Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 13 January 2023:
2 Chronicles 11:1-4 – When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled the house of Judah and Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam. But the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah the man of God: “Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin, ‘Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me.’” So they listened to the word of the LORD and returned and did not go against Jeroboam.
Since God’s thoughts are far removed from our thoughts, He will, if we are listening, tell us to do many things that are contrary to our will and to our wisdom. We must be careful to heed the word of God and not be tempted to merely do what seems right to us.
2 Chronicles 11:4 — God desires peace in families not strife.
2 Chronicles 11:14, 15 — Jeroboam and his sons cast them [the Levites] out from serving as priests of the LORD, and he appointed his own priests for the high places.
Ungodly leaders will seek to shut up or eliminate godly priests and preachers and replace them with preachers who will proclaim what they want to hear.
Notice that when a nation rejects God it will no longer tolerate sound doctrine; it is replaced with religion that is acceptable to the unfaithful, religion the seeks to legitimize sin. These are hard times for the faithful. Paul had this to say to Timothy: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5) Conversely, when a nation accepts the teachings of God, the people of God are treated well and the nation is strengthened. Regardless the choice of a nation, regardless the cost, God’s people must remain faithful to the KING.
2 Chronicles 11:16 — And those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came….
You may have to leave everything behind and lose everything to remain faithful to the LORD, to go where He wants you to go, and to do what He wants you to do. You shouldn’t be surprised when many ‘religious’ around you refuse to make that sort of committed sacrifice. Most choose comfort over fidelity and justify it through clever lies, often religious lies. (2 Chronicles 11:13-17)
2 Chronicles 11:16, 17 — And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came… to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers. They strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam the son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon.
Godly people strengthen a nation. Nations are blessed through the influence of godly people.
Matthew 10:16, 24 — Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
Jesus came as the Ultimate Passover Lamb, the perfect and wholly sufficient sacrifice to pay for our sins. (John 1:29, Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19) — “Christ… offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14) For our sake, with all authority in His hands (Matthew 28:18), with the power to call “twelve legions of angels” to His rescue (Matthew 26:53), Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7, 8) “For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:12)
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Jesus came to bring salvation to sinners, and during His earthly ministry, He walked humbly, serving, giving, forgiving, and healing. Yet, most rejected Him, hated Him, abused Him, and maligned Him. Prophetically, Isaiah wrote of Jesus –
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:2-11)
Now, as His “offspring,” His disciples, and His ambassadors to a sinful world, Jesus has called us to “deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him.” (Mark 8:34) Entrusting us with the message (words) and ministry (works) of reconciliation to a sinful world, He understands that He is also entrusting us with a ministry of suffering, that He is sending us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” While many inspirational books have been written recounting the many promises of God, few mention His promise that those who truly follow Him will suffer for His name’s sake. We are called to suffer for Christ, but we are not called to suffer foolishly and without hope. Today’s readings teach us much about how to be good stewards of suffering:
1) We shouldn’t attempt to face suffering in our own strength. Jesus appointed sheep to defeat wolves, contrary to all human reason. How do sheep defeat wolves? Only through the power of God.
What do we know about sheep? They (we) are weak, dumb, smelly, submissive, and defenseless. What do we know about wolves? They are powerful, ferocious, ravenous, and work in packs to devour the weak and helpless. So, how are sheep protected from wolves? They are protected by the shepherd. Our shepherd is the Good Shepherd –
- John 10:14-18, 27-30 – I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father…. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
- Psalm 23 — The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus calls His disciples by name (Matthew 10:1-4), and under His authority, which is all authority (Matthew 10:1, Matthew 28:18), commissions them to go and make disciples, to turn wolves into sheep. He leads them through trials, He restores them through trials, He comforts them through trials, He brings all things (especially trials) together for good for His loved ones (Romans 8:28, 29), and He promises to be with His disciples forever, that nothing at all can separate them from His love for eternity. God uses sheep to overcome wolves in order to reveal His power, not to reveal the ‘power’ of sheep. When sheep overcome wolves, it is clear that only God could have done that. Trust the Good Shepherd to protect, and trust Him with the victory.
- Romans 9:17 — For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
2) We shouldn’t go into trials alone. Jesus sent his disciples out in teams. Mark 6:7 adds to Matthews accounting of the sending of the Apostles – “And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 — Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
- Proverbs 27:17 — Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
- Amos 3:3 — “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?
With whom are you teaming with to share the Gospel in your community? How many people will the two of you share the Gospel with today?
3) Suffer wisely. Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” You will be persecuted for sake of His name, but you don’t need to invite a beating because of your own foolishness. First, there is a difference between suffering for His names sake and suffering because you are simply wrong, disagreeable, defensive, selfish, or unloving in some other way. Second, there are times when it is best just to walk away. How do you know who to engage and who not to engage, and how do you know when to stand your ground and when to leave? The Holy Spirit must guide you here.
Concerning Holy Spirit wisdom in discerning when to face persecution, John Bunyan in 1684 offered the following:
“Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly; if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled, Ex. 2:15; Moses stood, Heb. 11:27. David fled, 1 Sam. 19:12; David stood, 1 Sam. 24:8. Jeremiah fled, Jer. 37:11– 12; Jeremiah stood, Jer. 38:17. Christ withdrew himself, Luke 19:10; Christ stood, John 18:1–8. Paul f led, 2 Cor. 11:33; Paul stood, Act 20:22–23. … There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly…. Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word.”
4) Finally, don’t be surprised by persecution – “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”
- 1 Peter 4:12-19 — Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name…. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
- 1 John 3:13 — Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 — For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
- Philippians 3:18 — For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Have peace and rejoice through persecutions. Jesus has overcome the world –
- John 16:33 — I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Revelation 6:15-17 – Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Matthew 10:24, 25, 38, 39 — A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master…. Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
A big theme in today’s readings is discipleship and followership. Saving faith is not just a believing faith, it is a following faith. It is not just believing in God, it is believing God, trusting Him at His word, and obeying Him. In our OT readings, we learn some things about followership and obedience: God’s path will not take us ‘out of the world’ or shield us from all of the problems or sorrows of the world. (Genesis 23:2; see also John 17:15) Obedience will make us ready for greater responsibility and usability by God. (Genesis 24:2-6) God leads us to where He is already at work preparing the way for His purposes. (Genesis 24:27, 48) When we follow God’s lead, we will see His miraculous provision in ways we could not have imagined, and this will drive us to greater worship and a closer relationship to Him. (Genesis 24:25-27, 48) When we follow God, it is His power that brings us success, not our power. (Genesis 24:40)
A key to followership is focus and perseverance. When you know God has led you, you need to keep following despite temptations to get sidetracked. (Genesis 24:56) Following God means that we have to wait on Him and trust His provision, even in apparent delay. (Genesis 24:63) In the NT, Jesus further expands on the traits of a disciple, concluding that it demands a level of love and loyalty that far exceeds what we display in our most intimate human relationships. We must deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus; otherwise, Jesus says, we are not worthy of him. (Matthew 10:38) Of course we know that we are not, of ourselves, worthy of Him, but we should strive to become ‘perfected in love’. We are not worthy, but God is more than worth of our complete surrender. Interestingly, the word ‘worship’ essentially means, ‘worthy-ship’ or worthy of complete praise and honor. Related to our theme today, The Bible says, “By the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) Let us worship not only in spirit but also in truth.
Matthew 10:34 – Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Jesus did NOT come to bring peace to the earth, rather spiritual peace for those who “know” Him.
Matthew 10:37-38 – Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Notice the degree of love Jesus expects from His followers.
Matthew 10:40 — Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.
You are Christ’s Ambassador.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 14 January 2023: Seek the Lord and serve the Lord today wholeheartedly and let your shield of gold be a testimony before the world that brings glory to God. Find a partner in Christ who will be willing to go with you to share the Gospel with others daily.