Topic: “devotions”

Uncontainable Song

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Psalm 28 is not complex poetry, though it is beautiful. David opens with a plea for mercy, asking Yahweh not to destroy him alongside the wicked. He spends some time describing the wicked men he has in mind—men who do evil, who are hypocrites toward their neighbors, who do not regard Yahweh’s works as they should. Then he praises Yahweh for answering that plea. It is not the propositional content in and of itself that gives the psalm its particular value; these ideas are found throughout the Psalms, as well as throughout Scripture. Rather, it is the particular way David put them together, and the particular response for which the psalm calls.

Poetry is designed not merely to communicate content but to move the heart.1 The fear of judgment is heavy in the first section. The second sequence paints a vivid picture of the men David has in mind. I described them above, but the poetry works far better on its own terms:

Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

David wants nothing to do with these kinds of people, and he wants very much not to be like them. He wants God to judge them, and he yearns not to be judged himself. So when he comes to the second half of the Psalm, we should feel the change. “Do not drag me off with the wicked… he will tear them down and build them up no more. / Blessed be Yahweh!” The sharp transition, the sudden turn from the fearful expectation of judgment toward praising Yahweh, should catch our attention and make us demand an answer.

David supplies us the answer, of course, in beautiful phrases:

For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

The plea David offered to begin has been answered. Our plea with David has been answered. Yahweh saves. But the response is not simply an acknowledgement of a fact: This is true. David’s response is exulting and singing. Exultation is elation and jubilation. This salvation warrants more than mere recitation of facts or even some degree of happiness. It deserves the kind of excited joy that comes bursting out of the heart in uncontainable song.

Yahweh saves. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

  1. One of the reasons lots of evangelicals struggle with the Psalms: Americans are, by and large, no longer people are who read much poetry. For most evangelicals, the Psalms are it, in fact. Combine this with our already-strong tendency to treat the Scriptures as a source of propositions, and it’s no wonder we struggle to appreciate the Psalms as poetry. 

You Are The Messiah

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Matthew waits until he is some 16 chapters into his text1 to start explicitly saying what the whole book has said implicitly thus far, and what the annunciation at the beginning proclaimed loud and clear: Jesus is the Messiah, the one to whom all the hopes and expectations engendered by the Old Testament pointed. “Who do you say that I am?” he asks. And Peter’s answer, ringing down through the ages, is still breath-taking in its assurance and simple truth: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”2

Most of the sermons I have heard on Matthew 16 focus on Peter—on his statement of the bedrock truth of our faith, or on his need of rebuke just a few verses later, or even on the question of Petrine authority over the church. Not many stop to notice how pivotal this chapter is in the flow of Matthew as a whole. Not many recognize that for the first time, Jesus openly accepts being called the Messiah, and openly proclaims what the Messiah will do—that is, die. Yes, Peter first got it amazingly, remarkably right and then got it equally amazingly, remarkably wrong. But at least as important here is the picture of who the Messiah is and what he is about.

Matthew spent 15 chapters getting here—laying the foundation in Jesus’ teaching, his miraculous healings, and specific fulfillments of some prophecies and “filling up” of others3—so that when Jesus acknowledges Peter’s claim, the reader is not only unsurprised, but delightedly saying, “Yes!” because Jesus’ words and actions to this point confirm everything the prologue declared to be true of him. This is important, in no small part, because then Matthew turns around and hits the reader in the face with the unexpected: Jesus plans to be crucified.

Who plans that? Peter’s confusion is understandable (even if his response was ultimately so wrong that Jesus aligned Peter with Satan for trying to prevent it). No one plans to be crucified. But this Messiah does. Good thing we’re already convinced he’s the Messiah.

And then? Then Jesus tells us that whoever wants to follow him—whoever wants to “come after” him—needs to embrace that same cross. The call to follow this Messiah isn’t a call to immediate glory, and a kingdom of this world. It is a call to self-sacrifice, to lose the world and gain one’s soul. It is a call to live in such a way that when the Son of Man returns with his holy angels in judgment, we will not be ashamed.

As I closed yesterday: Lord come soon!—but in light of his coming, how shall we live? Come and die, he says. Come and die.

  1. Yes, I know, the chapters weren’t in the original. It’s still over halfway through the book. 
  2. Your Bible will say “Christ” almost certainly. It isn’t being used as the titular name here (“Jesus Christ”), though; this is Peter declaring his understanding that Jesus was the hoped-for Jewish Messiah. 
  3. It is helpful, when reading through Matthew, to understand that the word our English Bibles translate as “fulfill” also has an ordinary, non-prophetic meaning of “fill up.” Following G. K. Beale, I actually think it should be translated this way in most of the cases where it appears in Matthew. Many of the otherwise challenging interpretive issues—what does it mean that he fulfilled thus-and-such a passage which isn’t talking about him?—become clear if you understand Matthew to be saying, “He filled this passage up with more meaning than was there before,” rather than “He fulfilled this prophecy that was referring to him [even though it wasn't].” 

One Day, Hopefully Soon

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Eschatology is a big word, but it’s an even bigger concept. The things to come —the things we do not yet see fully—are hard to grasp. Not so hard for us, perhaps, as they were for those who came before us. In Genesis 15, Abram1 received a number of promises. None of them were exactly easy to believe: here he was, closing in on a century old, and his always-barren wife in the same category,2 and God promises him a child from his own body. More than that, God promised him descendants that would outnumber the stars, or the sand on the seashore.

That promise has been fulfilled. In fact, it has been fulfilled doubly: first by the nation of Israel, in the course of her long history from Abraham to the time of Christ, and then through those many of us who have been grafted in since then. Just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), so we have been counted righteous as we believe God, and now the number of those from the nations dwarfs even that of the Jews.

There is another promise there that wasn’t fulfilled, though—at least, not all the way. In verses 18–21, God promises Abram that his descendants will inherit a massive territory. Israel never did, though. The Hebrews’ national territory, relatively substantial though it was at its peak, certainly never made it anywhere near the Euphrates on its eastern edge. Some might take this an example of the Bible’s fallibility. I don’t; I take it instead as a picture of things yet to come.

This kind of eschatological situation is common in the Bible. A promise is made, and the fulfillment comes, but only in part, never wholly. Even the Messianic promises, which we often think of as fulfilled in Christ, remain incomplete. They found their first and partial fulfillment in his first coming, just as the promises to Abraham were fulfilled first, partially, in the nation of Israel, and then again more fully in the nations (you and me, unless you’re a Jewish convert), and then finally someday when Jesus returns and the New Jerusalem is here on earth.

It is not a stretch to say that “eschatological hope”—mouthful though the phrase may be—is one of the defining characteristics of Christians. We are the people of “already but not yet” who are incomparably glad of what God has already done and impossibly hopeful about what he will someday do.

The nation of Israel got a taste of what the final fulfillment will be like as Jesus walked among them. Matthew 15 reiterates what Matthew 11 first made clear: Jesus is the one who fulfills the promises of God’s final setting things to rights—the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. But they did not see it finished. Jesus did not heal every person on the earth; we still have the mute and crippled and lame and blind among us, and all of us yet will die.

But there will come a day when he comes back, and those promises to Abraham are fulfilled in their entirety at last, and the hopes engendered by a prophet offering healing in the first century in Israel are realized. No more tears, no more sorrow, and we will worship our King and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and one another in the New Jerusalem.

Hallelujah. Lord, come soon.

  1. Not Abraham yet. That’s still a ways out. 
  2. Has it ever struck you as slightly curious that this old woman was so attractive that Abram kept worrying about her getting taken away from him— apparently rightly given that she gets taken as a concubine twice? 

Be Broken, or Get Broken

I continue to find Proverbs interesting, challenging, and insightful in ways I have not experienced in years. While I have made a habit of spending time in the book off and on since childhood (my parents encouraged me to read it regularly, not least for its advice on honoring and listening to one’s parents!), I have only begun to grasp how profoundly true its usually straightforward wisdom is as I have come back to it yet again in these last few weeks. God has seen fit to speak to almost any aspect of the mundane we could imagine or wish.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

As with a number of verses I have come across in the last week, this one struck me in no small part because I now have had enough experience to see it for true experientially. Not personally, thanks be to God and to many faithful friends and family members who have born with me well. But I have watched others resist rebuke ad nauseum, and the result is never pleasant. Those who refuse to listen when others bring correction—who are absolutely unwilling to change—ultimately suffer for their stubborn folly. The choices we make are not without consequences; we can go on only so long before they catch up with us and break us. In light of this, we should learn to see God’s rebukes and his chastisements as measures of his grace. He does not rebuke us or bring chiding situations into our lives out of malice, but out of love, to save us from ourselves.

This has me doubly thoughtful: reminded, first of all, to be quick to accept rebuke in my own life, and then also to pray for those I know who are struggling in this area.

Matthew 11

It has been rather in vogue these last few years to suggest that what Jesus really cared about was the plight of the poor and downtrodden—what we might call issues of “social justice.” To be sure, Jesus did care about these things, and God has always cared about them. (There is hardly a book in the Bible where this concern is not displayed!) But as profound as God’s hatred of injustice and abuse of the helpless is, there is something he hates even more, unpopular as though is to say it: unbelief. In Matthew 11, Jesus rebukes three cities, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, not for any other sins but because there he had done a great many miracles, and they did not believe him. And refusing to believe in Christ deserved a harsher punishment than did all the myriad sins of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom: cities known for everything from economic injustice to rape and murder. We must therefore keep the gospel’s call to repent and believe Christ first and foremost—not neglecting the other matters of righteousness, but not forgetting that which is worst and has the highest penalty.

Than Many Sparrows

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Note that there are two quite distinct sections to today’s post. Don’t think you’re done just because you got to the first ‘Hallelujah’!

Thinking Through Matthew 10 Again

As I told Jaimie tonight, I have long found Matthew 10:31 to be one of those verses that is simultaneously comforting and a little funny. There is simply something a touch odd about the way it comes through in English:

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (ESV)

Even in translations which generally prioritize a smoother reading (rather than the more literalistic approach favored by e.g. the ESV, NASB, etc.), end up with a phrase that is just, well, a little funny to read:

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (NIV2011)

As I worked through the surrounding chapter more carefully, though, the verse came home in a way that it never had before (even if I still think, and probably will always think, that it reads a little funny in English).

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples1 to do the same kinds of work he had been doing: casting out demons, healing people of their diseases, cleansing lepers, and even raising people from the dead. The comments that follow were his commission statements to his disciples. These are, notably, not exactly the cheeriest commissioning statements one might think to offer: they include not only the strong implication that the disciples would be rejected, but the promise of persecution even from within one’s own family and an incredibly heightened sense of the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus and taking his name to the nations is not child’s play, but hard and costly work.

And it is in this context that we find the somewhat amusing quote cited above—specifically, as Jesus warns his disciples not to act out of fear of man. The context makes the sentence much more serious: Jesus has just said that they should not fear men, who can kill only the body, but should instead fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. He follows the statement with the promise that he will acknowledge before the Father those who acknowledge him before men… and deny before the Father those who deny him before men. The word about the sparrows, then—the promise that God cares about even the sparrows, and so much more for his children—is an enormously comforting thought when situated as it is in its context of prophesied persecution and hardship for those who follow Christ.

I am worth more than many sparrows. Hallelujah: I can proclaim Christ without fear of man.

Genealogies Are Fun, Right?

I also read Genesis 10 today. This is one of those lists of names that we generally find boring and pointless. However, if we affirm the divine inspiration of Scripture—that is, if we really believe that the Holy Spirit superintended the composition of these books so that we have everything we need, and we need everything we have—then there is a reason that there are lists of names in the Bible. I can think of several immediately: First, they are important in many cultures, even if not our own, as markers of historicity and authenticity. Second, they serve as markers for the reality that God is and always has been aware of the minutiae of even our genealogies. Third, and perhaps most significantly, they are part of the framework by which God communicates his ongoing work in history, culminating in the lists of names that come early in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel accounts. These are not mere random lists of names; they are part of the way God made sure that everyone could see that he kept his promise.

Tonight, I noticed one more of the tiny little pieces of Scripture that goes along with that. At the end of Genesis 10, Moses makes a neat little literary move that I had never caught before: he introduces the word “nations” into the narrative for the first time. Now, that might be mildly interesting if I didn’t know where things were going—but I do. I know that in just a matter of a few chapters, God will promise explicitly to make a nation that blesses all the families of the earth through Abraham. Just chapters after that, he will use the same word to promise that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. This idea grows ever more prominent throughout the Old Testament: God will use Israel to bless the nations. It flowers into full fruition in the coming of Christ and his commission to his disciples: to preach the gospel to all the nations. Again: God keeps his promises, and even the dry little details like genealogies fit into the big picture of his glorious redemptive work in history, culminating in Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God.


  1. The list here has at least one interesting thing in it: it unsurprisingly highlights Peter and Judas, first and last in the list respectively—all the lists of the Twelve do likewise—but it also highlights Matthew. Not just his name, but his role: Matthew the tax-collector. “Yes, I wrote this book; but no, I have no grounds for pride. Jesus called me from abusing my own people for material gain to follow him. Here we are.” 

I have not slept enough this week. Tonight, I read Genesis 9, Psalm 17, Proverbs 25, and Matthew 9. Now, I am going to sleep. Sometimes, the wise thing to do is treat one’s body well, as the temple of God, and care for it so that one can continue using it well.

Hang On, Did You Say “Calmed a Storm”?

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Jesus, upon finishing the Sermon on the Mount, came down from the mountain and immediately continued setting the world on its head. “Do not think that I came to abolish [the Law or the Prophets],” he said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The statement seems a bit mysterious at the time, but suddenly it becomes a bit clearer, because the things Jesus does when he comes down from the mountain are, well… surprising, and not always in line with the Law and the Prophets as the people understood them.

Right off the bat, he not only heals a leper, but does so by touching said leper. Jesus immediately became ceremonially unclean.1 He then instructs the leper to fulfill the rest of the Mosaic Law—after having forfeited his own cleanness for that man’s sake in a way that ran directly contrary to the understanding of his peers about the intent of that Law.

The next narrative section is just as surprising—or it should be, if we were not so inured to it by familiarity. A centurion in the Roman army—the occupiers and oppressors of Israel—comes to him and asks him to heal his servant. Jesus makes the first surprising move simply by acquiescing to the request: “I will come and heal him,” he says (v. 7). And then things become truly surprising. First, the centurion rejects Jesus’ offer to come, arguing that Jesus need only speak and whatever he says will be done—to which Jesus replies that he has not seen any such measure of faith among Israel, and promptly heals the man’s servant. Then he tells everyone that people from all over the world will come sit at God’s table while the “sons of the kingdom” (the biological heirs of the promise to Abraham) will be kicked out.

So now in the span of a few verses, Jesus has touched a leper, proclaimed a Gentile superior in his faith to anyone he had encountered in all Israel, and then announced that the fulfillment of the Messianic promises of the nations coming into Israel would coincide not with Israel’s exaltation but her disgrace. Coming to Matthew after reading the Old Testament, these announcements prompt mingled affirmation and confusion—affirmation, because yes, these are the things God promised; but confusion, because the way they are coming is not exactly what one would expect.

Jesus heals more people of sickness and demons. Then he calms a storm (to which his disciples, traveling with him, can say only, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”—immediately after pleading for him to save them; see Matthew 8:25–27). That one took me aback a little bit, in at least two ways: (1) These men who had been following Jesus around watching him perform miracles, even to the point that they thought he might be able to do something while they were threatened by the weather, were astounded by what he actually did.2 (2) He calmed a storm. Jesus spoke, and the storm calmed and the waves went away. He was God. Not just a powerful prophet, not just a man used of God, but God himself, and it showed. The point comes home again when he casts out yet more demons and sends them into a herd of pigs—he has the authority to do that!

Sometimes slowing down and thinking about the books, especially in their settings in the Bible as a whole, helps me see things more clearly. In this case, it makes it much more obvious why the people found Jesus so confusing: he doesn’t do anything the “right” way, and he was always doing things that took people’s breath away, because he was God and man. More—much more—than they expected in their Messiah. Someone not only to follow to the worship of God in the new age, but God himself, to be worshipped.


  1. It strikes me that this is a major part of what Jesus does for us: he comes to us, and touches us, and becomes unclean that we might be healed of our infirmities. 
  2. It is also striking that he rebukes his closest followers for their little faith immediately after commending a Gentile for his great faith. So often we think, “If I could just walk with Jesus, it would be so much easier to believe.” The Bible bears witness in so many ways that this way of thinking is simply wrong—profoundly wrong.