Deuteronomy 8:3, Romans 10

Feed the Hungry

About 10 years ago, I was walking through downtown Omaha after lunch. I hadn’t walked far before I was approached by a disheveled gentleman asking if perhaps I had some money I could spare for him. This was not uncommon for that part of town and I imagine many of you are familiar with the experience. He had the appearance of a vagrant, a man who slept on bus benches and in alleyways. Previously, I had been content to hand over a few dollars but I was under the conviction at the time that this was not the best response. I felt that giving cash would only enable and encourage whatever poor decisions had brought him to this place in his life.

Instead, I told the man that if he was hungry, I would be happy to buy him lunch at any place he chose. He thanked me and led me around the corner to a small deli where he approached the counter and placed an order for fried chicken and sides. I paid for his meal which was promptly delivered and placed in his hands. I wished him farewell and started to leave but as I opened the door on my way out, I overheard him ask the lady behind the counter if he could return his food and get the money instead. I don’t know whether she honored his request or not. I doubt she would but I didn’t stick around to find out. Apparently the man wasn’t hungry for food after all.

I was very discouraged by the experience. I assumed he was hungry for his addiction whatever that might have been but the truth is, he wasn’t hungry for those things any more than he was hungry for food. I wish I could have offered him what he was really hungry for but to be honest, I was still quite hungry for it myself. When Christ was tempted to turn stones into bread, He quoted Moses from Deuteronomy 8:3. In this verse Moses explains to the Israelites how God caused them to go hungry and then gave them bread that fell from heaven in order to teach them than people need more than food in order to live. In order to truly live, we must be fed with the complete word of God and that Word is Christ.

People are all hungry for the Word of God. Hungry for Christ. Starving in fact. How do we feed them? When I left the man at the deli I probably said something like “God bless you” or “God loves you” as I excused myself but I didn’t feed him. I can only hope that maybe he caught the scent of a satisfying meal as if somewhere off in the distance, but Moses said in Deuteronomy 30 that this meal is not somewhere far up in the heavens that you have to climb up to it, nor is it so far below the sea you must plumb the depths for it. It is very close. It is in fact on our lips and in our hearts.

Paul explains this passage for us in Romans 10. We don’t need to climb up to heaven for this meal, God’s Word, because God sent it (Christ) down to earth. Nor do we need to scale down to the grave for it because God raised Him from the dead. The meal we offer, or the message we preach as Paul says, is already within easy reach. It’s righteousness based on faith. With your mouth you confess that Jesus is Lord and with your heart you believe God raised Him from the dead. This meal is very near indeed! It’s on our lips and in our hearts and what a feast it is!

Do you know how God spends His days? I assume most of us imagine God has a great many affairs to rule over and is quite busy, but Paul answers this question for us at the end of this chapter by quoting Isaiah 65:2. The Lord says through the prophet, “I hold out my hands all day long to a stubborn people, but they ignore me, going their own way.” Surely, God has better things to do right? No He doesn’t. He has prepared a feast for you and all day long, every day, He holds out His hands to you, inviting you to take and eat. Those who accept His invitation, those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, will be filled!

Genesis 3:15, 1 Samuel 17:46, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

The Place of the Skull

Most everyone recognizes Genesis 3:15 as the first promise of the Gospel where the seed of the woman will have victory over the serpent.  An interesting aspect of this passage is that the first Gospel presentation was made to Satan. It was in God’s address to Satan that we find this verse. We have it as a promise however as did Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve would not be able to save themselves from the serpent but God promised them a deliverer who would in the future accomplish that task for them.  Most translations say that the promised one will “bruise” the serpents head while the serpent will simply bruise the promised one’s heel.  Some translations say they will “strike” each other. Satan will strike the promised one’s heel and the promised one will strike the serpents head. But I like the stronger language of other translations which say the promised one will “crush” the serpents head. The NET Bible says He will “attack” the serpents head.  I actually would prefer it to say “cut his head off.” It seems to carry the idea of a more thorough victory which the Hebrew word seems to imply.  Cutting off the head of one’s enemy was a common practice among the ancient people’s of the Mideast.

To rightfully understand the story of King David, one must understand him as a “promised” one. He was a prefigure of the one and last promised one. Most people point to David as an example for us to follow as we face the giants in our own lives, but this is to miss the point completely. David was the one chosen by God to deliver his people from slavery to the Philistines.  The people could not save themselves from their enemy. They needed a savior and God sent them one.  Just as God addressed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, David addresses the giant in 1 Samuel 17:46. He said “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.” That is exactly what happened!

Please notice what followed David’s victory.  After taking Goliath’s own sword and cutting off the giant’s head, David took the head to Jerusalem. It doesn’t tell us where exactly, but I’m inclined to think that it was to a place that became known throughout Israeli history as the “place of the skull.” Someone was crucified at that place a thousand years later! At that execution, Satan inspired Judas, the religious leaders, and the Roman authorities together to nail Jesus to a cross part of which included driving a spike through his heels to secure him to the cross.  But what looked like a victory for Satan ended up being a non-fatal blow according to the will of God. Christ was placed in a tomb but then rose again on the third day declaring final victory over the serpent! We are now heirs to that victory! In 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Paul writes, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24

The Perfect Gift

Gifts are a big part of Christmas and the day is rapidly approaching for families to gather together and exchange them. We’ve made lists of all the favorite things our loved ones delight in, purchased our selections accordingly, wrapped them lovingly, and secured them with hopeful expectation under our trees. All that remains is the anticipation of how our gifts will be received. Do we really know our loved ones? Do we know them well enough to predict what they would like or not like? Will our selections bring them delight or disappointment? Will they illicit joy and excitement or will they be tossed aside to make room for the next one? It’s no wonder Christmas is so stressful!

What gift are you giving God this Christmas? Do you know Him well enough to find the right gift? Do you know what kind of gift He would truly delight in? Thankfully, the Bible tells us. In Jeremiah 9:23 the Lord says “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” Okay then, God does not delight in your wisdom, your might, or your riches. You’ll have to look elsewhere for your gift for Him. The next verse says “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight!” Ah, there it is! God’s favorite things are steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.

Before you rush off to do your shopping, scrounging around those bargain bins for discount love, half-price justice, or last year’s righteousness, please know this: you can only present God with one gift, and underneath God’s tree is a gift which has already been sealed and delivered. It’s from Christ Himself and it contains all of His matchless love, His divine justice, and His perfect righteousness. And He signed it from the both of you. Every other gift God opens will be tossed aside to make room for the next one. But when He opens the gift Christ picked out for Him, He will be filled with pure delight! Because no one really knows the Father and what He likes, except the Son. So rejoice! Your shopping around for a gift that would please God is no longer necessary. Your gift is already there, presented by Christ, beautifully wrapped and waiting under His tree with your name on it. You can be genuinely and confidently excited and filled with joy to see Him open it because He is going to LOVE it!

Genesis 1:1, Romans 5:8

God is the subject!

The Bible begins with a prepositional phrase: “in the beginning.” The next word gives us the subject of the sentence; “God.” Then follows the predicate which goes on to tell us what the subject did: “created the heavens and the earth.” We can learn a lot about God by studying what He created. Everything in the world shouts out the greatness of God. It’s obvious that if God is the cause of everything that exists, He’s greater than what He created and everything just “declares” His glory as the Psalmist says. Although we can see the glory and majesty of God in the creation we can only learn about his character, his nature, his interests and his dealings with both the created order and mankind from the Bible. The Bible was written to teach us about God. God is not only the subject of the first sentence of the Bible, He’s the subject of the whole Bible.

To a large extent churches miss this truth and reduce the Bible to a selection of self-help practices. We hear sermons on Joseph teaching us how to manage our affairs. Abraham teaches us that we must surrender even our most precious things to God. The prayer of Jabez becomes a step by step process of how we can get God to increase our influence in life. Jonah becomes a story about the futility of running from God and resisting God’s call on our lives. David’s victory of Goliath becomes a series of lessons on how we too can fell the giants in our own lives. Bryan Yawn writes, “Fact is, the same sort of life lessons could be derived from any contemporary biography or history. The meanings and applications we’ve given these events have nothing at all to do with what’s going on in the true story.” Bryan is absolutely right!

Only the Bible can teach us about God! It’s about God’s love for His people and His divine redemption of them through His one and only son Jesus Christ. It’s not about what man has done to impress God. It’s about what God has done for man. The Bible is not about how God would occasionally step into time to applaud the faith of a few individuals. It’s not at all about how we can learn to become better people! It’s about our failure to be the people we should be and how God loves us and sends His son to die for us anyway. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God demonstrates His love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Trying to live up to the standards of Biblical figures drives me to the realization that I fall way short. I don’t need an example to follow. When I’m drowning I don’t need a man standing on the dock making swimming motions and yelling, “go like this!” I don’t need someone to throw me a life saver either. I need someone to jump into the ocean of my sin and save me! Guess what! That’s what the Bible is about: Jesus!

Genesis 4:2-5, Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:8-9

The Works of our Hands

In Genesis 4:2-5 we read about the the sacrifices of Cain and Abel: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,  but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” What was it that made Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable? It seems that we see grain offerings and first fruit offerings pleasing to God in the Bible so what caused God to disregard Cain’s offering?

I think the answer is found in the way the translators of the English Standard Version handle verse 2. Abel was a “keeper” of sheep. I believe he recognized that the sheep were not his but were something that God had given him. He might feed them and care for them but  only God can produce them. As Abel saw them, they were resources entrusted in his care by God. On the other hand, Cain was a “worker”of the ground. You only get from the ground what you sow into it. It was hard work because the ground had been cursed in the previous chapter requiring the labor of sweat to produce its yield. As Cain saw them, they were the wages of his own hard work with which he expected to earn God’s favor. The problem with Cain’s approach is that he thought he could earn or deserve God’s favor by making a sacrifice from the works of his own hands. But according to Isaiah 64:6 all of our “righteous deeds are as filthy rags” to God. I expect Cain’s spirit was a proud and boastful one and thus when his sacrifice was not regarded as highly as Abel’s  he became angry. It is clear in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved “by grace alone and not by works” so that no one has any reason to boast. Abel simply gave back to God what God had given him. Cain brought the crops which he saw as the product of his own labor.

I often feel that if I give God something I can earn favor with God. But once again I see that it’s not about what I do for God or give to Him. It’s all about what He did and what He gave to me.  When Abraham was ready to offer His own son as a sacrifice God stopped him. God did not want Abraham to believe He had to give something to God but rather God Himself provided the sacrifice by way of the sheep caught in the bushes near by. It was this lamb that Abraham offered on the Altar at Mount Moriah. And as John the Baptist made perfectly clear Jesus was “the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world.” It was this lamb that was offered as our sacrifice on Mt. Moriah years later.  With new meaning I sing, “nothing in my hand I bring, solely to the cross I cling.”

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