Tag Archives: Pray

God Uses the Common; the Ordinary for His Service (John 9-10)

Scripture reading – John 9-10

John 8 marked a dramatic shift in Jesus’ life and public ministry. He had enjoyed a great following among the Jews with great crowds receiving Him with joy as news of His teachings and miracles traveled throughout Israel and beyond. Many of the people wondered if Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

For the religious rulers of Israel, the situation had become intolerable and their anger was displayed openly when they picked up stones and would have killed Jesus. Jesus, however, “hid Himself, and went out of the Temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59). As He parted the Temple mount, Jesus passed by a blind man who would become the central figure of a theological showdown between Jesus and His detractors (John 9).

John 9:1-7 – A Theological Problem: “Who Did Sin?”

There are fifty-four references to physical blindness in the Scriptures, among them are Matthew 9:27-31; 12:22; 15:30-31; 20:30-34; 21:14; and Mark 10:46-48. Blindness was a common malady in Jesus’ day for several reasons: Environmental (poor diet or brightness of the desert sun), physical injury (irritation of desert sands, accidents, or a victim of violence), disease (especially sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea that was a result of promiscuous behavior, but also contributed to infant blindness), and genetic birth defects.

The blind in first century Israel were dependent on family and charity, and often reduced to begging. The presence of blind beggars in prominent places, such as near the Temple Mount, was a common sight. Because the Jews believed physical maladies were a consequence of personal or familial sin, the blind were often treated with disdain. Thus, seeing the blind man, the disciples asked Jesus: Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Jesus’ answer must have stunned the disciples, for He stated, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (9:3). Jesus continued, explaining that the man was born blind so that his life might serve as the backdrop for God’s miraculous works through His Son (9:4), Who was “the light of the world” (9:5).

Jesus then made a poultice of His spittle and clay, anointed the blind man’s eyes, and then sent him to “wash in the pool of Siloam” (9:7a). We read, “he went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing” (9:7b). The man’s neighbors were astonished that he could see, knowing the man had been blind from birth (9:8a), and they questioned among themselves, “Is not this he that sat and begged?” (9:8b)

Our study of this passage could focus on many things: 1) The bewilderment of the man’s neighbors who knew he had been born blind, but that he could see (9:8-12). 2) The hypocritical Pharisees’ disdain for Christ that moved them to ignore the evidence of the blind man’s miraculous healing (9:13-29). 3) The testimony of the man who had been born blind, that if Christ “were not of God, he could do nothing” (9:30-33). 4) The Pharisees’ vindictive response to the once blind man’s testimony, “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out [i.e. out of the synagogue]” (9:34).

I invite you to consider for our conclusion some simple, but practical observations.

The first, a contrast in viewpoints. The disciples saw a blind, beggarly soul; dependent upon charity, and the object of contempt (9:2). Jesus “saw a man” who had never seen the smile of his mother, or the beauty of a sunset (9:1). The Pharisees had made the blind man an object of disdain, but Jesus saw his affliction as an opportunity to glorify His Heavenly Father (9:3-4).

Consider also how Jesus used the common and ordinary (spittle and clay), to do an extraordinary work (9:6-7). Surely Jesus might have spoken, or merely touched the man’s eyes and he would have had sight. Instead, He used ordinary spittle, clay, and an act of faith and obedience by the blind man, who went immediately to the “pool of Siloam” and “washed, and came seeing” (9:7).

Believer, take comfort in this: God uses the common; the ordinary for His service.

1 Corinthians 1:26-2926  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28  And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29  That no flesh should glory in his presence.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Childlike Humility: The Character of Saving Grace (Matthew 18)

Scripture reading – Matthew 18

Matthew 18 suggests four major themes: 1) The Spiritual Character of the Citizens of Heaven (18:1-4); 2) God’s Love and Care for His Children (18:5-14); 3) Steps to Resolving Conflicts and Offenses (18:15-20); 4) A Lesson in Forgiveness (18:21-35). Today’s devotional commentary will be limited to the first theme:

The Spiritual Character of Heavenly Citizenship (Matthew 18:1-4)

The opening phrase of Matthew 18, “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus” (18:1a), demands that we put the passage in context. Peter, James, and John had witnessed a display of Jesus’ heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, but He had commanded them to tell no man; a vision they would keep to themselves until Christ was resurrected from the dead.

Descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus had found His disciples the target of scoffing because they had failed to cast an evil spirit out of a father’s son. Jesus then taught His followers a lesson in prayer and dependence on God’s power, saying: “This kind [kind of faith] can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Matthew 18 marks a dramatic shift in Christ’s ministry, from one to the multitudes, to a ministry focused primarily on His Twelve Disciples (Mark 9:30).

As they passed through Galilee in their journey to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus foretold His betrayal, death, and resurrection (Matthew 17:22-23).  Matthew would later write, “They were exceeding sorry” (17:23b). Mark wrote, “They [the disciples] understood not… and were afraid to ask Him” (Mark 9:32). Luke wrote in his Gospel, “they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:45).

Why were the disciples blind to what Jesus taught concerning His death, burial and resurrection? Why did they fear to ask Him?

Three possible explanations come to mind: The first, it served God’s purpose for the disciples to hear, but not understand until after Jesus was resurrected from the dead (Luke 9:45). A second, they might have feared to ask for explanation after Peter was rebuked by Jesus for opposing His prophesy of His suffering death, and resurrection (Mark 8:32-33; 9:32). Another explanation, and one I suggest is the malady of many believers; the disciples were blinded by selfish ambitions.

During their journey to Capernaum, the disciples entered into a dispute among themselves (Mark 9:33-37; note also Matthew 20:20-21; Luke 22:24). Though knowing the hearts and thoughts of His disciples (Luke 9:47a), Jesus asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” (Mark 9:33) Mark would later reveal that the disciples “had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34). That dispute brings us to Matthew 18:1 when the disciples came “unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The disciples had expected Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom. Dismissing the prophecies of the Messiah’s suffering and death (Isaiah 53), they anticipated He would establish the Messianic kingdom prophesied by the prophets. Thus, the disciples debated among themselves, “Who is the greatest?” (18:1)

Seeming to ignore their question, Jesus called a “little child unto Him, and set him in the midst” (18:2) and began to teach His followers a spiritual lesson:

 A young child is a portrait of greatness, cloaked in humility (18:2).

The disciples were common men, and for the most part, fishermen. They were fickle-hearted, short-sighted, and self-centered. Though common, ordinary men, they nevertheless shared aspirations of fame, success, and power. Knowing the pride that resided in their hearts, Jesus set a child in their midst and said, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (18:3).

What spiritual truth should the disciples have taken from this object lesson?

Humility will define the character of all who are citizens of the “kingdom of heaven” (18:3). In other words, childlike humility is the sign of saving grace (18:4).

What was it about the small child that served Christ as a portrait of humility? I suggest four traits of humility found in the boy’s example. The first, he came to Jesus when He called (18:2a). Secondly, he yielded to Jesus’ will and embrace (Mark 9:36). The third, he stayed in the place where Christ called him (Luke 9:47). Finally, he served as nothing more than Christ’s example of humility (Matthew 18:3-4; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48).

The character of the children of God, who are citizens of heaven is this:

Matthew 18:3–43And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted [repent; turn from sin to Christ], and become as little children [submissive, trusting, yielded to the will of God], ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble [lowly submission] himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, Christ’s defined greatness and success, not by how many serve a man, but how many a man serves: “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35b)

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

“Lord, Teach Us to Pray” (Luke 11)

Scripture reading – Luke 11

Luke 11 is an incredibly rich passage, but unfortunately, too long for a devotional commentary intended to be brief! Rather than offer an exhaustive study of Luke 11, I will limit today’s objective to a lesson in prayer found in Luke 11:1-13 (a condensed account of the same prayer recorded by Matthew in his Gospel, Matthew 6:9-13).

Luke 11:1-4 – A Model of Prayer

Jesus had retreated to a “certain place” to pray, and when He was finished, His disciples came requesting, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (11:1). The disciples, particularly James and John, who had been disciples of John the Baptist, were familiar with John’s commitment to prayer, and noticed the same was true of Jesus.

Jesus answered the disciples’ request giving them a model for prayer (11:2-4), a lesson in a believer’s manner of prayer (11:5-10), and God’s measure in response to prayer (11:11-13).

The LORD’S model of prayer was defined by four parts.

Remembering God’s very name is hallowed (i.e. holy and sacred), we are to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (11:2b). We are to pray for God’s will to be done (and accomplished) on earth, even as it is in heaven (11:2c). What is God’s will in heaven and in earth?

Religious teachers of the late 19th and early 20th century supposed that their work was to labor for God to the end that their efforts would usher in His kingdom and an earthly utopia. I do not find in Scripture that God needs our assistance to usher in His kingdom; however, His will is surely that of redemption and salvation. Peter writes, “9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that God would “have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

It is also God’s will that He be glorified through our sanctification. Israel was commanded, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 20:7). New Testament believers are commanded the same: “15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

A second quality of prayer is for personal needs: “Give us day by day our daily bread” (11:3). Bread was an essential part of a family’s diet in the first century. Remembering every good thing comes from God the Father, prayers of thanksgiving before meals should be the practice of every household.

Thirdly, we are to acknowledge our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness. We are to pray, forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (11:4a). Not a day should pass without a believer acknowledging to God that He is holy, righteous, and just. We are sinners who need to remember that God is merciful, gracious, and forgiving, and He would have us be the same to others (11:4b).

The fourth quality of prayer is a petition for deliverance: “And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (11:4b). When times of testing and temptation beset us (and they will), we must trust the LORD is ready to deliver us when we ask (11:4c).

Perhaps there is someone who has hurt you deeply, and the thought of forgiving them, you protest, is something you cannot and will not do! I remind you, the LORD taught His followers that there are consequences to harboring a bitter spirit: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

Luke 11:5-10 – The Persistent Manner of a Praying Believer

How often should a believer pray about a specific need or request? We are to be persistent in prayer (11:5-8).

The LORD illustrated the principle of persistency, telling the story of a neighbor who had an unexpected guest that arrived at his home at midnight (11:5). Because hospitality was expected, it was a great offense, a societal humiliation, to have guests and fail to offer them nourishment. In the LORD’S parable, the neighbor refused to be dissuaded from seeking loaves of bread (11:5-7), until finally the head of the household yielded to his plea, rose from his bed and gave his neighbor what he required (11:8).

Application – God answers persistent, fervent prayer (11:9-10).

Luke 11:11-13 – God Hears and Answers Prayer

Another parable draws a contrast between a father who, though imperfect, loves his son and desires to give him what he requests. Of course, no loving father desires to give his son that which might injure him (11:11-12).

Lesson – If a father who is imperfect desires to give his son good things, how much more does God the Father who is altogether good, desire to answer the prayer of His children and give them what is best of all: The presence, power, and comfort of “the Holy Spirit” (11:13).

Believer, never tire of praying. God hears and answers the persistent, fervent prayers of a righteous man.

James 5:1616Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Part 2 – An Introduction to the Gospels of Luke and John: The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 1; John 1)

Daily reading assignment: Luke 1; John 1

The following devotional commentary serves as part 2 of my two-part introduction to the Gospels of Luke and John.

John 1The Gospel of John is the fourth Gospel of the New Testament and was penned by the beloved apostle John.

John was Jewish by birth, and a fisherman by trade (Mark 1:20). We first meet John as a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35-40); however, he departed and followed Jesus when the Baptist declared Jesus to be the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36).

John was an eyewitness of the events recorded in his Gospel.  He was a disciple of Jesus Christ from the beginning of His earthly ministry, and a member of His inner circle, along with Peter and James, his brother. He was privileged to see Christ cloaked in His heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2). When Jesus was crucified, John stood beside Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:26), at the foot of the cross.

John is believed to have been the last of the apostles, all of whom were martyred according to tradition, and penned the Book of Revelations when he was banished to the isle of Patmos near the end of his life (Revelation 1:1-2).

The opening verses of John’s Gospel are some of the best known of the New Testament and need little exposition for the readers of this devotional blog.  Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that give rich historical details of the incarnation and birth of Jesus, John’s Gospel opens with a beautiful declaration of the divinity and eternality of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is introduced as Eternal God (1:1-2), Creator (1:3), the Life (1:4), the Light (1:5, 9), the Word of God “made flesh” (1:14a), the Son of God, “the only begotten of the Father” (1:14b). Declaring Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah whom the Jews rejected, John writes “He came unto his own [the Jews; descendants of Abraham], and his own received him not” (1:11).

Fulfilling the prophecies that a forerunner of the Messiah would come (Isaiah 40:3), we are introduced to the man we know as “John the Baptist” (1:15). While John the Baptist enjoyed a great following, he made it clear that he was not the Messiah (1:15-20); but the one sent before Christ to call the people to repent, and prepare their hearts for His coming (1:21-27).

John 1 records for us the dramatic moment that Jesus identified Himself with the ministry of John the Baptist by baptism (1:28-34), and John declared the purpose of Christ’s coming saying, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (1:29).

John continued, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him… And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (1:32, 34); “Behold the Lamb of God!” (1:36)

I close, drawing your attention to John 1:37-51 where we find the account of Jesus calling the first of disciples: Andrew (1:40), Simon Peter (1:41), Philip (1:43-44), Nathanael (1:45-49).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Ezra: Man of Faith” (Ezra 7-10)

Scripture reading – Ezra 7-10

* Note from the Author: I begin with a brief apology to those who follow my daily devotional posts. A dear friend brought to my attention that I had overlooked Ezra 7-10 (which chronologically should have come after Esther 6-10, and before Nehemiah 1-5). Tomorrow’s devotional in Malachi will conclude our Old Testament readings! Thank you for your patience and faithfulness.

Where do you look to for encouragement and spiritual inspiration?

Hebrews 11 is full of heroic, spiritually inspiring examples. We find Noah, an example of faithfulness in a wicked generation where he stood alone as a man of faith (11:7). Abraham, a man of incomparable faith, who left his family and country, to go to a land he had never seen, but which God had promised Him for an inheritance (11:8-10). Jacob was an example of the foresight of God, who saw in him, not what he was (a self-centered, deceitful man), but who he would become—Israel and a prince with God (11:21). Joseph serves as a model of inordinate forgiveness: He had unwavering confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when he was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave (11:22).

Though not mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” Ezra should be one of our spiritual heroes. He was not a great soldier, nor a descendant of blue blood royalty; however, he was a great man because he was faithful.

Who was Ezra?

Ezra was, as his name suggests, a “Helper.” He was a man of godly character. He was “a ready [trained, experienced; skilled] scribe in the law of Moses,” and “had prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach [instruct] in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:6, 10).

Four Stages for Becoming a “Spiritual Giant” (Ezra 7:6, 10)

Ezra had a passion for studying God’s Word. He was a “ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and was a disciplined student and teacher of God’s Word (7:6).

Ezra “prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (7:10). He had a right attitude and focus because he made preparing his heart a priority. Solomon taught his son, “The preparations of the heart in man [belong to man],and the answer of the tongue [the outcome of a matter], is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). Ezra was ready to serve God because he had prepared his heart.

The third stage of becoming a “spiritual giant” is perspiration. Ezra was committed to not only “seek the law of the LORD,” but “also to do it” (7:10). He understood that what practiced was just as important as what he knew (James 1:22, 25).

We have seen Ezra was passionate, prepared, perspiring, and fourthly – a proclaimer:

He taught “in Israel statutes and judgments” (7:10). Our world is in desperate need of spiritually committed men and women. I fear there are many who lack spiritual disciplines and commitment, and are what the writer of Hebrews described in Hebrews 5:12-14 – “12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Remember: Like an oak that requires a good foundation to grow tall and become a giant of the forest, you will never be a “spiritual giant” until you have the right foundation…faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior\Redeemer.

Psalm 1:1–31Blessed is the man That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

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

Never Forget Those Who Died…and Those Who Stood: I Am a Proud American!

SEVENTH IN A PACKAGE OF NINE PHOTOS.–– An explosion rips through the South Tower of the World Trade Towers after the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175, which departed from Boston en route for Los Angeles, crashed into it Sept, 11, 2001. The North Tower is shown burning after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the tower at 8:45 a.m. (AP Photo/Aurora, Robert Clark)