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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Mark 6

When Jesus “came to His hometown” of Nazareth, “He marveled because of their unbelief.” The residents there could not deny that “mighty works” were being done “by His hands,” yet they were unwilling to give Him the “honor” that He clearly deserved.
Later the Lord sent out His disciples “two by two” and they “cast out many demons,” healed the sick, and “proclaimed that people should repent.” Despite the truth that the apostles saw with their own eyes, even “their hearts were hardened.” When the twelve saw how Christ fed thousands with just five loaves and two fish, and then witnessed Him coming to them walking “on the sea,” they still battled their own inner unwillingness to trust Jesus as the Savior and the Son of God.
How could so many people resist the obvious? Like us, the close companions of Jesus lived in a dark world of sin. They knew the way Herod had treated John the Baptist, a true prophet from the Almighty. There were so many times when it might have looked like the arrogance of brutes would destroy the work of God. What would it have been like for them to follow the Lord to “a desolate place” only to face the problem of feeding a multitude without any supplies or preparation? How could any normal adult have responded to seeing their rabbi traveling by foot on the surface of a tumultuous lake?
Through all of the unsettling experiences where failure was imminent, the power of the Lord's kingdom was plainly on display all around them. Who would win in the end, a man who could not even gain the support of those who had known Him and His family during His youth, or the powerful ruler in the land who ordered the death of John the Baptist without any just cause? Worshipers of Christ have learned the answer: Despite all our doubts and questions, we know that the Man who walks on water is unstoppable.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father, why should people reject You? Why do they take offense at Christ? Our best Prophet is worthy of all honor. Heal us from our remaining unbelief. We go forth every day to proclaim Your Name and to perform works of justice, beauty, and order. Glorify Jesus through Your church. When powerful men attack the righteous, You can send us deliverance. Give us hope, though foes would stand against us. Grant strength and mercy to Your persecuted servants. Do miracles of amazing fruitfulness using Your covenant community. May we see heaven’s blessing come down upon the earth so that the Holy One of Israel would be lifted up. Your Son walked on the sea, for there is nothing that is too difficult for You. We will not be afraid. Our hearts are moved in devotion to You. We bring You many who are in great need. If we could touch even the fringe of Your garment on their behalf, we know that they would be made well.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mark 5

Jesus and His disciples “came to the other side of the sea” and had an unusual encounter in Gentile territory. A dangerous man who was possessed by a “legion” of demons “ran and fell down before” the Lord as soon as he saw Him. Christ cast the demons out of this brute that “no one had the strength to subdue.” Jesus gave the unclean spirits “permission” to go into a herd of pigs, and the animals “rushed down the steep bank into the sea” and were drowned. When the townspeople saw their fearsome neighbor “clothed and in his right mind” and when they heard what happened to the beasts, “they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.”
Back on the Jewish side of the sea, the Lord healed a woman who had suffered with a “discharge of blood” for twelve years. She had secretly “touched His garment” with trust in the Messiah, and Jesus “perceived that power had gone out from Him.” Hers was a bold and desperate step by someone that was ceremonially impure. Jesus' reaction? “Your faith has made you well.”
Jesus also brought amazing aid to the daughter of a synagogue elder. When the Lord first arrived, the sick child had already died, but Jesus insisted that she was “sleeping.” As the mourners laughed in unbelief, Christ “put them all outside” except for the girl's parents and His own companions. Then He said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise,” and she did!
God has always called His worshipers to trust in Him, but what does this actually mean? We start by truly surrendering to Him as the Lord of glory, never asking Him to go away as the Gentile farmers did. Then we must believe His Word even when those around us judge it to be a joke. To state the obvious, Jesus Christ was a Man of faith. Those who seek resurrection blessings should put their hope in Him alone.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, our adversary would take aim at our bodies and souls. An enemy who is stronger than us would attack our children and Your church. Only You can cast him out. We turn to You for Your mighty Word. A legion of demons destroys the people of Your possession. Save us! Clothe us in the righteousness of Christ. Help us to be in our right minds, and we will serve You. Send us out to our friends to tell the truth about the great things that You have done for us. Will our loved ones thrive? Will our wives and husbands have good health? Why should disease and evil seem to win among us? You can deliver us from trouble with one command. We trust in You. Please heal us, and make our families whole. We will not be afraid but will believe in You. We want to be up and walking again by Your resurrection power.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mark 4

When the Lord God came in person to save His children, what did He say to Israel and to His disciples? As prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures, He spoke in parables. “Give ear, O My people, to My teaching; incline your ears to the words of My mouth! I will open My mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” (Psalm 78:1-2)
Jesus later explained to the men who were in His close circle the message behind His cryptic sentences. The smaller group of intimate friends learned what they could comprehend at this early stage of His ministry, but thankfully they would one day preach plainly about “the secret of the kingdom of God.”
God would bring about a great harvest of righteousness from those who would be connected to His Name. Many would hear the gospel, but Satan, persecutors, trials, distractions, and sinful covetousness would choke out what might have been a good crop. There would be some “good soil” which would “bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
The “lamp” of Christ's teaching was not to be hidden forever. The church was God's chosen instrument to shine His light into a dark world, not only with clear proclamation, but also with sacrificial action. Though men and women of God would be solemnly charged to do what they were told by the Lord, “the seed” of new life would sprout and grow by divine grace. The work might increase very slowly as the years went forward, yet one day “the harvest” would come.
The Messiah who calmed the wind and the waves taught His beloved flock as He deemed best. His words were unique and surprising, but they reinforced the message from Isaiah 6:9-10 that His miracles also revealed, that the God of heaven and earth was entirely in charge of the great gift of salvation.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
O Sovereign Lord, teach us, that we might hear and live. Turn away the devil who would tempt us to ignore Your gospel. We will not fear persecution or be distracted by other engagements. We want to be fruitful disciples. Use Your servants to show us the truth, and encourage us in the day of tribulation. Keep us from the deceitfulness of riches. Grant a harvest among us of righteousness and peace. Bring to light the greatness and glory of Your Son. Enlarge our hearts in the mercy of Christ. Make the seed of Your Word sprout and grow among us with astounding results. Though we may be few in number, give us confidence that You will build Your kingdom. You can calm the waves and winds when they threaten us. You will not let us perish. See the tumult within our souls, and settle our lives upon You again today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mark 3

The ministry of Jesus was full of controversy. His healings on the Sabbath were opposed by religious authorities who “held counsel with the Herodians against Him.” What were they seeking in their connection with the political allies of the Herod family? They were trying to “accuse” Jesus of some attack on public order in the hope that they might “destroy Him.”
The crowds that sought the Lord had proof that “He had healed many,” a fact that none disputed though “scribes who came down from Jerusalem” claimed it was “by the prince of demons” that He sent unclean spirits out of the afflicted. The fallen angels themselves knew who He was, and they cried out, “You are the Son of God.”
The twelve that the Messiah “appointed” as “apostles” included one who would ultimately betray Him. While a few of these men would become well known, the majority remained obscure. All would find it hard to understand who He was and why He had come. Even the family of Jesus “went out to seize Him” because they were convinced that He was “out of His mind.”
Although throngs of needy Israelites looked to this unexpected Prophet for hope in their present trials, He was not everyone's hero. To the contrary, so many powerful individuals were sure that He had to be stopped. Jesus made it His mission to “save life” and to “do good.” His foes worked hard to “do harm” to the miracle worker, and even “to kill Him.”
Throughout these challenging days, the Savior of the world never gave in to those who claimed that His acts of kindness were not “lawful.” Even when “His mother and His brothers” were the ones who stood against His mission of teaching and deliverance, the King of God's kingdom spoke definitively in favor of those who would eventually submit to His authority. “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, You see us in our weakness and shame. Do good to us this day for the glory of Your Name. Though many sought ways to destroy Your Son, and such were some of us, we now bow before You in reverence, believing fervently in Jesus the Messiah. Thank You for Your apostles, and for the gospel to which they gave full testimony. You filled them with Your Spirit and enabled them to proclaim the truth that we have now heard. The kingdom of darkness is coming to an end. Bind the strong man and cast him out of Your house. Let us rejoice in You as those who have been granted the honor of being called Your brothers and sisters, for we hear Your Word and follow You.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mark 2

Jesus was “at home” in Capernaum, twenty miles from Nazareth. So many sick and needy people came to see Him there that there was no way to get in the door. Four companions of a paralytic man began to dismantle the roof tiles in order to lower their friend down into the middle of the room. Jesus' response? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This was offensive to “some of the scribes” who thought it was an overreach by the miracle worker. The Lord gave this substitute plan: “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” The crowd loved it. “We have never seen anything like this!”
Those who were committed to the system of Jewish rituals taught by the other rabbis were not amused. They did not like the company that Jesus kept and the rules that He refused to follow. In short, they believed that He could not be the Messiah if He did not submit to their version of bad religion. Jesus had table fellowship with “many tax collectors and sinners” because “those who are well have no need of a physician.” His disciples did not fast as others did in light of their great joy regarding the coming of the “bridegroom” of God's covenant people. Someone “new” had arrived on the scene of ancient Israel. It was no time to be critical and glum.
Those who opposed Jesus could not resist the temptation to grumble. “His disciples began to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath,” and the Pharisees wondered how that could possibly be permissible. They were so steeped in their strange additions to the Law that they had missed the wonder of the new King sent from heaven.
Jesus did not let Himself be knocked off course by anyone's negative attitude. He came to rescue the meek. The unexpected God was beginning to remove the chains that had held humanity in bondage for far too long.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father God, we come together in worship to hear Your Son and to be close to Him who has drawn near to the church by His Word and Spirit. Thank You for forgiveness and for the divine power to make a man rise and walk. Lord, throw off from us the paralysis of hatred and doubt, that we might live by faith. Help us to turn away from the love of money and the approval of men as we receive the healing of body and soul that is a gift from our holy Bridegroom. We mourn because of our transgression, but we rejoice with the news of the full salvation that is ours through Jesus. We will serve You forever and rest in our King. We are His disciples and we will listen to His voice.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Mark 1

Mark opens his book with these words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Historical evidence tells us that the early church understood that the sixteen chapters that follow were a record of Peter's preaching and that Mark was a translator for Peter. God used these Galileans to announce outstanding truths about the Man who would overturn unbelief, sin, and death.
John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, just as Isaiah and Malachi had promised. He told his hearers to confess their transgressions and turn from their evil ways that they might receive forgiveness from the Almighty. This unusual prophet knew that Jesus of Nazareth was superior to him in His being and power. As he said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
After a time of testing in the wilderness, our Lord began His message with these words with divine certainty: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus displayed great authority in calling His followers and in teaching and healing. The lives of Peter, Andrew, James, and John were entirely redirected by the Lord. “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Crowds drew near Jesus as His “fame spread” because of the marvelous works He was performing. “Unclean spirits” knew of His glory and He silenced them. Though He told a cleansed leper, “See that you say nothing to anyone,” how could the man not talk about the blessings that he had received? The truths that form the foundation of our faith are so good that we must “spread the news.” Christ who was baptized in association with sinners, defeated the devil and his demons, rose early in the morning to pray, and healed people so that they might have the joy of serving Him is the “beloved Son” of the Father. Today is a very good day to “talk freely” about the best news of all recorded history.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for the gospel of Your Son. You prepared His way through the prophets of old and the ministry of John the Baptist. We are not worthy to be the lowest servants of our King, with whom You are well pleased. We honor You as we see Your power in calling disciples into the church. We leave our worries and fears behind and follow You. Teach us from the Scriptures with all authority. You have victory over all foes, seen and unseen. You touch the dying woman, and she rises up to serve. You heal crowds of sick people and cast out demonic hosts. You have prayed faithfully and preached mightily throughout the world using Your humble messengers. Make us clean today, and cause us to give careful attention to Your holy commandments.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Matthew 28

How is it that Christians have a day of rest and worship on Sunday rather than Saturday? The original witnesses of a new era of history found that the tomb of Jesus was empty “toward the dawn of the first day of the week.”
There was a “great earthquake” and an “angel” appearance which caused the soldiers to tremble. The message of the heavenly ambassador to the women who had observed both the death and burial of Jesus was momentous: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” Soon after this the resurrected Jesus appeared to His friends and reinforced these encouraging words with His own voice.
The guards who had been sent to secure the tomb passed along a false report for many years that was suggested by the chief priests: “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.” This lie does not fit reason or the facts that we have in the gospels. Could Peter and the other scattered and frightened men have ever done such a thing? Only the resurrection of the Messiah makes sense of the details we have in the Bible.
The directive that the King of the church gave to the apostles when they met in Galilee has rocked the world for centuries. The followers of Jesus were to “make disciples.” This would necessitate going, baptizing, and teaching people to observe the Word of Christ. His promise to His followers: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Christians are called to rejoice in the good news of the One who died and is alive forevermore. His life in us empowers believers throughout the world to complete the mission that He has given to His church.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
God of Glory, Your Son is risen! The stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty. More than this, our Savior has met with His apostles. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. We must go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Triune Name. We will teach and do what He has commanded. Our confidence is in His presence, for He is with us always, even to the end of the age. Remove from us all remaining doubt, and strengthen us by Your Spirit that we might stand firm in the face of every foe, for Jesus is Lord, forever and ever.