Devotional thoughts (Monday through Thursday mornings) from the pastor of Exeter Presbyterian Church in Exeter, NH // Sunday Worship 10:30am // 73 Winter Street

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Matthew 9

Jesus traveled all over Galilee “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” and healing “every affliction.” Beginning with “His own city” of Capernaum, the Lord responded to the simple faith of those trusting in Him by working wonders. Some rejected Christ and attributed the power they observed to an evil source. “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
Wherever the Messiah went many were stuck in disease, oppression, and sin. The “Son of David” healed them all. Enemies devoted to the prevailing tradition-driven, scribal Judaism increasingly hated the Man at the center of the message. They especially would not tolerate His simple words of absolution: “Take heart, My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus' works of physical restoration were signs of His authority over everything. He insisted that the “Son of Man” was able to free men and women from the dungeon of their offenses against the Law of God. The crowds loved what they saw and heard, but the Pharisees accused Him of blaspheming.
Meanwhile Jesus was meeting new friends and disciples among “tax collectors and sinners.” He made God's mercy real to those who knew they were spiritually “sick” and in need of a “physician.” Others who imagined that they were doing “well” without a Savior could not abide with His violation of religious norms. For instance, our Lord's disciples did not fast. His explanation? “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”
We who follow Jesus today are still called to a life of faith and joy. “The harvest is plentiful” and we are “laborers” in God's vineyard. We go to “cities and villages” near and far, teaching about the King and His kingdom. People hear the message of forgiveness as we shower the world with the practical evidence of the mercy of God.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
O God, grant us faith to trust You in every trial. Our Savior has come and is calling all kinds of people to follow Him. We are those who are sick, and He is the most powerful doctor. We rejoice in the presence of Your Son, but we also long for His return. We have already received much grace, and we taste the blessings of heaven even now. Nonetheless, we cannot be satisfied without the full arrival of the age of resurrection. Open our eyes and give us the words to speak that we might rightly live out the good news of the kingdom. Send forth laborers into Your harvest field. May many captives of sin and death be freed by Your gospel.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Matthew 8

Jesus not only taught with authority, He cast out demons, cleansed lepers, healed paralytics, and raised up those who were on their sickbeds. Christ demonstrated complete control over enemies seen and unseen, sending a demonic host into a herd of pigs. He was even able to quiet the wind and the waves when His disciples were quaking with fear. They wondered, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?”
Jehovah God had come in the flesh, but not everyone reacted appropriately. One centurion impressed the Son of God because he showed more trust in the Messiah than the Jews did. Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
What was the content of the centurion's belief? First, he said, “Lord, I am not worthy.” The religion of the scribes insisted that the way of acceptance by God was plain enough for all who were willing to keep Jewish traditions, but the Roman leader was right. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 citing Psalm 14). Our unworthiness is an essential element of Christian doctrine. Second, the soldier was confident in Jesus' ability to overturn human disability. “Only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” As Psalm 115:3 teaches, “Our God ... does all that He pleases.”
Despite the obvious greatness of Jesus, our Messiah had “nowhere to lay His head.” The Lord demanded complete submission to His commands, yet He meekly left a town where He was not wanted. The demons knew who Jesus was, and they sought to trip Him up at every turn. They said, “What have You to do with us, O Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Though they may have hoped to stop the Lord of glory, they could not thwart His perfect plan. In every generation, those who acknowledge their weakness and place their hope in the Redeemer's divine strength show that they have been given the gift of true faith.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father God, You have made us clean from the leprosy of sin. Though we were not worthy of having You dwell with us, Christ has come with great works of healing. May the sickness of unbelief be driven far from His church. Those who claim the title “Christian” need to be up and serving You. May nothing be allowed to stand in our way. You are able to turn away every obstacle from our hearts and minds. Defeat all the proud adversaries who would defy You. Save us by Your mighty presence and matchless Word.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Matthew 7

In every place and time there are contending religious systems that stand against a true relationship with Yahweh. In the days of the Sermon on the Mount, the prevailing spiritual consensus among serious Jews was found in the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees. They had a list of right views and practices for their disciples to follow. Jesus also cared deeply about doctrine and ethics, yet when He taught the people, they knew that they had heard a very different message than what others were saying.
Who was right? Jesus insisted that you could tell the real followers of the Almighty “by their fruits.” Those who were full of hypocrisy and judgment could not possibly have a vital connection with the great I-AM as the foundation of their lives. Nonetheless, such false teachers might be so convinced of their own excellence that trying to introduce them to the better way of life was useless. They were blind concerning the Lord while remaining fully convinced of their own perfect eyesight.
The genuine gifts of heaven would not come through the instruction of such misguided men. Instead, real worshipers needed to appeal to the Father above. As Jesus had said, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” How could people know that they had received life from above? Our Lord gave them a simple commandment as a test of what was inside their hearts. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” A good yield would proceed from a new soul.
Many of the most eminent religious superstars of the first century carefully followed the teaching of the best scribes, but Jesus would one day say to them, “I never knew you.” Those who heard His words about the kingdom of a heavenly Father would be very different from the rest. Their eternal “house” would be built “on the Rock” of Jesus.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Sovereign Lord, we feel the weight of our own sin, and we mourn. Teach us how to live as forgiven sinners in a world full of transgression. We truly repent and come now to You for help. We ask for You. We seek You. We knock at Your door. Fill us with Your Spirit. You are our Father, and we know that You will give us good gifts when we approach You through Your Son. Grant us perseverance in the way that leads to life. Bless us with true and lasting fruitfulness. Above all, we beseech You that we would be known by You on the Day of Judgment that is coming upon the earth. We stand in union with our Redeemer upon the rock of His Word. In Him we not only hear Your voice, we also do what you command. Have mercy on us in our foolish doubts and wanderings.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Matthew 6

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” Although the church is supposed to be a visible display of their invisible God, God's children are not to do religious works with the goal of winning the approval of friends and neighbors. When worshipers give alms, pray, and fast, they should keep their eyes on the Lord only.
Jesus did not teach His disciples to strive for recognition on earth. Quite the opposite. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” In the same way, the best prayers to God were to be simple, following Christ's example. Worshipers needed to speak for the ears of the Almighty with a generous forgiveness towards others who may have wronged them. Also, spiritual fasting was to be a humbling of oneself before God Most High and not a picture of “gloomy” spirituality calculated to show off a supposed holiness to all who might notice.
The best way to follow Christ is to value God and His heaven, investing in eternal realms with the expectation that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Worldliness will not lead to lasting fruit, but only poor spiritual vision and much stumbling in the dark for those who set their affections on money rather than God.
Jesus taught an entirely different life of religious devotion from those He rightly criticized as the “hypocrites” of His day. Seeking after the applause of human beings will never cause anyone to grow in the peace that passes understanding. Only resting in Jehovah can help His image-bearers to abandon their perpetual anxiety.
People may find themselves worrying continuously about food and clothing. For believers, the Man who died for our sins has taught us a better path for life: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father God, bless us with a deep desire for secret opportunities to do what is good. Show us how to pray as those who love Your smile more than the praise of men. We look for the glory of Your Name, the progress of Your church, and the beauty of Your holy will. As we serve You day by day, we humbly ask that You would supply our needs, cancel the debt of our transgressions, and lead us away from every snare of evil. We willingly forgive everyone who has ever sinned against us. We mourn our own depravity and weakness, and ask for the power of Your presence among us. Will we be caught again in the clutches of money? We claim that we are free from such base impulses, yet we are easily anxious about food and clothing when there is even a slight danger of poverty among us. Teach us to seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness. We know that You will take care of us now and forever.

Matthew 5

Jesus, the great I-AM, taught with authority. What was His message? He began by declaring “blessed” what the fallen world counts as unfortunate. When “His disciples came to Him,” the Lord spoke about those who were needy, sad, weak, and longing for a better world. He had a divine promise for people who were merciful and pure despite being hated and persecuted by others. Jesus told them that instead of being downcast, they could “rejoice and be glad” because their “reward” was “great in heaven.” They would be “sons of God,” and one day they would “see God.”
True followers of Christ have found these words strangely satisfying. They are the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” As they live for the God of heaven, others see their “good works” and “give glory” to God.
Is this Sermon on the Mount a rejection of the Old Testament Law? Not at all, for Jesus came not to abolish God's commandments, but “to fulfill them.” In fact, the life of love that became the New Testament ethic has always been God's best pathway for those who desire to imitate Him. Now they can understand murder, adultery, and false witness in a deeper way. The intentions of the heart that lead to obvious sins are already serious violations of the Lord's statutes. Hatred is murder, lust is adultery, and avoiding sincere commitment through deceptive scheming is false witness.
Strengthened by a fuller appreciation for God's holiness, Spirit-filled worshipers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. The new path that Christ walks with His disciples is the only honest way to keep the old commandments. “You therefore must be perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this greater vision of God's moral absolutes crush us and cause us to despair? No, the one Man who accomplished these moral directives from beginning to end has given His life for us.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, our Savior came to teach us and to die for our sins. There is a perfect connection between His instruction and His cross. He has blessed us greatly and we are glad, even though men may hate us. We look to the age to come according to Your promise. Grant that we would enjoy today a glimpse of Your eternal light. Your Son has obeyed all Your commandments for us. He calls us to follow Him in the way of righteousness. Help us to hear His voice in the Scriptures so that we will not grieve Your Spirit. Show us how to live now in the simplicity of love.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Matthew 4

Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan in Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. In contrast to them, the Spirit led Jesus not toward a fruitful garden, but into a desolate wasteland. He had been fasting for a very lengthy time and “He was hungry.” Though the outward circumstances were more favorable for the first man and woman, Jesus passed the important test that Adam and Eve had failed so long ago.
Our Savior had victory over Satan by using simple passages from the Bible. He answered the temptations of the devil with quotations from Deuteronomy 6-8. In that section of the Law, Moses had prepared Israel for the tests of faithfulness that they would soon face in the land of Canaan. He reminded them that God had fed them with manna during their journey through the wilderness in order that they would learn that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:13 and Matthew 4:4). When Israel came into the Promised Land, they needed to remember that God was the source of good gifts. They had to be warned not to “put the Lord your God to the test,” and they needed to “worship” and “serve” only the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:16, 6:13, and Matthew 4:7, 4:10).
Adam failed as the representative man for all of his posterity, and Israel also disobeyed Jehovah as His chosen nation, but Jesus perfectly obeyed. He skillfully used the Scriptures to expose the enticements of the ancient serpent. With this victory over a fallen angel, our Lord began His ministry in Galilee in fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2, that “Galilee of the Gentiles” would see “a great light.”
The message that Jesus began to preach was much like that of John the Baptist. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Yet there were many important differences between John and Jesus. The Son of God spoke with even greater authority than John, since He was God in the flesh. He brought life to those who would find His call to discipleship irresistible. First Simon and Andrew, and later the sons of Zebedee, “immediately” left their boats behind and followed the Lord.
The Word of Christ was also powerful to heal. The account of the miracles of Jesus spread rapidly, and people were coming to Him from all around. He was healing “every affliction” and helping “those oppressed by demons.” The Old Testament prophets made the case against the evil of the nation and announced a future era of holy blessing. Jesus was different. He destroyed evil and defeated the devil and death. He came in the strength of the coming age of resurrection. No powers of darkness could resist His command.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Glorious Lord, we do not understand the minds of men, so how can we fathom the thoughts and actions of angels? Yet men and angels are all perfectly known by You. By Your Word Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan. He would not be distracted from His mission. Thank You for the light that has dawned upon us in the life and work of our King. We have been granted eyes to see Him as our hearts have been made alive by the Holy Spirit. When our Savior called us to follow Him, we were given the grace to leave the world behind and to serve the Messiah. Remind us day by day of the greatness of our King, lest we foolishly return to the way that leads to death.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Matthew 3

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” John's message was very plain: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John was predicted by earlier prophets like Isaiah and Malachi. In Isaiah 40:1-5, directly quoted in Matthew 3, we read of the coming of this forerunner of Jesus. In the same paragraph Isaiah writes about the ultimate Judgment Day which will not take place until the second coming of the Lord. All of the New Testament centuries were presented by Isaiah, Malachi, and John as a singular future happening that would soon arrive. The “iniquity” of the Lord's chosen people would be “pardoned” and “the glory of the Lord” would be “revealed” in such a way that “all flesh” would “see it together.”
We now know that the ministry of John the Baptist was at the very beginning of the New Covenant era, while the entire glorious kingdom of Christ would be seen many centuries later at the end of that epoch when heaven would come to earth. John baptized repentant Jews with water back in the first century AD. At that time he also rebuked Pharisees and Saducees who were unwilling to change, demanding that they “bear fruit” that matched their “confessing of their sins.” He insisted that Old Testament Israel would soon be cut off, and that the Lord's “axe” was already at “the root of the trees.” Though the temple would be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, the end of the world would not arrive until the gospel was first preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14). That would take many centuries of evangelistic labor by the church.
We should not be surprised that John did not fully understand the timing of all that God had ordained. Even the Messiah would later indicate that in His human nature He did not know the day or the hour of the end of the world (Matthew 24:36). There were many other truths that John did not yet comprehend. For instance, he was quite shocked that Jesus came to him for John's baptism of repentance. Jesus understood that He was being baptized for sinful humanity, just as He would soon die on the cross not for His own transgressions but for ours. Both His baptism and His atoning death were essential parts of His mission to “fulfill all righteousness.”
In between His baptism and His death, our Lord would obey the Law of God for us so that He could serve as our perfect Substitute when He died on the cross. Even at this early stage in the gospel narrative, the Father declared His entire approval of Jesus. A voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
There would be much more for the disciples to learn regarding the kingdom of heaven, but already certain central facts were clear in these opening days of the public life of our Redeemer. First, John's call for everyone to turn away from their sins tells us that God was very serious about true holiness. Second, the baptism of Jesus helps us to understand that we needed a Man approved by God who would be willing to represent sinners before the Almighty. Finally, according to the testimony of John the Baptist and the Word of God from above, Jesus was and is that Man. The Kingdom of heaven was now “at hand” with the arrival of our Savior, the perfect Son of the Father.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Sovereign Lord, there is so much for us to learn from the Scriptures. It is there plainly for us to receive and obey, but what will the condition of our hearts be when we hear the divine message preached to us? Will we be willing to repent of our sin? Your Son had a complete commitment to fulfill all righteousness. Grant to us this same Spirit, that we might be eager to know and love the truth. Our Savior is fully pleasing to You. In Him we are Your beloved children.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Matthew 2

Jesus “was born in Bethlehem” in fulfillment of Micah 5:2 and in accord with the signs in the heavens. Men from the east who were keen observers of the normal patterns of astronomy saw something that was remarkable enough to send them on the long trip to Jerusalem to inquire about an important birth. They may have had access to the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17 which announced many centuries earlier: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
King Herod did not share their enthusiasm regarding the coming of a divine ruler, although he feigned approval saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” The religious authorities directed the visitors to Bethlehem, where the foreign travelers “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” when they found Jesus. “Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
God used angels to direct Joseph for the protection of “the child and His mother” by first sending the family to Egypt and then leading them out of that same country after “the death of Herod.” This was in fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, which originally referred to the whole nation being rescued out of Egypt. Now the toddler who would be King of the Jews was brought out of that nation of ancient bondage and taken back to the Promised Land. “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
In the meantime Herod had murdered all the boys in the region around Bethlehem who were “two years old or under.” The sorrow of the grieving mothers was in accord with Jeremiah 31:15. Though the original passage had been about the loss of older sons who were soldiers, the power of God to raise the dead was the same in both cases. According to the next verse in Jeremiah, “They shall come back from the land of the enemy,” though their mothers had been wailing because their children “were no more.” Only Yahweh could bring hope to those in such great distress, because only God could conquer death and bring people back life.
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus settled in Nazareth, a town in Galilee that was not considered a location of high esteem (John 1:45). As the prophets had predicted so long ago, the chosen Servant of the Lord would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). Nonetheless, the words of Isaiah 9:1 had signaled that Galilee, a place that had been the object of “contempt” in former days, would eventually be the part of Canaan where rays of heavenly glory would first shine. “In the latter time He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Father, why have men hated Your Son even before He was known by them? What kind of spirit causes a Herod to pretend to be a worshiper of the one that he seeks to destroy? Jesus was the hope of even Gentiles who were seeking the coming of the Holy One as they looked to the skies. You have protected Your Son from powerful and evil men who hated His coming, yet He was born to die according to Your own plan of salvation. Grant us more life in Christ even now, for though He died, He lives forever.