Lent 2019 Devotional

RSS Feed

Tuesday, April 9— Made Strong Out of Weakness

null32And 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)

This could be the motto for the Children of Israel: “They were made strong out of weakness.”

In Moses’ farewell message to them, He says, “6For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8, ESV).

That sounds like a very precarious relationship to be in. They are “a people holy to the Lord,” but only by His choice. If they had something to offer, some reason to give in order to justify His care and attention for them, perhaps they could feel more secure in their relationship with God. But they don’t. They weren’t the most numerous. They weren’t the wealthiest. They weren’t the most powerful. The only reason they were holy to God was because He chose them.

Except that is no small thing. There is nothing more secure than to have been chosen by God. That’s precisely how God likes to work. And He has chosen you. It may not be the most flattering statement, but it is a powerful promise. “26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26–30, ESV). 

Far from being a precarious relationship because you have nothing to offer, it could not be more secure because it is based on God’s promise, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You don’t have anything to offer God. But He has everything to offer you. And it is all yours in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 11— Put Foreign Armies to Flight

null32And 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)

Imagine yourself there, an ancient Israelite, called to take up arms against the Canaanites or the Ammonites or the Philistines or the Assyrians or the Egyptians…, preparing to go into battle, fighting, first and foremost, by faith. What additional anxiety did these men experience because, as the battle drew near, they were trusting in the unseen promise of God to give them the victory?

Take David’s combat against Goliath for an example. (Please forgive me for bringing up circumcision within a second straight devotional, but there is a point, I promise….) It has been said that David defeated Goliath by circumcision. “David, himself, frames the contest with reference to circumcision. In [1 Sam.] 17:36 he says to Saul, ‘Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’”[1]Some commentators have also noted the fact that “Goliath's armor is given unusually detailed attention… [and] the reader's attention is drawn to the fact that David goes into battle without armor.” We won’t take the symbolism any further but, hopefully, you see the point: David went boldly into combat trusting primarily in the promise that God had made to His people, which was represented by circumcision.

On the one hand we see the physical might, the powerful weapons, and the impressive armor. On the other we see a shepherd boy trusting that an unseen God would give him the victory. And, by faith, he put the Philistine army to flight that day.

In a (far less dramatic) way, you and I are in a similar position. You still face very powerful spiritual enemies. And you stand against them trusting in a promise made to you when a man poured some water on your head. That is the armor you have been given to enable you to stand against the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh. And, by faith, you are able to put them to flight, as well, because it is not simple water. It is the water, included in God’s command, and combined with God’s word. The word of God, in and with the water, means that, in baptism, you are clothed with Christ. He is your breastplate, your belt, your helmet. He is the shield with which to extinguish the devil’s flaming darts.  He is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. In the promise of your baptism, “7Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, ESV).

Thankfully you and I will never be called upon to face an actual, armed enemy relying solely upon God’s promises. But as often as you face your spiritual enemies, stand firm, trusting that, by faith, you, too will put their armies to flight.

 

[1]Comment by unnamed user on Post “Circumcision and the Head of Goliath” at www.Hermeneutics.StackExchange.com, January 22, 2018.

Wednesday, April 10— They Became Mighty in War

null32And 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)

The good show themselves by winning. The mighty show themselves by winning even when they lose.

Ok, I just made that up. What I mean by it is that, when you’re talking about the Children of Israel becoming mighty in war, it’s not necessarily measured in victories. There were plenty of times when they were not victorious. And yet, even when they lost, they managed to win. 

Take the Babylonian captivity, for example. There is no doubt that it was a stunning and complete defeat. Jerusalem was captured. Even the temple itself was destroyed. Only a small remnant was left in the city and thousands were carried off into exile in Babylon. It was an utter defeat from any normal military standard. And yet it was not necessarily a defeat from God’s perspective. 

They were defeated by the Babylonian Empire and King Nebuchadnezzar—whom God describes as “my servant Nebuchadnezzar.” This was a necessary step in God’s plan. As devastating as the destruction was, God preserved a remnant with which to carry on His plan of salvation. He also provided that the Babylonians, themselves, would be crushed within the next 70 years, allowing His people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. 

They “became mighty in war,” not because they were able to exert their will over neighboring kingdoms, but because God was even using the plots, schemes, and strategies of their enemies to bring about His plan for them.

That is still the case for you. Our world seems to be rushing ahead, completely out of control, with a long list of wicked people trying desperately to sway events in their own direction.  But, by faith, you become “mighty in war.” Not that you are guaranteed to be victorious, but that, even in what seems like defeat, the Kingdom of God continues to advance and grow. Can a Kingdom that is founded upon the victory won through our Lord’s death do anything else? 

Mon., April 8—Escaped the Edge of the Sword

null32And 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)

This one might seem a little underwhelming. Escaping is good, but conquering kingdoms and putting armies to flight seem better. However, I would suggest to you that one of the most faith-filled things that King David did, for example, was escape. 

David’s predecessor, King Saul, was rejected by God for his disobedience. David was then anointed as the next king, but Saul continued to reign for several years after. Saul, as you probably know, spent much of that time pursuing David and trying to kill him. David, the great warrior, escaped. He would not stand and fight Saul. It wasn’t a tactical decision, it was an act of faith. Even though David had already been anointed as the next king, he refused to raise a hand against one that God had anointed king over Israel. So, by faith, he escaped. 

Perhaps this is a good image to help us understand one of Jesus’ more cryptic statements: “12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12, ESV). Unlike David, many who would claim to be God’s people are not content to receive what God gives to them. In some cases, they insist on a place in God’s kingdom because of their own righteousness. In other cases, they try to claim for themselves what God has not promised to give us—earthly health, wealth, etc. 

By faith David escaped. And, in doing so, he serves as a model for you. The Kingdom of God does not come to you through your striving and grasping. It comes as your Heavenly Father anoints you with His Holy Spirit so that, by His grace, you believe His holy Word and lead a holy life here in time and there in eternity.

Saturday, April 6— They Quenched the Power of Fire

null32And 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)

If you remember yesterday’s devotion about Daniel in the lions’ den, you can probably anticipate how this one will go, as well. So let’s walk through it together. Take a few minutes to read through Daniel 3 first.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a difficult test of faith. They were forced to disobey their king because what he commanded them contradicted God’s Word. Which commandment would they have violated if they obeyed the king?

Unlike Daniel, this test took place in a very public setting. Everyone was gathered and commanded to worship the statue together. Their disobedience was very public. How did the king, specifically, find out?

Did they expect that God would protect them from being harmed by the fire? 

If you recall, we pointed out that Daniel wasn’t saved simply because he was faithful to God. Why wouldn’t that necessarily be the cause of God stopping the mouths of the lions?

What was the explanation for why Daniel was spared, according to yesterday’s devotion? What does that suggest about these three young men in the fiery furnace?

These three aren’t a picture of Christ like Daniel was. The lions’ den became a picture of Jesus’ tomb as the stone was rolled over it and sealed. In this case, they picture what Jesus has done to deliver us. In what sense has He delivered us from the fire?

How completely were the three men spared (were they singed, did they come out smelling like smoke)?

The one aspect of what Jesus did that the deliverance of these three men doesn’t really picture is the fact that, in order to spare you from feeling the fire of God’s wrath over sin, it was necessary for Jesus to put Himself under that wrath in your place. You are not consumed—or even singed—by the fire of God’s wrath because He was willing to endure it in your place. 

In a similar way to Daniel, by faith these three men became examples to us of faithful worship and resisting idolatry. And they also became something more: an object lesson of sorts, giving you a glimpse of the deliverance you have received in Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 5— They Stopped the Mouths of Lions

null

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)

Would you risk your life… to pray?

It will be interesting to see how the debates about religious liberty that are raging in our nation will play out over the next 5-10 years. But it would be hard to imagine them getting to the point that it becomes illegal to pray. But that was what Daniel faced. He was living as one of the exiles in Babylon. Out of jealousy—he had achieved a position of some authority in their government—his enemies plotted to try to destroy him. What weakness did they find? What did they know, for sure, that they could use to catch him? They could find no corruption, “no error or fault was found in him” (Daniel 6:4). What did they find to use against him? His prayers. That alone is worth pausing to acknowledge. Sadly, too few of us would find ourselves in any jeopardy if that law were suddenly passed here. Frankly, Daniel is a hero of the faith for this reason alone. 

That’s particularly true since he had no assurance that he would not be killed by the lions. When he was cast into the lions’ den, it’s quite likely that he expected to die. And yet, by faith, he responded to the law forbidding prayer to anyone but the king by praying just as faithfully as before. So why did God choose to save Daniel? Perhaps to honor his faithfulness, although there are and have been many Christians who were permitted to suffer in spite of their faithfulness. A better explanation is that Daniel, in the process, points us to Christ. 

There are the outward similarities. Both were blameless. No fault could be found in them. Both were faithful in prayer. Both pursued God’s will for them in spite of the consequences. Both were handed over by their enemies to be killed. But it’s at that point that the similarity becomes especially striking. When Daniel was cast into the lions’ den, “17… a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel” (Daniel 6:17, ESV). And yet, in spite of the efforts of his enemies, the mouths of the lions were shut and Daniel remained quite safe.  

What a powerful picture of Christ. A stone was rolled in front of His tomb and sealed but, inside, the jaws of death were held shut and, when the tomb was opened on the third day, He was found alive and well. Now, Daniel’s deliverance is nothing more than an interesting historical event for us. But Christ’s deliverance from death also binds the mouth of death for you, as well. On the day when you are laid in the grave, you will find the jaws of death quite powerless to harm you. 

By faith Daniel became an example to us of faithful prayer. And he also becomes something more: an object lesson of sorts, giving you a glimpse into both your Lord’s tomb and your own, as well. 

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. 

Posts