Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 23 January 2023:
2 Chronicles 21:6 — And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.
There is a reason why God forbids marriage with unbelievers. People who are close to you will have a positive or negative influence on your life. You must be very careful not to establish covenant-type relationships with those who will only tempt you to be unfaithful to God. Those close to you must be ready to walk with you in a mutually supportive relationship as you both of you follow Jesus together.
2 Chronicles 21:11 — Moreover, he made high places in the hill country of Judah and led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom and made Judah go astray.
The Bible describes spiritual unfaithfulness as whoredom.
2 Chronicles 21:12-15 – Because you… have… enticed Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom, as the house of Ahab led Israel into whoredom, and also you have killed your brothers, of your father’s house, who were better than you, behold, the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day.
God may allow sinners to have earthly victory over the faithful, but God will ultimately hold everyone accountable, and our reward is eternal.
People are tempted to hurt those who are better than them.
Jehoram’s greatest offense was leading people astray from God; this was worse in God’s eyes than Jehoram killing his brothers. Jehoram’s spiritual infidelity caused everyone around him to sin and to suffer tremendously before Jehoram himself died a painful death. How striking is it that Jehoshaphat had so little influence on Jehoram?
2 Chronicles 21:15, 16 — …and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels…. And the LORD stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians.
God punishes with sickness, enemies, and negative circumstances. Those who reject God will not attribute these things to God’s discipline.
2 Chronicles 21:20 — And he departed with no one’s regret.
Jehoram was influential, but in the end, no one respected him or cared about him. He had a miserable and painful life because He walked away from the faith of his father to serve other gods.
Matthew 16:9 – Do you not yet perceive?
As discussed yesterday, it is all about perception – spiritual perception or understanding. First Jesus points out that the Pharisees and the Sadducees can’t perceive the reality of the Christ right before their eyes. (Matthew 16:1-4) Then, Jesus questions His disciples about their limited perception of Him – “Do you not yet perceive?” Then, Jesus gets to the point — “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers correctly — “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Next, Jesus presents a critical truth, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) Flesh and blood cannot discern spiritual truth – it must be given by God –
- John 3:3 — Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
- John 6:44, 65 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
- James 1:5 — If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14 — The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
- John 16:13 — When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
- Psalm 119:66 — Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.
The Father draws us to the Son (John 6:44, 65), and through salvation in Christ, we are gifted with the Holy Spirit and then have spiritual perception and discernment. And when we see Jesus truly as the Christ (sight we are given), we see the Truth, and it changes our perception of everything else; we can then judge all things rightly – “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)
However, we can still quench the Spirit, grieve the Spirit, get out of step with the Spirit, and even outrage the Spirit if we choose to be guided by the flesh rather than the Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; Galatians 5:25; Hebrews 10:29)
Immediately after Jesus commended Peter for seeing Him rightly through the gifting of the Father, Jesus gives Peter a harsh rebuke — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” After his revelation from the Father through the Spirit, Peter went right back to judging things from his human, self-centered perspective rather than from God’s truth, rather maintaining spiritual discernment. God’s plan for Jesus, the Cross, simply wasn’t the plan Peter had envisioned for Jesus or for himself from his human understanding. What Peter needed was right perception, spiritual discernment. When we allow ‘common sense,’ self-centered intellect, and worldly wisdom get in the way of the Spirit, it is “a hindrance” to our mission as Christ’s ambassadors. If we aren’t careful, we can even be tempted to co-opt Jesus for our personal agendas – “Lord, please bless me in the things I want to do,” rather than, “Lord, let your will be done.” How is your perception?
After Jesus harshly rebukes Peter, he taught, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) It is “self” or the “flesh” (our self-centered perspective and desires) which gets in the way of our spiritual discernment. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) However, we all struggle with a part of us which wants to go our own way, determine our own truth, and live our own lives. Ultimately, we want Jesus to follow us, to simply be there when we need Him. This struggle with self is a daily battle (see Luke 9:23) and is the greatest war we all fight, though our victory is ultimately assured in Christ. Each day, we will come to several decision-points, which become crossroads for us, a choice about which path we will take, our own path or the path of Jesus — will we gratify our own desires (comfort-based decisions) or seek the Lord’s will (Christ-based decisions)? When we come to these crossroads multiple times a day, we must take the Cross road – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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)
Concerning spiritual discernment and this daily battle against self, Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Watchfulness and prayerfulness are essential to our spiritual discernment and our war against the flesh. Watch – pour into God’s word, and from the plumbline of God’s truth, examine yourself, the true motives behind your behavior and the fruit of your behavior (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Pray – pray that God will give you strength to resist temptation and will help you to keep your eyes affixed on Jesus, that you would seek His will earnestly and be increasingly conformed to His character. Pray that He will give you the discernment which can only come from Him – “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Perhaps your first cross roads decision today was whether or not you would begin your day in earnest prayer to seek His face and guidance or instead jump into all of the activities you had planned. How did you do?
Matthew 16:12 – Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Pharisees and Sadducees used God’s word to promote self, to serve themselves rather than to truly serve God from the heart. They used God’s word to preach a form of moralism which seemed ‘good.’ They preached legalism (self-righteous works) that were not truly motivated by selfless love for God and love for others. Just a little selfishness ruins the whole batch. Beware of ‘Biblical’ teachings that promote a self-righteousness rather than the righteousness of Jesus or that promote moral behavior over a genuine oneness with Jesus.
Matthew 16:23 — But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Poor Peter – one moment he is receiving tremendous praise from Jesus; the next moment he is receiving his harshest rebuke. Peter wanted to serve God Peter’s way to achieve the results Peter wanted. Peter wanted God to validate his vision for success which likely involved earthly comfort, security, and power. Ultimately, Peter’s vision of serving God was heavily biased on self – it was selfish. Peter was very confident and committed, more committed most, but his selfishness and pride made him reckless and unreliable (cutting off ears and abandoning Jesus). We committed Christians run the risk of making the same mistake, seeking to serve God on our own terms, deciding for God what success looks like, or seeking to have God validate what we want by claiming it for Jesus. We are tempted to serve God to fulfill our own desires for accomplishment, praise, success, and self-worth. And our human nature is always biased towards safety, security, and self-preservation. This is why so many sermons preached today are self-centered: “How to have a better _ ….. How to be a better __ , etc.” The Bible is often reduced to a theological self-help book. As the times grow more uncertain, many people turn to religion, not to glorify God as much as to find some answers for themselves to get them through life’s challenges. They are in pursuit of the blessings of God rather than God Himself. Many pursue ambitious goals and objectives, often with Christian packaging, that are far removed from what God intends; and many wear themselves out pursuing what God never intended for them. We get out of alignment with God’s will, and then, when we receive the natural consequences of this misalignment, we tend to put a spiritual spin on it that removes our responsibility from the equation. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” How important is it for us to be about God’s business? Service and worship that is acceptable to the Lord is selfless service – that should be our aim. It is not about us. Take the “I” and “me” out of it. It is all about Him. Seek to be “crucified with Christ.” Seek to “know nothing but Christ.” Jesus tells us today what it takes to be his true disciple
Matthew 16:24, 25 – Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Memorize these verses and meditate upon them all day every day. Receive the Holy Spirit’s conviction from these verses. Deny self – the greatest battle anyone would fight is the battle against self. It is mostly revealed in how we treat others, particularly those other sinners who wrongfully hurt us (taking up the cross). Taking up the cross does not just involve persevering under persecution but rather suffering in the name of Jesus, seeking the reconciliation of the persecutor in the name of Jesus, loving the persecutor in the name of Jesus, reaching out to the persecutor in the name of Jesus, and following Jesus is joyfully obeying Him and taking up His attitude – “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who… emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant… and… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8) Again, the first challenge Jesus levies is – deny self. Among the three enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the flesh seems to be the greatest threat. Why? Because the enemy of ‘self’ is ‘inside the wire’, an internal tempter; while the world and the devil are external threats. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, he was tempted externally but not internally, keeping Him free from sin. Conversely, we are tempted internally to seek our own desires rather than the will of God. Our selfish thoughts are sinful thoughts because they counter the Great Commandment and the First Commandment. Let’s take time today to consider our approach to God – how much of it is selfish? Let’s consider our service to God and look for hidden agendas within our hearts (if you can’t find them, you are not looking hard enough). Consider even how we are reading the Bible this year. How often do we approach God’s word selfishly, as if its primary focus was on us rather than the glorification of God? Let’s endeavor again today to die of self. This isn’t about submission; it is about complete surrender. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 23 January 2023: Deny self. Pray that God will give you right perception in your circumstances and in your encounters with others, so you can respond and influence from a pure heart and the mind of Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 2:16 — For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
- Philippians 4:7 — And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.