Matthew 4:1-11

I am a sucker for fast food breakfast. Or restaurant breakfast. Or homemade breakfast. Really just all breakfasts. Anything with gravy, honestly. On the occasional Sunday (more frequently than I would care to admit) I have been pulled into the fast food drive-through by the temptation of a delicious breakfast sandwich. Add a hash brown and iced coffee into the mix, and I dare anyone to try to keep me away.

In Matthew 4, we see Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights, and the devil makes his appearance to test Jesus in three different scenarios, the first being a suggestion that Jesus could easily turn stones into bread to eat.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:3-4, ESV

Jesus is able to reject the temptation of food after a forty-day fast, instead staying focused on God’s Word and on His greater purpose. The rest of this passage goes on to describe two more ways the devil tempts Jesus, both met with similar responses.

What is your temptation? Is it pulling you away from God? He might not ask us to go forty days in the wilderness without food or even to resist the call of a tasty breakfast, but we should seek to reject anything that pulls our focus away. When we are tempted by sin, we can stay strong by staying focused on God, His word, and His greater purpose.

John 13:31-35

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:31-35

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was about to happen on the cross, he gave them a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. This commandment was and is intended to be the identifying characteristic for those who follow Jesus, and it didn’t fizzle out or lose power over time. As Christians, we are still called to show the love of Christ; it is supposed to be what sets us apart.

Are we loving one another the way that we are supposed to? We tend to love conditionally, favoring those we like or agree with. It’s hard to love those who have wronged us. It’s easy to forget that we’re supposed to show love when we’re caught up in an argument or when issues divide us. I encourage you today to reflect on the way that you love others. At the start of new year, maybe it’s time to realign with this new commandment to love one another just as Jesus has loved us.

Matthew 1

It’s Christmas Day.

I don’t want to keep you long – you likely have tasks at hand more pressing than reading this devotional. For a moment, though, let’s talk about Christmas and how it connects to God’s unbroken story.

Matthew 1 is where we begin the New Testament.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew 1:1

For the past few months we have been working our way through the Old Testament, seeing time and time again how God has worked justly and lovingly to save His people from their sin for His glory. Now, as we begin the New Testament (and bring our Unbroken series to a close), it may almost seem like the end of the story. Instead, let us consider it a continuation. After the many displays of His loving nature in the Old Testament, the same God that created the universe came down to be with His creation in the form of a baby.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Jesus Christ was and is God’s ultimate act of love. He came to live a perfect, sinless life on earth and ultimately pay the price of death on a cross to cover the sin of all of humanity, a gift of love that is for all. Let us celebrate today the birth of the One who saves us, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Daniel 6

Daniel and the Lions’ Den is one of the most well-known bible stories, hands down. Even if you haven’t taken a deep dive into the text of Daniel 6, you have most likely heard the story before. Because he continued to pray openly to God after the ordinance by King Darius, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions. However, Daniel was not harmed by the lions because God sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths. After he saw this, Darius sent out a decree to all nations that the God of Daniel was the real deal. End of story, case closed, on to the next chapter?

It is easy to breeze past the stories we learned in Sunday school. Because they are so familiar, we sometimes overlook passages like Daniel 6. I encourage you to take another read through this chapter; there’s a little more to the story than what I included in my short summary. Daniel and the Lions’ Den is a great story, but it’s also truly incredible to think about that fact that this display of God’s power actually happened. The God that saved Daniel from death in the lions’ den is the same God that saved us from the death we deserve for our sin.

What are you overlooking? Have parts of God’s word started to seem like old news for you? Let’s take time today to reflect and pray on that.

Our sermon last Sunday was on Daniel 6 and focused on how God works through opposition. Watch it again at vcbc.org.

Jonah 4

In Jonah 4, God has just spared the people of Nineveh in response to their turning away from evil, and Jonah is angry. Things did not go the way Jonah wanted, and he goes as far as to say that he would rather die because of it. As he watches the city from the east, God provides a plant to shade him from the sun, and then takes it away again. Jonah is therefore uncomfortable and angry about the plant. The book ends with God’s response:

10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah 4:10-11, ESV

It seems somewhat fitting to read these words as we have just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, because we are aware that things are not going the way we wanted either. The situation is different from Jonah’s; there is a difference between missing our holiday traditions and Jonah missing his leafy plant or wishing punishment on the people of Nineveh, but there is an important similarity. God still wants to see the lost come to Him. If we are focused on whether or not this year has gone the way we wanted, we can lose sight of our mission to show the love of God and share the salvation of Jesus Christ with others.

1 Kings 12

To whom do you turn when you need advice? You might seek wisdom from an experienced elder, talk it out with a trustworthy buddy, ask God to reveal the right call for your situation, or try any combination of these options. Beyond that, do you tend to go with the advice that makes the most sense or the advice that was closest to what you wanted to hear? Ultimately, the choice is yours, but we often find that the most favorable outcome stems from choosing to follow the right advice from the right source.

In 1 Kings 12, we see this concept exemplified. King Rehoboam takes counsel with two groups, the old men and the young men, to decide how to respond to the people’s pleas to lighten the heavy yoke placed on them by Solomon. The old men said to serve the people, the young men said to tell the people “my little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs” (v. 10), which is a super cool and super strange way of saying “I’ll show you a heavy yoke.” We see that Rehoboam takes the advice of the young men and that this choice leaves Israel divided. At this point, it seems safe to assume that he made the wrong choice. Maybe he did, but we read a little later in the text that “it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word” (v. 15).

We get two important takeaways from this chapter. The first is that our choices can bring about good and bad results, which makes it crucial to seek wisdom and take advice from the right sources. The second is that God works through everything and in every moment, through our good choices and bad decisions. We may not be making the kinds of choices that divide nations, but the Lord fulfills his word regardless of our decision-making skills.

1 Samuel 16

We don’t always know what’s happening while it’s happening.

Looking back on my own life, I can recognize seasons of change. One event connects to or even causes another. It seems that many key parts contributed to where I am now. In some cases, I can pinpoint the exact day or even moment that started me on a path toward a specific outcome. The crazy part is this: I had no clue what was happening while it was happening. It wasn’t until years later that I could look back and recognize the way God was shaping my life.

In 1 Samuel 16, we read about Samuel anointing David as king over Israel. This is our first introduction to David, but we know of course that he goes on to play a huge part in God’s unbroken story. From this first glimpse, we know that David is special because God says so. We know that he will be king. But Samuel doesn’t proclaim to everyone around that he was sent by God to anoint David as the new king, so it seems that no one apart from God and Samuel knew what was really happening. Did David look back years later and recognize the way God was working when he was called in from keeping sheep to be anointed?

None of us will be kings, but we are all an important part of God’s story. Maybe you can look back and see Him working in your life, or maybe in the years to come you will be able to look back and see that something big has only just begun. Regardless of where you are as far as being able to recognize it, God is working.

Judges 6 – 7

At the beginning of Judges 6, the people of Israel are not in God’s favor. He is angry with them for falling back to their sinful ways, and because of this He allows the Midianites to overpower them for seven years. Relief does not come until the Israelites cry out to the Lord, and it comes in the form of a man named Gideon. Through Judges 6 and 7, Gideon carries out many acts of obedience to God and is empowered by Him to lead Israel to a victory over Midian.

A passage that stood out to me in this reading was Judges 6:36-40. My copy of the Bible has this section labeled The Sign of the Fleece. Gideon asks God to confirm that He would use him to save Israel by causing dew to wet a fleece of wool while leaving the ground dry. God makes it so. Here’s the part that got me: Gideon asks God to do it again.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

Judges 6:39-40

We see some important concepts in these verses. The first is that God can do incredible things. It may seem frivolous to make dew fall or not fall on a specific area, but it is an impossible task for us. For God, it was no problem (He even did it twice). Through verse 40 we also see God’s patience. Gideon could have accepted the first sign of the fleece as sufficient proof. He asks God not to be angry, which shows that he knew it was perhaps unwise to ask again, but Gideon asks God to show him one more time. The Bible doesn’t say that God became angry or that He said “No Gideon, once was enough, don’t test me.” It says He did it.

I am thankful for God’s patience, because we all sometimes fail to recognize God working in our lives, even if He’s already shown us. The God that empowered Gideon to defeat the Midianites and proved his plan by sending selectively wetting dew is the same God that continues to do incredible things today.

Exodus 40

In Exodus 40 we see God’s instruction to Moses on exactly how to erect the tabernacle, followed by a reiteration of these instructions while all steps are carried out. Looking back at the last several chapters, it seems that Exodus is full of instructions, specifically regarding the tabernacle. Why? What is the significance? At the end of the book we see: the tabernacle was the way for God to dwell with His people wherever they went. Look at this:

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

Exodus 40:34-38

When we read through this text, we see that the the people of Israel not only did as they were told; they followed God’s guidance exactly when they were supposed to as well. Because of their response to the Lord, He was with them, as the text says “throughout all their journeys.”

God continues to dwell with His people. If you know salvation through Jesus Christ, He lives within you. Are you maintaining His dwelling place in the way that He has called you to do so? My prayer is that we continue to follow the Lord’s plan for the how and where and when; may He also be in our sight throughout all our journeys.

Genesis 49:28-50:26

The selected reading for today brings us to the end of Genesis. My Bible, which is the English Standard Version, has this text separated into three sections: Jacob’s Death and Burial, God’s Good Purposes, and The Death of Joseph. While it was tempting to skim through and call it a day based on the titles, I actually ended up having to read through these verses three times before I could come up with anything to write about in this devotional.

A point that was made clear for me this week is that sometimes it is necessary to read, re-read (maybe three or four times), and meditate on the importance of God’s word. It is a modern tendency to jump to conclusions and applications. This is an important part of spiritual growth, but should not take precedence over reading and comprehending the Scripture. There is a lot in there; don’t be afraid to slow down and take it in.

Through this passage we see great examples of staying the course. Even up until Jacob’s last breath he is actively fulfilling his part in God’s plan, blessing his sons and even detailing his own burial. After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will repay their evil acts against him. Joseph’s reply shows that he is focused on God’s bigger picture as well. Like Jacob, we see that Joseph is fully centered on God even through the end of his life. Both seem to know that the importance of their actions stems from the ultimate supremacy of God’s plan.

As we finish reading through Genesis as part of Valley Creek’s Unbroken series, I hope you find yourself beginning to see that it’s all connected. Even today we are living out what God set in motion back in Genesis 1:1. Let’s keep reading, keep seeking understanding, and keep our eyes on God and His bigger picture.