Numbers 21: Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.
Have you ever been snake bit? I am very happy to report that I am not in that number. Two groups of people have great snake stories: missionaries and plumbers. Missionaries have them because of their journeys and plumbers have them because they crawl under houses in places where snakes like to live. I seriously doubt that either group says that encountering snakes is a highlight of their profession. In this Scripture passage the people anger God by being irritable in spite of his many blessings on them. In his anger, he sends poisonous snakes that bite people: a death sentence. Now, there are all kinds of concerns here about our Heavenly Father doing this, and, while I think it’s worthy of consideration, something bigger comes to mind. You see, spiritually speaking I have been snake bit. The result is that I’ve been poisoned by sin and the result of that poison is death. The remedy for the ancient Israelites is the bronze snake on a pole. When they look up they find healing — wholeness. My hope is found when I look to another “pole” — that is, the cross of Jesus. In him I find, not death, but life.
Take Away: Look up to the cross – and live!
Rules and regs
Leviticus 1: God called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.
I know I’ll hear no contrary opinion when I say that the Book of Leviticus isn’t the most read book of the Bible. It’s about sacrifices and offerings and dedicating children and skin diseases. The most direct application of the rules and regulations of Leviticus pertain to the work of the Levites (those who served at the Tabernacle) and not very much to us. The instructions given touch on almost all aspects of how these Israelites of thousands of years ago were to live. In fact, it’s the “almost all” character of these regulations that opens the fuller meaning of Leviticus to us. God is coming down off the mountain to dwell among them. He’s going to inhabit the Tabernacle but that’s not all there is to it. He’s involving himself in every aspect of their lives. Of course, that includes the sacrificial system but it also includes how they’ll handle the messy part of their humanity. It includes their religious feasts and festivals but it also includes how they conduct their business affairs. I may read the prohibition against priests shaving their heads and see it as a quaint old historical fact, but when I put the whole scope of Leviticus into play I see God’s connection to every part of their lives, including how they cut their hair. I never doubt that God’s interested in how I go about worshipping him, and I’m familiar enough with the Ten Commandments to know that he insists on righteous living. However, Leviticus reminds me that the Lord’s also interested in the “non-religious” and “no-moral-aspect” parts of my life too. That doesn’t mean he intends to dictate how I handle the mundane details of my life, but it does mean he’s interested in such things and that he sees beyond the surface to the deeper meaning of things I may take for granted.
Take Away: The Lord wants to participate in all my life.
He died before his time
Genesis 5: Adam lived a total of 930 years. And he died.
I’ve heard that the very long lives of people mentioned in the first pages of Genesis are the result of someone’s counting the seasons as years or something like that. While I have no authority to say it, I’ll say it anyway: I think that’s silly. Based on the Creation story, I think the Lord designed human beings to live forever. It’s their disobedience that brings death into the world. In fact, this very moment the only man already possessing a resurrection body is still alive 2000 years down the road. He’s physically at the right hand of his Father right now. Sin short-circuited the “forever aspect” of human life and it’s Jesus who redeems, not just the souls of people, but our bodies as well. At this point, Jesus is the only man to experience the redeemed body, but judging from his post-resurrection appearances the new body is a fascinating mix of familiar (eating) and unfamiliar (appearing and disappearing). Now, back to Adam. I think his extremely long life is a residue of his original design. If you think about it, his body was designed for eternity and he “only” lived 930 years. Soon, God will move to further limit life spans, not once, but twice. The original limitation, though, is the big one. Because of sin, life expectancy is throttled back from forever to under 1000 years. For a creature intended to live forever that’s like dying in infancy.
Take away: Jesus redeems us entirely, body and spirit.
As the curtain falls
Revelation 22: “Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
The final scene is that of a river flowing with the Water of Life and a tree called “the Tree of Life.” There’s the Throne of God surrounded by his worshipers. Righteousness reigns…holiness everywhere. John is told to publish his vision, making it available to all who will read. Then, Jesus, the star of this whole story speaks, in effect, putting his signature on the entire vision. Now, we hear a word that’s both an invitation to all and a mission for the Church. There’s the invitation to “come and drink…freely of the Water of Life.” There’s also a commission for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to join the Spirit in echoing the invitation to the entire human race, offering this Water of Life to all who will come. What we receive we offer to others. Now, as the curtain is falling, Jesus speaks again, assuring us of his return. From the audience John answers for all of us: “Yes, Come, Master Jesus!”
Take Away: Jesus is coming back. This is our hope. Proclaiming this truth is our mission.
Revelation 20: I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there – before the Throne!
The events described are challenging to say the least. There’s a 1000 years of peace on earth as the old dragon is bound in the pit. Is it a literal thousand years? Is the peace total or just the general condition of the earth? At the end, it seems there’s a good chance that the story of the human race is about to start all over again as the dragon is released and goes to work. But it’s not to be. Time is up. The dead are called forth and Judgment Day has finally come. Two books; one detailing the deeds of each life and the other listing those who’ve given themselves to the Lamb are the witnesses. The separating of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares takes place. It’s the end. It’s the beginning. Everything that’s happened has been the prelude to eternity. As is plain to anyone reading my devotionals on Revelation I really don’t have a clue. I’m lost as to both timeline and actual events. However, even someone as clueless as I am can have a handle on this final event. I’m going to stand before God. My life is going to be an “open book.” At that point, my only hope will be that second book, the Book of Life. If I’ve given my heart to Jesus and lived for him, it’s that book that’s my hope: my hope of life. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
Romans 6: You are dead to sin and alive to God.
The topic is freedom. When I was bound in sin, living a dead end life without hope Jesus came to rescue me. Taking my sin as his own, he carried it to death, stripping it of its grip on me. Then, in the resurrection, the possibility of new life came to me. When I join Christ at the cross I die to sin. When I join him at the tomb on resurrection morning, that resurrection life becomes mine. Now, I stand a free man, made new by the work of Christ. I’m filled with thanksgiving and forever indebted to the One who has made it all possible. The freedom I’ve received is a cherished possession, one that I guard carefully, realizing that some acts are out of bounds for me because to do them would place me back in bondage from whence I came. Instead, I willingly serve the One who gave me freedom, bound, not by sin and death, but by love.
Take Away: I’m bound…not by sin, but by God’s love.
When Jesus shows mercy
Luke 18: Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!
On the outskirts of Jericho a poor blind man spends his day listening for the sound of footsteps that he might beg for some loose change from some passing person. On this day, though, voices raised in excitement are drawing near and he begins shouting out the question, “What’s going on?” Finally, someone responds, “Its Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker. He and his disciples are coming this way.” The blind man begins shouting at the top of his voice, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Several tell him to be quiet and the sound of the crowd nearly drowns him out anyway. He shouts all the louder, “Have mercy on me!” Then, a calm, authoritative voice is heard. Jesus is right there in front of him. “What do you want from me?” he asks. The blind man answers, “Master, I want to see again.” “Okay, do it,” Jesus replies. Light, color, and movement flood in as sight is restored. As I read this story, I’m the blind man. Life is empty, desperate, and hopeless. Then, Jesus passes by. In my own words, I shout out “Have mercy on me!” And he does. Thank you, Lord, for your light giving mercy in my life.
Take Away: Its mercy we need and its mercy we receive from the Lord.
Matthew 27: Many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised.
Like any normal person, I don’t enjoy reading about the crucifixion. I understand that it’s the finest display of God’s love possible and that my hope of salvation is right here in this event. Still knowing it is all real causes me to read quickly. I don’t want to linger here. Matthew states a detail that the other writers leave out. I haven’t thought much about this “resurrection” because, as I say, I’m generally hurrying on to Easter morning. However, Matthew says that as Jesus breathes his last that there’s an earthquake that opens some sealed tombs. Godly people buried there come forth, alive! Apparently, these are not the long dead, but, like Lazarus, are people laid to rest more recently. Residents of Jerusalem know them and respect them as people of God. Matthew tells us that this “mini-resurrection” can be confirmed by many who saw them. With that, the story hurries on to the burial of our Lord and then, hallelujah, to the empty tomb. We don’t know who these saints are, what they do and say, or what becomes of them. I know I’ve probably seen too much special effect filled TV but I can’t help but imagine a spiritual tsunami being triggered by Christ’s death on the cross. In my mind’s eye I see a shock wave emanating from the cross that’s so powerful that when it reaches graves of recent dead believers that they’re brought back to life. After all, the cross is all about death and life. A “spill over,” if you please, of the cross is this “back to life” event reported only by Matthew.
Take Away: Christ’s death on the cross was powerful in ways we can hardly grasp.
Them bones, them bones, them dry bones
Ezekiel 37: Dry bones, listen to the message of God.
Ezekiel speaks to people who think they’ve gone too far and have said “no” to God and just plain messed up once too often. They think they’re like dinosaur bones some archeologist might dig up in the desert someday: interesting, but dry and lifeless. The truth is that they’re right. They’ve been written off because of their rejection of God. To picture themselves as “dry bones” is not an overreaction. Rather, it’s a valid realization. Their only hope is the only hope they’ve ever had: they must turn back to God. In his vision Ezekiel is asked, “Can these bones live?” His answer is right on: “Lord, you know.” The restoration of Israel is up to the Lord. They’re on the verge of being written off of the pages of history. The only possibility of their not becoming dry fossils is to respond to the mercy of God and depend on him to breathe life back into them. All of that is true of my life too. It’s only when I accept two facts that I have hope. Fact one: my sins have made me spiritually into a pile of dry bones. Fact two: my only hope is in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The only route out of this mess is for me to accept the title, “dry bones” and then listen to God’s message. That alone can change my dry bones situation.
Take Away: Our only hope is in the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.
Good news for people who need a Second Chance
Ezekiel 33: None of his sins will be kept on the books.
Since Ezekiel’s mission throughout most of his ministry is to warn people of pending destruction, and since he is about as rough and tumble a guy as you’ll ever meet, his messages are generally not especially uplifting. He’s like a doctor with a poor bedside manner: he isn’t especially interested in dressing things up but for the good of his patient he tells it like it is. Still, as I journey through the book of Ezekiel, I find plenty of sunshine along with his gruffness. At one point he tells people that they can’t rely on past goodness to cover current sin. If even the most pious person turns from God’s ways to sin he or she will be judged not for their past, but their current life. However, there’s good news in flip side of that situation. If a person who’s living a sinful life hears Ezekiel’s hard message and decides to pay attention and straighten up there’s a real possibility of life. God will gladly give that individual a second chance. Now that’s a message for any day. The Lord loves it when sinners turn to him. He doesn’t hold our past against us and is more than willing to forgive sins and transform lives. That’s good news for every one of us who has made bad choices and wishes life had a rewind button. We can’t go back but by God’s grace we can go forward. If a person turns to God, Ezekiel tells us, “He’ll live.”
Take Away: We can’t go back but by the grace of the Lord we can go forward.