Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 5, The First Disciples

Mark tells us today about the calling of Simon (also known as Peter), Andrew, James, and John. But first he informs us of the sad circumstances of John the Baptist, "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God." (Mark 1:14) Mark will give a more detailed account of John's fate in Chapter 6, but we know John had some forewarning that his ministry was about to come to a close. Prior to his arrest, while John was baptizing at Aenon, his disciples came to him and complained that many of the people of Judah who formerly followed him were now following Jesus of Nazareth. These disciples were indignant about what they perceived as desertion, but John said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30)

John ends up in prison because he dared to speak against the immorality of Herod Antipas. Herod, while visiting his brother Philip, fell either in love or in lust with his brother Philip's wife, Herodias. Herod and Herodias divorced their spouses to marry each other. Some scholars believe Herodias instigated John's arrest, for from that time on she plots to have him put to death. The level of resentment Herodias harbors for John is equal to the level of sin in her heart. His denouncement of her sin has touched a sore spot. Rather than recognizing her wickedness and repenting of it, she wants John silenced. How dare he judge her way of living? How dare he drag her dirty laundry out into the open? Herodias wants John to pay for her humiliation, and because Herod is a weak man (at least where women are concerned), she will eventually get her way.

When Jesus hears of John's arrest, He moves on into the region of Galilee to preach the gospel. "'The time has come,' He said. 'The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark 1:15) Jesus takes up John's message of repentance and goes a step further to announce that the kingdom of God is near. The kingdom is near because the King is near, so close the people can see Him and touch Him.

"As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow Me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.' At once they left their nets and followed Him." (Mark 1:16-18) The Apostle John tells us that Simon and his brother Andrew had a previous encounter with the Lord in John 1:35-42. Andrew was a disciple of John's and was present when John pointed to Jesus and cried out, "Look, the Lamb of God!" Andrew and another of John's disciples followed Jesus and spent the evening hearing Him teach the Scriptures, after which Andrew hurried to find his brother Simon and tell him, "'We have found the Messiah.' (That is, the Christ.)" At this news, Simon went to meet Jesus. Jesus, knowing the type of man Simon would someday become because of his faith, gave him another name: "Peter" in the Greek and "Cephas" in Aramaic. This name means "rock". A dark day will come when Peter will look nothing like a solid rock of faith, but there will also be a day when he will boldly step out and begin to preach in Jesus' name, becoming a firm pillar of the early church.

"When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him." (Mark 1:19-20) In the first century, becoming a student of a particular rabbi was a process similar to that of a modern-day student applying to attend a top college. The rabbi would test the religious knowledge of the candidates and would examine their character to determine whether or not they had the potential to become like him. To every candidate who passed the rigorous testing, the rabbi issued the invitation, "Follow me."

Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John did not fit the typical mold of men who might become great rabbis themselves. They were rough and uneducated fellows who made their living by doing the backbreaking work of casting nets over the sides of boats day after day after day. Fishing had probably been their family occupation for generations, and these men never expected to do anything other than doing the same thing their fathers did. But Jesus, like any good rabbi, sees their potential. He knows these men can be taught to boldly proclaim the good news of the gospel just as He does. He sees all the way into their hearts and finds there a hunger to know the God of the universe. These men have not applied to be His disciples, at least not consciously, but their immediate response to His calling tells us that they were not satisfied with their current occupations. They wanted to do something for the Lord but up til now they didn't even know where to start. So when this rabbi whom they believe to be the Messiah says, "Follow Me," they don't hesitate for a second.

Jesus offers the same invitation to us. He may leave us in our current occupations or He may lead us into various forms of teaching and ministry, but there is one thing of which we can be certain: He will make more of us than we ever dared to dream.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 4, The Temptation Of Jesus

At His baptism we found the identity of Jesus Christ being revealed by both John the Baptist and God the Father. Both these witnesses told the large crowd gathered at the Jordan River, "This is the One you've been waiting for. This is your Messiah. This is your King. This is the Son of God."

We would expect all the great events of Jesus' ministry to begin immediately after such a profound announcement, but instead we find Him being tempted in the wilderness. Spiritual attacks often follow right on the heels of a positive spiritual experience. In fact, that's when spiritual attacks are most likely to occur. I can think of several reasons why this might be. For one thing, Satan can't stand it when our cup overflows with the Holy Spirit. He wants to see our relationship with God broken so that he can make us broken. He wants to cut us off from the supply chain of power and grace by discouraging and confusing us with difficult circumstances so that we begin to doubt the promises of God. He wants to bring so much fear and distress upon us that in our human weakness we can't feel the presence of God. 

But there's another reason for seasons of temptation. God sometimes chooses times of testing for us so that our faith has a chance to grow. Like a muscle on the human body, faith doesn't grow very well unless it meets with resistance. Faith, like a muscle, has to learn to push back. It's easy for us to trust God during our spiritual highs, but we don't live our lives in a constant state of spiritual euphoria, and we must learn to trust God in our low times too. We have to learn to push back against the darkness and against the lies of the devil and say, "My God is for me. If He is for me, who can be against me?" (Romans 8:31)

A third reason for temptation is that our ability to emerge victoriously from it proves to the world that we are who we say we are. It shows those around us that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) It testifies to unbelievers that the power of Christ is real and that our God is able to give us the strength to remain faithful to Him. We will not always perform our duties to our Lord perfectly, but He is able to help us live lives that honor Him so that those around us can say, "There must be something to this Christian life. They are able to resist a lot of things the rest of us fall for. And when they do make mistakes, they repent and learn from their mistakes and move on. They don't just keep lying there wallowing in the dirt; their God restores them to grace and helps them to do better. This is something different. This is something real." I think the reason for Jesus' temptation falls into this third category. He enters a difficult season of temptation and emerges from it victoriously in order to prove to the world that He is who He says He is. 

Mark tells us very little about the temptation of Jesus. Right after Jesus' baptism, Mark says, "At once the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness, and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended Him." (Mark 1:12-13) Jesus had to be tested in order to prove He could stand firm against sin. When we test drive a car we aren't hoping it will fail. We test drive it to prove that it is reliable. We test drive it to prove that it's everything we've been told it is. This is the same reason Jesus had to be tested in the wilderness, to prove He is reliable and that He is everything we've been told He is. 

Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus fasted while He was in the wilderness, and I think we can safely assume He was praying during His time of fasting. Fasting and praying go hand in hand in the Scriptures. Fasting is a way of denying self and of ignoring the physical needs while attending to the spiritual needs. As God in the flesh, Jesus now has to deal with one of the most common human experiences: hunger. We all become hungry several times throughout the day, every single day of our lives. Jesus becomes exceptionally hungry during His time of fasting, so Satan comes to Him and suggests He do something to remedy the problem. "If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." (Matthew 4:3) 

Satan knows Jesus is the Son of God. He knows Jesus is the Word of God without whom nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3) Jesus can simply speak the word and command a stone to turn into bread. But He doesn't do it. He sets a beautiful example for us all by not debating the issue in His own mind and trying to justify it; instead He simply speaks the word of God back to Satan, "It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4) Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8 where Moses reminds the children of Israel how God provided for them in the wilderness by sending bread from heaven. But man is more than flesh and blood; man is also spirit and the spirit must be nourished too. The only way to nourish the spirit is to stay in close communion with God and to be obedient to Him. Moses pointed out in Deuteronomy 8 that if the people will be obedient to God, He will supply everything they need. In quoting Moses' words Jesus is saying to Satan, "I'm trusting God the Father to provide for Me. He sent Me to complete a time of fasting in the wilderness before beginning My ministry and I'm going to see it through to the end. It would be disobedient of Me to turn stones into bread because this would demonstrate a lack of trust in the power of God to keep Me alive to fulfill what I've come to do."

Satan was able to cause the fall of man in the Garden of Eden over an item of food, but his scheme doesn't work on Jesus, so he attacks from another angle. He knows Jesus is on His way to the cross. There is no king's crown at the end of the dusty road Jesus is trudging. There's a cruel crown of thorns waiting for Him. Satan offers to help Jesus bypass the suffering and go straight to the glory. He tells Jesus to jump from the highest point of the temple, in full view of the crowds assembled there, and be miraculously delivered by God who will be compelled to save Him. "'If you are the Son of God,' he said, 'throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" (Matthew 4:6) 

We don't want to miss the snide wickedness of Satan quoting Scripture back to the One who just quoted Scripture to him. We also don't want to miss the fact that Satan is quoting Scripture to its Author. There's something so slimy about this and so revealing of his serpent-like nature, that the devil would dare to fling the words of God into the face of the very Word of God. Don't ever think Satan doesn't know the Bible. He knows it better than you or I do. And he will use it in ways that try to twist its meaning, which is why it's imperative that we make Bible study a habit. Then we can remain steadfast like Jesus, who says, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:7) Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6 which deals with the people murmuring against God in the wilderness. It has to do with not trusting God to do the right thing at the right time. Jesus is going to trust God to do the right thing at the right time, and He knows it's God's will that His glory should come after His torturous death on the cross, not before or instead of the death on the cross. It is because He is obedient unto death that God endows Jesus with glory, according to the prophet Isaiah, "After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:11-12)

Satan makes a third attempt to thwart the mission of Jesus Christ. He shows Him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world and offers them to Him if only He will bow down and worship him. "'All this I will give You,' he said, 'if You will bow down and worship me.'" (Matthew 4:9) Jesus doesn't refute Satan's ability to do this. Many have, in essence, sold their souls to the devil for fame and fortune. Men and women have turned their backs on the principles of God and have broken laws both moral and spiritual to enjoy the pleasures of this world for a season. But the kingdoms Satan offers Jesus are temporary, just as the fame and fortune of this world are temporary. If Jesus remains obedient to God, He will inherit an eternal kingdom. He will be King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16) If Jesus remains obedient to God, He will be exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above every name. (Philippians 2:9) The rewards Satan promises Jesus are nothing compared to what God the Father has promised. 

The devil has gone too far. He has been too bold and too obvious in his request to be worshiped. Since the beginning, Satan has often persuaded people to worship him by disguising himself as other things, but here he has brazenly come out into the open. Up til this point I think Jesus, in the part of Him that is man, felt the pull of an easy path to glory. In His humanness He must have dreaded the pain and the shame of the cross. But now Satan has shown himself in all his ugliness and Jesus appears to wave him away as easily as a person might wave away a gnat. "Jesus said to him, 'Away from Me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him." (Matthew 4:10-11)

Jesus stood the test. He submitted Himself to God and resisted the devil. As a result the devil fled from Him. (James 4:7) In today's passage we have the perfect recipe for standing firm in the faith:
1. We are to know the Scriptures, for Satan knows them and will try to use them against us. 
2. We are not to argue with the devil or to try to justify sin in our minds. 
3. We are to resist the temptation by simply believing and quoting the holy and infallible word of God.

Whenever we, in our human weakness, fail in any of these three points, "We do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are---yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16) Because Jesus was tempted, He understands how difficult it is for us. And because He successfully withstood His temptation, gave His life for our sins, and was raised from the dead, "He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25) 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 3, The Baptism Of Jesus

We left John the Baptist yesterday baptizing at the Jordan River. He had already confessed repeatedly that he is not the Messiah the people are looking for but that he is the forerunner of the Messiah. He is the man the prophets Malachi and Isaiah predicted would prepare the way for the Lord. Today the Lord Himself comes down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

We will begin with Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism because he provides some additional details. "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?'" (Matthew 3:13-14) We noticed yesterday how humble John is. He told the people that One was coming who would be so great that he wasn't worthy to stoop down and untie His sandals for him. This was the job of a servant or slave, not the job of a rabbi's followers, and yet John would be willing to lower himself to perform this task....except that he counted himself unworthy to even touch the feet of the Master. Today we find the Master coming to John to be baptized and John is astonished by such a request. He must have been thinking something like this, "You are the Son of God! I need to be baptized by You, not the other way around! My baptism is symbolic of the repentance that has taken place in people's hearts, yet You are holy and sinless and have nothing to repent of. Let's change places. You baptize me. You, the only One able to absolve man of sins, don't need to lower Yourself to be baptized by an imperfect man such as I am."

"Jesus replied, 'Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.' Then John consented." (Matthew 3:15) Why did Jesus want to be baptized? Scholars have debated the reason for Jesus' baptism for over two thousand years, but Jesus clearly states the reason, "It is proper for us to do this." Sometimes we perform duties in life not because we necessarily need to do them, but because it is proper to do them. The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ being humble because "He was found in appearance as a man". (Philippians 2:8) Because Christ took on flesh and dwelt among mankind, it was proper for Him to do everything a righteous man would do. It was also proper because Christ, in the incarnation, identified Himself with mankind in every way. He had no sins of His own but, because someday He would literally become sin on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), He submitted to the "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4). He did this not for His own sake, but for ours, just as He would go to the cross not for His own sake, but for ours.

Another reason it was proper for Jesus to be baptized is because His identity as the Messiah would be confirmed publicly at the Jordan River by two witnesses. The Mosaic law required at least two witnesses to prove anything in court. The two giving testimony are John the Baptist and God the Father. The Apostle John tells us that the sole purpose of John's ministry was to draw the crowds who would be present when Jesus' identity is made clear. John the Baptist says, "I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that He might be revealed to Israel." (John 1:31) John of course knew Jesus; they were cousins. He also knew Jesus' fine character and manner of living. But until a specific sign occurred, John did not know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah. "Then John gave this testimony: 'I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. And I myself did not know Him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is God's chosen One." (John 1:32-34) So here we have John's testimony as to the true identity of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Next we will hear God's testimony.

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.'" (Mark 1:9-11) The people assembled at the Jordan River have now heard the testimony of two witnesses, and these are two witnesses whose testimonies count for more than anyone else's. John the Baptist, the first prophet to appear in Israel for four hundred years, declares Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah. God the Father, whose voice thunders from the heavens, declares Jesus of Nazareth not only to be the promised Messiah, but also to be His very own Son made flesh.

If a person needed two witnesses to come forward to vouch for his character, he couldn't find two witnesses greater than John the Baptist and Almighty God! Who could refute such testimonies? What accusations could anyone bring? This should have been the end to all arguments regarding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. For some, it was all the proof they needed. For others, miracles had to also be witnessed. For yet others, the testimonies plus the miracles plus the predictions made by prophets of old had to all be put together before they were convinced. For still others, nothing would ever be enough to persuade them that Jesus was the Son of God. As Jesus would later point out in the Parable Of The Rich Man And Lazarus, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:31)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 2, John The Baptist

The book of Malachi, which we just completed earlier in the week, had this to say about the person we will study today, "I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way for Me." (Malachi 3:1a) The Lord promised to send someone ahead of Him to Israel in the same way a great king would send a messenger ahead of him into a city to tell the people to prepare for the king's arrival. We will see Malachi's prophecy fulfilled today.

Mark starts his account of the gospel story like this, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God." (Mark 1:1) He wants there to be no doubt in our minds as to the identity of the main character of the gospel: Jesus of Nazareth, who is the promised Messiah and the Son of the living God. I love it that Mark calls the gospel story "the beginning" of the good news, for the story of the gospel is still being written in the hearts of men and women in our own day, and it will continue to be written until the Lord Jesus Christ comes to reign from David's throne. The works of Jesus that Mark is going to describe to us are just the beginning of everything Jesus has done and will do. The creation work of the Lord only took six days, but He is still busy working in the lives of the humans He created, as Jesus pointed out when He was criticized for healing on the Sabbath, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working." (John 5:17b) Amen! What if the Lord refused to heal on the Sabbath? I came to know Christ as my Savior on the Sabbath! He didn't tell me to come back on another day; He gave me the healing I needed on the day I needed it.

Mark will now quote both Malachi and Isaiah in reference to the messenger who comes on the scene before the arrival of the King, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way'---'a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.'" (Mark 1:2-3) Mark only mentions the name of Isaiah here, but he has combined Malachi 3:1 with Isaiah 40:3. Malachi and Isaiah were both speaking of the same person, as we see here, "And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1:4)

This is another thing I love about Mark, the way he says "and so" in verse 4. He's saying something like, "The Old Testament prophets, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the arrival of John the Baptist on the scene. And so it happened. The Lord said it would happen, and so it did." Mark never expected it to turn out any other way. The Lord promised and the Lord delivered. The word of God said such a thing would happen and it did happen. This is a brief but very profound testimony of faith. What if we read our Bibles with Mark's "and so" attitude? I wonder what would happen if we read the precious promises of the Scriptures and always said to ourselves, "The Lord promises His grace will be sufficient for me, and so it will be. The Lord promises to provide for me, and so He will. The Lord promises to be with me always, and so He will be."

John the Baptist steps onto the pages of the Bible after four hundred years of absolute silence from God. For four centuries the people have endured the famine foretold in Amos 8:11, "'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign Lord, 'when I will send a famine through the land---not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.'" When at last a prophet finally appears, the people eagerly flock to hear his message, "The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized in the Jordan river." (Mark 1:5) Imagine what this must have been like. The Lord has not spoken to the people through a prophet for so long that they must have doubted whether He would ever speak to them again, despite the fact that the Old Testament closed with God vowing to keep His covenant with Israel. It's no wonder so many of the citizens of Judah and the city of Jerusalem rush out to the desert to see John. John's birth to the elderly priest Zechariah and his equally elderly wife Elizabeth was as miraculous as the birth of Isaac to the elderly Abraham and Sarah. (Luke 1:11-17)  This was surprising enough, but now that he's in his thirties John looks like a mighty prophet of old, perhaps like Elijah himself, and he speaks like a prophet of old with a message about sin and the need to repent. Some of the people wonder if this is the "Elijah" foretold in Malachi 4:5, who will prepare the hearts of the people to receive the King. Others wonder if John could be the Messiah.

John is careful not to allow himself to be confused with the Messiah. He wears the garments of a prophet just as Elijah did in 2 Kings 1:8. "John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." (Mark 1:6) John eats what he forages in the wilderness, trusting God to provide his needs as Elijah had to trust God to provide his needs in the wilderness in 1 Kings 17.

Though John never makes any claims to be the Messiah, the Apostle John tells us that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites out into the desert to ask John who he was. (John 1:19) When asked point-blank whether he might be the Promised One, "He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Messiah'". (John 1:20) He also denied being the literal reincarnation of Elijah (John 1:21), for the Scriptures never said Elijah would come back in person, but that the Lord would send someone "with the spirit and power of Elijah". (Luke 1:17) In other words, the Lord anointed John through the Holy Spirit to be a prophet in the same way He anointed Elijah. The preaching of John is endowed with the same authority as the preaching of Elijah.

John knows that the religious leaders and the citizens are wondering if he might be the Messiah, so he speaks very plainly about who he is and who he is not. "And this was his message: 'After me comes the One more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'" (Mark 1:7-8) A rabbi in John's day could require his students to perform all of the duties of a servant with the exception of untying his sandals. This was considered too lowly a task for a rabbi's followers and was more of a task for a hired servant or even a slave. But John says, "I would do anything for the One who is coming! I would be honored to lower myself to untie his sandals, but He is so great and I am so small in comparison to Him that I am not even worthy to touch His feet." 

John's ministry is the most sensational thing to happen in Judah in four centuries, yet he says he's not worthy to untie the sandals of the One who is coming after him. The crowds are flocking to see John in the same way people in our day would flock to see a famous movie star or music artist. It's hard for the people to imagine Someone so great that the famous John the Baptist isn't worthy to untie His sandals. But what he's telling them is, "You think this is something? Just you wait! You are about to see things you never imagined!" Or, to put it in modern terms, John boldly declares, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 1, The Gift Of A Second Chance

The author of the book of Mark is generally believed to be the John Mark of Acts 12:12, a man whose mother Mary was a prominent and influential woman in the early Christian community at Jerusalem. He was a contemporary of the Apostle Peter and likely a young convert of his, since Peter refers to Mark as "my son". (1 Peter 5:13) Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, a friend of the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul took Mark, along with Barnabas, on some of the missionary work, although Paul and Barnabas ended up having a sharp disagreement over Mark in Acts 15:36-41 because Mark abandoned the mission while the men were preaching at Pamphylia. Later on, when Paul and Barnabas decided to revisit all the towns where they had formerly preached, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin Mark with them, but Paul no longer trusted him. The Bible tells us, "They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." (Acts 15:39-41)

The Bible never informs us why Mark cut his missionary trip short. The gospel writer Luke simply says, "From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem." (Acts 13:13) This "John" is the same one Luke refers to as "John Mark". (He is not to be confused with the Apostle John who was a son of Zebedee and the brother of the martyr James.) Some mainstream Bible scholars think Mark had no problem with performing missionary work in Jewish territories but that he balked at the idea of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. This might explain why he returned to the church at Jerusalem instead of moving on through the Gentile regions with Paul and Barnabas. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:7-8 that he was chosen by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles in the same way that Peter was chosen by God to be an apostle to the Jews. If Mark considered the Gentiles unclean, as a number of his fellow countrymen did at that time, he may have felt his gifts were put to better use at Jerusalem than in the Gentile regions.

Other scholars speculate that Mark left the mission because he was young, inexperienced, and afraid for his life. The work was fraught with perils. The Apostle Paul provides us with several examples of what he himself endured on his missionary journeys, "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:24-28) Faced with all these dangers, it's possible that young Mark may have begun to doubt his own calling in the Lord. He might have felt safer at home in Jerusalem with his mother and with the fellow believers who held church at her house.

Whatever Mark's motivations might have been, Paul no longer trusted him. He wasn't sure Mark was made of the right stuff. He was afraid that when the going got tough Mark would take off again. Barnabas naturally wanted to offer his cousin Mark a second chance, so he and Paul argued over the matter and ended up parting company because they could not come to an agreement. The Apostle Paul eventually experienced a change of heart regarding the character of Mark. As Mark grew in age he grew in the faith. He labored tirelessly and fearlessly in the gospel work, so much so that Paul wanted him with him near the end of his life. In his final letter to Timothy, Paul instructed, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11b) Because Mark had proven himself faithful, Paul wanted to extend the hand of fellowship to him.

Barnabas offered Mark a second chance and helped him to fulfill his calling in the Lord. In time Paul too offered him a second chance in the ministry. But most of all, the Lord Himself offered Mark a second chance. Mark was helpful not only to Barnabas and Paul, but also to the Lord, for He chose Mark to write one of the four gospels. It is now believed by Bible scholars and historians that Mark's gospel was likely the first gospel written, not Matthew's gospel. This reveals to us just how much our Lord is able to redeem and restore! He is the God of second chances! We don't know what caused Mark to leave the missionary work for a time, but God offered him the gift of a second chance. God chose him to write the first gospel account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Where would Mark have been if the Lord had not offered him a second chance? We would be missing an entire book of the New Testament. Where would we be if the Lord had never offered us second chances? We wouldn't be sitting here right now studying the Scriptures together if the Lord, in His infinite and indescribable mercy, had not looked on us with love and offered us the gift of a second chance.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 9, Prophecies Regarding John The Baptist And Jesus Christ

We conclude the short book of Malachi today. Yesterday we found the Lord promising a day of judgment in which it will become apparent who was righteous and who was wicked. He continues speaking of the day of judgment in today's passage, but He also has a message of hope. Those who fear Him need not fear that day. Those who fear Him need not fear anyone or anything. In addition, the promised Messiah is still coming. Although the Lord has rebuked Israel for a number of things in the book of Malachi, God's promise to send a Redeemer still stands.

Between the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, and the book of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, are four hundred years of silence. During that time no prophets are called into the Lord's service. No priests receive a fresh message from the Lord. God's silence is going to accomplish what His words of warning and admonition have not: it's going to get the people's attention. When a man named John the Baptist comes preaching and prophesying in a manner similar to that of Elijah, the nation will be ready to hear what he has to say. This will be proof to them that God has not rejected them. Indeed, He is about to visit the children of Israel in a way He never has before....in person. The book of Malachi closes by predicting the rise of John the Baptist and the coming of the Messiah. Tomorrow we will move on into the gospel according to Mark and will study the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecies.

"'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the Lord Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them.'" (Malachi 4:1) The Lord is speaking here of His final judgment in the end times. No root or branch will be left to the wicked because they will never spring up again. There will be no unrighteousness in the kingdom of God.

Verse 1 contains some scary information, but those who fear the Lord don't have to fear the day of judgment. "'But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 4:2-3) Like calves let out of the barn at sunrise, those who have been faithful to God will enjoy the freedom and joy of the eternal kingdom. No dark days will ever come. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4b)

In addition to no longer being subject to disease and death, God's people will no longer be subject to enemies, not even our chief enemy the devil. The Lord promises in verse 3 that the righteous will trample the wicked underfoot, and there is no one who needs trampling underfoot more than Satan. "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a)

"Remember the law of My servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel." (Malachi 4:4) The Lord counsels the people to remember the law and to be obedient to it, for nothing new will be said to them for four centuries. Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, but when God speaks again, a new Mediator and a new covenant will be in view. The people are to hold fast to what they have already been taught until the Messiah comes.

"See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction." (Malachi 4:5-6) A day of judgment is ahead, but a day of grace is coming first. Those who accept the day of grace will not have to endure the day of judgment. A prophet is going to prepare the way for the Messiah, a prophet who will possess the same type of power and spirit as the prophet Elijah. This prophecy will be fulfilled when John the Baptist preaches that the kingdom of God is near and that the people need to repent. John will point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who will baptize not with water as John does, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John will affirm the identity and the deity of Jesus of Nazareth by saying of Him, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

It's hard for us in modern times to sit still in silence for four minutes, much less for four centuries. Imagine what that must have been like! Imagine how welcome a prophet like John must have been and how eager the people were to hear his words. His message will be, "Every person is a sinner. Every person needs a Savior. Let me show you who He is."

I hope you can join us as we begin the gospel according to Mark tomorrow. He is another man who, like John, makes little of himself but instead points us to the One who can truly help us. He too will say, "Every person needs a Savior. Let me show you who He is."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 8, The Lord Hears Our Words

In our passage today we will see the contrast between a group who scoffs at the idea of fearing the Lord and a group who honors His name.

"'You have spoken arrogantly against Me,' says the Lord." (Malachi 3:13a) We talk so much throughout the day that it's easy to take on a casual attitude about the power of words. But God doesn't take a casual attitude about the things that come out of our mouths, "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:45) Our words reveal who we are inside. It matters whether we honor the Lord with our mouths or whether slander Him with our lips. Today's passage will prove to us that Jesus spoke the truth when He said, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:35-37)

The people who have spoken against the Lord deny that they have done it. It could be they don't even realize how bad their attitudes have become. Malachi tells us they respond to the Lord's accusation like this: "Yet you ask, 'What have we said against You?'" (Malachi 3:15) We can gradually lapse into a negative attitude without realizing it. If the Lord points this out to us, as He does to some of the citizens of Israel in the book of Malachi, we are wise to take heed.

The Lord gives a detailed description of how the people have spoken arrogantly against Him. "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'" (Malachi 3:14-15) How many of us have never had these thoughts, whether we put them into words or not? Haven't we all wondered in times of trouble why the wicked seem to be living without a care in the world while we, the body of believers, are dealing with problems? The people of Malachi's time can't stop thinking about how poorly their current situation compares with the former glory of Israel. They have done the backbreaking work of rebuilding the temple and the walls, and yet the city still looks like a poor shell-shocked hick town on the backside of nowhere. They are still under the rule of the Persian Empire and must submit to it and pay taxes to it. This is not what they had hoped for, and they can't help wondering why the pagan nations are so wealthy and prosperous while they themselves, the children of God, are working their fingers to the bone and are barely getting by.

The Lord has already pointed out why they are not as prosperous as they could be. They are not obeying Him regarding tithes and offerings. They are breaking the law by divorcing their wives to marry pagan women. They are judging matters of the law by showing partiality to those with wealth or status. They are bringing blemished sacrifices to the temple instead of giving God their best. What has happened is that they have gotten caught up in a negative loop. They began by feeling discouraged about their situation and that led to them not being obedient to the Lord, probably because they felt bitter toward Him. This is why they've not been bringing their tithes and why they've stopped being faithful to their godly wives and why they judge unfairly and why they bring unacceptable sacrifices. But their disobedience has caused more problems, not fewer problems. Their bitterness has done them no good; bitterness never does anyone any good. In yesterday's passage the Lord promised the people if they will only do what He commands them to do, He will pour out more blessings on them than they can take in. But some of the citizens are caught in a loop of negativity and bitterness and can't seem to break free of it.

Not everyone in Israel is caught up in this sad loop. There are still those who honor the name of the Lord, as there always are in every generation. The Lord is listening to what they say, just as He is listening to what the bitter ones say. "Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name." (Malachi 3:16) The Lord has heard every good and sincere thing we have ever said about Him! Imagine how humbled and honored we will feel if when we get to heaven someday He reads to us from a scroll that contains the honorable things we've said about Him! Wouldn't that be something? The God whose words spoke the universe and all of creation into existence listens to our words and cares about what we say! There's something about this that we, as humans, can identify with. Don't we store up in our minds the nice things people have said to us? Doesn't it warm our hearts when we hear that a friend or co-worker has said lovely things about us to someone else? It would appear that, although the Lord doesn't need anyone's approval, He enjoys keeping a remembrance of words spoken that honor His name.

This is what the Lord has to say about those who fear Him and honor His name: "'On the day when I act,' says the Lord Almighty, 'they will be My treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.'" (Malachi 3:17-18) He speaks here about what is known as "the day of the Lord", the day when He will "bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil". (Ecclesiastes 12:14) This is the day in which He will "separate the wheat from the chaff" (Luke 3:17) and will "separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats". (Matthew 25:31) On that day it will clearly be seen who is righteous and who is wicked. On that day the Lord will reward the faithful ones and will judge the evil ones.

The Lord knows those who are His. (2 Timothy 2:19) When He performs His act of final judgment, those who are His will be considered His treasured possession. I love the way the KJV phrases verse 17, "'And they shall be Mine,' saith the Lord of hosts,' in that day when I make up My jewels.'" We who fear the Lord and honor His name are as precious as jewels to Him. He knows the attitudes of our hearts and He hears the words from our lips. Let's honor Him for who He is and for all He has done. Let our sincere prayer be the same as David's, who said, "May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 7, Tithes And Offerings

The Lord has been taking the people to task for their unfaithfulness to His covenant with them. We concluded yesterday's passage with a promise that God would judge anyone who does not fear and obey Him. Today He reminds them that it is only because He is a covenant-keeper that He has not destroyed the nation for its unfaithfulness. He could say the same thing to us all! It's because He keeps His word and because He has great mercy that we have not all been wiped out because of our sins. We don't deserve His mercy but He offers it to us anyway.

"I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed." (Malachi 3:6) The prophet Jeremiah said something similar, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23) God has to be who He is even when we are not all that we ought to be. It's His nature to be faithful to His covenant promises.

The Lord tells the people that He would be within His rights to be finished with them. It's only because of His unchangeable character that the covenant still stands. "'Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from My decrees and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 3:7a) The Lord is not saying that He has literally left Israel, but that Israel is not enjoying all the blessings that could be hers if she clung more tightly to Him. The return to the land should have included a wholehearted return to the Lord, but we have seen that in Malachi's day the priesthood had become corrupt and many of the people had become halfhearted in their worship.

The condition of our hearts is revealed by our actions. The people will profess innocence in having left God, but their actions prove otherwise. There is yet another thing the Lord has found fault with in addition to the blemished offerings and sacrifices, the pagan marriages, the divorces, and the unrighteous rulings of the law that we've studied the past several days. The people are withholding their tithes. "But you ask, 'How are we to return?' Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob Me. But you ask, 'How are we robbing You?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse---your whole nation---because you are robbing Me." (Malachi 3:7b-9) In not giving their tithes the people are robbing the Lord Himself, for the Scriptures say that a tenth of everything belongs to Him, "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord." (Leviticus 27:30) If something belongs to the Lord, then no one has the right to withhold it from Him.

In addition, the tithe is used to support those who minister at the temple and to do good for the body of believers. In Deuteronomy 14:28-29 we find this example of how the tithe is used, "At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands." The Levites were given no territory in the promised land because they were to be supported by offerings made at the temple. These men fed their families with what was brought to the temple, so the withholding of tithes could cause a priest's family to go hungry. The priests might have to take a job outside the temple to support their families, which meant they wouldn't be able to fully devote themselves to God's work. Priests might even give into the temptation to take bribes when judging matters of the law. The Lord has had some harsh words for the dishonesty of the priesthood, but today we learn that the citizens had a hand in the dishonesty, so the Lord has harsh words for those who weren't faithfully bringing their tithes.

The Lord promises a wonderful blessing if the people will just do what they have been commanded to do. "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,' says the Lord Almighty. 'Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 3:10-12) The Lord makes this offer, "See if it isn't so! Take a leap of faith and do what I've told you to do, and see if I don't pour out more blessings than you can hold. I'm only asking you to take the first step; I will do the rest. I'm asking you to trust Me. If you don't learn to trust Me with ten percent, how will you ever learn to trust Me with the remaining ninety percent? Don't you want your faith to grow? Step out in faith and see what I will do!"

The New Testament doesn't speak specifically on tithing but it talks about giving in accordance with our abilities. Some members of the church may make a great deal of money and be able to give a lot, while others may make minimum wage and be able to give only a little. A person may also devote time and goods and services to the Lord's work. But the principle is that we can never outgive God. When we wholeheartedly devote anything to Him, He is able to pay us back a hundredfold. It's not so much the money or the time He's rewarding, but our faith. It takes faith to take that first step. Like a parent who is overjoyed and delighted when a baby takes its first step, the Lord is overjoyed and delighted when we take that first step of faith. Let's dare to believe His promises are true!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 6, The Messiah

Chapter 2 concluded with the people asking, "Where is the God of justice?" Chapter 3 begins with God answering, "I am on My way!"

Our passage opens with this prophetic announcement, "I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me." (Malachi 3:1a) The Lord is speaking in the voice of the second person of the Trinity: the Lord Jesus Christ. Before He comes He will send a messenger to tell the people to prepare for His arrival, just as a great king in ancient times would send a messenger to tell the people to prepare for his arrival. This prophecy was fulfilled by the ministry of John the Baptist, according to the gospel of Mark, who quotes Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 in reference to John, "'I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way'---'a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him'. And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1:2-4)

John's ministry was to prepare the hearts of the people to hear the teachings of Jesus. A messenger who went ahead of a great king's procession would not only announce his impending arrival, but would also remove obstacles from the path and fill in holes in the roadway. A king's chariot was to be able to proceed smoothly without bouncing up and down on rocks and without hitting any potholes that might cause a wheel to come loose. John worked to remove obstacles of the heart and to fill in any areas where the people lacked enough knowledge of God's laws and commandments. He helped the people to recognize and confess their faults, softening their hearts to hear Jesus' message of redemption. This had to be done because the human heart doesn't seek a savior until it realizes it needs saving.

"'Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 3:1b) Yesterday's passage dealt with the subject of covenant and how God is a covenant-keeper while man tends to be a covenant-breaker. When the people returned from captivity they hoped the Messiah would come and that the kingdom would come. When the nation was not restored to glory the people lost heart and grew cool toward the Lord, but His promise and His covenant still stands. They may not all have kept their end of the bargain, but God will keep His. The messenger of the covenant, the Messiah, is coming. But He will not be who they expect Him to be. He will not burst onto the scene as a mighty warrior king like David and liberate the nation from all her enemies forever. He will quietly walk onto the stage of the world, stand up in the synagogue of Nazareth, read from the scroll of Isaiah, and tell the people that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of the Anointed One. (Luke 4:16-21, Isaiah 61:1-2a) The passage Jesus reads is this one, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Malachi's prophecy about the Messiah today is like most prophecies of the Bible. It is twofold and includes the first and second advent of Jesus Christ without any clear line between them and without any space of time between them. This is quite common in prophecy. Jesus Himself, when prophesying the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the "time of Jacob's trouble" of the last days, merged the two events together without any clear line between them. Malachi has already told us that the Messiah, the messenger of the covenant, will appear suddenly to His people. Now he warns those who long for Messiah's coming that unless they repent they will not be able to stand before Him. This has to do with the second advent of Christ, when He will come as the conquering King of Revelation instead of the suffering Servant of Isaiah. "But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years." (Malachi 3:2-4)

The Lord is the only one who can make us pure. It is a frightful thing to imagine Him coming in power and glory to a sinful world, but Malachi makes it clear that His desire is not to destroy but to restore. That's why he compares Him to a refiner and a launderer. A refiner works to remove the dross from precious metals and a launderer works to remove stains from cloth. This is what the Lord wants to do for us. He wants to purify us and make us clean. Only those who refuse the redemption and mercy He offers will have to face His wrath. "'So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 3:5) Malachi, the final messenger of the Old Testament, urges the people, "Repent in the fear of the Lord!" John the Baptist, the first messenger of the New Testament, will also cry out, "Repent in the fear of the Lord!"

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 5, Breaking Covenant

A covenant can be defined as "an agreement, bond, commitment, contract, or trust". The Lord made a covenant with Israel and He made a covenant with the church. He will never be unfaithful to either of these covenants. As the children of God, we should be enough like Him to honor our promises, but the prophet Malachi tells us that many of his people were covenant-breakers. We look at two areas in which the people were breaking covenants. Some of them were unfaithful to their spouses and were divorcing them in order to marry someone else. Others were unfaithful to the word of God by judging matters of the law unfairly.

Our section today begins with a series of questions. "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?" (Malachi 2:10) The prophet asks, "We are all believers in God and part of the same family. Why do we hurt our brothers and sisters? Mistreating each other goes against everything we believe in. It blasphemes the name of our God when we behave unrighteously toward one another. If we do not follow God's word in our interactions with each other, then we start to look just like the pagan people in the nations around us." The Apostle John had something similar to say about how we, as the children of God, must treat each other, "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother or sister." (1 John 4:20-21)

When we think of "covenant" the first thing that comes to mind is probably the covenant God made with Abraham or the covenant Christ made with the church. Another form of "covenant" is marriage, and many of the men of Judah in Malachi's time had violated it. The Lord will first rebuke these men for marrying pagan women, which was against the law of God set forth in Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:3-4. Then He will rebuke the men for divorcing their first wives in order to take pagan brides. "Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob---even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 2:11-12) Nehemiah, who lived at the same time as Malachi, returned to Judah after having been called back to the Persian king's court for what must have been several years. He was appalled to see the things that had taken place during his absence. We can find a detailed description of these things in Nehemiah 13, but one of these things is that men of Judah had begun to marry women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. Like Samson who couldn't get enough of pagan Philistine women, and like King Solomon who married a thousand foreign wives and concubines, the men of Judah had begun to lust for the forbidden. It was bad enough that they chose brides who were bowing down to false idols, but some of the men divorced their first wives in order to do so, as we learn in our next section below.

"Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, 'Why?' It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant." (Malachi 2:13-14) These verses should be a comfort to anyone who has ever been betrayed by the infidelity of a spouse. The Lord God Almighty witnessed the vows this person made to you. He also witnessed this person breaking these vows. It may seem like the world doesn't care much anymore what anyone does, but God's laws are still God's laws. It's clear in verses 13 and 14 that God is taking the side of the betrayed spouse. He is taking the side of the wounded one and He is shutting His ears to the prayers of the one who did the wounding. When a person is living in unrepentant sin, the Lord will accept no prayer except the prayer of repentance. He will accept no sacrifice except "a broken and contrite heart". (Psalm 51:17) For an example of a sincere and broken-hearted prayer the Lord will hear, Psalm 51 is the perfect example. In it we find David repenting of his adultery and of the actions he took that led to the death of an innocent man. Repentance is more than simply saying "sorry". Repentance is saying, "No, I don't want this in my life. I refuse to keep going in the wrong direction."

In Malachi's era only the men could initiate a divorce, so this is why the judgment in our passage today falls only on the men. They were leaving their wives for other women, but in our times it could just as easily be women who are leaving their husbands for other men. The same principle applies: God is not pleased with the breaking of vows. He reminds the people that, as His children, they are supposed to look and behave like Him. "Has not one God made you? You belong to Him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. 'The man who hates and divorces his wife,' says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'does violence to the one he should protect,' says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful." (Malachi 2:15-16) King Solomon, a man who broke God's law of Deuteronomy 17:17 by taking many wives (and pagan wives at that), teaches this lesson that he learned the hard way, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." (Proverbs 4:23) Malachi agrees, saying, "Be on your guard! Temptations may come, but you have to be strong. Behave like the children of God. Guard your hearts so you won't be unfaithful to your spouses."

The people have also been unfaithful in judging matters of the law. We learned yesterday that the priests were judging with partiality. This too violates God's covenant. God does not judge unfairly and He does not expect His children to judge unfairly. Malachi points out, "You have wearied the Lord with your words. 'How have we wearied him?' you ask. By saying, 'All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and He is pleased with them,' or, 'Where is the God of justice?'" (Malachi 2:17) The same attitude is present during the days of the prophet Malachi as was present during the days of the prophet Isaiah, who said, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight." (Isaiah 5:20-21) Isaiah preached his message before the fall of Jerusalem and before the Babylonian captivity. Malachi is preaching his message after the return from captivity and after the rebuilding of the city, the temple, and the walls. We might expect things to have changed, but it appears they have not. Praise be to God that all is not lost! Praise be to God that this is not the end of the story! After the book of Malachi is finished, and after four hundred years pass in which no vision or prophecy is given, something happens that is able to change hearts in a way the law never could. Someone happens! Someone comes along who is able to make new creatures of us all. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 4, Ungodly Priests

We have already learned that the problem God is dealing with in the book of Malachi is a problem of the heart. Many of the people's hearts have cooled toward God. Their hearts are still lukewarm enough to go through the motions of worship, but as we learned earlier in the week, the quality of their offerings and sacrifices betrays their lack of respect toward the Lord. The Lord has harsh words today for the ungodly priests who accept such offerings and who do not stand up for what is right. The priests bear a greater responsibility than the regular citizens to lead godly lives, since the citizens look to the priests for an example to follow. A corrupt priesthood gives the people an excuse to become corrupt themselves. The primary duty of religious leaders is to lift up the name of the Lord, so when they fail to carry out this duty the people find it easier to shirk their own duties toward the Lord. In Malachi's day the priests weren't honoring the name of the Lord or holding Him in high esteem, so it's easy to see why the citizens stopped bringing their best to the house of the Lord.

"And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor My name,' says the Lord Almighty, 'I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor Me.'" (Malachi 2:1-2) The blessings mentioned here may be the gifts and offerings that the priests had a right to share in. The priests made their living from the temple. The Lord did not intend for a priest's attention to be divided between serving in the house of God and having to work outside the temple to provide for his family. In 1 Corinthians 9 the Apostle Paul points out that the commandment not to muzzle the ox who treads the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4) also applies to the priesthood and to those who preach the gospel, "Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered at the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The Lord gave no territory in the promised land to the priestly tribe of Levi because, "They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them...This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord's name always." (Deuteronomy 18:1-5) When the priests accepted lame and blind and sick animals at the temple, they were dishonoring both the Lord and themselves. The priests and their families had to eat the meat of these unwell animals, so in essence when they denied God the best they were also denying themselves God's best. Whenever we refuse to bless the Lord we are essentially refusing blessings for ourselves. It's simply the way things work in God's economy. When He tells the priests He has already begun to curse their gifts, we find that they have actually cursed themselves by their own behavior. They have brought judgment upon themselves, and it's only going to get worse if they don't repent. The Lord has the power to strike the crops with drought or to allow disease to invade the flocks and herds. Then what will the people be able to bring to the temple? Where will be the healthy bull or sheep to eat for food? Where will be the firsfruits of the grain and the olive oil and the wool that the priests are used to receiving?

"'Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that My covenant with Levi may continue,' says the Lord Almighty. 'My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.'" (Malachi 2:3-6) Dung from a sacrifice was considered unclean and it had to be burned outside the gates. In Malachi's day the priesthood has become just as unclean in the Lord's eyes as a pile of dung. To come in contact with offal was to be ceremonially unclean for a period of time, and the hearts of the priests have fallen so far from God that to Him they look the same as if they have rubbed their faces in dung. In other words, their faces are covered with shame, something that David promised would never happen to the one who reverences the Lord, "Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." (Psalm 34:5)

The Lord reminds the priests how far they have fallen from the example their ancestor Levi set. He did what a priest is supposed to do: he revered the name of the Lord and taught the truth of God's word. In faithfully performing these two duties he turned many from sin. The generation of priests in Malachi's time look nothing like their ancestor Levi. The Lord can hardly tell they are related to Levi at all. "'For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,' says the Lord Almighty. 'So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed My ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.'" (Malachi 2:7-9)

Matters of the law were brought before the priests and they were to judge these matters according to God's word, but here we learn that they have been giving special treatment to certain persons. They are showing partiality to those who are in close relationship to them or to those who are influential or wealthy or powerful. But God's laws apply equally to everyone. The priests are giving the people a false idea about the character of God when they judge with partiality. God does not twist the law to allow certain persons to escape penalty. God doesn't care how much money we have in the bank or what position we hold in the community or how highly esteemed we are by our friends. He judges by His word, and only by His word. The person God holds in high esteem is the one who is "humble and contrite in spirit" and who "trembles at My word". (Isaiah 66:2)

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 3, Giving God Our Best

The Lord accused the people in yesterday's passage of bringing offerings and sacrifices that don't meet the criteria of the law. The people were going through the motions of worship but had lost the heart of their worship, becoming lukewarm in their devotion to God. Today the Lord further explores the topic of their failure to give Him their best. They have been bringing the worst of their herds and flocks to the temple, offering animals that are blind or sick or lame. The Lord pointed out in yesterday's study that they wouldn't dare offer such animals to their governor (pechath, indicating a Persian lieutenant or viceroy). In ancient times a person could pay his taxes with animals or goods instead of money. A vassal state, such as Malachi's nation was at the time, could pay tribute with animals. But they had to be the best, and no citizen of Jerusalem would have even thought of offering a blind or lame or sick animal to a Persian official, yet they were offering these to Almighty God.

The Lord looks on the inappropriate offerings that are brought to Him at the temple and remarks sarcastically, "'Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will He accept you?'---says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:9) This verse causes me to picture someone bringing the least valuable lamb from his flock and presenting it to the Lord, then stepping back and piously praying, "Lord, show us grace! Show us mercy!" Such a thing is offensive to the Lord. If we refuse to give Him our best, how can we expect to receive His favor? The refusal to give God our best...to give Him something that costs us...is a symptom of a lukewarm heart. The bringing of inappropriate offerings and sacrifices in the book of Malachi is an outward symptom of an inward problem: the people are withholding their best offerings from God because they are withholding their hearts from God.

The people's insincerity makes the Lord feel weary. Have you ever known someone whose professed devotion to you was fake and whose compliments were insincere? It's wearisome to deal with a person like that. It makes us wish they'd just leave us alone. The Lord knows that feeling! "'Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on My altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to Me, because My name will be great among the nations,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:10-11)

When we studied the book of Isaiah we noted a number of references to a time when the Gentiles would come to believe on the God of Israel. Here in Malachi we find more proof that something is going to happen that will turn the world upside down. In Malachi's day the Gentiles were still bowing down to idols, engaging in useless and repetitive pagan rituals, and calling out the names of gods who did not exist. In Malachi's day the hearts of the Gentiles did not belong to the Lord, but then neither did the hearts of many of God's people Israel. The "pure offering" the Lord is looking for is the heart that is completely devoted to Him. The literal offerings and sacrifices made at the temple in Malachi's times reflect a coolness of the heart, so the Lord points out that although His name doesn't appear to be revered very much at Jerusalem in those days, His name is going to be great among the Gentiles.

Why is this going to happen? Because God is going to give His best! He's going to give His only Son. Because God did not withhold His very best from mankind, millions of hearts from "the nations" have turned to Him and have devoted to Him the "pure offering" of faith and devotion. This does not mean that the Lord has rejected Israel or that any of His promises to her have been made void. The Apostle Paul, a man of the tribe of Benjamin and a former Pharisee, vehemently refutes the very idea that God has turned His favor from Israel. "Did God reject His people? By no means!" (Romans 11:1) Chapter 11 of the book of Romans deals with the great mystery in which salvation came to the Gentiles through the Jews and how salvation will come to the Jews through the Gentiles. It is too lengthy to include in our study today, but if you have the time it would be good to read it along with our passage from Malachi. From the very beginning it was always God's intention to make Jews and Gentiles part of the same family. His family will be made up of the natural children (the Jews) and the adopted children (the Gentiles). How will He do this? Through the best gift He ever gave: His one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord now concludes His discourse on the pitiful offerings He has been receiving at the temple. He says that by bringing inappropriate offerings the people have profaned His name. "But you profane it by saying, 'The Lord's table is defiled,' and, 'Its food is contemptible.' And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously,' says the Lord Almighty. 'When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?' says the Lord. 'Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and My name is to be feared among the nations.'" (Malachi 1:12-14) The people who are engaging in insincere worship are as weary of it as the Lord is. (This is not to say that all the people were insincere; God has always had His faithful ones in every era. In our own times there are those in the church whose hearts are sincerely on fire for God and then there are those who are active in church work for reasons of their own.) Good works done in our own strength are wearying to both body and mind, but good works done through the power of the Holy Spirit are invigorating and energizing.

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. We find the Lord's grace displayed in the fact that He ends the Old Testament by pointing out what a sacrifice should not be, and that He begins the New Testament by providing mankind with everything a sacrifice should be. He hands down a stinging indictment in Malachi over the blemished sacrifices the people are bringing to the temple, yet He is still willing to offer the "acceptable male" of His own flock for the sins of mankind. An "acceptable male" had to be without defect or blemish according to the laws found in Leviticus 22, and so God offered His only Son, the perfect and holy Lamb of God, in whom was found no fault or defect or blemish. After reading the derisive commentary we find in the short book of Malachi on the state of the people's hearts, we might expect the Lord to throw up His hands in defeat and say, "I'm done!" But instead the New Testament opens with this surprising and welcome announcement, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day 2, Lukewarm Worship

The message of Malachi is that the worship of the Lord has become halfhearted in the years following the rebuilding of the temple. Apathetic worship such as this is can also be called "lukewarm". The Lord had to deal with a lukewarm Israel in the last century before Christ, just as He will have to deal with a lukewarm church in the last century before the return of Christ. This is how the Lord feels about lukewarm devotion, according to His admonition to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm---neither hot nor cold---I am about to spit you out of My mouth."

Lukewarm liquid tastes disgusting. For example, I always make a big pot of coffee before working on the blog, but sometimes I forget about my cup until about an hour later when I absentmindedly pick it up and take a mouthful only to realize it has become sickeningly lukewarm. I love hot coffee, and I can even drink cold or iced coffee, but lukewarm coffee is just nasty. This is how the Lord says He feels about lukewarm worship. He loves it when our hearts are on fire for Him. He can even respect a cold heart in a way, because coldhearted people aren't being hypocritical by pretending to worship Him; they are honest at least. But lukewarm worship makes Him sick to His stomach. 

The people expected the return to the land to be the beginning of a return to their former glory. They believed the Lord would remove the yoke of Persia and make Israel a sovereign nation again with her own king. They even thought the King of kings might enter the world scene upon their return from exile and that the kingdom of the Lord would commence. But none of these things have happened and they have lapsed into an attitude of "same old, same old". They aren't even bringing their best offerings and sacrifices to the temple, as required by the law, but are bringing God blemished sacrifices. The priests, who should have turned away blemished sacrifices, are going about their duties as if the offerings meet the requirements of the law. So today the Lord wants to know where is the respect that He deserves. He says, "'A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due Me?' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:6a) An order to honor our fathers and mothers is included in the Ten Commandments, so the Lord asks, "If you consider Me your father, why do you not honor Me?" The word of God also commands us to honor Him as Lord, so He wants to know, "If I am Lord, where is My respect?"

The Lord holds the priests to a higher standard of accountability than He holds the people, for they are to set a godly example for the people to follow. "'It is you priests who hold contempt for My name.' But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for Your name?' 'By offering defiled food on My altar.' But you ask, 'How have we defiled You?' 'By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 1:6b-8) 

The sacrifices the people are bringing to the temple aren't costing them anything. They are giving the Lord the animals from their flocks and herds that are useless to them. This negates the entire meaning of sacrifice. If it doesn't cost us anything to follow the Lord, are we really following Him at all? Have we lapsed into a lukewarm condition? Have we become comfortable there? The Lord Jesus never taught about a "comfortable" religion or a "comfortable" relationship with Him. He taught that following Him would cost us something. (Luke 14:25-34) 

In some areas of the world being a Christian can cost a person his life. We may never be called upon to be martyrs, but following the Lord may cost us a promotion because we aren't perceived as team players if we don't party with our co-workers. It may cost us some popularity at school or in the community because we don't engage in the same behaviors as the "in" crowd. It may cost us personal pain when we have to say no to things when our carnal natures are begging us to say yes. It may cost us some time with our favorite hobbies or activities while we devote ourselves to the study of God's word and to prayer. If we have become comfortable, and if our relationship with Christ isn't costing us anything, and if we are pretty cozy and contented where we are, perhaps we have gradually cooled off like that nasty cup of coffee that I forgot to drink while it was hot. This is a challenge to me to examine my own worship life and to step it up wherever needed. Let's not bring God the halfhearted offerings of a lukewarm heart. Let's do what Christ told us we would have to do if we want to experience the thrilling and satisfying life of walking in His footsteps.....take up our cross and follow Him. (Matthew:24) 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Message Of Malachi. Day One, The Lord's Love For Israel

The final prophet of the Old Testament is Malachi, whose name means "My Messenger". Some scholars believe Malachi was his proper name, while others believe it was a title. Nothing is known about this man other than that he was God's chosen messenger for a particular time in Israel's history.

This book begins about a hundred years after the exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild. It's believed that Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah, who was a governor of Judah. Nehemiah led the project of rebuilding the wall and he helped the people to renew their dedication to the Lord. But because he was an official of King Artaxerxes of Persia, he was called back to the king's service for a period of time, and during that time the people backslid into some of their old habits. When he returned he found some rooms of the temple had been defiled and used as a dwelling. Those in charge of paying the priests and musicians of the temple had been withholding their wages, causing these men to leave their work at the temple to go home and try to make a living at farming. Work was being done on the Sabbath. Perhaps worst of all, Nehemiah learned that many of the men had married pagan wives during his absence. This is the environment into which the prophet Malachi speaks the message of the Lord.

When we studied the book of Zechariah we found the people discouraged by the monumental task of rebuilding the temple, but by Malachi's time that task has been completed. The people are still deeply discouraged. They keep comparing what they have now with what they had before the Babylonian invasion. They keep longing for the former glory of their sovereign kingdom. They are now nothing but a small outpost belonging to the kingdom of Persia. They want the glory of Israel restored now. They want the kingdom to come now. Because things didn't fall into place the way they hoped and expected on their return to the land, they have begun to blame God and to accuse Him of not loving them anymore. Their resentment toward Him has caused them to lapse into some of the same old sins they took part in before the fall of the nation, not taking into account that it was these very sins that led to the fall of the nation. Like most of us have done at one time or another, they blame God for their troubles instead of accepting that their troubles have been the consequences of their own actions.

Our text begins, "A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 'I have loved you,' says the Lord. But you ask, 'How have You loved us?'" (Malachi 1:1-2a) The Lord reminds the people of His covenant love for them, a love that can never be shaken. But in their self-pitying mood they ask, "How have You loved us? If You loved us, wouldn't You have already restored our glory as it was in the golden age of our kingdom? Wouldn't You have overthrown the Persians and made us sovereign over our nation again? Wouldn't You have defeated our every enemy and given us dominion over them?"

We often make the mistake of assuming what we would do if we were God. The people believe if they were God they would have handled things differently. But we have to keep in mind that God, as a loving Father, does what's best for us and not necessarily what is pleasant for us. The reason the nation is nothing but a vestige of what it once was is because the people did not remain faithful to God. Restoring their former glory too quickly would not be good for their character. When we were children, didn't we take our disobedience less seriously if our parents reinstated our privileges too soon? Didn't that make us more likely to repeat the same disobedience, considering the consequences weren't that harsh? God knows what He's doing by not bringing in His kingdom in the days following the Babylonian exile. He knows what He's doing when He allows the nation to remain subject to another empire. The current difficulties are not proof that God doesn't love them, but that He does.

The Lord now provides an example of His love for the people. He has preserved them. He has protected them. He has returned them to the land. The way God has dealt with the descendants of Jacob is a sharp contrast to how He has dealt with the descendants of Esau. "'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' declares the Lord. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.'" (Malachi 1:2b-3) Before Jacob and Esau were born, the Lord chose one and rejected the other. He was able to do this because He knew what kind of man each of them would become. God made His statement about these two before either of them had done anything good or bad, but that's because to God the future is as real as the present. He knew what kind of men Jacob and Esau would be, and He knew what kind of nations Israel and Edom would be. Therefore, God was not unrighteous when He chose one of these men over the other and one of these nations over the other.

The Edomites made themselves the enemies of Israel. They refused passage to the children of Israel on their Exodus from Egypt. They fought against King Solomon, opposed King Jehoshaphat, and rebelled against King Jehoram. Edom eagerly aided the Babylonians in destroying Jerusalem. Several Old Testament prophets predicted the judgment of Edom, for anyone who curses God's people will be cursed, according to the promise God made to Abraham. (Genesis 12:3) By Malachi's day the Edomites had been conquered by the Nabateans in around 500 BC. The Nabateans were so successful in erasing the proof that the Edomites had ever possessed the territory that for centuries the existence of the Edomites was considered legend and not fact. It was only after archaeologists found references to Edom in Egypt and Assyria that their existence was proven. The Lord is saying, "If I did not love you, Israel, would I not have done to you what I have done to Edom?"

The Lord continues, "Edom may say, 'Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.' But this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the Lord---even beyond the borders of Israel!'" (Malachi 1:4-5) The prophets of the Lord had nothing good to say about Edom; instead they repeated over and over that it would be destroyed and never rebuilt. But the Lord always promised to preserve and rebuild Israel. Yes, Jerusalem has fallen several times. Yes, the temple has been destroyed twice. Yes, God has put Israel through the refiner's fire time and again. But all of this was intended as correction and not destruction. God was dealing with Israel as a man deals with his children. A father doesn't kill his children for disobedience; he corrects and instructs his children. The same is true with God. The one He loves He chastens. "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?" (Hebrews 12:7) God, however, was not dealing with Edom as His children, for Edom was never His. Just as Esau had no heart for God, neither did the nation he founded. Esau's descendants also had no heart for God's people Israel. This is why there is no nation of Edom today. But there is a nation of Israel, because God's covenant with Israel endures and His love for Israel is everlasting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 31, The Eternal Kingdom

In Monday's study Zechariah foretold the return of the King and His miraculous deliverance of His people Israel from her enemies. Zechariah continues his description of the day in which the King returns. "On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day---a day known only to the Lord---with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light." (Zechariah 14:6-7)

These verses above remind me of the account of the sun standing still in the book of Joshua. A coalition of five kingdoms banded together to attack Gibeon. The Gibeonites appealed to Joshua and his fighting men for help and they came to the rescue. As the battle raged on, the day passed by, and Joshua needed more time to finish vanquishing the foe, so he asked the Lord to make the sun and moon stand still in the sky. "So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies." (Joshua 10:13a) The Bible tells us that "there has never been a day like it before or since". (Joshua 10:14a) Just as the sun did not go down on the day Joshua avenged his people, the sun will not go down on the day the King avenges His people. It appears that the sun will never go down again, for when the Apostle John describes the New Jerusalem, the capital city of the world after the King comes to reign, he says, "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp." (Revelation 21:23)

"On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter." (Zechariah 14:8) The prophet Ezekiel foresaw this river in Ezekiel 47 and the Apostle John envisioned it in Revelation 22. The earth will be restored to an Eden-like state when the King reigns over it, with living water flowing from His throne and with trees growing on both sides of the river that bear fruit every month of the year.

Next we find our key verse from the book of Zechariah. Everything in this book has been leading up to the moment when the King ascends to the throne and reigns over His kingdom. "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9)

"The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up high from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses, and will remain in its place. It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure." (Zechariah 14:10-11) What welcome news this must have been to the people of Zechariah's day who were faced with the difficult task of rebuilding following the devastation of war. This is welcome news to the Jewish people of every era, because a day is coming in which Jerusalem will forever be secure.

"This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day people will be stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another. Judah too will fight at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected---great quantities of gold and silver and clothing. A similar plague will strike the horses and mules, the camels and donkeys, and all the animals in those camps." (Zechariah 14:12-15) This passage likely describes the same judgment that Ezekiel foresaw falling on Israel's enemies in the end times in Ezekiel 38 and 39. The prophet Daniel and the Apostle John both predicted a coalition of ten kings (Daniel 7:24, Revelation 17:12) who would come against Israel in the last days. The nations the Lord strikes in our passage of Zechariah today may represent these kingdoms that will band together to try to destroy Israel.

"Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up to take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague He inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16-19) The Festival of Tabernacles was kept to commemorate the forty years in the wilderness. Israel's wanderings are forever over when her King comes to reign, so the Festival of Tabernacles will still be kept to celebrate the fact that Israel  will be permanently settled in the promised land. She will never again be surrounded by enemies because the nations of the world will be joined to her and to her King.

"On that day 'Holy To The Lord' will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 14:20-21) "Holy To The Lord" is what was engraved on the headband of the high priest. When the King reigns, everything on earth will be made holy and pure by Him. Even the horses will wear these words on their bells. Even common cooking pots will be like consecrated vessels.

The word translated "Canaanite" also means "traffickers", but with a sinister twist that indicates they are unscrupulous and deceitful merchants. The Canaanites are the people the Lord commanded Israel to drive out of the promised land, although Israel never fully carried out His orders. But when the Lord is King over all the earth, the entire world will become like the promised land, and nothing impure will ever enter it. When the Apostle John envisioned the Lamb of God seated on the throne, he was assured that nothing deceitful or impure would ever enter into the city. (Revelation 21:27a, Revelation 22:15) Only those whose names are "written in the Lamb's book of life" will enter in. (Revelation 21:27b) On that day the Lord will make everything new and will restore the earth to the conditions it enjoyed before the fall of man. "No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 22:3-5)

Thank you for coming along with me on this thirty-one day journey through the book of Zechariah. May the King bless you for the time you spent in His holy word.