Tag Archives: Grace

A Sacred Trust: Standing Between the Dead and the Living (Numbers 16)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 15-16, Psalm 49, and Luke 5. Our devotional is from Numbers 16 .

The drama in Numbers 16 serves as a warning to any who sow discord and usurp the spiritual leadership of a congregation.

We are not told the reason for the rebellion, but given the assertions made against Moses and Aaron, we can venture pride leading to discontentment was the root issue.  Three men are named as leaders of the rebellion with the ringleader one named Korah, a Levite, but not a priest (Numbers 16:1). Incredibly, these three men were able to engage two hundred and fifty others, “princes…men of renown”, to join their band (16:2).

While the criticism of the rebels appeared sincere in motive and spiritual in nature, (“Ye take too much upon you”), their object was not for “they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron” (16:3).  Notice how the rebel’s veiled criticism of Moses and Aaron grew to open derision (16:3).  The object of the rebels was not to relieve Moses and Aaron; instead, they aspired to the dignity and duties of the priesthood (Numbers 16:10).

When Moses heard the criticism of the rebels and saw the crowd gathered against him, “he fell upon his face” (16:4); a visible sign of humility.  Rather than a hasty diatribe against his critics, Moses deferred to seek the LORD saying, “Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy” (16:5).

On the next day, Moses called an assembly of the rebels and warned, “ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” (16:7).  Two of the rebels refused to come before Moses (16:12) and sent an accusation that he had failed the nation in not leading them into “a land that floweth with milk and honey” (16:14).  The charge against Moses was a lie and stoked his anger (16:15) for it was the people, not Moses, who rebelled and turned away from the land the LORD had promised as an inheritance.

The LORD’s judgment against the rebels fell swiftly when “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed [the rebels] and their houses…[who] went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation” (16:31-33).  As the congregation fled from the LORD’s judgment, “there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (16:35). Unfortunately, the LORD’s judgment against the rebels did not quench their influence and on the next day another 14,700 were slain (16:41-50).

There are many lessons and cautions we might derive from Numbers 16.  One is, while this passage is instructive, it does not suggest the LORD must always swiftly judge the critics of His ministers.

I have known too many pastors who aspire to pedestals and presume to be above accountability.  The same might be said of some in the church who are all too eager to level veiled criticisms at spiritual leaders and not give them the respect due their office.

Pastors are far from perfect and some engaged in ministry lack the Biblical qualifications of the pastor\shepherd (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9); however, those ministers who are qualified and faithful should be honored for their sacrifices and endeavors.  After all, as purveyors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they stand “between the dead and the living” (16:48).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Cry of a Wounded Soul (Psalm 41)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 23-24, Psalm 41, and Mark 13. Our devotional is from Psalm 41.

Psalm 41 challenges believers to consider their relationship with others and how they respond to them who disappoint and betray.

King David was at a low point in his life, physically and emotionally, when he composed this psalm. Rehearsing the LORD’s promise to hear and heed the cries of His people in their hour of need (41:1), David remembered God keeps watch over His people and delivers them out of trouble in His time (41:2).  David writes,

Psalm 41:1-4 – “Blessed [Happy] is he that considereth [understands] the poor [weak; needy]: the LORD will deliver [save] him in time of trouble [sin; wickedness; evil]. 2  The LORD will preserve [keep; guard] him, and keep him alive [sustain]and he shall be blessed [prosperous] upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver [abandon] him unto the will  [desire] of his enemies [adversary; foe]3 The LORD will strengthen [support; uphold] him upon the bed [couch; canopy] of languishing [sorrow]: thou wilt make [turn; overthrow] all his bed in his sickness [disease; malady].  4  I said, LORD, be merciful [gracious; show favor] unto me: heal [cure; purify] my soul [life]; for I have sinned [committed sin; guilty] against thee.”

David tossed and turned upon his bed; as sorrow and disappointment washed over his soul.  He spent sleepless nights praying and waiting on the LORD (41:3).  Searching his soul, David confessed his sin and believed God would show Him favor and restore him (41:4).

Psalm 41:5-6 – “Mine enemies speak [charge] evil [sin; wickedness] of me, When shall he die [be slain], and his name [fame; honor] perish [destroyed]6  And if he [enemy; adversary] come to see [look; behold] me, he speaketh [declare] vanity [deceit; lies]: his heart gathereth [collect; heap; take up] iniquity [sin; wickedness] to itself; when he goeth [go forth] abroad [in the streets], he telleth [speak; say; talk] it.”

Every saint who strives to serve the LORD and walk with integrity will inevitably face the bitter distress of betrayal.   When you feel the sorrow of duplicity, remember the LORD felt the caress of Judas’ kiss upon His own cheek.

Psalm 41:7-8 –  “All that hate me whisper [mumble] together [i.e. in chorus] against me: against me do they devise [imagine; fabricate] my hurt.8  An evil [wicked] disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth [lays down] he shall rise up no more.”

It is a terrible way when embittered souls wait the day they can take satisfaction in the fall of a pastor or a fellow believer (41:8).

Psalm 41:9 gives us insight into the personal nature of the betrayal that befell David.

Psalm 41:9 –  “Yea, mine own familiar [close] friend, in whom I trusted [a confidant], which did eat [devour; consume] of my bread [food; meal], hath lifted up his heel [foot] against me [magnified himself].

David’s adversary wanted to grind the king under his heel and humiliate him.  His enemy waited for the satisfaction of the king’s demise.  Although not identified by name, I believe David’s enemy was either Absalom, the king’s own son (2 Samuel 15) or Ahithophel, the king’s trusted counselor (2 Samuel 16:23).

Let’s take a lesson from David’s life and remember betrayal and sorrow is the affliction of saints who walk with integrity and minister to others with abandon.

Be watchful you do not become embittered when you suffer injustices and betrayals; after all, the LORD suffered the same and He will never abandon you (Psalm 41:10-13).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

At the Heart of the Problem is a Problem of the Heart (Leviticus 13-14)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 13-14, Psalm 38, and Mark 10. Our devotional is from Leviticus 13-14.

I confess, it is easy to read Leviticus 13-14 and feel overwhelmed with the text, its application, and the issue of leprosy addressed in its verses.  Before you dismiss the passage, give this pastor an opportunity to make its meaning plainer.

Leprosy, known today as “Hansen’s Disease” (HD), is a bacterial, infectious disease.  Treatable, even curable in the 21st century; in ancient times it was a dreaded disease not only feared, but also inevitably leading to its victim’s isolation from society and assignment to miserable leper colonies.

In addressing the scourge of leprosy, the LORD directed Moses and Aaron in steps required to not only diagnose the disease, but also isolate its carriers from the people of Israel (Leviticus 13:1-59).  “Unclean, unclean” (13:45) was the leper’s warning to any who approached.

Should the leper be deemed healed of the disease, steps and sacrifices were prescribed in Leviticus 14 to insure the legitimacy of the healing and the purification of the leper.  After following the prescribed rituals, the leper would be deemed clean and restored to the fellowship of his family and the nation (14:9-32).

Leprosy is the disease God chose to illustrate the infectious danger of sin among his people. Notice in chapter 13 the number of times leprosy is described as “unclean”.  Leprosy is more than a skin issue; it inevitably infects the tissues, nerves and eventually the extremities of the body.  Leprosy so scars the body it is a well-nigh unbearable ugliness of rotting, putrid flesh.

Such is the way of sin.  Liberals would have you believe man is born innocent and it is his environment (i.e. home, society, religion) that is the origin of man’s societal deprivations.

God’s diagnosis is that man’s sin is a problem of the heart!  Rather than innocence, God’s Word declares, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).  The apostle Paul likened sin to a physical ailment writing, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18).

Jesus taught His disciples,For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man”  (Matthew 15:19-20).

Without a cure for leprosy, lepers prayed for a miraculous healing, a divine intervention that would be verified by examination and sacrificial offerings (Leviticus 14).  In the same vein, man has no cure for sin apart from divine intervention.  21stcentury doctors and judges prescribe psychiatric evaluations, counseling, and drug-therapy for lawbreakers deemed to have “mental-disorders”; however, all fall short of addressing the heart of the issue, which is the issue of the heart.

There was no cure for leprosy without the LORD; in the same way, there is no cure for a sinful soul without turning from sin and placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Isaiah 53:4-5 – “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  9But he waswounded for our transgressions, he wasbruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace wasupon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Who Is Really #1? (Mark 9)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 11-12, Psalm 37, and Mark 9. Our devotional is from Mark 9.

Mark 9:1-13 records the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ; an event when Jesus permits His inner circle, Peter, James, and John, to witness the unveiled brilliance of His heavenly glory.  Luke writes the disciples fell asleep after ascending the mountain with Jesus (Luke 9:32), but were suddenly awakened and witnessed Jesus, “His raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller [launderer] on earth can white them (Mark 9:3).

Two heavenly visitors, Moses and Elias (Mark 9:4), visited Jesus and Peter suggested the event be memorialized with three “tabernacles” (temporal earthly structures) dedicated to Jesus, Moses and Elias (Mark 9:5).  Peter was, in effect, giving no more honor to Jesus than he was His heavenly visitors. From a cloud that overshadowed the scene, the disciples heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear him” (Mark 9:7).

Descending the mount, Jesus commanded the three to “tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).  Arriving at the base of the mount, Jesus was immersed in a great crowd gathered to witness the disciples’ failed attempt to cast a demon out of a man’s son (Mark 9:14-18).

Imparting a lesson on the power of faith and prayer, Jesus said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).  Embarrassed by their failure, the disciples questioned Jesus privately, “Why could we not cast [the demon] out?” (Mark 9:28).  Jesus’ answered, “…This kind [i.e. of spirit] can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Passing through Galilee, Jesus prophesied His arrest, death, and resurrection a second time in the chapter (Mark 9:31); however, the disciples “understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32).

A spiritual lesson on servant leadership (Mark 9:33-35) emerges as we learn along the way the disciples “disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest”(Mark 9:34).

The words “servant” and “humility” are foreign to our American ideas of success.  Striving for #1, climbing the “ladder of success”, counting the number of people who serve your beckoning call has become the essence of success. Such is not the case in our LORD’s definition of success Who taught His disciples, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

Two lessons we take from that principle

The first, self-centered ambition blinds one to spiritual truth.  Jesus spoke plainly of His death, but the disciples’ ambition for thrones in Christ’s kingdom blinded them (Matthew 20:21, 24).  So it is, a heart with the wrong focus is blind to spiritual truths and struggles with fear and anxieties (Mark 9:32; 1 John 4:18).

A second lesson: Greatness in God’s kingdom is defined, not by how many serve you, but by how many you serve (Mark 9:35).  

Someone has observed, “the mark of spiritual maturity is when a believer takes off a bib and dons a servant’s apron.”

Friend, who and how many are you serving?

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Holy Calling of the Pastor\Shepherd (Leviticus 7-8)

Today’s Bible reading and devotional are from Leviticus 7-8.

The institution of sacrifices began in Leviticus 1 and continues today through the ordination of the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 8).  Our study of the sacrifices continues with the “law of the trespass offering”, a sacrifice identified with an individual’s sin (7:1).  A “peace offering” served as an acknowledgment of God’s grace and an offering of thanksgiving (Leviticus 7:11-21).  The portions of the “peace offering” not consumed by the fire were given to the priests for their households.

Some portions of the sacrifices were forbidden to be eaten including the “fat of the beast” and the “blood” (Leviticus 7:22-27).  Blood was never to be consumed because it was the means and object of atonement (Leviticus 17:11).

Leviticus 8 establishes the Levitical priesthood, publicly ordaining and consecrating Aaron and his sons to serve as priests before the LORD on behalf of the nation (8:1-5).  Each step of the ordination is described beginning with the ceremonial washing of Aaron and his sons with water (8:6).

Aaron, the first high priest, is distinguished by his garments (8:7).  The high priest would wear a breastplate (8:8), referred to as “the breastplate of judgment” (Exodus 28:30), upon which was mounted twelve precious stones bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  “Urim and the Thummim” (8:8) are believed to be so form of dice that were cast by the priests in matters of judgment, trusting the LORD to determine the outcome.

As a word of caution for some tempted to adopt a manner of the same in making judgments, either tossing dice or “putting out a fleece” (Judges 6:36-40); God has given us a superior means of determining His will and making good judgments…His Word!

Moses continued to offer sacrifices for seven days while Aaron and his sons remained at the tabernacle as they consecrated themselves to the LORD as priests (8:31-36).  On the eighth day Aaron and his sons began ministering before the LORD and offering sacrifices on behalf of the nation (Leviticus 9:1-24).

I close today’s devotional, reminded of the great responsibility borne by those who minister for the LORD before God’s people.

An offering of sacrifices is no longer necessary because Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross, is our sacrifice and high priest ever making intercession for us before the throne of God (Hebrews 7:25-28).  Nonetheless, God has called and ordained men He has set apart for the purpose of shepherding His church.  The apostle Peter challenged pastors,

1 Peter 5:2-3 – “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”

Such is the great calling of the pastor…teacher, shepherd and spiritual leader.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Old Testament Sacrifices and What They Teach Us About God’s Character (Leviticus 1-3)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 1-2, Psalm 34, and Mark 6. Our devotional is from Leviticus 1-3.

Leviticus 1-3 states what God required of Israel in sacrificial offerings and it serves as a lesson for the 21stcentury believer: God demands His people be a holy, sanctified people.

Preacher and author, Warren Wiersbe writes in his “Be Series” on the Book of Leviticus: “Leviticus tells New Testament Christians how to appreciate holiness and appropriate it into their everyday lives. The word holy is used 91 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.”  [BE Series – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – Pentateuch]

The sacrifices offered in the Old Testament were a pre-figure of which Jesus Christ was the perfect, complete, “once and for all” sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10:10).

The first offering required in Leviticus is the “burnt offering” (1:1-17).  The head of each household was to bring to the Tabernacle “a male without blemish”(1:3); placing “his hand upon the head” of the bull, sheep or goat, the worshipper identified with the animal’s death as the substitutionary sacrifice for his sin (1:4-5, 10, 14-15).   The sacrifice was then killed and the priest would take the blood and sprinkle it on the altar (1:5, 11).

The second sacrifice noted in Leviticus is the “meat offering” (a better translation would be “meal” or food offering) (Leviticus 2).  Also known as an oblation (meaning “gift” or present); it was a non-blood offering that consisted of grain (“fine flour”), oil and frankincense (2:1).  The priests were to take a portion of the “meal offering” for their families and the rest was to be offered as a burnt offering (2:2).

The third offering was a “sacrifice of peace offering” and was a blood offering (Leviticus 3).  Unlike the “burnt offering”, the “peace offering” could be male or female; however, the standard, “without blemish”, applied and the priests inspected the offerings to ensure they were acceptable sacrifices (3:1, 12).  As with the “burnt offering”, the worshipper would “lay his hand upon the head of his offering, kill it at the door of the tabernacle” (3:2), and the priests would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the altar.  We will continue our examination of sacrifices in our next devotional commentary from Leviticus.

I close highlighting the “without blemish” standard the LORD required of sacrifices under the Law.  Sacrificial offerings were to be of the highest quality; however, I am sure the temptation for many was to give the LORD something, but not necessarily the best.

The apostle Paul had in mind the same “without blemish” standard for believers when he wrote:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

The LORD required the best and He requires no less of His people today.  Our bodies and our lives are to be “holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).   Holy, sanctified, set apart and dedicated to the LORD.  Acceptable, pleasing and conforming to the will of God.

Anything less than our best is unacceptable to a holy God!

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

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

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 37-38, Psalm 32, and Mark 4. Our devotional is from Mark 4.

Jesus had taught parables throughout the day with crowds so large He was forced to launch out from the lakeshore where he sat in a boat while He taught.  Exhausted from teaching, Jesus asked His disciples to cross the lake to the other shore, and lying down in the boat He slept.

The Sea of Galilee (14 miles long and 7 miles wide) is notorious for violent storms.  Its surface 700 feet below sea level, the Sea of Galilee has a sub-tropical climate that is warm and pleasant year-round (much like our own Tampa Bay).  Surrounded by the Galilean mountains and the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee is part of the Jordan rift.  Cold winds from snow-covered mountain peaks to the north often push down through the hillsides that act as a funnel sending cold air colliding with the warm sub-tropical air of the Sea of Galilee causing sudden, violent storms.

We read of this occasion in the Gospel of Matthew: “there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but He was asleep” (Matthew 8:24).

At least four of the disciples were fisherman; however, even those veteran sailors were unable to salvage the desperate situation in which they found themselves.   With cold winds whipping at the sailors and waves crashing into the ship, the exhausted disciples finally cried out, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Friend, like the stormy sea in today’s Bible reading, trials will arise in your life and put your faith and trust in God’s will to the test. 

Before the disciples launched their ship out into the sea, Jesus knew an approaching storm would soon test their faith and whether or not they would put their trust in Him.  By the way, notice Jesus did not lead them where He was not going and when the storm came He was with them!

A second observation: The disciples’ response to the storm revealed they did not know fully Who Jesus was!  After Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to cease, we read: “they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41).

The storm was an opportunity for the disciples to see Jesus as more than a mere mortal.  Struck with fear, awe, and respect they ask, “What manner of man is this?”

Someone reading today’s devotion is in the midst of a storm of personal trials.  Fear of the future has laid hold on your spirit and loneliness oppresses your soul.  Take heart; the LORD is with you in the midst of the storm of uncertainty… “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39).

Psalm 89:8-9– “8O Lord God of hosts….9Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.”

Take a few minutes and listen to a wonderful song titled, What Manner of This?, written and performed by my evangelist friend Ben Everson.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith