi’s and Pharisees gave so much thought to what breaking the Sabbath would entail that they allowed an exception under the “Trapping” heading to allow for a fly who inadvertently came into your house and was “trapped” there was not a violation of the Sabbath law. Sabbath law prohibited trapping animals on the Sabbath.
In fact there were 39 different laws to keep the Sabbath, just to make sure they kept the Sabbath. If you’re interested, you can find them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/39_Melachot.
After reading this list and the many nuances that were included, it is no wonder that the Pharisees were able to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law when they caught Jesus and his disciples eating heads of grain on the Sabbath. This was a form of “reaping” which was prohibited from being done on the Sabbath.
Mark 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
After looking at the 39 Sabbath laws, I would have been relieved when the Sabbath was over! What a stressful environment to make sure you didn’t break the Sabbath by breaking one of the 39 laws or some nuance of it.
But this is what Jesus seeks to shift. The Sabbath was not given for man to set up a bunch of rules around it and spend the day keeping the rules. The Sabbath was given to be a day of rest physically and spiritually. God knew the bodies he created needed rest and he knows the souls that he created needed connection with him. So he gave this commandment (Exodus 20:8-11):
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The Sabbath was a gift of God to mankind to enjoy rest. Man had turned it into a law to be obeyed.
When we turn God’s gifts into laws, we miss the blessing of the gift. This can happen today as well in the church. This week we’ll challenge ourselves with the question, “Is the church about Christ or customs?” While the answer may seem obvious and easy, the faithful practice of a focus on Christ is challenging to maintain.
Apply: Listen to the full message from Sunday (see link above). Evaluate: What customs in the Church do well to point people to Jesus and which ones do you perceive don’t. I’d love to hear your answers if you would email to email@example.com.
Prayer: Lord, help me to always keep you at the forefront of life and church so that man-made customs don’t cloud you out.
Been reading these devotions for a while and wish to dig deeper into the truths of the Bible? A new Foundations class begins Wednesday, June 9 at 7:30pm via Zoom. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org for materials and link information.
It’s happened to me. I’ve helped others with the same issue. It’s probably happened to you.
You get out the saw horses (or whatever project you’re working on). You place your boards on them. You measure where you need to cut. You pick up your circular saw and line it up…pull the trigger…and…nothing but a “click”!
“Nuts. I forgot to plug it in.”
We all have tried to use a tool, appliance or computer and found it did nothing and realized we didn’t have it plugged into a power source.
You can have all the parts to do a project, but without power, the project moves nowhere.
So it is in the Church.
We have the love of the Father. We have the completed saving work of Jesus. Why doesn’t the church explode with growth and new souls entering faith in Jesus?
The love of the Father and the saving work of Jesus have no effect on the hearts of people without the POWER of the Holy Spirit.
All the efforts of people to find God, reach out to him, do good and avoid evil end up empty except their heart is changed by the POWER of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus in his discussion with Nicodemus said it this way: John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Only the Spirit of God can bring life to a spiritually dead soul. Only with the POWER of the Spirit can we believe in Jesus and live for him. Consider these truths from the God’s Word:
1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:4 (remember Peter’s denial…here’s 50 days later…) 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
The power of God’s Spirit is what works through the Word of God to lead each of us to believe, to live and to die in the Lord. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that brings spiritual life to spiritually dead souls. It is the power of the Spirit that gathers together people who believe in Jesus to be the Church and gives gifts to these individuals for works of service. 1 Corinthians 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
Martin Luther in the 1500s captured the work of the Holy Spirit this way:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
The power of the Spirit leads us to trust the saving work of Jesus so we might live in and live out the love of the Father in our lives and in the lives of others.
Plug into the Spirit…and see what he empowers you to do and be!
Apply: Set aside daily time to be in the Word of God…this is the way you plug into the power of the Spirit of God. Also, take some time to memorize Luther’s’ explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles Creed (the last quotation above).
Prayer: Spirit of God, come with your power to strengthen my faith and enable me to live a life of faith today. Amen.
Have you ever thought about the ramifications of the Church drifting from a main focus on the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ?
The only other option that presents itself if I am not pointing people to believe in and rely on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is to point people to rely on themselves and their effort to be right with God and have some chance of eternity with him.
But here’s what happens…
If I focus on earning my way into heaven by my personal effort instead of relying on the completed work of Christ, I can easily become a Pharisee. My eyes shift from the cross to another person and I satisfy my longing to be good enough by finding people that are worse than I am. My eyes shift to putting on an outward show that looks really pious and perfect, but I spend little time developing my heart to believe and trust in the Lord. I become what Jesus condemned:
Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! ….28… on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
If I focus on proving the validity of my faith or rely on how well I live the Christian life to assure me of salvation, I leave my peace, comfort and hope up to my imperfect daily performance. What happens is I become like the Pharisees and add rules that God never said to make sure I am “REALLY” being a Christian. I make sure I don’t get close to committing adultery by saying all dancing is wrong. I make sure I don’t get drunk by saying all alcohol is wrong. I load up burdens on people’s shoulders that they can’t bear on their own. I become what Jesus condemned:
Luke 11:46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
If in anyway I lead people to rely on anything or anyone but Jesus for eternal life, I become what Jesus condemned:
Matthew 23:13-14 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Nicodemus was one of these Pharisees, and I can easily become one too. It’s what leads people to see the church as hypocritical and full of rules and rituals and people who are judgmental.
Jesus taught Nicodemus,
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
When we keep Christ and HIS work at the heart of the Church, the rest begins to fall into place…including our Christian life…the one that pleases Jesus:
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
This is the heart of the Christian church.
Apply: Review the amazing work of Jesus as Martin Luther captured it:
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for doing what I never could…living a perfect life, dying for the punishment of sin and rising again…so that I can be with you forever. AMEN.
“For God so loved the world…”
This phrase is probably one of the best known from the Bible as it starts John 3:16. Probably better known and accepted than the first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Yet the two are dependent on each other.
Man didn’t just evolve and then one day God showed up on the scene and decide to love the people of the world. God loved the world because he CREATED the world. It’s his world!
I can’t speak of God’s love without acknowledging God as creator. God loves what he created.
If we are a product of random chance, millions of years and relegated to a higher form of the animal kingdom, God would not be part of the picture, let alone have a deep desire to share a relationship with people forever.
But he is part of the picture.
On day six of creation he created Adam and Eve and brought them together in the first marriage as well as in the first gathering of the “church.” At the essence of church was God’s relationship with his people and they with him. It’s how he created and designed not only the world but the church to be.
So when sin broke that relationship in Genesis 3, God’s love didn’t stop. He didn’t give up, but initiated a plan to bring the people of the world back into a right relationship with him.
“…that he sent his one and only Son…”
Our world has drifted away from a biblical worldview of the origin of things and so it makes sense they have drifted away from God and having an interest in a relationship with him.
But God hasn’t drifted. Like the Father in the parable Jesus told of the “Waiting Father/Prodigal Son” he waits with a heart of love to welcome each person back into a connection with him.
This is unique to the God of the Bible. When people are left on their own to develop God they will make something of nature “god” as well as design a “god” they have to appease in some way. Natural man will only fashion an angry, judgmental god who will severely punish if activity is not in line with his will.
The God of the Bible is just and will punish sin, but what makes him unique is like a human parent, he is both just and loving…perfectly. And like human parents, the predominant quality he wants to be known for is love.
And that he is. God is love.
Apply: Take time to memorize/review Martin Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for your eternal love for me. AMEN.
Rules. Rituals. Irrelevant. Hypocritical.
These words are used by those outside the church to describe the church. For those of us in the church, we may defend the position and say, “These aren’t our rules, they’re God’s rules.” Or we may say, “They aren’t just rituals their faith traditions.” Or “You have to work to make God’s truth apply to you today.” Or “You just caught me on a bad day.”
While these statements have truth in them and we can be defensive against attacks, there is another reality that nearly 80% of people would welcome a spiritual conversation, but yet are not interested in being part of organized religion.
While we could dig into the statistics to understand a bit better what is going on, there is enough evidence to suggest that perhaps we have gotten off the purpose of the church. Because it’s also evident that God didn’t set up the church to be known as the “rules, ritual, irrelevant, hypocritical” church of the 21st century…or any century for that matter.
Should we accept the hard truth, it is an opportunity to repent, refocus, and renew our understanding and commitment to be the church God intended his church to be. Sure, we are imperfect people so any earthly manifestation of the church will be flawed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t seek to set our compass in the direction of where the Lord would have us focus.
This week’s devotions will help us do that.
Because we wouldn’t be the first to need this help. In fact, if you would go to the “First Pharisee Church” of Jerusalem, we might be the ones looking in and saying, “All they’re interested in is rules, rituals, and regulations. What a bunch of irrelevant hypocrites they are.”
And, sadly, we’d be right…not because it’s our observation, but Jesus himself made statements to this effect against the Pharisees and the other members of the “organized religion” of the time, the teachers of the law and the Sadducees.
One of the Pharisees was curious to understand. Unsure to come out in the daylight, he came to Jesus at night. The interaction is recorded in John 3. Verse 16 is familiar, but read John 3:1-17 and see what Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the kingdom of God, i.e. the church. In the next devotions we’ll unpack three key components of God’s church that Jesus teaches Nicodemus and us.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Apply: It’s easy to point out the flaws of the church…but what about our own hearts? Reflect and repent today of how you have made church to be a place focused on rules, rituals and regulations instead of the saving work of Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for making the church more about us than about you. This week refresh, renew and refocus on you and what you desire to be at the heart of your church’s mission and message. AMEN.