Tag Archives: Promises

Nothing is Impossible (Matthew 17; Mark 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 17; Mark 9

Today’s chronological Scripture reading brings us to within six months 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

“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

Passing the Test: Overcoming Temptation (Matthew 4; Luke 4-5)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4; Luke 4-5

Matthew 4 – Overcoming Temptation

Having been baptized by John the Baptist, and confirmed by the voice of God the Father, Who said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:17), we read: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness [desert] to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1)

Jesus was isolated in the wilderness for the next forty days where He was “tempted,” meaning tried and tested, by the devil (4:2-11).  Notice that Jesus faced three tests or temptations.

The first test was an attempt by the devil to tempt Jesus to question God’s providential care for His Son. The devil tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger by performing a miracle and turning stones to bread, apart from God’s will (4:3-4). Jesus answered the temptation with Scriptures saying, “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The second temptation questioned the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God. Daring to provoke sinful pride in Jesus, the devil demanded, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down” (4:6). Notice that the devil quoted Scripture saying, “for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11, 12). Like sinners who know enough Scripture to be a stumbling stone to others, the devil left out the phrase, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all Thy ways” (Ps. 91:11b).

Jesus once again answered the devil’s temptation, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God.”

The devil came to Jesus a third and final time, and endeavored to entice Him, offering Him the “kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (4:8). Jesus answered the temptation, remembering the Law, “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 10:20a).

I close with a couple of insights. The first, notice the devil tempted Jesus with things that were common: Hunger and physical desires (4:3-4), pride, by distorting the Scriptures (4:6), and lusts for possessions (4:8). When you face temptations, you may well find they rise from the mundane choices of every day life.

Finally, notice that a knowledge of Scripture and an ability to quote relevant verses is the way to overcome temptation. Jesus responded to each temptation with a Bible principle founded upon the Law and Commandments.

I close with an exhortation you and I would do well to heed:

Psalm 119:9–119Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11Thy word have I hid in mine heart, That I might not sin against thee.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Men of Persia: Your Ancestors Were the Wisest of Men! (Matthew 2)

Scripture reading – Matthew 2

Matthew 2 is our assigned Scripture reading, bringing us to a fascinating event in antiquity: The journey of “wise men from the east” who came to Jerusalem (2:1) enquiring, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (2:2)

Matthew 2

Four centuries of turmoil had preceded the birth of Jesus. The Jews had waited four hundred years for the prophecies of a coming Messiah to be fulfilled. The Temple had been rebuilt, the walls of Jerusalem repaired, and Israel was restored in the land God had promised Abraham would be an inheritance of his lineage.

As a nation and people, Israel was not at peace. Malachi had prophesied the people would suffer God’s judgment for breaking covenant with the LORD, and Israel had experienced the assault of Greece that was soon followed by the armies of Rome. Self-appointed “Messiahs” had come and gone, and Jewish rebellions had been swiftly crushed. Israel was oppressed by taxations and the idolatrous ways of Rome.

Still, the Jews waited for their Messiah, a Deliverer, a political Savior, a leader who would cast off the tyranny of Rome, and revive the glory years of Israel as a kingdom. When Christ was born, Israel was looking, waiting, and longing for a Messiah King, and so, we read,

Matthew 2:1 – “1Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”

Bethlehem of Judaea, had been the birthplace of King David, and was the city where Micah prophesied the Christ child would be born (Micah 5:2). Joseph and Mary, both of whom were of the lineage of David, fulfilling the decree of Caesar Augustus that the people should be registered in their ancestral homelands, had journeyed to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5). Arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph had been unable to find lodging, and the couple sought shelter in a stable where Mary gave birth to her Son (Luke 2:6-7) whom her husband named Jesus (Matthew 1:25).

Weeks, months, and likely as much as two years, passed before “wise men from the east” (2:1) arrived in Jerusalem.

These “wise men” were doubtless attended by a great caravan of soldiers and servants, as the journey from Persia to Judaea would have taken months, and been known well in advance of their arrival in Jerusalem.

The presence of a powerful company of Persians seeking an infant “King of the Jews” (2:2) had been troubling to King Herod (2:3). He was a puppet of Rome, an illegitimate monarch, an Edomite who lived in constant fear of assassination and the swift reprisals of Caesar Augusts, the Roman emperor. Herod’s role was to keep the peace by pacifying the Jews, but also enforcing the laws and taxations required by Rome to maintain its far-flung armies and the lavish lifestyle of the emperor.

The rumor of an infant king, a legitimate heir to David’s throne, was intolerable to a man like Herod. After learning there was a prophecy that foretold the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the king dispatched the wise men to the city, suggesting that he would soon follow to worship the new born king (2:4-8). We read,

Matthew 2:9–10 9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

There has been much debate about the star that served as a guiding light for the wise men and led them from the east to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus, His mother, and Joseph lodged (2:11). Perhaps it was a physical star, miraculously employed by God to guide these wisest of men from the east. Or the star might have been the shekinah glory of God that guided them. It matters not; what does matter is that “the star” led the wise men to Jesus, and “when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him” (2:11).

Think about it: Before there was a prophet named Mohammed; before there was a religion called Islam; before there was a clash of cultures divided over religions, there were men of Persia, “wise men” who comprehended a prophecy that a King of the Jews would be born!

Perhaps with the knowledge of prophecies that foretold the birth of a Messiah King and had been passed down from the prophet Daniel, wise men of Persia read in the heavens, the birth announcement of the King of the Jews (2:2).

An infant King whom the wisest of men would “come to worship” (2:2).

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

“I Have Loved You, Israel” (Malachi 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Malachi 1-4

Today’s Scripture is our 273rd, and brings our year-long chronological reading of the Bible to the final book of the Old Testament. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Malachi 1.

The Book of Malachi was written around 400 B.C. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. His ministry was to the remnant of Jews that had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.

Cyrus, king of Persia, had made an emancipation decree in 536 B.C., fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Jews would return their land after a seventy-year captivity. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt around 446 B.C.  Less than a half-century later, we find Israel once again having broken covenant with God and facing the consequences of their sin and rebellion.

Malachi’s prophecy is the last word from the LORD recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, until the nation heard the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).

Malachi 1

Malachi described his ministry as, “The burden [weight and importance of the prophecy] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi” (1:1), and declared to Israel on God’s behalf, “I have loved you” (1:2a). God’s love is unconditional (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 5:8), everlasting, unfailing love (Jeremiah 31:3-4).

Rather than acknowledge God’s love, the people obstinately asked, “Wherein has thou loved us?” (1:2b). In spite of the love and grace He had extended to Israel, the people questioned God’s favor (1:1-5).

Malachi reminded the people how the LORD had chosen Israel (Jacob), but rejected Esau. (1:2-3). He had left Edom impoverished, but had blessed the land of Israel. And yet, the people questioned the LORD’s love!

The people had dishonored the LORD’s name (1:6), and the priests were rebuked for offering sacrifices that were less than the covenant that bound them. God’s Law required perfect sacrifices (Deut. 15:19-23; Leviticus 22:17-33); however, the priests had offered “polluted bread” (food), and animals that were blind, lame, and sick (Malachi 1:7-8, 13). They dared offer to God what their own human authorities would have rejected (1:8b).

Malachi admonished the priests, it would be better to “shut the doors” of the Temple and offer no sacrifice, than to make a pretense of sacrifices that were less than their best (1:10, 14). 

Malachi then prophesied that there would be a future day (the Millennium Kingdom), when the Gentiles would worship the LORD and His name would be “great among the heathen” (1:11).

Sadly, the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He established His covenant, had once again turned from the LORD and despised His offerings (1:13). The LORD, faithful to His Word and covenant, warned, “cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, And voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (1:14).

Friend, what attitude do you have toward the LORD in giving Him your tithes, time, and talents? Do you treasure the things that are eternal, or covet the things of this earth that are temporal and fleeting? (Matthew 6:21, 31-33)

Have you given Him your heart?

Romans 12:1 – “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.”

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

Forgotten by Man, But Not by God (Nehemiah 10-13)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 10-13

Today’s Scripture reading concludes our study of the Book of Nehemiah and his account of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Nehemiah 10.

Nehemiah 10 – Your Service is Important to God

Admittedly, Nehemiah 10 would be an easy chapter to pass over, especially with a host of names that are not only difficult to pronounce, but seem to serve no real purpose. Other than a historical record, what value or lessons can 21st century believers derive from this list of names?

Nehemiah 10:1-28 is a list of eighty-four men who, though inconsequential in our day, were nevertheless important to the LORD who directed Nehemiah to not only record their names, but also preserve them for us for over two and one-half millenniums.

More important than their labor on the wall of Jerusalem, was the commitment they made for themselves and their families when they renewed Israel’s covenant with God and sealed it with their signatures (10:1 – “Now those that sealed…”).

Nehemiah was the first to sign the covenant (10:1), and his signature was followed by the Priests (10:2-8), Levites (10:9-13), and the leaders or “chief of the people” (10:14-26).

Following the example of their spiritual leaders and heads of households, we read,

Nehemiah 10:28-29 – “28 And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; 29They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.”

Someone has observed that there are no “spiritual grandchildren” when it comes to passing on one’s faith to another generation. While the leadership of Israel had followed Nehemiah in confirming their covenant with the LORD (10:1-27), it was crucial that the people individually affirm their faith and understanding of what God required of His people.

The people did not enter into the covenant foolishly or unadvisedly. We read, “the rest of the people” (10:28a), and those included wives, sons, and daughters, understood the covenant and accepted their responsibility to “walk in God’s law” (10:29). They affirmed they understood both the reward (blessings) and consequences (curses) that comes to those who are a covenant people (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). They also promised their sons and daughters would not become unequally yoked with unbelievers (“the people of the land,” 10:30; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

Various other ordinances were acknowledged including observing the Sabbath (10:31), paying a required Temple tax of one-third shekels (10:32; Exodus 30:11-16 required one-half shekel, but the lesser amount here might have been due to the poverty of the people).

Various offerings were renewed including the requirement to give a “wood offering,” that was used for sacrifices and to keep a perpetual fire burning on the altar (10:34; Leviticus 6:12-13). The “firstfruits offering” was re-established, serving as a reminder that God requires tithes of our first and best (10:35, 36-37; Proverbs 3:9). Also, a firstborn son was to be dedicated to God and redeemed with by offering a lamb (10:36; Exodus 34:19-20).

The people were taught that their tithes and offerings were to be used to support the Levites (10:37-39; Leviticus 27:30-34). In turn, The Levites were to tithe of the tithes that were given to support them and their households (10:37b-38; Leviticus 27:30-34).

Having been instructed in the demands of the Law, and understanding both its blessings and curses, the people affirmed their covenant with the LORD saying, “we will not forsake the house of our God” (10:39b).

Friend I close this devotional by proposing to you a question:

Can you honestly say, “I have not forsaken the house of our God?”

Hebrews 10:2525Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

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