Lent 2019 Devotional

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Wednesday, April 3—They Enforced Justice

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34, ESV)

nullPerhaps the best advice I’ve heard regarding Bible study is to pay special attention to the things in the text that surprise you. 

Arguably, “By faith… they enforced justice…” is one of the surprising parts of this chapter. Rarely do acts of faith include a judge issuing a verdict, for example. And yet enforcing justice is, itself, an act of faith. 

We’ve considered Moses’ parents earlier in this devotional. By faith they carried out their God-given calling to care for their son. It’s not as dramatic an act as most of those mentioned in this chapter, but it is an act of faith none the less. The same is true of earthly rulers. 

A good example of this, in fact, is the time of the judges. In theory, the Children of Israel were ruled directly by God. They had His commandments. They had prophets for times when God needed to be consulted. No other government should have been necessary. Instead, there is the tragic refrain throughout the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

God hasn’t commanded a particular form of government. Nor is it Biblical to say that God has chosen a particular man or woman for a particular office. But our earthly rulers are, in fact, exercising authority that God, Himself, has given. To resist them is to resist what God has appointed “and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13:2). 

It would also be incorrect to understand this to mean that our rulers are required to be believers. To the contrary, when Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” he is referring to the Roman rulers. As believers, however, our vocations take on added significance. For believers who are called to serve in earthly government, that service takes on a slightly different significance. 

As Jesus put it, “25…You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:25–26, ESV). Lutheran theologian Gene Veith explains, “In the vocations of the state, those with vocations of lawful authority (Rom. 13:1–7) are to love and serve their subjects. They do so by protecting them from evildoers, enforcing justice, and respecting their liberties so that they can lead ‘a peaceful and quiet life’ (1 Tim. 2:2).”[1]

Like any of us in the many vocations we are called to, they/you serve their/your neighbors just as Christ has served them/you.  It may be a surprising statement, but it’s very true. By faith they conquered kingdoms and performed other miraculous acts. And, by faith they served one another by enforcing justice. 

 

[1]Veith, Gene Edward. “Martin Luther On Vocation and Serving Our Neighbors.” www.Action.org, March 30, 2016.

Thursday, April 4— They Obtained Promises

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34, ESV)

nullHave you ever noticed that God’s prophets really didn’t get caught up in predictions as much as they were sent with promises?

If you think about the stereotypical fortune teller, all you get are predictions. “I see great loss for you in the coming months,” they’ll tell you. Or, “Yes, you’ll soon find love.” Then it’s up to you to do what you will with the information. After all, they’re simply trying to help you anticipate what ‘fate’ has in store for you.

Or take the prophets in the Greek myths. Those stories often teach the futility of trying to avoid an event that has been predicted. More than one character in those stories has tried to keep a prophecy from coming true only to end up fulfilling it in the process. That’s not at all how God’s prophets work. 

God’s prophets didn’t make predictions. They made promises. “Thus says the Lord: Repent or destruction will come upon this city!” See the difference? It’s still up to you do decide what to do with the information, but there’s a clear promise built in: continue in your sin, in which case the promised judgment will come, or repent, turn back to God, and you’ll be spared. And not all prophecies were negative. Think of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. She was down to the last meal for herself and her son. What Elijah spoke to her was not just a prediction, but a promise: make some bread for me, first, because the flour and oil will not run out until the drought breaks.

Now, it’s possible to take this point too far. There was the time, for example, when Samuel predicted that the donkeys Saul was looking for had already been found and returned home. But, overall, prophets weren’t really in the “business,” so to speak, of simply telling the future. In fact, sometimes these “exceptions prove the rule.” Micah predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Isaiah predicted: “6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV). These might seem to be more ordinary predictions. But they are very much part of The Promise. 

In fact, every other promise that was made through the earlier prophets was for the purpose, first and foremost, of carrying out thatPromise. Why did God make such miraculous promises to them, but not to us? Because they were part of His plan to bring about His Promise. 

Even though you and I don’t receive the same sort of promises that the widow of Zarephath, Abraham, Moses, or the other Old Testament figures received, you are most certainly part of the Promise. He doesn’t send people to predict the future for you, but He promises that He is still making sure that all things work together for good. 

Monday, April 1—Telling of the Prophets

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of… the prophets— (Hebrews 11:32, ESV)

nullIndeed, what more shall we say?

We’ve mentioned Moses. In the course of talking about Moses, we’ve mentioned several others. Samuel is coming up. What more shall we say? They all kind of run together, don’t they?

I suppose they do. And that’s sort of the point. Some are sent to the northern kingdom of Israel, others to the southern kingdom of Judah. Some were sent with promises of hope. Others were sent with promise of judgment. The way God speaks is consistent through every generation. Each prophet spoke to a specific group of people and a specific set of circumstances. But they each proclaimed God’s Law and then comforted the repentant with the Gospel. “By faith” they preached the Law and the Promises of God.

That’s true all the way up to and including the Great Prophet, Jesus Christ. Not only is He the one that every other prophet was ultimately pointing to, He is the ultimate voice in their line. After all, it was always His Words that the other prophets spoke when they declared, “Thus says the Lord….” He now is present to speak those words in person and to take those words to their final conclusion. He alone had the privilege of not only promising God’s grace, but of declaring from the cross, “It is finished.” 

This prophetic task still continues today. You have been given the Word of God directly and personally in the scriptures and you're called to boldly declare the same message as the prophets before you—both the Law and the Promises of God—fulfilled and made complete in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 30—Telling of Samuel

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of… Samuel…— (Hebrews 11:32, ESV)

nullTime really would fail to tell of Samuel. 

There are some cases, like Jephthah’s, in which we struggle to see how they are examples of faith. Then there are others, like Samuel, whose lives are powerful examples of faith from start to finish.

As a young boy, Samuel served in the tabernacle. The famous encounter when God came and called to him (which he initially mistook for the voice of the high priest, Eli) took place when Samuel was literally sleeping in the Holy Place of the tabernacle. God stepped out from behind the curtain to the Holy of Holies and called his name. He would, of course, go on to serve as a prophet, as well. But he was not just a prophet. He was also the last judge of Israel, the one through whom God chose the first king of Israel at the insistence of the people. 

The specifics of his life would, in fact, fill more than a few devotions. Suffice it to say that, in the process, he becomes a type of—a ‘picture,’ of sorts, pointing ahead to—Jesus Christ. While most individuals in the Old Testament served one, or at most two of the roles, Samuel served as a prophet, a priest, and a ruler of God’s people. Christ, too, would take up that threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. 

He is, in fact, your Prophet, personally preaching God’s word during His life and ministry and continuing to preach it to this day by sending His church into the whole world with the Gospel.

He is your Priest who offered Himself as the final sacrifice for sin and is still interceding for you before the Father in heaven.

He is, in fact, your King, ruling over you right now within His church—guiding and directing events for your ultimate, eternal good—and over the saints and angels in heaven. 

Samuel, at God’s direction, helped to establish the kingly line in Israel. Jesus is not only the Great, Eternal King in the kingly line of David, in Him the Kingdom of God has come to you. He is not just an example of faith, He is the author and perfector of your faith, God Himself, who has stepped out from the Most Holy Places to call you by name. And you will find, when we finally arrive in eternity, that time will still fail to tell all that your Prophet, Priest, and King has done for you.

Friday, March 29—Telling of David

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of… David… (Hebrews 11:32, ESV)

nullHave you heard of David’s sin—of counting? 

The writer of the book of Hebrews has assembled quite a list of heroes of the faith. There are a few like Jephthah, who we probably wouldn’t include if we were writing the list. But then there are several others, like David, who could be included for any number of reasons. Allow me to spend a minute on one of the lesser know parts of his life that happens to be a great example of faith.

David’s sin with Bathsheba is well known. What is not as well known is the anger of God that he brought on himself by taking a census of the people. (A census was forbidden by God at the time because it showed a lack of faith in Him to protect His people. With God on your side, it doesn’t matter how large your army is, for example.) This brought punishment from God and, in an unusual move, God allowed him to choose his punishment from three choices: 1) three years of famine, 2) three months of being pursued by his enemies, or 3) three days of pestilence in the land. He chose the three days of pestilence, but it is his reasoning that is the most significant. “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord,” he said, “for His mercy is great. But let me not fall into the hands of man” (2 Sam. 24:14). In other words, he placed himself in God’s hands for judgment rather than the hands of man because he knew that God is merciful, but men would not be. 

It proved to be a wise decision. The toll from the pestilence was great. 70,000 men died. But when the angel came to bring death within Jerusalem, God relented. The angel of the Lord was stopped “by the threshing floor of Araunah” (2 Samuel 24:16). David wagered on God’s mercy. And that is always a good bet.

There is more to the story, though. It eventually fell to David’s son, Solomon, to build a temple for the Lord. It was built on Mount Moriah, where it just so happened that there was a threshing floor that had once been owned by a man named Araunah. From then on, the sacrifices that were offered to cover over the sins of the people would be offered on the same site where God’s wrath had relented on another occasion and the angel of the Lord was held back from any further destruction.

It is always wise to entrust yourself to God’s hands, even in His wrath. Because you’ll find that those hands still bear the scars that He earned on a hill not far from Araunah’s threshing floor. Just outside Jerusalem, on that hill which we call Calvary, roles are reversed. The Angel of the Lord, Himself, now in human flesh, has placed Himself under God’s wrath over sin. The Father will not relent this time. His full wrath is poured out and your Savior bears it all for you. 

This is the work that comes perfectly naturally for Him. He does, in fact, punish sin to the third and fourth generation. But He shows love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments. Never hesitate to place yourself in His hands.

Tuesday, April 2—They Conquered Kingdoms

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34, ESV)

nullEach country has, within its collective memory, certain “great victories.” The Children of Israel are no exception. They just don’t do it like the other nations do.

With the exception of the conquest of Canaan, when they drove the Canaanite people out of the land, Israel wasn’t a particularly aggressive nation. They were certainly a far cry from Rome, for example, which expanded to its absolute limits. No, they had their land that God had given them. There was no underlying dream of building an empire, no “manifest destiny” as there was here in our own country. 

That doesn’t mean that their existence was a peaceful one, though. The narrative of the Old Testament is filled with wars against a fairly long—and, in some cases, distinguished—list of enemies. They won many. They lost many others. But where Alexander the Great was known for his brilliant strategy, the Roman empire was known for their infantry tactics, and the Spartans were known for the intense training that their soldiers underwent, Israel didn’t distinguish themselves in any similar way. They won a number of great victories, but they did it in a much different way. 

As we mentioned earlier, they did it by sending tens of thousands of their soldiers home before the fight. They did it by sending a shepherd boy to fight in single combat against a giant. They did it by going to sleep one night with the Assyrian army encircling Jerusalem and waking up to find that the Angel of the Lord had killed 185,000 enemy soldiers. They did it by faith in God. 

The Old Testament serves a couple of purposes for you and me. It’s the record of God carrying out His plan of salvation over the course of thousands of years. It speaks powerfully both to His faithfulness to His promise and to His ability to bring it about in a world that cares very little for His will.

It serves another purpose, as well. It’s also a visible picture of the spiritual promises that have been made to you. The Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, sustained by water from a rock and bread from heaven—it’s a picture of you and me living in this world, sustained by God on our way to the Promised Land. And, as He gathered, established, and protected the Children of Israel as a nation, He is, in the process, also painting a picture for you of how he gathers, establishes, and protects His Kingdom on this earth. 

His Kingdom of Grace has come to you. He has set you free from slavery to sin and gathered you into it. He is still watching over and protecting you just as faithfully as He watched over His people in the Old Testament. And He is also leading you, step by step, closer and closer to His Kingdom of Glory where there will be no more enemies to trouble you any longer.

For now, we see these kingdoms only by faith. So keep front and center in your mind the Great Victory of His Kingdom: Jesus Christ defeating the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh through His death. 

Thursday, March 28—…To Tell of Jephthah

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of… Jephthah…— (Hebrews 11:32, ESV)

nullThere are several judges—like Gideon and Samson, for example—whose stories often appear in children’s Bibles and Sunday School lessons. Jephthah isn’t one of them. 

Unlike Gideon and Samson, who are called directly by God, Jephthah was chosen by the people of the region of Gilead to lead them as they defended themselves against the Ammonites. He did, in fact, lead the people, but the main focus of the record of his life that we find in the book of Judges does not focus on the details of those battles. As it describes his confrontation with the Ammonites, for example, it builds up the story by describing his communications with the king of the Ammonites, only to then focus on a very foolish and tragic vow that he made. The actual battles against the Ammonites become a footnote. The balance of Judges 11 and 12, then, describe a conflict he had with the tribe of Ephraim. 

Overall, his story is a rather ordinary account of life among God’s people. It is another story with which we can relate too well. It’s the story of one of God’s people ostracized from the group because of his background and pushed away. Then he is invited back because they needed his particular gifts, successfully leading God’s people, but drawing conflict with other members of the body of Christ in the process. 

What would the author of the book of Hebrews have written about in this description of those who lived by faith? For what act of faith would he commend Jephthah? It would seem that he is commended simply for living among God’s people. 

That, too, is an act of faith, isn’t it? For all that we should be, as God’s people called together in this place, brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow members of the body of Christ, our life together is far from perfect. It’s far more similar to Jephthah’s experience than Gideon’s. Rarely, if ever, does God appear to directly call His chosen servant to lead His people. More often, the process is far more… mundane. It’s rarely like the combined people of God marching, as one, around the walls of Jericho until they crumbled before them. It’s far more similar to the divided, disputing groups that we see in Judges 11 & 12. 

And yet we live within this community by faith. We get glimpses of God working in wonderful ways among us. But, we live primarily by faith in the promise that, within the church, we live among our fellow redeemed. 

The Children of Israel at Jephthah’s day were far from the united group that they should have been. But, by faith, they continued to be united under and around the Promise of the Messiah. The same is true of us. We have our good days and our not so good days. But, by faith, we continue to be united under and around the Promise that the Messiah has redeemed us, individually and collectively, and gathered us into His people. 

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