Tag Archives: Spiritual warfare

The Key to Overcoming Trials and Troubles (James 4; James 5)

Scripture reading – James 4; James 5

Continuing our study of trials, troubles, and temptations, we consider today’s Scripture reading, James 4 and 5. This devotional is taken from James 4.

James 4 opens with a provoking question: “From whence [where] come wars [battles; conflicts] and fightings[disputes; quarrels] among you?” (4:1) Sadly, that question was not addressed to the unsaved, but to those who professed to be believers and were members of the church. Twenty-one centuries later, churches find themselves asking the same question, as some are embroiled in conflicts and disagreements.

Why do conflicts arise in a body of believers, when they are commanded to love one another? (4:2-3)

We noticed in James 3, how the tongue is a primary candidate for inciting trouble in friendships, marriages, families, and churches (3:2a, 6, 8). An unbridled, undisciplined tongue will exasperate, infuriate, and bring envy and strife. Unfortunately, the “tongue” is no longer confined to whispers and gossip. The 21st century has given the tongue new means of expressing itself, sowing discord, and provoking conflict through texting, emails, blogs, and social media posts (4:1).

It comes as no surprise that the “wars and fightings” of the 21st century have their origin in the same source as the 1st century. James writes, “Come they [“wars and fightings”] not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (4:1b) The author cited unfulfilled, selfish desires as a root of frustration. James wrote, “2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain… ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (4:2-3).

Why are so many church members frustrated and unhappy? (4:4-6)

Although the culture of the 1st century was very different from our day with its technology, conveniences, and amusements; nevertheless, the issue was the same: spiritual infidelity (adultery) and worldliness, which produces unhappiness (4:4-6). James warned, embrace the world and its sinful lusts (1 John 2:15-17), and you will find yourself “the enemy of God” (4:4). Walk humbly, and the Lord promises grace, but be forewarned: He “resisteth the proud” (4:6; Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5).

Ten Commands to Overcome Temptation (4:7-10)

James presented us with the problem (man’s sinful pride), but he did not leave us hopeless. Understanding trials and temptations are ever present, James stated ten commands that encourage a righteous response to trials and troubles (James 4:7-10).

1) “Submit…to God, by accepting His sovereign authority in your life (4:7a).
2) “Resist the devil” by opposing him, “and he will flee” (4:7b).
3) Maintain an intimate fellowship with the LORD: “draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you” (4:8a).
4) “Cleanse your hands,” submitting to His conviction (4:8b).
5) Have spiritual integrity, “and purify your heart,” knowing a “double minded” man is unacceptable to God (4:8c).
6) “Be afflicted” and broken over your sin (4:9a).
7) “Mourn,” expressing a genuine sorrow for sin (4:9b).
8) “Weep” tears, and express outward sorrow (4:9c).
9) Set aside silliness, and “let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (4:9c).
10) “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (4:10).

Closing thoughts (4:11-17)

Believer, you are not exempt or insulated from trials; however, you have something the world does not—the Lord. He longs for you to submit to His will, obey His Word, and cling to Him. Remember, unhappiness and conflicts arise when we become proud and self-sufficient (4:11-12). Remember: Your life is “even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (4:14). Be wise, acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (4:15).

Proverbs 3:55Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; And lean not unto thine own understanding.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Commencement of the Mission of the Great Commission (Acts 14)

Scripture reading – Acts 14

Continuing our study of the Acts of the Apostles, we observe an ever-rising tide of persecution. Paul and Barnabas had left the believers in Jerusalem, and took with them John Mark (12:25). Returning to Antioch, the Holy Spirit moved on that church to “separate” and consecrate Barnabas and Saul to be sent forth as the first missionary team (13:2-4). Traveling with that dynamic duo was John Mark; however, he soon deserted their company and “returned to Jerusalem” (13:13). (John Mark’s departure would later prove to be a divisive issue between Barnabas and Saul, Acts 15:38-40).

Paul and Barnabas came to another Antioch, known in the Scriptures as “Antioch in Pisidia” (13:14). This Antioch began in Asia Minor as a Roman outpost, but by Paul’s day was the capital city of Galatia in modern day Turkey. Antioch’s population of Jews was large enough to have a synagogue, and as it was their custom, Paul and Barnabas worshipped there on the Sabbath (13:14). As was the tradition, as guests of the synagogue, Paul and Barnabas were invited to give a “word of exhortation for the people” (13:15).

Trained in the Scriptures, Paul was a powerful, persuasive speaker, and he began to declare God’s providential work and care for Israel (13:18-22). He beckoned them with his hand saying, “26 Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent… 28And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. 30But God raised him from the dead” (13:23-41).

At that time there were many Jews and Gentiles who heard the Gospel, believed and were baptized (13:42, 47-48). Nevertheless, there were many who rejected Christ, opposed Paul and Barnabas, and “expelled them out of their coasts” (13:45, 50). In turn, Paul and Barnabas rejected their rejectors, and “shook off the dust of their feet against them” (13:51). Yet, though rejected by man, those preachers “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (13:52).

Acts 14 – Preaching the Gospel in Iconium (14:1-7)

Paul and Barnabas continued their missionary journey from Antioch in Pisidia to Iconium (a distance of approximately 120 miles). As they spoke in the synagogue, there was once again “a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed” (14:1). Isn’t it interesting, how the same message that convicted and moved Jews and Gentiles to repent and believe, stirred up others to reject and persecute? (14:2).

In spite of the opposition, Paul and Barnabas persevered and remained in Iconium “a long time…[and] speaking boldly in the Lord…gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders [miracles] to be done by their hands” (14:3). Yet, “the city was divided,” and some followed the Jews, and others believed the apostles (14:4). The opposition was so great, that some were determined “to stone them” (14:5). They fled Iconium, and came unto “Lystra and Derbe” where they “preached the gospel” (14:6-7).

A Crippled Healed (14:8-17)

Paul healed a crippled man in Lystra, who had been so from birth, and had never walked (14:8). Paul, saw the crippled man “had faith to be healed,” and “said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked” (14:9-10). The people of Lystra saw the miracle, and their thoughts shaped by their mythology, began praising Paul and Barnabas as gods (14:11-12). Indeed, the “priest of Jupiter” came, and would have offered the apostles sacrifices had they not protested and said, we “are men of like passions with you” (14:15).

Paul then declared the true God had made Himself known in creation:  “The living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein… left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (14:15, 17).

Persistent Enemies (14:19-21)

Though they had traveled 120 miles, Paul’s enemies from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra, and proved the fickle nature of sinners, and stirred up the people who “stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead” (14:19). Left for dead, Paul regained consciousness, “rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe” (14:20).

Closing thoughts (14:21-28) – Bold, courageous, and Spirit-filled, Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities where they had preached (14:20-21). They instructed “the souls of the disciples” and exhorted “them to continue in the faith” (14:22). They made their journey back to Antioch, (of Syria) where they “rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (14:21). Perhaps tired, and weary, Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time with the believers in Antioch (14:28).

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Fury and Death of Herod, Enemy of God (Acts 12; Acts 13)

Scripture reading – Acts 12; Acts 13

Acts 12 begins with the phrase, “about that time,” and gives us cause to consider “the time” that was the setting for today’s devotional. Putting our Scripture reading in its historical context, it was “the time” that followed Peter learning the Gospel was to be preached to all men, Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:1-48). Peter had given a defense of his doctrine before the believers of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18), and they “glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).

The church in Jerusalem commissioned and “sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch” (11:22). The work was so great that Barnabas determined to travel to Tarsus, and invite Saul to minister with him in Antioch (11:25-26). It was also at the time when a believer named Agabus prophesied the world would experience a “great dearth” (a time of famine, 11:28). Exercising love and compassion for their brethren in Jerusalem, the believers in Antioch “determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea,” and “every man [gave] according to his ability” (11:29). Barnabas and Saul were sent with an offering for believers in Jerusalem (11:30).

Acts 12

Perhaps for political reasons, and to distract the people from the famine, king Herod (the grandson of Herod the Great), began a systematic pattern of persecuting the church. The king “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (making him the first of the apostles to be martyred, 12:2). When he realized his actions “pleased the Jews” (12:3), he determined “to take Peter” and would have put him to death had God not intervened (12:3-4).

With Peter in prison, the believers of the church began to pray “without ceasing” (12:5). While they prayed, “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison” (12:6). What faith, and confidence Peter had in God’s care and providences. Then, God miraculously intervened, and sent an angel who struck Peter in his side to awaken him, and commanded him, “Arise up quickly” (12:7). So deep was his sleep, the angel instructed him to put on his shoes and his garments. Even then, Peter believed it wasn’t so, and he was having a vision (12:8-9).

Peter was delivered from the prison by the angel, and then made his way through the streets to where believers were gathered to pray at the home of Mary, whose son was named “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12). (This is the same John Mark who would be the author of the Gospel of Mark).

Arriving at the house, Peter knocked and a young lady named Rhoda, answered the door (12:13). Hearing and recognizing his voice, Rhoda was so excited she neglected opening the door for Peter to enter the house (12:14). She told the believers Peter was outside the gate, but they accused her of being “mad” (literally out of her head or mind, 12:14). Some suggested she had seen Peter’s angel, though Peter continued to knock (12:16).

Finally opening the door, the believers rejoiced to find Peter standing before them! (12:16) He quieted their enthusiasm, and explained how he had been delivered from the prison (12:17). He then instructed them to send a message to “James, and to the brethren” (this is probably James, the half-brother of Jesus, and the son of Joseph and Mary, 12:17b). By this time, James appears to be the leader of the believers in the church in Jerusalem. Wisely, Peter departed from Jerusalem, “and went into another place” (12:17c).

Herod’s Fury and Death (12:18-23)

When it was day, the soldiers and keepers of the prison discovered Peter was missing (12:18). Those who slept in his cell, and those who stood guard at the door of the prison, had no explanation for Peter’s absence (12:19). Herod then ordered the execution of those men who failed to keep Peter prisoner (12:19).

The king then departed for Caesarea (a city on the Mediterranean Sea), and remained there (12:19b). Proud of his position and power, the king set a day of pageantry for himself, and “arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them” (12:21). The people flattered the foolish king, “saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man” (12:22). Herod accepted their blasphemy, and even as they praised him, an “angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (12:23). Imagine the horror of seeing the king struck down, and worms consuming him till he was dead! (12:23).

Closing thoughts (12:24-25) – While the persecution of believers increased, so did the reach of the “Word of God,” which increased more and more (12:24). Acts 12 concluded with Barnabas and Saul departing Jerusalem and returning to Antioch, and this time in the company of “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12, 25).

Though today’s Scripture reading continues with Acts 13, and the historical record of the beginning of modern missions, I must leave that study for another time.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Tribulation and the Signs of Christ’s Coming (Matthew 24, Matthew 25)

Scripture reading – Matthew 24, Matthew 25

Today’s Scripture reading is a parallel passage to our earlier devotional commentary over Mark 13 and Luke 21. The focus of this devotional is Matthew 24.

Jesus and His disciples were departing the Temple, when the disciples commented to Him regarding the great stones of the Temple (24:1; Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5). Jesus then prophesied the destruction of the Temple, saying, “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (24:2).

Stunned by His prophesy, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Tell us, when [what time; how long] shall these things be [i.e. when will they come to pass]? and what shall be the sign [token; i.e. distinguishing mark] of Thy coming [advent; return], and of the end [completion; consummation] of the world [age]?” (Matthew 24:3).

Christ answered the disciples’ questions with a sweeping prophecy that fills the balance of Matthew 24 and Matthew 25. He identified eight signs as “the beginning [i.e. the birth pangs] of sorrows” (24:8), signs and events that will precede His Second Coming.

Eight Signs the Second Coming of Christ is Near: 1) A great deception led by a proliferation of “false Christs” who will deceive many (24:5); 2) International conflicts described as “wars and rumors of wars [and] nation shall rise against nation, and kingdoms against kingdom” (24:6-7a); 3) Universal, natural disasters: “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places” (24:7b); 4) An increase in persecution, martyrdom, and hatred for believers (24:9-10); 5) A great apostasy and falling away of pseudo-believers (24:10); 6) An increase in false prophets who “shall deceive many” (24:11); 7) An allure of sin that will diminish a love for righteousness and Truth (24:12); 8) The universal declaration and proliferation of the Gospel of the kingdom to all nations and people (24:14).

Yet, with all the signs the coming of Christ is near, the worst is yet to be. There will follow a period of Tribulation the prophet Daniel described as the “abomination that maketh desolate” (24:15; Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Jesus warned, “For then shall be [shall come to pass] great [high; large; prolonged] tribulation [affliction; distress; trouble], such as was not since [from] the beginning of the world to this [until] time, no, nor ever shall be”(24:21). The world will witness unparalleled sorrows as the end draws near (24:21) and believers who live in the tribulation are urged to be cautious, for “there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible [which it is not, because God will protect His people], they shall deceive the very elect” (24:23-24).

Many “false Christs will arise” (24:24); however, when He returns, His coming will be unmistakable. He will come “as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (24:27).

Signs in the heavens will precede Christ’s coming (24:29-30). The world will be shadowed with the terror of darkness, for “the sun [shall] be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light” (24:29a). The solar system will fail, for “the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (24:29b). In that day, as the earth is shrouded in terrifying darkness, Jesus Christ, the “Son of man in heaven,” will be seen “coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30). His coming will strike terror in the hearts of men as “all the tribes of the earth mourn” (24:30).

Closing thoughts – To the saints who believed in Christ during the Tribulation, His coming will be glorious. Christ will “send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (24:31). What a glorious day that will be!

Are you ready for His coming?

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Hope for the Hopeless (Mark 5)

Scripture reading – Mark 5

We continue our study of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and our focus today is Mark 5. Once again, we have the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and arriving on the other side in an area identified as the Gadarenes (5:1). Matthew 8:28 recognized the same region as Gergesenes (Gadara was the name of a nearby city, while Gergesenes was the name of a lake on that side. There was also a city in that area named Gergesa). Another difference between Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels is the prior states there were “two possessed with devils” that met Jesus (Matthew 8:28), and the latter states the LORD encountered “a man with an unclean sprit” (5:2). The difference in the two accounts is not a contradiction, but only that Mark chose to record the event of one man, not two.

Let us consider, that harmony in content is one of the great testaments to the inspiration of the Gospels. While the Holy Spirit used different human authors, and employed each man’s unique perspective and language, nevertheless the accounts harmonize as a whole (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Together, the Synoptics give us a deeper dimension of the same events.

Today’s devotional will focus on Mark 5:1-20, and the terrible toll sin took upon one man’s life. Jesus and His disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, and arrived on the eastern shore. There, they were met by a hopeless, tormented, demon possessed man described as having an “unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2).

The Condition of a Desperate Sinner (5:1-5)

Consider the physical appearance of the demon possessed man: The man was described as having “fetters” (ropes) and chains that hanged about his body, showing the desperate attempts family and friends had made to control him (5:3-4). His body was scarred with self-inflicted wounds for he had cut “himself with stones” (5:5).

He was a troubled man, socially isolated from his family, friends, and neighbors. He had made his abode among the caves and tombs of the hillsides in the area (5:5). Imagine the sorrow his condition had brought upon his loved ones, for he had been driven into the desert leaving behind his family to bear the sorrow and shame of his condition. His emotional condition was exhibited in his tormented screams that echoed off the hillsides “always” (5:5). “Night and day” the wild, tormented screams of his anguish were heard (5:5).

Salvation and Transformation (5:6-15)

He was “possessed with the devil, and had the legion” (a legion was a Roman name of a company of soliders that might number in the thousands, 5:9, 15).  We are not told how the man came to be possessed by demons; however, sin had overtaken every part of his affections and thoughts. The evil, unclean spirit had degraded and destroyed his life, family, and future (James 1:14-15).

In a fleeting moment of desperation, the man ran to Jesus and worshipped Him (5:6); however, the demons that ruled his soul wanted nothing to do with Jesus (5:7).  Jesus, evidencing His power and authority over evil spirits, cast the demons out of the man and permitted them to enter a herd of swine that could not abide the indwelling of such wickedness (5:10-13).

Rather than the protracted steps and methods of “reformation” that is the methodology of secular psychologists and psychiatrists, the demon-possessed man’s life was immediately changed by his spiritual encounter and faith in Jesus. His life gave evidence of his conversion and the radical transformation was undeniable (5:8, 15). The change was so transformative his family, friends, and neighbors observed him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (5:15). He was “sitting,” at peace, and no longer bound by sin or needing chains and ropes.  They found him “clothed,” no longer a violent man crying and cutting himself. He was “in his right mind,” repentant and rational (5:15), and longed to go with Jesus (5:18). God’s power not only overcame his rebellious, evil spirit, it transformed his thoughts, mind, and affections.

Closing thoughts – Tragically, and in spite of the undeniable transformation in the man’s life, the citizens of Gadara begged Jesus to “depart out of their coasts” (5:17). They would not embrace Him as LORD, nor would they welcome Him in their homes or country. Jesus, knowing the man of Gadara could go where He would not be welcome, commanded him to, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (5:19). The change in the demon-possessed man’s life was undeniable evidence of his salvation. Can that be said of you?

Romans 12:1-2 – “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. 2And 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.”

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“Peace In the Midst of the Storm” (Luke 8; Mark 4)

Scripture reading – Luke 8; Mark 4

Luke 8

Our study of the Gospels continues, and you will notice parallel accounts of the same events in today’s Scripture reading. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels.” Synoptic suggests the same or similar; thus, the “synoptic gospels” record the same events, albeit from each human author’s perspective. Together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a greater depth and broader perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Briefly, as we read in our study of Matthew 13:1-23, we find the Parable of the Sower and Soils recorded in Luke 8:5-15 and Mark 4:3-20. Luke 8:16-18 and Mark 4:21-25 records the Parable of the Candlelight. Remember, not all events recorded in the Gospels are in chronological order. For example, Luke places in chapter 8 when Mary, the mother of Jesus and His half-brothers (sons born to Joseph) came to Jesus requesting a word with Him (8:19-21). The same incidence was recorded earlier in Matthew (12:46-50) and Mark (3:31-35).

Mark 4 – A Storm and a Revelation

As already noted, Mark 4 reprises the Parable of the Sower and Soils (4:3-20). Mark also gives us the record of the Parable of the Candlelight (4:21-25), Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26-29), and the Parable of the Mustard Seed(4:30-32).

Christ’s Authority Over Nature (Mark 4:35-41)

Jesus was exhausted from teaching (for though He was Divine, He was human with the physical challenges of hunger, thirst, and fatigue), Jesus urged 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, 14 miles long and 7 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 and can produce sudden, violent storms on the waters of 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 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 four of the disciples were experienced fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), 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, and He “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 His 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. The disciples had heard Him teach, but they had not understood His person. They had witnessed His miracles, but had not recognized His power.

Closing thoughts and observations – 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). Storms in life are inevitable, though they often take us by surprise. Yet, all storms (troubles, trials) 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.

Another lesson concerns our response to trials and troubles, for they 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 when He commanded the wind and the waves to cease, “they feared [and asked], What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41).

Finally, I don’t know what storms or troubles you may be facing, but I encourage you to see them as opportunities to know and trust God personally and intimately. You must learn to accept that God’s plan for your life will lead you into trials that will test your faith. The storms of life challenge us to assess our priorities, and also reveal our limitations apart from Him.

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

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Who Are You Following? (Matthew 8)

Scripture reading – Matthew 8

A word of explanation is in order as our chronological reading of the Scripture brings us to Matthew 8. You will notice we are momentarily passing over Matthew 5-7, but this is only a temporary adjustment. The Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe events in the life of Christ from comparable viewpoints; however, they are not always chronological in their order. There are some who suggest that is the case with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Matthew 4 concluded with Jesus ministering “throughout “Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (4:23). As His fame grew, Jesus was followed by “great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan” (4:25). The record of the LORD’s travels paused as He “went up in to a mountain” (5:1), where He taught His disciples and the crowd that followed Him (Matthew 5-7). Coming “down from the mountain” (5:1-16), we find Jesus returning to His travels throughout Galilee (8:1).

Matthew 8

Several healing miracles are recorded in Matthew 8, and attest to Jesus’s divine power and authority over nature.

Healing a Leper (8:1-4)

Coming down from the mount, Jesus met a leper, who came “and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (8:2). Leprosy was a dreaded, incurable skin disease of that time, and eventually ate away at the flesh and appendages of its victim. The leper in our story would have been miserable, and desperate (Isaiah 1:5-6), an outcast and alienated from family and society. He came to Jesus seeking compassion, and believing he could be healed. Jesus, reaching past social norms, touched the leper and said, “I will; be thou clean” (8:3). We read, “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (8:3). Jesus then commanded the man, “See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (8:4; Leviticus 14:1-3).

Healing the Centurion’s Slave (8:5-13)

The leper having departed, Jesus came to Capernaum, and was met by a centurion (a Roman officer who commanded 100 soldiers, 8:5). Though a battle-hardened soldier, the centurion was a man who had compassion on a servant whom he described as “sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (8:6). Once again, defying norms and the prejudice of the Jews, Jesus consented to the officer’s plea, and said, “I will come and heal him” (8:7).

With humility, “the centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (8:8). Humility is rare (especially among the rich and powerful), and the centurion’s faith was extraordinary (8:8b-9). The LORD was astonished at the centurion’s faith, and commended His faith as superior to any He found among Jews (8:10b).

Turning to His disciples (8:11), Jesus foretold the Gospel would be received by many Gentiles (“from the east and west”), and foretold the Centurion was one of many who would become citizens of heaven (8:11). Tragically, many of the Jews (“children of the kingdom”) would reject Jesus and be sentenced to “outer darkness: [where]there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12).  The scene with the centurion concluded with Jesus assuring him his servant was healed (8:13).

Matthew 8:14-17 chronicles miracles of healing we have considered in Mark 1:29-31 and Luke 4:38-39.

First Claim Principle (8:19-22)

With great crowds pressing, Jesus “gave commandment to depart unto the other side” (to the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, 8:18). As they boarded their boats, two men came to Jesus and proposed they would go with Jesus. One said, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest” (8:19). He was a scribe, an expert in the Law of Moses, but when Jesus promised him a life of ministry that would be one of poverty (for the Son of man [Jesus] hath not where to lay his head”), he turned and walked away (8:20).

A second man, apparently accompanied the first, and he answered Jesus’ invitation to follow, saying, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father” (in essence saying, when his father died and he received his inheritance, he would follow Him, 8:21). Jesus refused the man, saying, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (8:22). Luke writes there was a third man who proposed to follow Jesus, but like the others, he was not ready to depart (Luke 9:61-62).

Peace in the Midst of a Storm (8:23-27)

Jesus and His disciples set sail across the Sea of Galilee, only to find themselves in the midst of a great storm, and their boats taking on water (8:24). With Jesus fast asleep, the disciples battled to save the ship until in desperation they cried, “Lord, save us: we perish” (8:25). Jesus then asked the disciples, Why are ye fearful. O ye of little faith?” (8:26) Rising to His feet, Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (8:26). Stunned by the sudden quiet, the disciples said among themselves, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! (8:27).

Closing thoughts (8:28-34) – We have seen the LORD have power to heal lepers, restore a paralytic, and demonstrate authority over nature to calm a storm. Yet, He recognized the free will of men to choose to follow Him, or reject Him (8:19-22). Like many, there were three who expressed a desire to be followers of Christ, but they were unwilling to sacrifice selfish ambitions and plans (8:18-22).

Our study ends reminding us the LORD also has power and authority over demons (8:28-34). Jesus freed the souls of two wicked sinners from the devils that possessed them, and not even a herd of swine could abide the evil spirits that those men had tolerated (8:28-32). Tragically, when their neighbors heard how Jesus cast devils out of the men, they rejected Him, and “besought Him that He would “depart out of their coasts” (8:34).

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Passing the Test: Overcoming Temptation (Matthew 4)

Scripture reading – Luke 3; Matthew 4

We have seen Jesus baptized by John the Baptist, and confirmed by “the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (Matthew 3:16). Matthew writes that God the Father confessed of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:17). After His baptism, Jesus retreated, and was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness [desert] to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1)

Matthew 4 – Overcoming Temptation

Jesus was sequestered in the wilderness for forty days, and was “tempted of the devil” (4:2-11). We notice three tests or temptation Jesus faced.

The devil tempted Jesus to question God’s providential care for His Son (4:3-4). 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 Scripture 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 the devil quoted Scripture, and said, “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 a crucial phrase in the quote: “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all Thy ways” (Ps. 91:11b). Again, Jesus answered the devil’s temptation, and quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God.”

The devil came and made a third, and final effort to tempt Jesus to sin. That wicked one endeavored to entice Jesus to sin, and offered Him the “kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (4:8). Jesus answered the temptation, quoting the Law, “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 10:20a).

Calling the Disciples (4:12-22)

With the temptation ended, Jesus journeyed to Nazareth, and soon after began His public ministry in Capernaum, located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee (4:12-13), and fulfilling yet another prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-2). Bringing spiritual light to “the people which sat in darkness” (4:16), Jesus “began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). He then began to call the Twelve who would serve as His disciples (students), beginning with Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James, and John, both sons of Zebedee (4:18-22). Leaving everything behind, Peter and Andrew “straightway left their nets” (4:19), and James and John “immediately left the ship and their father, and followed” Jesus (4:22).

Closing thoughts – Notice temptations usually arise from the common, mundane choices of everyday life. 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 power and possessions (4:8). For every temptation, Jesus answered with Scripture, quoting the Law and Commandments.

Challenge: Every believer should have a practical knowledge of the Scriptures, and an ability to quote relevant verses when they face temptation. Jesus responded to each temptation with a Bible principle founded upon the Law and Commandments.

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.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Quitting is Not An Option! (Nehemiah 3; Nehemiah 4)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 3; Nehemiah 4

Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple in 586 BC. Sadly, for nearly 150 years the ruins of the city remained as a testimony of God’s judgment. Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed the Temple be rebuilt in 538 BC, yet nearly 100 years passed before Nehemiah set his heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 446 BC.

With king Artaxerxes’ blessing and authority, Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, and found the walls of the city in ruins, “and the gates…consumed with fire” (2:12-13). Declaring God’s blessings upon him, and the king’s authority, Nehemiah challenged the people, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18), and they enthusiastically joined him in the work (2:18b). Rebuilding the walls and gates would not be without its enemies, for some men mocked the Jews, and accused them of rebelling against the king (2:19). Undeterred, Nehemiah declared, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us” (2:20a).

Nehemiah 3

Demonstrating the skills of an administrator, Nehemiah assigned sections of the wall to men and families. Others were tasked with rebuilding the gates of the city. It is noteworthy that Nehemiah made a point of recording the names of men, families, and villages that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, Nehemiah 3:5 reminds us God takes notice of those who labor, and those who refuse to work. We read concerning the citizens of Tekoa (a village 11 miles south of Jerusalem), “the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (3:5).

Ten gates were named by Nehemiah, and each served a particular purpose. The prominence of the Sheep Gate is especially significant for it served as both the first and last gate that was named (3:1, 32). The sheep that would be sacrificed on the Temple altar passed through the sheep gate. The sheep gate serves as a reminder that, like the sacrificial lamb which passed through the gate, Jesus Christ was not only the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), but the Gate (Door) through which all sinners must pass if they will come to the Father (John 10).

In addition to the Sheep Gate, the most important gate was the East Gate (3:29), for it is historically and prophetically important. The East Gate led to the Temple, and in Hebrew was the Mercy Gate. The East Gate was described as the “Beautiful Gate” in Acts 3 (Acts 3:1-10). You may remember how Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD leave the Temple, and pass out of the city through the East Gate in Ezekiel 10:18-22 and 11:22-25. Ezekiel also foretold the “glory of the God of Israel,” would one day come “from the way of the east” (Ezekiel 43:1-3). He prophesied the LORD will enter the East Gate and His glory fill the Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-4) in His Millennial Kingdom.

Nehemiah 4

Rebuilding the walls and restoring the gates of Jerusalem was a work pleasing to God, but it was not without its opposition. As the work began, the enemies of God’s people were provoked to anger, and began mocking the laborers and ridiculing their work on the walls (4:1-6). The enemies of the Jews “conspired all of them together” (4:8), and surrounded the city on all sides (4:7-8).

Once again, we find Nehemiah was a man of prayer. When the enemy derided the work, saying, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (4:3), Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5). When the enemy threatened “to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (4:8), Nehemiah writes, “we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (4:9). When the strength of the people failed, and the enemy threatened to slay them (4:10), Nehemiah challenged, “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight” (4:14).

Closing thoughts (4:15-23) – When Nehemiah faced opposition, he prayed. When the enemy threatened to attack the city, Nehemiah challenged every man to gird a sword to his side, and continue to build (4:17-18). They worked on the walls during the day, and at night they stayed by the walls. Nehemiah wrote, “So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing” (4:23).

Believer, serving the LORD is not predicated upon convenience, but conviction. We who serve the LORD, must prepare for opposition. The enemy of God’s people will employ ridicule, mocking, and scorn. With a prayer on your lips, and the sword of the LORD in your heart, take courage and never quit!

For Nehemiah, quitting was not an option!

Copyright – 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The King Cometh (Zechariah 13; Zechariah 14)

Scripture reading – Zechariah 13; Zechariah 14

Dear Heart of a Shepherd follower, I am glad to return with today’s devotional commentary as my wife and I recover from a bout with COVID this last week. It was the first interruption of our chronological 2-year study of the Scriptures (having posted 545 continuous days of daily devotions).

Today’s Scripture reading (Zechariah 13-14) concludes our study of the prophecies of Zechariah, prophet to the post-exilic people of the Babylonian captivity. He was a faithful servant of the LORD, and one whose ministry was to exhort those building the Temple to finish the work to which they had been appointed.

Zechariah was also privileged to foretell some of the great Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures. He foretold the Messiah would come to Jerusalem, “riding upon an ass, and upon the colt the foal of an ass,” and would be hailed as King (Zechariah 9:9; 11:12-13; Matthew 27:37; Mark 11:7-11). He predicted the Messiah would be betrayed (Zechariah 11:12-13Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 26:14-16) for the purchase price of a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:12-13Matthew 27:9-10).

Five centuries prior to Christ being crucified, Zechariah described the scene of His suffering on the cross, writing, “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, And they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, And shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10John 19:34; John 20:25-27). Notice the prophecies of Zechariah were fulfilled by Christ in exacting detail!

The prophetic setting of Zechariah 13 is the Second Coming of Christ, which began with Zechariah 12:1 and a portrayal of the Battle of Armageddon (12:2-8), and Israel’s deliverance from the heathen nations bent on that nation’s destruction (12:9-14).

Zechariah 13

When Christ returns to reign over the nations, there will be an ever-flowing fountain of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness (13:1). The land will be purged of idols, and false prophets will be silenced (13:2-6).

Drawing a prophetic picture of Christ’s betrayal, and the disciples fleeing when He was arrested, we read, “against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, Saith the Lord of hosts: Smite the shepherd [Christ], and the sheep [disciples] shall be scattered” (13:7).

Zechariah 13:8-9 gives a graphic biographical portrayal of what I believe predicts the great assault upon Judah and Jerusalem in the Tribulation. Two thirds of the people of Judah will be killed, and the 1/3 that survives will suffer a great affliction portrayed as a refining fire, and will call to the LORD who will hear their cries (13:9).

Zechariah 14 – Armageddon and the Second Coming

Nations Aligned Against Jerusalem (14:1-2)

The opening verses of chapter 14 predict Jerusalem will be overrun by the heathen nations of the world, and half the inhabitants will be led away as spoils of war (14:1). Yet, the gathering of those nations will be a testimony of the sovereignty of God, for it is He that will “gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle” (14:2a). The Jews will suffer the ravages of war, as Jerusalem “shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; And half of the city shall go forth into captivity” (14:2).

Glorious Triumphant Return of Jesus Christ (14:3-7)

In the hour when all seems lost for Jerusalem, the LORD will come roaring out of heaven, “and fight against those nations” for it will be “the day of battle” (14:3a). As conquering King, Jesus will stand upon the ridge of the Mount of Olives (14:4a), and it will divide beneath His feet forming a great valley (the result of a great earthquake, 14:4b; Isaiah 29:6; Revelation 16:18-19). The survivors of the siege of Jerusalem will flee to safety through the newly formed valley (14:5). In that day, light shall not be clear [light] nor dark, but a day known to the Lord (14:6-7).

Geographical Changes to Israel When Christ Returns (14:8-11)

Life-giving waters will flow from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Joel 3:18), through Jerusalem. The waters will divide, flowing to the “former sea” (Dead Sea) and to the “hinder sea” (Mediterranean Sea, 14:8). The topography of the land will be changed as the hills and mountains about Jerusalem will be laid level like a plain, and Jerusalem will be lifted up (14:10). Because the LORD reigns in Jerusalem, there will be peace, and its people shall be safe (14:11).

Judgment of Israel and the LORD’s Enemies (14:12-15)

What becomes of those nations that gathered against Israel? All will be judged and afflicted by the LORD (14:12a). Some will suffer a flesh-eating plague that will consume their flesh (14:12b). Others will be afflicted with a disease when their eyes decay in their sockets (14:12c), and the tongues of others will be consumed (perhaps a picture of cancer, 14:12d).

All Israel will know that which afflicted their enemies was from the LORD, even as they turn against one another (14:13). Because the nations will pass through Judah to lay siege to Jerusalem, the people will seize the spoils of the heathen (14:14). The implements of war employed by Israel’s enemies will be destroyed (described here in terms the people in Zechariah’s day would understand, 14:15).

Conversion of the Nations to the LORD (14:16-19)

Not all the people of the nations will be destroyed, for some will turn to the LORD, and come to Jerusalem to worship Him (14:16). Notice too, both Israel and the people of the earth will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of the Tabernacles in the Millennial Kingdom (14:16b; Leviticus 23:33-44).

Yet, there will be some who survived the Great Tribulation that will eventually fail to go up “to worship the King, the Lord of hosts,” and will be judged and suffer drought (14:17). A nation like Egypt, that depends upon irrigation rather than rain, will suffer plague for failing to honor and worship the LORD (14:18-19).

A Perpetual Testimony to God’s Glory (14:20-21)

Everything about the Millennial Kingdom will be a testimony to God’s holiness. Even the bells on the harnesses of horses will give testimony as “HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD” (14:20a). The lowest pots in the LORD’s Temple will be equally holy as the “bowls before the altar” (14:20b). Indeed, everything “in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (14:21a). The Temple will be a holy place, and no unclean people will enter and defile it (14:21b). Why will sacrifices be offered during Christ’s earthly kingdom? They will serve as a lasting memorial to Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, and the sins of the world.

Closing thought – The book of Zechariah began with the prophet calling God’s people to repent, and ends with Israel being a holy nation, Jerusalem a city of peace and the center of worship, and the LORD reigning on His throne in the Temple.

Revelation 19:11, 14, 1611And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war…14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean…16And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Copyright 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.