Category Archives: Daily Devotional Guide

May 23, 2017: Verse of the day

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104:24–26 The variety of God’s works is staggering. “What wisdom has designed them all” (Knox). The earth is full of His creatures, and He cares for each one with amazing attention to detail. The sea swarms with life both small and great, ranging all the way from the minute plankton to the whales.

The mention of ships in verse 26 seems somewhat out of place in a discussion of living creatures. Some understand it to mean sea monsters (Gen. 1:21), but ships is the correct reading. Leviathan (in the same verse) may refer to the whales or porpoises which find the sea an ideal playground for their sporting antics. (But see comments and endnotes on Job 41.)[1]


The Glory of the Animal Creation (104:24–26)

Commentary

24–26 The world of creation reveals the power, wisdom, and creative diversity of the Lord. In vv. 5–9 the psalmist was in awe of God’s majestic power. Verses 10–18 reflect on the variety of his creatures and on his wisdom in sustaining all of them. Verses 19–23 evoke a response of gratitude, because the Lord is in control over the seasons and the alternation of day and night. In verses 24–26 the psalmist calls on the reader to worship with him the Lord’s wisdom and creative diversity. He has multiple “works” (v. 24; cf. v. 13) all over his world. All life belongs to him (“your creatures,” lit., “your possession”), whether on “the earth” (v. 24) or in “the sea” (v. 25).

The emphasis on sea creatures magnificently complements the mention in vv. 10–18 of wild and domesticated animals, birds, and humans. The Lord provides for the great number of sea creatures that in equal variety inhabit the seas (v. 25). Wherever ships have plied the seas (v. 26), reports have come back on the interesting variety of animal life in the sea, among which is the “leviathan.” The “leviathan”—a creature feared by the Canaanites because of its power, represented by seven heads (cf. ANET, 137–38; see Notes, 74:13)—is here only a large sea animal, a creature of God (“which you formed”), the Lord’s pet (v. 26). For an extensive study of this motif, see Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea.[2]


104:24–26 This portion corresponds to the fifth day of creation in Ge 1:20–23.[3]


104:25–26 The Lord Delights in the Sea Creatures, Too. After celebrating God’s care for the land animals, the song moves on to the open sea … which teems with creatures innumerable (corresponding to the fifth creation day, Gen. 1:20–23). (The ships that men sail for merchant activities do not defile the creation order.) Leviathan (see note on Ps. 74:14) here is probably a poetic name for a whale, and is therefore one of the “great sea creatures” (Gen. 1:21). Although the word can be used for an enemy of God, this psalm joins the creation account in portraying the various creatures as subject to the Lord, not opposing him. The admiration continues, as the song says that God formed Leviathan to play in the sea (or, if the alternate rendering in the ESV footnote is followed, he formed it to be his partner in play); throughout this psalm, delight takes the singing congregation far beyond mere utility![4]


104:25 sea … creatures innumerable. The fifth day of creation (Gen. 1:20–23).

104:26 ships … Leviathan. The psalmist’s imagination is caught up with God’s mysterious sea. On its surface ships glide to and fro from distant ports, while underneath lurks the monster Leviathan, here a poetic symbol of God’s creative power (Job 41).[5]


[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 708). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 768–769). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 104:24–26). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1071). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 953). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

May 23 – Marveling at God’s Forgiveness (Matthew)

The twelve apostles included “Matthew the tax-gatherer” (Matt. 10:3).

✧✧✧

Never lose your sense of awe over Christ’s forgiveness.

Matthew describes himself as “Matthew the tax-gatherer” (Matt. 10:3). He is the only apostle whose name is associated here with an occupation. Apparently Matthew never forgot what he had been saved from and never lost his sense of awe and unworthiness over Christ’s forgiveness.

Matthew 9:1–8, where he sets the scene of his own conversion, tells us Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic man and then healed him of his paralysis. When the Jewish scribes accused Him of blasphemy for claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, He said to them, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’?” He wanted them to know that His miracles testified to His deity. As God, He could as easily forgive sins as He could heal diseases.

Immediately after that account, Matthew gave the account of his own call. It’s as if he wanted his own salvation to serve as an illustration of Christ’s ability to forgive even the vilest of sinners. Matthew 9:9 says, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he rose, and followed Him.”

When the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ practice of associating with tax-gatherers, He said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill. … I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (vv. 12–13). The Pharisees were sick with sin but thought they were healthy. Matthew and his associates knew they were sinners who needed a Savior.

Do you share Matthew’s humility and sense of awe at receiving Christ’s precious gift of forgiveness? I pray that you do and that you are continually praising Him for it.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the wonder of forgiveness. ✧ If you have lost your sense of awe over God’s forgiveness, perhaps you’re taking His grace for granted. Confess your apathy, and ask Him to give you a deep appreciation for the enormous price He paid for your salvation.

For Further Study: As a reminder of what Christ endured for you, read Matthew 26:17–27:56, which chronicles the events of His betrayal and crucifixion.[1]


Matthew

Because he wrote the first gospel, Matthew is one of the best known apostles. But the New Testament reveals very few details of his life or ministry.

Before his conversion and call to discipleship, Matthew collected taxes for Rome (Matt. 9:9). It was not an occupation to be proud of, and one would think he would have wanted to dissociate himself from the stigma as much as possible. Yet when he wrote the gospel some thirty years later, he still referred to himself as the tax-gatherer.

As discussed previously in more detail (see chap. 6), tax-gatherers were considered traitors, the most hated members of Jewish society. They were often more despised than the occupying rulers and soldiers, because they betrayed and financially oppressed their own people. They were legal extortioners who extracted as much money as they could from both citizen and foreigner with the full authority and protection of Rome.

They were so despicable and vile that the Jewish Talmud said, “It is righteous to lie and deceive a tax collector.” Tax collectors were not permitted to testify in Jewish courts, because they were notorious liars and accepted bribes as a normal part of life. They were cut off from the rest of Jewish life and were forbidden to worship in the Temple or even in a synagogue. In Jesus’ parable, the tax collector who came to the Temple to pray stood “some distance away” (Luke 18:13) not only because he felt unworthy but because he was not allowed to enter.

Matthew was hardly proud of what he had been, but he seems to have cherished the description as a reminder of his own great unworthiness and of Christ’s great grace He saw himself as the vilest sinner, saved only by the incomparable mercy of his Lord.

Even from the little information given about him, it is evident Matthew was a man of faith. When he got up from his tax table and began to follow Jesus, he burned his bridges behind him. Tax collecting was a lucrative occupation, and many opportunists were doubtlessly eager to take Matthew’s place. And once he forsook his privileged position, the Roman officials would not have granted it to him again. The disciples who were fishermen could always return to fishing, as many of them did after the crucifixion; but there could be no returning to tax collecting for Matthew.

In the eyes of the scribes and Pharisees, Matthew’s leaving his tax office to follow Jesus did little to elevate his standing. Casting his lot with Jesus did not increase Matthew’s popularity, but it greatly increased his danger. There is little doubt that Matthew faced something of the true cost of discipleship before any of the other apostles.

Matthew was not only faithful but humble. In his own gospel (and even in the other three) he is faceless and absolutely voiceless during his time of training under Jesus. He asks no questions and makes no comments. He appears directly in no narrative. Only from Mark (2:15) and Luke (5:29) do we learn that the banquet Jesus ate with “tax-gatherers and sinners” was in Matthew’s house. In his own account, the fact that he was responsible for it is only implied (Matt. 9:10). He was eager and overjoyed for his friends and former associates to meet Jesus, but he calls no attention to his own role in the banquet.

It may be that his humility was born out of his overwhelming sense of sinfulness. He saw God’s grace as so superabundant that he felt unworthy to say a word. He was the silent disciple, until the Holy Spirit led him to pick up his pen and write the opening book of the New Testament-twenty-eight powerful chapters on the majesty, might, and glory of the King of kings.

The fact that Matthew is also referred to as Levi indicates his Jewish heritage. We have no idea what his biblical training may have been, but Matthew quotes the Old Testament more often than the other three gospel writers combined-and quotes from all three parts of it (the law, the prophets, and the writings, or Hagiographa). Since it is highly unlikely he studied Scripture while he was a tax collector, he gained his biblical knowledge either in his youth or after he became an apostle.

Matthew had a loving heart for the lost. As soon as he was saved his first concern was to tell others of that great news and invite them to share in it. He was ashamed of his own previous life of sin; but he was not ashamed to be seen eating with his former associates who were despised by society and living under God’s judgment, because they needed the Savior just as he had.

He sensed personal sinfulness as perhaps none of his fellow disciples did, because he had been greedily and unashamedly involved in extortion, deception, graft, and probably blasphemy and every form of immorality. But now, like the woman taken in adultery, because he was forgiven much, he loved much (see Luke 7:42–43, 47). The genuineness of his love for the Lord is proved in his concern for the salvation of his friends.

God took that outcast sinner and transformed him into a man of great faith, humility, and compassion. He turned him from a man who extorted to one who gave, from one who destroyed lives to one who brought the way of eternal life.[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 156). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 10:3). Chicago: Moody Press.

MAY 23 – GOD STANDS READY TO CONFIRM OUR FAITH IN HIM

This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.

ACTS 2:32

The difference between faith as it is found in the New Testament and faith as it is found now, is that the faith in the New Testament actually produced something—there was a confirmation of it!

On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and then he lifted up his voice. I would remind you that Peter here stands for the whole Church of God. Peter was the first man to get on his feet after the Holy Spirit had come. Peter had believed the Lord’s word and he had received confirmation in his own heart.

In our day faith is pretty much a beginning and an end. We have faith in faith—but nothing happens. There is no confirmation. Peter placed his faith in a risen Christ and something did happen. That’s the difference!

As in Peter’s case, it should be the business of the church to stand up and lift up. Peter became a witness on earth, as the church should be, to things in heaven. The church must be a witness to powers beyond the earthly and the human, and because I know this, it is a source of great grief to me that the church is trying to run on its human powers.

Peter testified to something beyond the earthly which he had experienced. He wanted to influence, urge and exhort those who had not yet experienced it to enter in, for the power from above turns out to be none other than the Spirit of God Himself![1]


2:32, 33 Now Peter repeats an announcement that must have shocked his Jewish audience. The Messiah of whom David prophesied was Jesus of Nazareth. God had raised Him from among the dead, as the apostles could all testify because they were eyewitnesses to His resurrection. Following His resurrection, the Lord Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God, and now the Holy Spirit had been sent as promised by the Father. This was the explanation of what had happened in Jerusalem earlier in the day.[2]


32. “This Jesus God raised up, and all of us are witnesses of it. 33. Therefore, having been exalted to God’s right hand, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out what you now both see and hear.”

In these two verses Peter notes the redemptive facts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension in conjunction with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he refers to the three Persons of the Trinity: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Three times in his Pentecost sermon he emphatically points to Jesus as this Jesus (see vv. 23, 32, 36) to recall for his audience their knowledge of and acquaintance with Jesus of Nazareth (v. 22). Once again Peter stresses the theme of the early Christian church: the resurrection from the dead (v. 24; and see 13:30, 33–34, 37; 17:31).

In verses 32 and 33, Peter makes a distinction between the apostolic witnesses (“all of us are witnesses”) who have seen the resurrected Jesus and the multitude who observe the phenomena of Pentecost (“what you now both see and hear”). In another context, Peter states that Jesus appeared only to those witnesses “who were appointed beforehand by God” (10:41). Conversely, the multitude at Pentecost did not see the resurrected Christ; they saw and heard the visible and audible tokens of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

Because Peter’s audience had not seen Jesus in the forty-day period between his resurrection and ascension, they needed proof that what the eyewitnesses proclaimed was true. Therefore, they wanted to know the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. To meet the questions of his audience, Peter alludes to Jesus’ ascension and mentions Christ’s place at the right hand of God (compare 5:31). Christians eventually formulated these truths in the Apostles’ Creed and confessed that Jesus Christ

ascended to heaven,

and sits at the right hand

of God the Father almighty.

From his exalted position, Jesus has fulfilled the promise that the Father would send the Holy Spirit (refer to John 7:39; 14:26; 15:26). On the day of Pentecost Jesus’ words concerning the coming of the Spirit are being fulfilled. Consequently, everyone present at the temple area in Jerusalem is able to see the evidence of the outpouring of the Spirit. The listeners must know, therefore, that Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, has the authority to commission the Spirit to come and live in the hearts of the believers.[3]


Not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but he also was exalted to the place of honor, glory, and power (cf. Phil. 2:9–11) at the right hand of God (cf. Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 5:31; 7:55–56; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). From that exalted position, Peter says, Jesus, having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Peter now brings his listeners full circle back to the phenomena of Pentecost. He tells them that what they had just seen resulted from God’s promise to send the Spirit to inaugurate the messianic age (Joel 2:28–29). Now that Christ was risen and glorified, God fulfilled that promise (cf. John 7:39).[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1586). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 100–101). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (p. 65). Chicago: Moody Press.

MAY 23 – BLAME SOMEONE ELSE

And the man said, The woman…gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

Genesis 3:12

In the earliest day of failure and tragedy in the garden of Eden, Adam came out of hiding, knowing full well his own guilt and shame.

Adam confessed: “We ate from the fruit of the tree that was forbidden—but it was the woman who enticed me!” (see Genesis 3:12).

When God said to Eve, “What did you do?” she said: “It was the serpent that beguiled me!” (see 3:13).

In that brief time our first parents had learned the art of laying the blame on someone else. That is one of the great, betraying evidences of sin—and we have learned it straight from our first parents. We do not accept the guilt of our sin and iniquity. We blame someone else.

If you are not the man you ought to be, you are likely to blame your wife or your ancestors. If you are not the young person you ought to be, you can always blame your parents. If you are not the wife you ought to be, you may blame your husband or perhaps the children.

Sin being what it is, we would rather lay the blame on others. We blame, blame, blame! That is why we are where we are.

Lord, help me to quickly acknowledge my sins and not try to hide them from You—which is actually impossible to do. I want to receive Your forgiveness and move on in my deepening relationship with You.[1]


3:12 The woman whom You gave. Adam pitifully put the responsibility on God for giving him Eve. That only magnified the tragedy in that Adam had knowingly transgressed God’s prohibition, but still would not be open and confess his sin, taking full responsibility for his action, which was not made under deception (1Ti 2:14).[2]


3:12 woman whom you gave Adam tries to pass responsibility to his wife—and perhaps even to God.[3]


3:12 A guilty man’s first line of defense is blame. Adam blamed the woman, and then he blamed God for having given her to him (for David’s contrasting response to Nathan, read 2 Sam. 12:13).[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ge 3:12). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 3:12). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 12). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

May 23 – A Right Understanding of God’s Will

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.—Matt. 6:10b

To understand God’s will rightly, we need an attitude of righteous rebellion. If we would pray that God accomplishes His will, we must reject the notion that sin is normal and therefore we must accept it. Instead we must righteously rebel against the world’s ungodliness, its unbelief of Jesus Christ, and believers’ disobedience. Not to do this is to abandon key biblical teachings and accept powerlessness in prayer.

Jesus was not resigned to the spiritual status quo—He preached and acted against sin. When Jewish leaders profaned God’s house, “He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business’ ” (John 2:15–16).

We further must rebel against the idea that wickedness and corruption is somehow God’s will that we must passively accept. Nothing evil comes from God’s hand, but only from Satan’s. To ask that righteousness and God’s will be done oftentimes means we have to pray for Satan’s will to be undone (cf. Ps. 68:1; Rev. 6:10).

To pray with a right understanding of God’s will is to pray believing that He hears and answers our prayers. Lack of such faith is one of our greatest hindrances to effective praying.

ASK YOURSELF
Yes, to pray for God’s will to be done on earth, we must first make sure it is being done in us. What are some aspects of God’s will that are going unheeded in your own heart, even though they are far from mysterious, very clearly laid out in Scripture? Make this your prayer today—that His will would be done in you.[1]

The Third Petition

10b. Thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth. The will of God to which reference is made is clearly his “revealed” will, expressed in his law. It is that will which is done in heaven, but not yet to any great extent on earth. On the other hand, the will of God’s “decree” or “plan from eternity” is always being realized both in heaven and on earth (Dan. 4:35; Eph. 1:11), and cannot be the subject of prayer. (Incidentally, the statement that God’s revealed will is being perfectly obeyed in heaven—hence not only by heaven’s angels but also by the hosts of the redeemed—implies that the very moment a soul is translated from this sinful earth to heaven it has been freed from every vestige of sin.) It is the ardent desire of the person who sincerely breathes the Lord’s Prayer that the Father’s will shall be obeyed as completely, heartily, and immediately on earth as this is constantly being done by all the inhabitants of heaven.

As to “completely,” the story of King Saul shows that incomplete obedience, in which man sets his own will over against the divine, does not receive God’s approval and may have serious consequences (1 Sam. 15:1–3, 7–9, and note especially verses 22 and 23). As to “heartily,” note the words of Deut. 26:16 and Matt. 22:37. And as to “immediately,” the cherubim in Ezekiel’s vision of the throne-chariot, each cherub being equipped with four faces, and the chariot itself with wheels within wheels, so that its “drivers” were always ready to take it wherever the Lord wanted it to go, furnish a vivid illustration of the kind of obedience in which heaven delights (Ezek. 1; 10). Examples of human obedience: Noah (Gen. 6:22), Abraham (Gen. 11:28–32, cf. Acts 7:3; Gen. 12:1, cf. Heb. 11:8; Gen. 22:2 ff., cf. James 2:23); Joshua (Josh. 5:13–15); Samuel (1 Sam. 3:1–10); Simon (Peter) and Andrew (Matt. 4:19, 20); Simon (Peter) once more (Luke 5:5); James and John (Matt. 4:21, 22); Peter and the apostles (Acts 5:29); Mary of Bethany (John 11:28, 29); Paul (Acts 16:6–10; 26:19); and the Philippians (Phil. 2:12). The greatest example of all is Jesus Christ himself (Luke 2:51, 52; John 15:10; 17:4; Phil. 2:5–8; and Heb. 5:8). It was he who in the garden said, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). As to the manner in which obedience is rewarded, from a host of passages that could be listed the following few should suffice: Josh. 1:8; Matt. 7:7, 8; John 7:17; 8:29; 14:21, 23; 15:10; Phil. 2:9, 10; Heb. 12:1, 2; and Rev. 3:20.

The petitions for the fulfilment of human needs follow. Although it is true that between the first three petitions, pertaining to God, and the last three, pertaining to man, there is a rather sharp division, the two are not to be regarded as wholly separate. If the believer is to take an active part in the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of his kingdom, and the doing of his will—such an active part being certainly implied in the first three petitions—he must have bread (Luke 10:7, cf. 1 Tim. 5:18; Gal. 6:6; Eph. 4:28; Phil. 4:15, 16). Jesus, accordingly, is not forgetful of the physical needs of his disciples (see Matt. 6:25–34; 25:34–40; Mark 10:29, 30; cf. Acts 24:17; 2 Cor. 8:8 f.; James 2:15, 16), both in order that they may live and be happy, and that they may be able vigorously to support kingdom causes. This introduces[2]


God’s Plan

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (10:b)

Many people wonder how God’s sovereignty can be related to praying for His will to be done. If He is sovereign, is not His will inevitably done? Does our will override His will when we pray earnestly and sincerely? That is one of the great paradoxes of Scripture, a paradox about which Calvinists and Arminians have debated for centuries. It should be evident that this paradox, like those of God’s being three in one and Jesus’ being wholly God and wholly man, must be left to the infinite mind of God, because it is far beyond the finite human mind to comprehend. But what seems a hopeless contradiction to us is no dilemma to God. We hold both truths, seemingly paradoxical, in perfect tension with faith in the infinite mind of God, who resolves all things in perfect, noncontradictory truth (Deut. 29:29).

It is absolutely clear from Scripture that God is sovereign and yet not only allows but commands that man exercise his own volition in certain areas. If man were not able to make his own choices, God’s commands would be futile and meaningless and His punishments cruel and unjust. If God did not act in response to prayer, Jesus’ teaching about prayer would also be futile and meaningless. Our responsibility is not to solve the dilemma but to believe and act on God’s truths, whether some of them seem to conflict or not. To compromise one of God’s truths in an effort to defend another is the stuff of which heresy is made. We are to accept every part of every truth in God’s Word, leaving the resolution of any seeming conflicts to Him. Attempting on a human level to resolve all apparent paradoxes in Scripture is an act of arrogance and an attack on the truth and intent of God’s revelation.

When we pray Thy will be done, we are praying first of all that God’s will become our own will. Second, we are praying that His will prevail all over the earth as it [does] in heaven.

Wrong Understanding of God’s Will

Many people, including many believers, wrongly understand this part of the Disciples’ Prayer. Seeing God’s sovereignty simply as the absolute imposition of a dictator’s will, some believers are resentful. When, or if, they pray for His will to be done, they pray out of a feeling of compulsion. God’s will has to be done, and He is too strong to resist; so what would be the point of praying otherwise? The logical conclusion of most people who look at God in that way is that there is no point to prayer-certainly not to petitions. Why ask for the inevitable?

Other people are more charitable in their feelings about God. But because they, too, believe His will is inevitable, they pray out of passive resignation. They pray for God’s will to be done simply because that is what the Lord tells them to do. They are resignedly obedient. They do not pray so much out of faith as out of capitulation. They do not try to put their wills into accord with the divine will, but rather shift their own wills into neutral, letting God’s will run its course.

It is easy for Christians to fall into praying that way. Even in the very early days of the church, when faith generally was strong and vital, prayer could be passive and unexpectant. A group of concerned disciples was praying in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, for the release of Peter from prison. While they were praying, Peter was freed by an angel and came to the house and knocked on the door. When a servant girl named Rhoda came to the door and recognized Peter’s voice, she rushed back inside to tell the others, forgetting to let Peter in. But the praying group did not believe her, and thought she had heard an angel. When Peter was finally admitted, “they saw him and were amazed” (Acts 12:16). They apparently had been praying for what they did not really believe would happen.

Our own prayer lives often are weak because we do not pray in faith; we do not expect prayer to change anything. We pray out of a sense of duty and obligation, subconsciously thinking that God is going to do just as He wants to do anyway. Jesus gave the parable of the importunate widow-who refused to accept the status quo and persisted in begging, despite receiving no response-for the very purpose of protecting us against that sort of passive and unspiritual resignation. “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

The very fact that Jesus tells us to pray Thy will be done on earth indicates that God’s will is not always done on earth. It is not inevitable. In fact, lack of faithful prayer inhibits His will being done. In God’s wise and gracious plan, prayer is essential to the proper working of His divine will on earth.

God is sovereign, but He is not independently deterministic. Looking at God’s sovereignty in a fatalistic way, thinking “What will be will be,” absolutely destroys faithful prayer and faithful obedience of every sort. That is not a “high” view of God’s sovereignty, but a destructive and unbiblical view of it. That is not the divine sovereignty the Bible teaches. It is not God’s will that people die, or why would Christ have come to destroy death? It is not God’s will that people go to hell, or why would His only Son have taken the penalty of sin upon Himself so that men might escape hell? “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). That sin exists on earth and causes such horrible consequences is not evidence of God’s will but of His patience in allowing more opportunity for men to turn to Him for salvation.

Other people, overemphasizing the importance of man’s will, look at prayer as a means of bending God’s will to their own. They think of God’s providence as a sort of cosmic vending machine, which they can operate simply by inserting the required claim on one of His promises. As Elton Trueblood observes, “In some congregations the Gospel has been diminished to the mere art of self-fulfillment. Some current religious authors, far from emphasizing what it means to believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, write chiefly of themselves. Egocentricity is all that is left when the objective truth about the revelation of Christ is lost or even obscured.”

But Jesus undercuts that notion throughout His model prayer. True prayer focuses on Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will. Amy Carmichael wrote, “And shall I pray to change Thy will, my Father, until it accord to mine? But no, Lord, no; that shall never be. Rather I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine.”

There is a tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s will, between God’s grace and man’s faith, but we dare not try to resolve it by modifying God’s truth about either His sovereignty or our will, His grace or our faith. God is sovereign, but He gives us choices. God is sovereign, but He tells us to pray Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And James reminds us that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16).

Right Understanding of God’s Will

David sang of the angels who did God’s will. “Bless the Lord, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word!” (Ps. 103:20). That is the way God’s will is done in heaven, and that is the way believers are to pray for God’s will to be done on earth-unwaveringly, completely, sincerely, willingly, fervently, readily, swiftly, and constantly. Our prayer should be that every person and thing on earth be brought into conformity with God’s perfect will.

A part of the right understanding of and attitude toward God’s will is what might be called a sense of righteous rebellion. To be dedicated to God’s will is, by definition, to be opposed to Satan’s. To pray Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven is to rebel against the worldly idea that sin is normal and inevitable and should therefore be acquiesced to or at least tolerated. It is to rebel against the world system of ungodliness, the dishonoring and rejecting of Christ, and also the disobedience of believers. Impotence in prayer leads us, however unwillingly, to strike a truce with wrong. To accept what is, is to abandon a Christian view of God and His plan for redemptive history.

Jesus knew the end from the beginning, but He did not accept the situation as inevitable or irresistible. He preached against sin and He acted against sin. When His Father’s house was profaned, “He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise’ ” (John 2:14–16; cf. Matt. 21:12–13).

To pray for God’s will to be done on earth is to rebel against the idea, heard today even among evangelicals, that virtually every wicked, corrupt thing that we do or that is done to us is somehow God’s holy will and should be accepted from His hand with thanksgiving. Nothing wicked or sinful comes from the hand of God, but only from the hand of Satan. To pray for righteousness is to pray against wickedness. To pray for God’s will to be done is to pray for Satan’s will to be undone.

To pray for God’s will to be done is to cry with David, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; and let those who hate Him flee before Him” (Ps. 68:1) and with the saints under God’s altar, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10).

To pray rightly is to pray in faith, believing that God will hear and answer our prayers. I think the greatest hindrance to prayer is not lack of technique, lack of biblical knowledge, or even lack of enthusiasm for the Lord’s work, but lack of faith. We simply do not pray with the expectation that our prayers will make a difference in our lives, in other people’s lives, in the church, or in the world.

There are three distinct aspects of God’s will as He reveals it to us in His Word. First, is what may be called His will of purpose-the vast, comprehensive, and tolerating will of God expressed in the unfolding of His sovereign plan that embodies all of the universe, including heaven, hell, and the earth. This is God’s ultimate will, of which Isaiah wrote, “The Lord of hosts has sworn saying ‘Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand’ ” (Isa. 14:24; cf. Jer. 51:29; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:9–11; etc.). This is the will of God that allows sin to run its course and Satan to have his way for a season. But in God’s appointed time sin’s course and Satan’s way will end exactly according to God’s plan and foreknowledge.

Second, is what may be called God’s will of desire. This is within His will of purpose and completely consistent with it. But it is more specific and focused. Unlike God’s will of purpose, His will of desire is not always fulfilled; in fact, it is very unfulfilled in comparison to Satan’s will in this present age.

Jesus greatly desired that Jerusalem be saved, and He prayed, preached, healed, and ministered among its people to that end. But few believed in Him; most rejected Him, and some even crucified Him. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” He prayed. “I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34). That was the repeated experience of God’s Son, who came to earth that men might have life, and have it more abundantly. Like the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, most people were not willing to come to Jesus for that abundant life (John 5:40; cf. 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).

Third, is what may be called God’s will of command. This will is entirely for His children, because only they have the capacity to obey. The will of command is the ardent desire of the heart of God that we who are His children obey Him completely and immediately with a willing heart. “Do you not know,” Paul says, “that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:16–18).

God’s will of purpose embraces the ultimate end of this world, Christ’s second coming and the setting up of His eternal kingdom. His will of desire embraces conversion; and His will of command embraces the commitment and obedience of His children.

The great enemy of God’s will is pride. Pride caused Satan to rebel against God, and pride causes unbelievers to reject God and believers to disobey Him. For God’s will to be accepted and to be prayed for in sincerity and with faith, self-will must be forsaken in the power of the Holy Spirit. “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2).

When we pray in faith and in conformity to God’s will, our prayer is a sanctifying grace that changes our lives dramatically. Prayer is a means of progressive sanctification. John Hannah said, “The end of prayer is not so much tangible answers as a deepening life of dependency. … The call to prayer is a call to love, submission, and obedience, … the avenue of sweet, intimate, and intense fellowship of the soul with the infinite Creator.”

The believer’s call is to bring heaven to earth by hallowing the Lord’s name, letting His kingdom come, and seeking to do His will.[3]


10 As God is eternally holy, so he eternally reigns in absolute sovereignty. Yet it is appropriate to pray not only “hallowed be your name” but also “your kingdom come.” God’s “kingdom” or “reign” (see comments at 3:2; 4:17, 23) can refer to that aspect of God’s sovereignty under which there is life—eternal life. That kingdom is breaking in under Christ’s ministry, but it is not consummated until the end of the age (28:20). To pray “your kingdom come” is therefore simultaneously to ask that God’s saving, royal rule be extended now as people bow in submission to him and already taste the eschatological blessing of salvation and to cry for the consummation of the kingdom (cf. 1 Co 16:22; Rev 11:17; 22:20). Godly Jews were waiting for the kingdom (Mk 15:43), “the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). They recited “Kaddish” (“Sanctification”), an ancient Aramaic prayer, at the close of each synagogue service. In its oldest extant form, it runs, “Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world which he created according to his will. May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. And to this, say, Amen” (Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 98, emphasis his). But the Jew looked forward to the kingdom, whereas the reader of Matthew’s gospel, while looking forward to its consummation, perceives that the kingdom has already broken in and prays for its extension as well as its unqualified manifestation.

To pray that God’s will, which is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Ro 12:2), be done on earth as in heaven is to use language broad enough to embrace three requests.

  1. The first request is that God’s will be done now on earth as it is now accomplished in heaven. The word thelēma (“will,” GK 2525) includes both God’s righteous demands (7:21; 12:50; cf. Ps 40:8) and his determination to bring about certain events in salvation history (18:14; 26:42; cf. Ac 21:14). So for that will to be “done” includes both moral obedience and the bringing to pass of certain events, such as the cross. This prayer corresponds to asking for the present extension of the messianic kingdom.
  2. The second request is that God’s will may ultimately be as fully accomplished on earth as it is now accomplished in heaven. “Will” has the same range of meanings as before, and this prayer corresponds to asking for the consummation of the messianic kingdom.
  3. The third request is that God’s will may ultimately be done on the earth in the same way as it is now accomplished in heaven. In the consummated kingdom, it will not be necessary to discuss superior righteousness (5:20–48) as antithetical to lust, hate, retaliatory face slapping, divorce, and the like; for then God’s will, construed now as his demands for righteousness, will be done as it is now done in heaven: freely, openly, spontaneously, and without the need to set it over against evil (Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 66–67).

These first three petitions, though they focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, are nevertheless prayers that he may act in such a way that his people will hallow his name, submit to his reign, and do his will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 152). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 331–332). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 381–386). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 204–205). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MAY 23 – OMNIPOTENT AND ALMIGHTY

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude… and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

—Revelation 19:6

I suppose the first thing to do would be to define omnipotence. It comes, of course, from omni, meaning “all,” and potent, meaning “able to do and to have power.” And so omnipotent means “able to do all and to have all power.” It means having all the potency there is.

Then we come to a second word, Almighty…. Now that means exactly the same thing as omnipotent…. Almighty means “having an infinite and absolute plenitude of power.” When you use the words infinite and absolute you can only be talking about one person—God.

There is only one infinite Being, because infinite means without limit. And it is impossible that there should be two beings in the universe without limit. So if there is only one, you are referring to God. Even philosophy and human reason, as little as I think of them, have to admit this….

God has power and whatever God has is without limit; therefore, God is omnipotent. God is absolute and whatever touches God or whatever God touches is absolute; therefore, God’s power is infinite; God is Almighty. AOGII072, 074

What assurance to know I rest in the arms of an all-powerful God. Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigns! Amen. [1]


19:6 Now another song breaks out in heaven, as “loud as many water’s noise, loud as thunders to the ear.” A great “Alleluia” swells in celebration of the reign of the Lord God Omnipotent![2]


6. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude and as it were the sound of many waters and as it were the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah, because our Lord God Almighty rules.”

John listened to a hymn that sounded as if it were sung by a vast multitude. He does not identify this throng, but because the wording is the same as in verse 1, it appears that the multitude has the same identity. They sing both the opening and the concluding hymns in this chapter; in both they sing the same notes of praise and adulation. Here are inconspicuous echoes of the hymns the multitudes sang in both chapters 5 and 7.

The voice that John hears he compares with sounds taken from nature: the sounds of many waters and of mighty peals of thunder. John describes the voice of Jesus’ appearance on the isle of Patmos as a rushing sound coming from many waters (1:15; see 14:2; Ezek. 1:24; 43:2). And the phrase mighty peals of thunder conveys the idea of loudness that can be heard everywhere (Rev. 6:1; 14:2). These two phrases indeed point to God’s power, majesty, and glory. And the mighty voice of the countless multitude attests to expressions of joy and thankfulness for the privilege of being the bride of Christ.

This voice, conveying the sound of a multitude of people talking at the same time, rises from the pleasing tones of bubbling water and then swells to the crashing crescendo of thunderclaps. These sounds are like people who begin singing softly but then culminate their hymn in resounding overtones. The first word of the song is Hallelujah, which has now occurred four times in these hymns. It is followed by a clause that gives the reason for this note of jubilation, “because our Lord God Almighty rules.” The verb in this clause can be interpreted to read that the Lord “has begun to rule.” The Lord God, as the descriptive label Almighty indicates, has always been the ruler over his great creation. But now the kingdom of the Antichrist has come to its anticipated end, and the Lord God is the supreme ruler in the vast universe he has created. In Revelation, the term the Lord God Almighty appears seven times and characterizes God’s sovereignty. While on earth Domitian was honored as dominus et deus (Lord and God), the heavenly chorus sings in triumph that God occupies the true seat of power in the world (see Ps. 93:1; 97:1; 99:1; 1 Chron. 16:31; Zech. 14:9). Last, the possessive personal pronoun our in “our Lord God Almighty rules” makes the chorus inclusive: the saints in heaven and on earth are one.[3]


6 Finally the cycle of praise is completed with the reverberating sounds of another great multitude. If the multitude in v. 1 was angelic, then this one would most certainly be the great redeemed throngs (cf. 7:9). They utter the final Hallel in words reminiscent of the great kingship psalms (93:1; 97:1; 99:1). The first of these psalms is used in the synagogue in Sabbath morning and evening services and also in the Armenian church liturgy for Easter Sunday (Werner, Sacred Bridge, 153). It is also the prelude to the messianic Psalms 95–99 and has as its theme the eternal sovereignty of God, who will conquer all his enemies (cf. Hertz, Daily Prayer Book, 362). The Greek verb ebasileusen (“reigns”), an ingressive aorist, may better be rendered, “has begun to reign.”[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2376). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, pp. 512–513). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 755). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

May 23 – Stephen: Grace and Serenity in Suffering

“And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 6:5

✧✧✧

Stephen’s excellent character teaches us much about responding to suffering and death.

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is one of the most inspiring biblical examples of faithfulness in life and ministry. But his personal excellence shines forth most through the familiar account of his death by stoning.

As one of the first deacons in the church, Stephen was recognized early on as a man of great faith and spirituality (Acts 6:5). And a few verses later Luke describes him as “full of grace and power” (v. 8). That was a grace of loving–kindness toward others, which he displayed in a most powerful way just before his death.

In Acts 7:60, as the Jews were pelting him with rocks, Stephen was able to look up to Heaven and say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” That kind of faith–filled, grace–filled reaction to those who were hatefully killing him was possible only because Stephen believed in God’s sovereign control over his life and death.

At the very start of his encounter, Stephen manifested another amazing response to his horribly unjust treatment: his enemies “saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). It’s impossible for us to know precisely what such an expression would have been like, but it denoted a supernatural tranquility and joy that comes from being enveloped by the Lord’s glorious presence. Stephen’s awesome expression must have been an extremely forceful rebuke to the Jewish leaders who claimed to know God.

The typical reaction from many of us in the same situation would have been to exhibit much anxiety, stress, and anger. But Stephen demonstrated no such response. Instead, he is a role model for how any believer ought to behave during the most challenging trial. He had more than adequate grace to cope well in every circumstance (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; James 4:6), which is true of all genuine Christians—those “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord for Christian friends who are role models to you. ✧ Pray that your behavior today would be special and Spirit–filled, not ordinary and man–centered.

For Further Study: Read Exodus 33:7–11, 17–23; 34:29–35. What does Moses’ experience reveal about the power of God’s glory?[1]


6:5, 6 Judging from the names of the seven men who were chosen, most of them were Greek-speaking Jews before their conversion. This was certainly a most gracious concession to the very group that had made the complaint. Hereafter there could be no charge of favoritism from that quarter. When the love of God fills men’s hearts, it triumphs over pettiness and selfishness.

Only two of the deacons are well-known to us—Stephen, who became the first martyr of the church; and Philip, the evangelist who later carried the gospel to Samaria, won the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ, and entertained Paul at Caesarea.

After praying, the apostles expressed their fellowship with the choice of the church by laying hands on the seven.[2]


5–6 The apostles made a proposal, but the church, which is the community of God’s Spirit, made the decision. The apostles, therefore, laid their hands on the Seven and appointed them to be responsible for the daily distribution of food. The laying on of hands recalls Moses’ commissioning of Joshua (Nu 27:18–23), where through this act some of Moses’ authority was conferred to Joshua (cf. Lev 3:2; 16:21, where, conversely, by the laying on of hands there was the symbolic transference of sin). This is evidently what the laying on of hands was meant to symbolize here, with the apostles delegating their authority to the seven men selected by the church (cf. 8:17; 9:17; 13:3; 19:6 for other instances in Acts of this practice).

All the men appointed have Greek names. One of them is singled out as having been a Gentile convert to Judaism—i.e., a “proselyte” (prosēlytos, GK 4670). But it is impossible to be sure from the names themselves whether all seven were Hellenists, for at that time many Palestinian Jews also had Greek names. Nevertheless, the fact that Luke gives only Greek names suggests that all seven were, in fact, from the Hellenistic group of believers within the church. Likewise, the text does not expressly speak of these seven in terms of the ecclesiastical title “deacon” (diakonos, GK 1356), though it does use the cognate noun diakonia (“service,” “ministry,” “distribution”) in v. 1 and the verb diakoneō (“wait on,” “serve”) in v. 2 in describing what they were to do. It also uses diakonia [“service” or “ministry”] in v. 4 as a synonym for the proclamation of the apostles. Yet the ministry to which the seven were appointed was functionally equivalent to what is spoken of as the office of “deacon” in 1 Timothy 3:8–13—which is but to affirm the maxim that in the NT “ministry was a function long before it became an office.”[3]


  1. This proposal pleased the whole community. Thus, they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch, who had been a convert to Judaism. 6. They introduced these men to the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them.

The apostles propose and the church approves their suggestion. The word pleased denotes a basic harmony between apostles and the Christian community. The complaint has been withdrawn and the irritation concerning the financial neglect has subsided. As a result, the church enters into the work of finding seven capable men. How the people instituted and regulated the search for these men is not known. Luke says nothing about casting the lot (compare 1:26), but the verb to choose indicates that a selection was made based on the rules stipulated by the apostles. Incidentally, Christ chose the twelve apostles (including Matthias; see 1:24), but the church chooses the seven men whom the apostles installed.

Who are these seven men? All the names are of Greek origin. Although some native Jews had Greek names, among them the apostles Philip and Andrew, scholars favor the explanation that all seven were Hellenistic Jews whose native tongue was Greek. The first name is Stephen, which actually means “a crown.” In a sense, he received the crown of righteousness when he died a martyr’s death. Stephen meets the requirements the apostles set, for Luke reports that he is a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” He is known for his faith, as he demonstrates in his teaching and preaching. Philip is next. He is later known as the evangelist (21:8). Then follow the names of Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas, of whom we know nothing. The last man is Nicolas, a native of Antioch and a Gentile who had been converted first to Judaism and now to Christianity. Perhaps Luke has a special interest in Nicolas, because, according to tradition, he himself was born and reared a Gentile in, Antioch and afterward became a Christian. Here, then, are seven Hellenists, of whom six were of Jewish descent. The seventh is Nicolas, a Gentile who entered the church as a proselyte. Nicolas has often been identified as the father of the Nicolaitans, who are mentioned in Revelation 2:6, 15. “The Nicolaitans certainly derived their name from some Nicolas—whether from this Nicolas or another must remain uncertain.” The fact that all the candidates are Hellenists undoubtedly appeases the Greek-speaking part of the Jerusalem church.

The church presents these seven men to the apostles, who approve the choice the church has made. Then the apostles present these men in prayer to God and seek divine approval and blessings upon the work that awaits the seven administrators. After the prayer, the apostles ordain these seven servants by placing their hands upon them. Thus, they adopt the practice that Moses inaugurated for the ordaining of the Levites for special service and for the commissioning of Joshua as Moses’ successor (Num. 8:10; 27:23). In New Testament times, not only the apostles adhere to the rite of the laying on of hands to commission qualified persons; but also the church in Antioch obediently listens to the Holy Spirit and places hands on Barnabas and Paul (13:2–3; see also 1 Tim, 5:22).[4]


The Roster

And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. (6:5–6)

The apostles’ plan found approval with the whole congregation, and seven men were appointed to the ministry. That all seven bore Greek names suggests all were Hellenists. If true, it was a demonstration of the loving unity of the church. Since the Hellenists felt slighted,the church decided to appoint seven from among them to rectify the situation. A split was thus avoided, and again Satan’s attack was thwarted.

Stephen was to play a pivotal role in the spread of the gospel beyond Jerusalem. It was the persecution connected with his martyrdom that propelled the church out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). The commendation of him as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit reveals his character.

Philip also plays a prominent role in Acts. He took the gospel to the Samaritans (8:4–25), and to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26–40). Four of his daughters became prophetesses (21:8).

Nothing definite is known about the remaining five men. Some early traditions connect Prochorus with John the apostle, possibly as his amanuensis when he wrote his gospel. According to those traditions, he later became bishop of Nicomedia and was martyred in Antioch (John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary: Acts [Nashville: Broadman, 1992], p. 182).

All that is known for certain about Nicolas is that he was a proselyte (A Gentile convert to Judaism) from Antioch. Some of the church Fathers associated him with the heretical group known as the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6, 15). But there is no evidence, apart from the similarity in the names, to connect him with that group. And as Lenski rightly observes, “It ought to be understood that decidedly more evidence is required in a matter of so serious a charge” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961], 246).

The congregation brought the seven before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. This first occasion in the New Testament of laying on of hands signified the identification and affirmation of the church with these men, and the support of their ministry. Elders, deacons, and all who served in the early church were ordained this way (cf. Acts 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6).

All though little is known about most of these men, they played a crucial role in the foundational history of the church. But for them, either the apostles’ priorities would have been compromised, or the church may have split. Either would have been disastrous.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1601). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 806). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 223–225). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (pp. 182–183). Chicago: Moody Press.

May 23 – No Secret to Success

No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Luke 9:62

I have never met a successful, influential person in any realm of enterprise who was not committed to reaching goals. The people who influence the world are pursuers, competitors, and winners, preoccupied with goals rather than having their own needs met. All I have learned about the lives of great Christian leaders has made one thing clear: there is no secret to success—they all put out maximum effort to reach spiritual goals and ignore personal satisfaction during the process.

It’s amazing to discover what great preachers, theologians, and missionaries have suffered in the process of reaching their goals. They were far more concerned with following Christ than with their own condition. Can you say the same about your own commitment to Christ?[1]


Desire for Personal Relations

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (9:61–62)

Another man, probably following up on the Lord’s discussion with the previous individual, also volunteered to follow Jesus. “I will follow You, Lord” he promised, “but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” Unlike the man the Lord had just spoken with, this third individual was willing to leave his inheritance behind. He had only one request, which seemed reasonable enough: He wanted to delay joining Christ long enough to go home and say good-by to his loved ones.

But as was the case with the other two, the Lord, knowing what was in his heart, rejected this man’s proposal. Perhaps he wanted to do a little quick fundraising among his family and friends before leaving on his mission trip with Jesus. More likely, however, there was a deeper issue involved. His words revealed that his family ties were too strong for him to break away from them. Jesus knew that if he returned home, the impulse of the moment would die and he would never be able to leave. Like many people, fear of being away from or ostracized by his family would keep him from following the Lord. That is why Jesus cautioned the crowds that followed Him, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Jesus replied by adapting a popular proverb that dates back to the eighth-century b.c. Greek poet Hesiod: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, He declared, is fit for the kingdom of God.” This saying pictures complete dedication to the task at hand, since one could hardly plow a straight furrow while looking backwards. It is impossible to follow Christ with a divided heart, as this man’s was. He was not fit for the kingdom of God because he was holding on to the kingdom of this world. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” James asked. “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4; cf. 1 John 2:15–17).

Though the text does not describe what ultimately became of these three men it is obvious that they, like the rich young ruler, abandoned Christ to hold on to earthly things. The issue in view in all three of these encounters was not fitness for service by those in the kingdom, but saving faith by which one enters the kingdom. Those unwilling to part with something—comfort, riches, relationships, or anything else—cannot enter the kingdom of God; salvation is for those who have come to complete self-denial. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me,” Jesus declared, because “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23–24).[2]


  1. Jesus replied, No one who has just put his hand to a plow and (then) continues to look back is fit for the kingdom of God.

The fact that this proverb was not original with Jesus but can be traced back to Hesiod (fl. about 800 b.c.) does not make it any less appropriate. The man who puts his hand to a plow and starts plowing forward, but then immediately looks back and continues to do so, constantly trying to plow forward while he looks behind him, cannot run a straight furrow. It is entirely proper for him to stop his plow and then, while standing still, to view what he has done, in order to correct mistakes. But to plow in one direction while looking in the opposite direction will never do.

This man’s heart was divided. He should stop following the example of the Israelites (1 Kings 18:21), and instead should follow in Paul’s footsteps (Phil. 3:13, 14). Then, by God’s grace and power, he will be “fit” for the kingdom of God, “very useful to the Master” (2 Tim. 2:21). He must learn to say, and to mean it:

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,

One holy passion filling all my frame—

The baptism of the heaven-descended Dove;

My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

—George Croly[3]


9:62 Jesus told him that once he put his hand to the plow of discipleship, he must not look back; otherwise he was not fit for the kingdom of God. Christ’s followers are not made of half-hearted stuff or dreamy sentimentality. No considerations of family or friends, though lawful in themselves, must be allowed to turn them aside from utter and complete abandonment to Him. The expression not “fit for the kingdom” does not refer to salvation but to service. It is not at all a question of entrance into the kingdom but of service in the kingdom after entering it. Our fitness for entering into the kingdom is in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. It becomes ours through faith in Him.

And so we have three cardinal hindrances to discipleship illustrated in the experience of these men:

  1. Material comforts.
  2. A job or an occupation.
  3. Family and friends.

Christ must reign in the heart without a rival. All other loves and all other loyalties must be secondary.[4]


61–62 Though to “say good-by” (apotaxasthai, GK 698) is not at all the emotional equivalent of a funeral (cf. vv. 59–60), it still represents family duty that must be forsaken for service to Jesus. Danker, 125, sees here an allusion to the call of Elisha while plowing and his request to say good-by to his family (1 Ki 19:19–21, cf. Marshall, 412). A further illustration of discipleship is keeping the hand on the plow. Jeremias, 195, describes the plowman concentrating on the furrow before him, guiding the light plow with his left hand while goading the oxen with the right. Looking away would result in a crooked furrow.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 160). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. (2011). Luke 6–10 (pp. 320–321). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, p. 563). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1407). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 190). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

May 22, 2017: Verse of the day

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91:3 It seems that the Holy Spirit’s voice is heard in verses 3–13, assuring the Lord Jesus of the tremendous security that was His because of His life of perfect trust. What are the guarantees of security? There are nine:

Deliverance from hidden dangers. The snare of the bird-trapper speaks of the enemy’s evil plot to trap the unwary.

Immunity from fatal disease. In our Lord’s case, there is no reason to believe that He was ever sick at all.

91:4 Shelter and refuge in the Almighty. God’s tender, personal care is likened to that of a mother bird with her young.

Protection in the faithfulness of God. His promises are sure. What He has said, He will do. This is the believer’s shield and buckler.[1]


91:3 snare of the trapper. This metaphor represents any plots against the believer intended to endanger his life. deadly pestilence. The reference here and in v. 6 is specifically to dreaded diseases, plagues, and epidemics (cf. Jer 14:12; Eze 5:12; 14:19).

91:4 under His wings. Pictures the protection of a parent bird (see note on Ps 57:1).[2]


3–4 The emphatic pronoun “he” (“Surely he,” v. 3) amplifies the care of the Lord. He gets wholly involved with the welfare of his people. He protects them from all adversity perpetrated by evil persons—adversity likened to “the fowler’s snare” (cf. 119:110; 124:7; 141:9; 2 Ti 2:26) and “the deadly pestilence.” He protects them tenderly, as with feathers, i.e., “his wings” (v. 4; cf. 17:8; 36:7; NEB, “pinions”; lit., “his ligament”; cf. v. 1; Dt 32:11; Isa 31:5; Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34). Divine protection is likened to that of a bird (“feathers,” “wings”) that is kept from being trapped by the “fowler’s snare.” The “shield” and “rampart” (cf. 35:2) develop the imagery of “refuge” and “fortress” (v. 2). Yahweh’s care is both tender and sufficient because he is faithful, i.e., “true” to his people.[3]


91:3 the snare of the fowler Refers to a bird trap. Because birds must come to the ground to eat, drink, and nest, they are vulnerable to clever hunters.

the plague of destruction The Hebrew text here seems to refer to disease (possibly the bubonic plague) and can be associated with siege warfare situations.

91:4 he will cover The Hebrew word used here, sakhakh, means to “shut off” or “make inaccessible,” for the purpose of protection.

With his feathers May refer to the larger flight feathers of a bird’s wing.

under his wings Yahweh’s care and actions are combined in the picture of a bird caring for its young. See note on 17:8; note on Ruth 2:12.

a shield and a buckler Used for protection for battle.[4]


91:3 he will deliver you. God is present and able to deliver His people.

91:4 with his pinions. Psalms of confidence often have a metaphor for God’s compassion at their core. God is likened to a mother bird who protects her young.

his faithfulness. God’s steadfast love and the certainty that He will keep His promises sustain the psalmist.[5]


[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 690). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 91:3–4). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 698). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 91:3–4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 939). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

May 22 – A Traitor Turns to Christ (Matthew)

The twelve apostles included “Matthew the tax-gatherer” (Matt. 10:3).

✧✧✧

God can use you despite your sinful past.

I remember reading a notice in a local newspaper announcing the opening of a new evangelical church in our community. It gave the date and time of the first services, then added, “Our special guest star will be . . .” and named a popular Christian celebrity. In its attempt to appeal to unbelievers or simply draw a large crowd, the church today commonly uses that kind of approach.

Jesus, however, used a different approach. None of His disciples were famous at all. In fact, rather than drawing a favorable crowd, some of them might have repelled or even incited anger and hatred among His Jewish audience. Matthew was such a man because he was a despised tax-gatherer—one of many Jewish men employed by Rome to collect taxes from his own people. As such he was regarded as a traitor by his own countrymen.

The Roman tax system allowed tax collectors to keep anything they collected in excess of what was owed to Rome. That encouraged bribes, extortion, and other abuses.

To compound the issue, Matthew was among those who had the prerogative of taxing almost anything they wanted to tax—roads, bridges, harbors, axles, donkeys, packages, letters, imports, exports, merchandise, and so on. Such men could accumulate enormous wealth for themselves. You might remember another tax-gatherer named Zaccheus, who is described in Luke 19:2 as a wealthy man. His salvation was evidenced by his offer to repay those he had defrauded fourfold (v. 8).

Some people think God can’t use them because they’re not famous or because of their past sins. But God has used Matthew, Zaccheus, and millions of others like them. Concentrate on your present purity, and let God bless your ministry as He sees fit.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God that he has made you a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Minister in light of that reality!

For Further Study: Read Luke 19:1–10. ✧ Where was Zaccheus when Jesus first spoke to him? ✧ What was the reaction of the crowd when Jesus went to Zaccheus’ house? ✧ What prompted Jesus to say that salvation had come to Zaccheus?[1]


Matthew

Because he wrote the first gospel, Matthew is one of the best known apostles. But the New Testament reveals very few details of his life or ministry.

Before his conversion and call to discipleship, Matthew collected taxes for Rome (Matt. 9:9). It was not an occupation to be proud of, and one would think he would have wanted to dissociate himself from the stigma as much as possible. Yet when he wrote the gospel some thirty years later, he still referred to himself as the tax-gatherer.

As discussed previously in more detail (see chap. 6), tax-gatherers were considered traitors, the most hated members of Jewish society. They were often more despised than the occupying rulers and soldiers, because they betrayed and financially oppressed their own people. They were legal extortioners who extracted as much money as they could from both citizen and foreigner with the full authority and protection of Rome.

They were so despicable and vile that the Jewish Talmud said, “It is righteous to lie and deceive a tax collector.” Tax collectors were not permitted to testify in Jewish courts, because they were notorious liars and accepted bribes as a normal part of life. They were cut off from the rest of Jewish life and were forbidden to worship in the Temple or even in a synagogue. In Jesus’ parable, the tax collector who came to the Temple to pray stood “some distance away” (Luke 18:13) not only because he felt unworthy but because he was not allowed to enter.

Matthew was hardly proud of what he had been, but he seems to have cherished the description as a reminder of his own great unworthiness and of Christ’s great grace He saw himself as the vilest sinner, saved only by the incomparable mercy of his Lord.

Even from the little information given about him, it is evident Matthew was a man of faith. When he got up from his tax table and began to follow Jesus, he burned his bridges behind him. Tax collecting was a lucrative occupation, and many opportunists were doubtlessly eager to take Matthew’s place. And once he forsook his privileged position, the Roman officials would not have granted it to him again. The disciples who were fishermen could always return to fishing, as many of them did after the crucifixion; but there could be no returning to tax collecting for Matthew.

In the eyes of the scribes and Pharisees, Matthew’s leaving his tax office to follow Jesus did little to elevate his standing. Casting his lot with Jesus did not increase Matthew’s popularity, but it greatly increased his danger. There is little doubt that Matthew faced something of the true cost of discipleship before any of the other apostles.

Matthew was not only faithful but humble. In his own gospel (and even in the other three) he is faceless and absolutely voiceless during his time of training under Jesus. He asks no questions and makes no comments. He appears directly in no narrative. Only from Mark (2:15) and Luke (5:29) do we learn that the banquet Jesus ate with “tax-gatherers and sinners” was in Matthew’s house. In his own account, the fact that he was responsible for it is only implied (Matt. 9:10). He was eager and overjoyed for his friends and former associates to meet Jesus, but he calls no attention to his own role in the banquet.

It may be that his humility was born out of his overwhelming sense of sinfulness. He saw God’s grace as so superabundant that he felt unworthy to say a word. He was the silent disciple, until the Holy Spirit led him to pick up his pen and write the opening book of the New Testament-twenty-eight powerful chapters on the majesty, might, and glory of the King of kings.

The fact that Matthew is also referred to as Levi indicates his Jewish heritage. We have no idea what his biblical training may have been, but Matthew quotes the Old Testament more often than the other three gospel writers combined-and quotes from all three parts of it (the law, the prophets, and the writings, or Hagiographa). Since it is highly unlikely he studied Scripture while he was a tax collector, he gained his biblical knowledge either in his youth or after he became an apostle.

Matthew had a loving heart for the lost. As soon as he was saved his first concern was to tell others of that great news and invite them to share in it. He was ashamed of his own previous life of sin; but he was not ashamed to be seen eating with his former associates who were despised by society and living under God’s judgment, because they needed the Savior just as he had.

He sensed personal sinfulness as perhaps none of his fellow disciples did, because he had been greedily and unashamedly involved in extortion, deception, graft, and probably blasphemy and every form of immorality. But now, like the woman taken in adultery, because he was forgiven much, he loved much (see Luke 7:42–43, 47). The genuineness of his love for the Lord is proved in his concern for the salvation of his friends.

God took that outcast sinner and transformed him into a man of great faith, humility, and compassion. He turned him from a man who extorted to one who gave, from one who destroyed lives to one who brought the way of eternal life.[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 155). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 10:3). Chicago: Moody Press.

MAY 22 – HOPE IN ETHICS: UTTERLY UNREALISTIC AND NAIVE

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

MATTHEW 25:34

The hope being voiced by many that the nations will “accept the ethics of Jesus, disarm and live like brothers,” is utterly unrealistic and naive.

In the first place, the teachings of Jesus were never intended for the nations of the world. Our Lord sent His followers into all the world to make and baptize disciples. These disciples were to be taught to observe the commandments of Christ.

They would thus become a minority group, a peculiar people, in the world but not of it, sometimes tolerated but more often despised and persecuted. And history demonstrates that this is exactly what happened wherever groups of people took the gospel seriously.

To expect of once-born nations conduct possible only to the regenerated, purified, Spirit-led followers of Christ is to confuse the truth of Christianity and hope for the impossible. In the Scriptures, the nations of the earth are symbolized by the lion, the bear and the leopard.

Christians, in sharp contrast, are likened to peaceful sheep in the midst of wolves, who manage to stay alive only by keeping close to the Shepherd. If the sheep will not act like the bear why should we expect the bear to act like the sheep?

It might be well for us Christians to listen less to the news commentators and more to the voice of the Spirit![1]


Jesus here reveals unequivocally that the Son of Man who sits on the glorious throne (v. 31) is also the Son of God, the divine King. After his subjects are separated, the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those will be the believers who have survived the holocaust of the Tribulation, and they will be ushered alive into the millennial kingdom, which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world.

Doubtlessly anticipating the salvation-by-works interpretations that would be made of verses 35–45, the Lord made clear that believers will not inherit the kingdom based on good deeds they will have or will not have performed on earth. Their inheritance was determined countless ages ago, even from the foundation of the world. Those who enter the kingdom will not do so on the basis of the service they have performed for Christ but on the basis of their being blessed by the Father because of their trust in His Son. They will in no way earn a place in the kingdom. A child does not earn an inheritance but receives it on the basis of his being in the family. In exactly the same way, a believer does not earn his way into the kingdom of God but receives it as his rightful inheritance as a child of God and a fellow heir with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:16–17).

Prepared for you accentuates the selectivity of salvation. From before the time the world was created, God sovereignly chose those who will belong to Him. And “whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). The source of salvation is the Father’s blessing, the reception of salvation is through faith, and the selectivity of salvation is in the advance preparation of the Father made in ages past. Stressing the same truth, Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3–5).[2]


  1. Then the king shall say to those at his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the founding of the world.… Since the Son of man is clothed with “all authority” (11:27; 28:18; cf. Eph. 1:22), he is called “the King” (cf. John 18:36; Rev. 19:16). To be at the King’s right means to hear from his lips, “Come.” They are welcomed to close, loving, and abiding fellowship with their Savior, the Judge and King. No greater blessing can be imagined (Ps. 17:15; 73:23–25). They are those who have been and, as the tense of the original implies, are abidingly the blessed of—or: those blessed by—the Father, who bestowed upon them salvation, that is, who delivered them from the greatest evil, sin and all its consequences, and placed them in possession of the greatest good, right standing before him and all it implies.

They hear the joyful words, “inherit the kingdom.” For “kingdom” see on 4:23, 13:43. Since this is the judgment day, the kingdom in its final phase is meant here. These blessed ones, who were already heirs by right now also become heirs in fact, and this in the full sense of the term. All the promises of salvation full and free are now about to be fulfilled in them everlastingly and ever progressively; all this in and through Christ (Rom. 8:17). For the implications of the term “inherit” see on 5:5.

It is surely wonderful and comforting to observe that before the good deeds of these “sheep” are mentioned (verses 35, 36) emphasis is first of all placed on the fact that the basis of their salvation, hence also of these good deeds, is their having been chosen from eternity: the kingdom had been prepared for them, and this not just recently, but “from the founding (or: foundation) of the world.” Whether this phrase (from, etc.) is used or before, etc. (Eph. 1:4), the result is the same: “from eternity.” The good pleasure of God Triune, his sovereign grace, is the foundation of their salvation. Their good works are the fruit, not the root, of grace. This must be borne in mind throughout the study of verses 35, 36. To God alone be the glory![3]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 25:34). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 887–888). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

MAY 22 – GOD IS SOVEREIGN

We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 5:20

Oh, how I wish that I could adequately set forth the glory of the One who is worthy to be the object of our worship!

I do believe that if our new converts—the babes in Christ—could be made to see His thousand attributes and even partially comprehend His being, they would become faint with a yearning desire to worship and honor and acknowledge Him, now and forever!

I know that many discouraged Christians do not truly believe in God’s sovereignty. In that case, we are not filling our role as the humble and trusting followers of God and His Christ.

And yet, that is why Christ came into our world. The old theologians called it “theanthropism”—the union of the divine and human natures in Christ. This is a great mystery, and I stand in awe before it!

The theanthropy is the mystery of God and man united in one Person—not two persons but two natures. So, the nature of God and the nature of man are united in this One who is our Lord Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, You are the only hope for this world. You provided the perfect plan for our redemption. Though Your supernatural being may be beyond our human comprehension, Your grace and mercy and love are worthy of all our praise.[1]


That Christ Is the True God

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (5:20–21)

These closing verses finally bring the epistle full circle. John began with the coming of the Word of Life (1:1–4); now he closes with the certainty that the Son of God has come. The present tense of the verb hēkō (come) indicates that Jesus has come and is still present. The Christian faith is not theoretical or abstract; it is rooted in the practical truth that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ.

Because no one can know “who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Luke 10:22), Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true. But beyond mere knowledge, Christians have a personal union with Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Peter 5:14). The Bible teaches that the only way to know the true and living God is through Jesus Christ. No one can be saved who does not believe in Christ, for there is no salvation apart from Him (cf. 2:1–2; 4:10, 14; 5:1; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

John’s threefold use of the word alēthinos (true) in this verse stresses the importance of understanding the truth in a world filled with Satan’s lies. The last use of the term points to the most significant truth of all—that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. The deity of Jesus Christ is an essential element of the Christian faith, and no one who rejects it can be saved. (For a detailed biblical defense of Christ’s deity, see John 1–11, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 2006], chapter 1).

John’s concluding warning, Little children, guard yourselves from idols, reflects the crucial significance of worshiping the true God exclusively. The danger of idolatry was especially serious in Ephesus (where John likely wrote this epistle), center of the worship of the goddess Artemis (Diana). A few decades earlier, the ministry of the apostle Paul had sparked a riot by her zealous worshipers (Acts 19:23–41). But the danger was not confined to Ephesus, as Paul’s warning to the Corinthians, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21), indicates. Though few in our contemporary culture worship physical idols, idolatry is widespread nonetheless. Anything that people elevate above God is an idol of the heart. Every “lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5) must be smashed, and only Christ exalted.

In a dark world filled with uncertainty, Christians have the glorious certainty based on divine revelation—“the prophetic word made more sure … a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). While the world stumbles blindly in the darkness (Jer. 13:16), God’s Word is for saints “a lamp to [their] feet and a light to [their] path” (Ps. 119:105), because “the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light” (Prov. 6:23).[2]


The Third Affirmation (v. 20)

This leads to the third of John’s affirmations, which is, as Stott notes, “the most fundamental of the three.” This strikes at the very root of the heretical Gnostic theology, for it is the affirmation that the Son of God, even Jesus, has come into this world to give us knowledge of both God and salvation. In other words, it is the assurance that he and nothing else is at the heart of Christianity; he and only he provides what all men desperately need. The need is not for philosophical enlightenment, as valuable as that may be in some areas. The need is, first, to know God, and second, for a Savior.

Knowledge of God

The first gift Jesus has brought us is the capacity of knowing God. This suggests not only that Jesus is God and that we see God in him, as he said to Philip (John 14:9), but also that we are incapable of spiritual sight until he gives it to us. Indeed, we are like the blind man of John 9 who could not see Christ and did not even seek him until Jesus first of all sought him out and healed him. After that we grow in knowledge, as the blind man grew (cf. John 9:11, 17, 33, 36, 38).

Moreover, the knowledge of God that Christ gives is knowledge, not just of any God, but of the true or genuine God. The word translated “true” in this verse is the word alēthinos, which is a popular one with John. In the Gospel he uses it of true or genuine worshipers (4:23), the true or genuine bread (6:32), and the true vine (15:1). In this first letter he has already used it of the true light that is dispersing the darkness (2:8). “True” refers to that which is authentic as opposed to that which is false, the ultimate reality as opposed to that which is merely its shadow. In John’s day the Gnostic teachers had made much of their supposed knowledge of God, but it is John’s contention that apart from the work of the Christ of history, who reveals God, such knowledge is not knowledge at all. At least it is not knowledge of the real God. Only through the real Son of God is the real God known.

Salvation

The second gift of Jesus is salvation, which John suggests by one of his favorite terms: “eternal life.” Elsewhere he has indicated that the basis on which we enjoy such life is the atoning death of Jesus Christ through which God’s just wrath against sin is turned away and a new relationship is established between God and the sinner. He has also indicated that the channel through which this life is received is faith, that is, believing in what God has said concerning the work of his Son and committing oneself to him as Savior. Here, however, John dwells once more on the idea of “eternal life,” indicating that the knowledge of God and union with him is life, in the sense of a complete salvation.

When John writes, “He is the true God and eternal life,” it is possible that the word “He” refers to an antecedent immediately preceding, namely, Jesus Christ. If this is so, then this is an exceptionally clear statement of the deity of Christ. Indeed, many of the church fathers took the text in this manner. On the other hand, we must also say in all honesty that “He” can also refer to “him who is true,” in which case all three uses of the word “true” refer to the same person, even the Father. This seems preferable. In view of the scope of biblical theology, there is little difference, however, for Jesus is said to be the “true” one elsewhere, and we are also said to abide in him as we are said to abide in the Father.

Conclusion

The proper contrast to the true or genuine God is that which is a false god or idol. Consequently, John concludes with the otherwise unexpected warning, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” In the context of this book we are probably not to think of the various carved idols of antiquity, though the admonition must include these as well. Rather, we are to think of the false god of the schismatics, who, though he was presented under the name of the Christian God, was not the true God, just as his apostles were not true teachers.

The application of this truth to today is in the fact that the mere names of Jesus Christ or God or Christianity do not authenticate the message or religion of the one proclaiming them. On the contrary, the profession must be tested by the basic doctrines of apostolic Christianity. What does the one speaking really believe about Jesus? Is he God incarnate or just a teacher? Did he die a real, atoning, vicarious death for sinners? Or is his death merely exemplary? Did he rise from the dead? Is the teaching of Jesus true, complete, and authoritative? Or is his teaching partial, thereby needing the teaching of others to bring us to a higher and indeed needed form of “Christianity”? According to John’s book, and indeed to the entire Word of God, anything that detracts from Christ is idolatrous, for he is the true God, the true revelation of the Father, the true atonement for sin, the true bread, the true vine. He is the beginning and end of all true religion. Consequently, to know him is to know the true God and eternal life.

Once we know him, what then? Then we must keep ourselves from idols. In verse 18 John has written that the Son of God will keep the Christian, but this does not relieve the Christian from his own responsibility to persevere in God’s service. Rather than drifting, he must draw near to God and grow in the knowledge of him. For only then will he be truly kept from idols. An anonymous Keswick hymn puts it like this:

Draw and win and fill completely,

’Till the cup o’erflow the brim;

What have we to do with idols

Who have companied with Him?[3]


Son of God

  1. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

For the last time, John writes “we know” (3:2, 14; 5:18, 19, 20). This time, however, he reminds us of the coming of the Son of God and our understanding of Jesus. Even though we see corruption in every sphere and sector of the world, we know that Jesus Christ has come to give us insight into his true nature. In a world of deceit and falsehood, God has revealed himself in the Son of God as the one who is true. God has not forsaken us to the powers of darkness, but has endowed us with the ability to discern truth from error.

God sent his Son “so that we may know him who is true.” The verb to know in this clause denotes knowledge we acquire by close association. In the fellowship we have with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (1:3), we come to know his truth. We learn to know what belongs to God and what comes from Satan. God is true. “By true God [John] does not mean one who tells the truth, but him who is really God.” The adjective true is descriptive, for it reveals God’s nature (see John 17:3; Rev. 3:7).

John says that in addition to learning to know God, “we are in him who is true.” That is, we have intimate fellowship with him through his Son Jesus Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We are in the Father and the Son. In his high-priestly prayer Jesus prayed, “Just as you are in me and I am in you[,] may they also be in us” (John 17:21).

And last, having woven the golden thread of Jesus’ divinity and sonship through the cloth of his epistle, John completes this verse with the following words: “Even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” The Gnostic teachers denied that Jesus was the Christ, Son of God. Therefore, in this last verse John summarizes the basic teaching of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, is truly divine, and is eternal life.

The translators of the New International Version have adopted the reading “He is the true God” instead of “This is the true God.” Some scholars say that the pronoun he refers to the nearest noun, Christ. Others vigorously dispute this view and claim that the pronoun refers to God the Father. They point to the wording in John 17:3, “the only true God,” and see the parallel in 5:20. They have to admit, however, that their reading of verse 20 is redundant: “And we are in [God] who is true … he is the true God.”

Proponents of the first view argue, quite rightly, that John ascribes eternal life to Jesus (1:2; also see John 11:25; 14:6). They also show that the entire epistle expounds the identity of Jesus, the Son of God. Therefore, a conclusive statement on the divinity of Jesus at the end of the letter is most effective. I believe that the supporters of this view, namely, that the pronoun he or this is a reference to Jesus and not to God, have the stronger argument.[4]


20 John’s third statement of what believers “know” summarizes the two major themes of the epistle: the identity of Jesus and the difference between true believers and the world/Antichrists. Jesus is the Christ, the Son, and the “true God” in contrast to the false “idols” (v. 21) promoted by the Antichrists. Jesus “has come” for the purpose of giving those who accept him a true understanding of God. The perfect tense indicates that this understanding was not only for those who witnessed the human Jesus but also extends to those who now accept authentic testimony about him. The same point is made at John 1:18, where it is stressed that no human being, not even Moses, has ever seen God, so that only Christ, “who is at the Father’s side,” can reveal God to the world. Of course the “understanding” (dianoia, GK 1379) God gives is synonymous with John’s witness about Jesus, so that knowing God means accepting John’s Christology. As a consequence, anyone who denies Jesus has a distorted view of God.

In what sense has the Son “given us understanding”? If v. 20 parallels verses such as John 14:26 and 16:13, one might conclude that John is thinking of a supernatural revelation of religious truth through the work of the Spirit. However, the focus of 1 John 5:18–20 is not on a mystical ascent to knowledge of God but rather on the knowledge of God that came through the descent of Christ to earth. Most likely, then, “the moment of the giving of the dianoia (understanding) or revelatory insight is surely the moment when the author’s readers became Christians” (Brown, 639). In conjunction with John’s teaching on the “anointing” at 2:27, 5:20 suggests that those who accept John’s witness already have a complete and full knowledge of God, which the world and the Antichrists cannot enjoy.[5]


5:20 The third great truth is that of the Incarnation. We know that the Son of God has come. This is the theme with which John opened his Epistle and with which he is now about to close it. The coming of the Lord Jesus revealed to us Him who is true, that is, the true God. God the Father can only be known through the Lord Jesus Christ. “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Then John adds: and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. Again the emphasis is that it is only as we are in Jesus Christ that we can be in God. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This is the true God and eternal life. In other words, John is teaching what the Gnostics denied, namely, that Jesus Christ is God, and that eternal life is found only in Him.[6]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 209–210). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 147–149). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 366–368). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[5] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 504–505). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2325–2326). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.