Category Archives: Hope

The Resurrection Promise: Dead Men Will Walk Again! (John 11)

Scripture reading – John 11

John 11:1-45 – A Wondrous Miracle

John introduces us to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and finds them in a crisis: “Lazarus was sick” (11:2), and his sisters had sent for Jesus “saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (11:3). No doubt Martha and Mary were certain Jesus would come quickly, and heal Lazarus of his illness, and one they believed was terminal.

Jesus, however, expressed with certainty; “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (11:4b).

John 11:5 reminds us how “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus;” however, His love had not spared Lazarus of his illness, nor had it moved Him to leave with haste where He was residing. Two days passed, when Jesus suddenly announced to His disciples, “Let us go into Judaea” (11:6).

The mention of going to Judaea raised alarm with the disciples. Knowing the village of Bethany would place Jesus within the reach of His enemies who had threatened to stone Him (John 10:31; 11:8), the disciples desired to dissuade Jesus from going (11:8). Jesus announced, “Lazarus is dead. 15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (11:14).

After a day’s journey, Jesus and His disciples arrived on the outskirts of Bethany, about “fifteen furlongs off” (11:18), about two miles out, and were met by some who informed Him that Lazarus was dead and had been “lain in the grave four days already” (11:17).

Martha, hearing Jesus was close by, came to Him and complained, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:21). Nevertheless, Martha expressed faith that, with God’s power, Jesus could perform a miracle. Jesus answered her faith, “Thy brother shall rise again” (11:23).

Martha expressed her faith in the “resurrection at the last day” (11:24); however, Jesus encouraged her weak faith saying, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (11:25-26)

Confessing her faith that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God” (11:27), Martha rushed back to the house, and finding Mary, whispered to her secretly, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee” (11:28). Mary immediately rushed out of the house, and coming to Jesus was overcome with sorrow and through tears said to Jesus, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:32). Moved by the tears and sorrow of those who wept, Jesus asked, “Where have ye laid him?” (11:34), and wept (11:35).

Martha protested when Jesus commanded the removal of the stone that sealed the cave where Lazarus was entombed (11:39), saying, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days” (11:39). Jesus lovingly rebuked Martha saying, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (11:40).

Lifting His eyes up to heaven, Jesus prayed, and with a loud voice cried, “Lazarus, come forth” (11:43). Miraculously, Lazarus came from the tomb, his hands and feet bound “with graveclothes: and his face…bound with a napkin” (11:44a). Jesus then said to the people, “Loose him, and let him go” (11:44b).

John 11:45-57 – An Intolerable Crisis

Looking back, the apostle John realizes that raising Lazarus from the dead after he had been dead for four days was the zenith of Jesus’ miracles, and gave cause for many Jews to believe He was the Christ, the Son of God (11:45).  For His enemies, the miracle was intolerable and they determined that Jesus must be put to death, or else their power and position among the people would be lost (11:46-53).

Jesus, knowing the hearts of His enemies were set against Him, and knowing His appointment with the Cross as the Passover Lamb was at hand, withdrew from Jerusalem until it was time for Him to boldly, and publicly present Himself as the Christ, the Son of David, and heir to the throne of Israel (11:54-57).

I close reminding all believers that God has appointed a day when Christ will return, and on that day: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Are You Ready for His Coming?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Nothing is Impossible (Matthew 17; Mark 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 17; Mark 9

Today’s chronological Scripture reading brings us to within a year of Christ’s appointment with the cross. The crowds following Jesus throughout Israel are growing, while the anxiety and fear of His enemies are inflamed. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priest plot His arrest, as His disciples debate among themselves who would be the greatest in His earthly kingdom.

Matthew 17 and Mark 9 record the transfiguration of Christ when He unveiled His heavenly glory.

Words and imagination fail me to describe the transformative moment when Peter, James, and his brother John (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13) witnessed Christ’s transfiguration. Those three disciples, identified as Christ’s inner circle, gazed upon Jesus, “and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (17:2). As the disciples looked on, suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus “talking with Him” (17:3). It has been suggested by many, and I believe the same, that Moses was representative of the Law and Elijah the prophets.

Peter, never one to be at a loss for words, interrupted the moment and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias [i.e. Elijah]” (17:4). Even as the words were in Peter’s mouth, he was interrupted by a sight and sound that silenced him and struck fear in the three disciples.

Matthew 17:5–6 – “5While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.”

With a touch of compassion (17:7), Jesus bid the disciples to rise, and challenged them to tell no man what they had seen, “until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (17:9). Peter would write later of this experience on the mount: “[We] were eyewitnesses of his [Christ’s] majesty. 17For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him [Christ] in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16–18).

After He had descended the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus found His other disciples embroiled in a controversy with scribes (experts in the Law of Moses), who were “questioning,” and mocking the disciples’ failure to cast a demon out of a father’s son (Mark 9:14; Matthew 17:14-16). Rebuking His disciples for their lack of faith (Matthew 17:17), Jesus commanded the demon to depart from the son, “and the child was cured from that very hour” (17:18).

The disciples, embarrassed by their failure and humbled by Jesus’ rebuke (Mark 9:19), later questioned why they had been unable to cast the demon out of the child (Mark 9:28).  Christ’s answer revealed the power and necessity of faith and prayer (Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:20-21).

Matthew 17:20–2120And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

The disciples had failed to cast the demon out of the child because they had faltered in both the matter of faith and prayer.

Jesus taught, even a small amount of faith can grow and overcome obstacles as great as a mountain (I believe the idea of moving a mountain was figurative or symbolic of great obstacles, and not literal mountains). To overcome a great obstacle, like that of the possession and influence of a demon, required both faith (believing “nothing shall be impossible” – Matthew 17:20) and “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).

Are you facing obstacles that seem to tower over you like mountains? Are you struggling to believe and trust God?

Set your heart to seek the LORD in prayer. Desire Him more than you crave food!

Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Divine Omnipotence Provides, Where Human Resourcefulness Fails (John 6)

Scripture reading – John 6

Today’s Scripture reading brings us to the Gospel of John, chapter six, and what is often referred to as, the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” (John 6:1-15). We read in John 6:1, “After these things Jesus went over [lit. “other side”; farther side; across] the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.”

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke reveal the “things” that preceded Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and seeking the solitude of the wilderness. Luke records it was after the disciples returned from preaching the Gospel in towns and villages (Luke 9:10-17). Matthew writes it was after the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and reported how John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod (Matthew 14:6-12). After receiving news of John’s death, Jesus departed by ship with His disciples and went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee that was identified as the “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1).

Knowing it was the custom of Jesus to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 6:4), we should consider why Jesus did not go up to Jerusalem. John the Baptist having been martyred by Herod Antipas, and the Pharisees and Sanhedrin harboring a growing hostility toward Him, I believe Jesus was avoiding a premature confrontation with those who a year later would require He be crucified.

John 6

We read in John’s Gospel that there was a “great multitude” who followed Jesus, “because they saw [experienced; beheld] his miracles [supernatural signs that authenticated Jesus had divine power and authority] which he did on them that were diseased [weak; feeble; i.e. blind, lame, crippled]. 3  And Jesus went up [ascended] into [unto] a mountain [hill; ascending  from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee], and there he sat with his disciples” (6:2-3).

Ever manifesting compassion on the people, Jesus asked Philip, “Whence [what source or place] shall we buy bread, that these [the “great company”] may eat?” (6:5). Notice the question was not, “Philip, what are you going to do about feeding the people?” No, the question posed to Philip was, “Whence shall we buy bread?” (6:5).

What was the purpose of the question Jesus posed to Philip? John would write later, “this He [Jesus] said to prove [examine or test] him [Philip]: for He [Jesus] himself knew [looking ahead, knew with certainty] what He would do [was purposed to do]” (6:6).

Philip surmised, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:7). Assuming a “pennyworth” was probably a denarius and was a day laborer’s pay, Philip calculated the expense to feed so many would be nearly equal to eight month’s wages, and that only “a little” (6:7).

Another disciple, Andrew, identified as “Simon Peter’s brother” (6:8), came with news that there was a boy, “which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes;” however, he recognized the obvious stating, “but what are they among so many?’ (6:9)

With a prayer of thanksgiving (6:11), Jesus took up the small boy’s lunch and directed His disciples to distribute the fish and loaves of bread. By divine blessing and omnipotence, Jesus fed five thousand men (6:10), and in addition, “women and children” (Matthew 14:21). How many were fed that day would be conjecture on my part, but suffice it to say there were thousands more besides the five thousand men who represented that many households.

Not only was there enough to feed a great multitude, there was more than enough as the disciples took up leftovers that were enough to fill twelve lunch baskets (6:12-13), no doubt providing for the disciples next meal.

What can be learned from this miracle of feeding so many from so little?

For the multitude that had been fed and were aware that they had witnessed a great miracle, they confessed: “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (6:14). Riding the emotions of the hour, but also revealing how little has changed in man since that day, we read: “They would come and take him by force, to make him a king” (6:15). Knowing it was not yet time for Him to present Himself as the Messiah King, Jesus withdrew “into a mountain Himself alone” (6:15b).

That day, Philip, Andrew, and the other disciples learned a great lesson that we should all heed:

Where human potential fails, divine omnipotence fulfills.

Jesus would later remind His disciples, “for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Peace In The Midst of the Storm” (Mark 4-5)

Scripture reading – Mark 4-5

We continue our chronological reading of the Scriptures with today’s assignment, Mark 4-5. You will recognize the Parable of the Soils\Sower (Mark 4:1-20]) is the same as that which is recorded in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. Rather than review the Parable of the Soils, I invite you to turn your focus to an exciting event that occurred at the close of the same day when Jesus ended His teaching (Mark 4:21-41).

Mark 4:35-41 – A Storm and a Revelation

Exhausted from teaching (reminding us that, though He was Divine, He was also man with physical challenges of hunger, thirst, and fatigue), Jesus exhorted His disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (4:35). Knowing the far shore was seven miles away, Jesus laid down in the “hinder part of the ship” (meaning the stern or the latter part of the boat), and went to sleep (4:38).

The Sea of Galilee, fourteen miles long and seven miles wide, lies 700 feet below sea level, and has a sub-tropical climate that is warm and pleasant year-round.  Surrounded by the Galilean mountains and the Golan Heights, the area is part of the Jordan rift.  When cold winds from the snow-covered mountain peaks to the north, funnel through the hillsides, the cold air collides with the warm sub-tropical air often producing sudden, violent storms on the Sea of Galilee.

On this occasion, the disciples found themselves caught in a violent storm so intense, the waves of the sea filled the ship (4:37). Matthew writes concerning the same occasion in his Gospel: “there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but He was asleep” (Matthew 8:24).

Though at least four of the disciples were experienced fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), even those veteran seamen were unable to salvage the desperate situation.   With cold winds whipping, and waves crashing, the exhausted disciples cried out to Jesus, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Such a question was a faithless affront to their Master, who “arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (4:39-40).

Jesus knew the weakness of the disciples’ faith, and their failure to place their trust in Him (Luke 8:23-24). The sudden stillness of the winds and waves left the disciples wondering among themselves, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (4:41). They were struck by a sense of fear, awe, and respect. They had heard Him teach, but they had not understood His person. They had witnessed His miracles, but had not recognized His power.

The psalmist writes, “O Lord God of host…Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them” (Psalm 89:8a, 9).

I close with some practical observations we can take from today’s devotional. The first: Storms in life might take us by surprise; however, they come as part of God’s plan for growing our faith and dependence on Him. The Lord knew the disciples would face a storm when He commanded them to launch out into the sea. It was His plan to challenge their faith, that He might prove He was Sovereign and LORD of creation.

A second lesson: Our response to trials and troubles will evidence our faith or lack of faith in God and His plan for our lives.  The disciples did not fully know Who Jesus was, and He commanded the wind and the waves to cease, “they feared [and asked], What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41).

Finally, storms and troubles are opportunities to know God’s ways personally and intimately. They remind us that God’s will for our lives will sometimes guide us into challenging trials meant to assess our priorities, and reveal our limitations apart from Him. They test our faith and trust in Him.

Remember: The safest place in the world is in the will of God, even in the midst of a storm.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Are You Listening?” (Matthew 13; Luke 8)

Scripture reading – Matthew 13; Luke 8

We identify eight parables taught by Jesus recorded in Matthew 13. The Parable of the Soils, usually identified as the “Parable of the Sower” (13:3-23); the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (13:24-30, 36-43); the Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32); the Parable of the Leaven (13:33); the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44); the Parable of the Pearl (13:45-46), the Parable of the Net (13:47-50), the Parable of the Householder (13:51-52).

The focus of today’s devotional is the Parable of the Soils (13:3-23), of which you will notice that Christ identified four types of soil: The “wayside” (13:4, 19), the “stony places” (13:5-6, 20-21), the thorny ground (13:7, 22), and the “the good ground” (13:8, 23).

We find three familiar elements in the Parable of the Soils (Sower).

The first, the Sower, who “went forth to sow” (13:3). Unlike modern-day farmers who utilize tractor and plow, the work of a first century farmer was difficult. Laboring under the sun from sun up to sun down, his hands callused from working with a crude hoe, preparing furrows in the soil for planting, a farmer would come to the close of a day exhausted. Once the soil was prepared, the farmer would take up a leather bag that contained precious seed, and with measured strides begin to scatter seed across the field with simple flicks of his wrist. Each seed, whether wheat or barley, was precious, containing the potential of life and eventually harvest.

In spite of the farmer’s careful labor, some seed would invariably come to rest upon four soil types that Jesus identified in his parable. The “wayside” described the footpath a farmer and his neighbors would take through a field. The “wayside” ground was hardpacked and the seed would eventually be crushed under foot, or snatched up by birds (13:4). “Stony” was ground often worked by poor farmers. Such ground was less than desirable, and with rain, erosion, and the turn of a plow, required the farmer to be constantly removing rocks and stones from his fields (13:5-6). Thorns are a menace to every farmer, and good seed that fell among thorns was robbed of the moisture and sun that is necessary for good seed to take root and bear fruit (13:7). The “good ground,” was fertile and seeds that were planted in it would bear much fruit: “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” (13:8).

What was the point of the Parable of the Sower and the Soils upon which he scattered seed? The disciples asked Jesus somewhat this question when they came to Him and asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (13:10) Why did the LORD teach spiritual truths and veil them in simple narratives?

Jesus answered, “Because it is given [committed] unto you [His disciples] to know [understand] the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven [knowledge known only by divine revelation], but to them [others not of their number] it is not given” (13:11).

The followers of Christ were sincere in their desire to hear and understand spiritual truths (13:11); however, those who were not genuine believers were left in spiritual darkness (13:11). They could see, but they refused to believe (13:13). They could hear, but they refused to hear what Jesus taught (13:13).

I close with an interpretation of the Parable of the Soil (Sower).

Christ identified Himself as the “sower” in the parable, for we read, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man” (13:37). The seed is identified as “the word of the kingdom” (13:19) and in the Gospel of Luke, “the word of God” (Luke 8:11).

The ground, identified as four soil types was symbolic of the hearts of men and their response to the Word of God (13:19-23; Luke 8:12-15). The “wayside” heart is like its namesake; hardpacked, callused, insensitive, and unresponsive to the Word of God (13:19). The “stony” ground heart is impulsive and shallow (13:21); when troubles and trials come, the Word of God withers in a stony heart like a seedling without root withers in the sun. The “thorny” ground heart is preoccupied with sin and worldly pleasures (13:22), and is beguiled by riches and worldly possessions (13:22).

The “good ground” heart is commended by Jesus for being both fertile and fruitful (13:23). The “good ground” heart is described in Luke 8:15 as “an honest [noble; moral; virtuous] and good [morally good; pleasing to God] heart, havingheard [understood] the word [the Word of God], keep it [holds fast; sets roots], and bring forth fruit [bear fruit] with patience[endurance].”

Friend, what is the spiritual condition of your heart? Does your heart evidence a sincere, honest, longing desire for God’s Word? Open your heart to the LORD before it is too late.

Romans 10:9-10 – “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heartthat God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  [10] For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Are You Blessed? If so, You Will Be Persecuted! (Matthew 5-7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 5-7

Considered as Christ’s inaugural address to His followers, the “Sermon on the Mount” is an exposition of the heart of Christ the King, and a declaration of the character of those who would be citizens in His kingdom.

I do not believe it is an overstatement to declare, that, apart from the Law and Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount embodies some of the greatest truths ever known to man.

The Sermon on the Mount is not the means of salvation, but an exposition of the attitudes and character of believers who are spiritual citizens of the “Kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The sermon is Christ the King’s declaration of His will regarding the actions and attitudes of the citizens of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes

Sitting down on a hillside that overlooked the Sea of Galilee (5:1), Jesus taught the people a series of eight inspiring truths that we identify as the Beatitudes (5:3-12). In essence, the Beatitudes define the character of those who are sincere followers of the LORD Jesus Christ. Each Beatitude begins with the word, “Blessed,” which I suggest is a state of settled joy and contentment; a promise of joy and peace that surpasses one’s circumstances.

The Beatitudes are heavenly attitudes that are not only contradictory to society, they are in direct conflictwith the spirit of the world.

Christ taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3); however, the world says, “believe in yourself.” We read, “Blessed are they that mourn” (5:4); however, the world says, “don’t let them see you weep.”

Christ encouraged His followers, “Blessed are the meek” (5:4); but society advises, “stand up for yourself!” “Thirst for Truth, hunger for righteousness” (5:6) was the example Christ gave His disciples, but the world cheers, “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful,” (5:7); however, society dares, “Do it to them, before they do it to you!” Christ urged, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (5:8), who seek only Him; but the worldly crowd warns, “You only go through life once.”

The world says, “Be a peacekeeper,” and be willing to compromise; however, Christ taught His followers, “Be a peacemaker,” (5:9) and seek to bring others to the Prince of Peace.

Finally, Jesus assured His followers who would find themselves as the object of derision and persecution:

Matthew 5:10–11 – “10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

The righteous face three forms of persecution (5:11).

To be reviled, is to be mocked and have disparaging things said about your character and motive.

The word “persecute” is indicative of personal attacks. Persecution may come as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual confrontations. Persecution is often relentless and is intended to drive the believer from his home, family, friends, and work. Persecution can come as threats to the believer or his loved ones.

The third form of persecution is verbal: “and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (5:11). The arsenal of this form of persecution comes as lies, innuendoes, and sowing questions on one’s motive or sincerity. As difficult as it may seem (and it is), the attitude of the persecuted is declared in this:

Matthew 5:12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad [jumping and leaping for joy]: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

How can a believer rejoice when he is persecuted? He can rejoice in this confidence: Troubles and trial have their purpose in the providence of God.

James 1:2-4 – “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into [encounter] divers temptations [various sorts of troubles and trials]; [3] Knowing this [understanding], that the trying [proving & testing] of your faith worketh patience [steadfastness]. [4] But let patience have her perfect [complete & thorough] work, that ye may be perfect and entire [without defects], wanting [lacking] nothing.”

As much as persecution may hurt (and it does), a believer must remember that persecution is the training ground for spiritual maturity and broader spiritual opportunities. Paul challenged his spiritual son in the faith: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Believers who are committed to living out the Beatitudes will experience persecution.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“He Knew What Was in Man” (John 2-4)

Scripture Reading – John 2-4

Our chronological reading of the Scriptures continues today with the Gospel of John 2-4. The focus of today’s devotional commentary is John 2.

John 2

Our Scripture reading begins with a statement that connects us with recent events in the previous chapter: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2:1).

Jesus had arrived in Cana of Galilee and joined His mother Mary. Together they attended a wedding celebration (2:1), one to which Jesus and His disciples were invited (2:2). The wedding feast was the setting for Jesus’ first public miracle when He turned water into wine (2:1-11), and in doing so “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (2:11). With this first miracle, the faith of the disciples grew from Philip’s confession that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” (1:45), to them seeing His miracle and believing He was the Messiah (2:11).

Jesus had then gone up to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed (2:13-23). As He entered the Temple, He was appalled at the sight of the corruption He found there. The Temple had become a house of commercialism and exploitation (2:14) of those who came there to worship.

With righteous indignation, Jesus took in hand a “scourge of small cords” (2:15a), and drove them all out of the Temple, the sheep and oxen, and over turned the tables of the money changers (2:15b). The commotion was so great, that Temple officials demanded, “What sign [i.e. sign of authority] shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” (2:18) In other words, what right do you have to take upon yourself the purging of this Temple.

The LORD answered with a sign, but not one that would be recognized until His death, burial, and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). The Jews were incredulous by the absurdity of one who could raise up the Temple in three days, citing the fact the edifice where they worshipped had taken forty-six years to build (2:20).

Interjecting His own explanation, the apostle John confessed that neither He nor the disciples realized Jesus was speaking of His own bodily resurrection, “the Temple of His body” (2:21-22).

Jesus began to perform miracles in Jerusalem and there were “many who believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did” (2:23). Jesus, however, “did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (2:24-25). You see, there were many who believed Jesus, for they had observed His miracles; however, Jesus knew their hearts, and He did not believe in them (2:24-25).

God knows your heart better than you know yourself!

The prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The LORD declared to Jeremiah, “I the LORD search the heart, try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).

The LORD admonished His prophet Samuel, “for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What is in your heart?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

God Restores Failures and Uses Imperfect People. (Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3)

Daily reading assignment – Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

Today’s Bible reading assignment consists of three chapters in three of the four Gospels, and is also the first taken from the Gospel of Mark. Having introduced you to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, it is my joy to introduce you to the Gospel penned by John Mark.

Who was John Mark?

Unlike the authors of the other Gospels who were numbered among Christ’s Twelve apostles, John Mark was not a disciple.  The Book of Acts identifies him as a citizen of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).  Some believe he was the man whom Mark identified as “a certain young man” (Mark 14:51), who fled into the night without his robe when Jesus was arrested in the Garden (Mark 14:50-52).

Mark became a traveling companion of Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) when that dynamic missionary duo set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:1-5). Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for John Mark, his journey with Paul and Barnabas became a spiritual crisis and ended abruptly when we read that, “John [i.e. Mark] departing [going away; deserting] from them [Paul and Barnabas] returned [turning his back]to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).

The cause for John Mark’s sudden departure is not revealed. It could have been the hardships of travel; however, I believe it was the ever-present threat of persecution. John Mark reappears in Acts 15 and became a point of conflict and division between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). That dynamic missionary duo was preparing to depart on their second missions’ trip when we read, “Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 15:37).

Paul, however, “thought it not good [desirable] to take [John Mark], who departed from [quit; deserted]them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (15:38).  The dispute over John Mark’s company became so contentious that we read, “they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (15:39-41).

What became of John Mark?

We do not know what transpired in John Mark’s life after he departed with Barnabas and set sail to Cyprus. We do know that he went on to distinguish himself as one of God’s faithful servants, and is the author of the Gospel of Mark!

How did John Mark go from a man with whom the apostle Paul was unwilling to travel, to becoming the author of the second Gospel in our New Testament?

Paul regarded John Mark as a disappointment, however, Barnabas had looked on the young man through the eyes of a mentor, and lovingly restored Mark to ministry.  Perhaps it was this real-life lesson that moved Paul’s heart when he wrote:

Galatians 6:1-2 – “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

I close with a spiritual lesson that we should take from the life of John Mark:

God restores failures and uses imperfect people to do His work.

Remember, God has not called you to be perfect, but He has called you to be faithful!

1 Corinthians 4:22Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Oh No! We’ve Got Problems! (Nehemiah 5-9)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 5-9

 For one hundred and forty years the city and walls of Jerusalem had laid in rubble, a testimony of God’s judgment, and a reproach against Israel for breaking their covenant with the LORD.

The task of rebuilding the walls and setting the gates in place had been an all-consuming task for Nehemiah. His effort to rebuild the wall had faced immense opposition from enemies who openly mocked, ridiculed, and opposed him (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1, 7-8). His challenges, however, were not limited to enemies without; he soon faced troubles from within that threatened to halt the work on the walls.

Nehemiah 5 – The Cry of the Oppressed

The men of Jerusalem and the outlying cities in Judah, had been required to labor on the walls. Their labor; however, had come at the sacrifice of working in their fields to plant seed and harvest crops that were needed to feed their families (5:1-2).

It came to Nehemiah’s attention that many who were toiling on the walls had been forced to mortgage their houses and fields to feed their families. Added to their hardships had been a tax assessment that was due the king on their lands and vineyards (5:4).

Wealthy lenders, who gave no regard to the sacrifices of those working on the walls, had begun to foreclose on their debtors’ properties, even enslaving the sons and daughters of those who could not repay their debts (5:1-5).

Nehemiah had become indignant when he learned how the wealthy had oppressed the poor and broken God’s Law (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-37). He publicly rebuked the elders for exacting “usury” on the debts of those who had labored on the wall (5:7-13). (The rich had charged exorbitant rates of interest, making it impossible for debtors to repay their creditors.)

Nehemiah reminded the elders of the people that he had authority to “exact of them money and corn;” however, he had not exercised his right and charged them to “leave off this usury” (5:10). He warned them that God would judge them harshly for how they had mistreated the people. The elders then agreed to release the people of their debts and restore to them all that they had taken (5:11).

Twelve years had passed since Nehemiah had taken up the task of the governor of Judah and overseeing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (5:14). Though he had the right and authority to require the people to provide for his table and those who ate with him (5:17), nevertheless, he had not done so “because of the fear of God”(5:15). In other words, Nehemiah refused to burden God’s people for his needs, lest he do so at the sacrifice of God’s blessings (5:15).

Nehemiah knew what it meant to fear, revere, and please God. He was confident the LORD honors those who faithfully labor and do His will. Nehemiah prayed:

Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Nehemiah: More Than a Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 1-4

Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to the Book of Nehemiah. Permit me an opportunity to restate the timeline that brings us to Nehemiah 1.

King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah in 606 B.C., and in 586 B.C. Babylon’s army had destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem. Seventy years after Judah was first conquered, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled when Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict in 536 B.C. giving the Jews liberty to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1).

Under the leadership of the prophet Zerubbabel, the Jews began to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1-6). Opposed by their enemies, and discouraged, the building of the Temple languished for many years as the Jews neglected construction on the LORD’S house, and turned to building their homes and planting crops. The Temple was completed around 458 B.C. (Ezra 6).

Some sixty years later, the LORD moved on the heart of a scribe named Ezra, who led a second group of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7). Ezra’s task was to teach God’s Law and Commandments, call the people to repent of their sins, and renew worship and sacrifices in the Temple.

The Book of Nehemiah gives us a history of how the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the challenges and difficulties Nehemiah and the people encountered. The year is around 446 B.C., and Artaxerxes is king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:1).

Today’s devotional commentary is limited to Nehemiah 1.

Nehemiah 1 – Who was Nehemiah? 

“I was the king’s cupbearer” (1:11), and with that simple phrase, Nehemiah introduces himself in a way that belied the office he held as the most trusted servant to the most powerful king in the world.

Living in the king’s palace, Nehemiah’s life was one of wealth and privilege.  He was more than his title implies; the role of the cupbearer was that of a king’s closest aid; his confidant, and counselor.  Artaxerxes, king of Persia, trusted Nehemiah with his life. As the king’s cupbearer, he was charged with guarding the king from assassination attempts, being the first to taste the king’s food and sipping his wine.

In spite of the comforts and privileges he enjoyed as a cupbearer, Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the remnant of his kinsman, the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem.  When men of Judah came from Jerusalem to the king’s court, Nehemiah eagerly inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem (1:2).

The report left Nehemiah shaken and overwhelmed with grief. (1:3-4).

Some ninety years had passed since Zerubbabel led the first exiles to Judah to rebuild the Temple. Nevertheless, the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt and the suffering of the people was a great reproach to the LORD. Nehemiah was so moved he writes, “I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4).

The balance of chapter 1 is Nehemiah’s record of his prayers to the LORD over the course of days, weeks, and months. Consider the character of Nehemiah’s prayers: With passion and humility, he worshiped the LORD in his prayer (1:5). He prayed for his nation (1:6a) and identified with the personal and corporate sins of his family and people (1:6b). He rehearsed and claimed the covenant promises the LORD had made to Israel (1:8-11).

Closing with a prayer for God to grant Him mercy and favor (1:11), Nehemiah waited four months (2:1) for the LORD to move on the heart of the king to be open to his petition.

James 5:16b – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith