FORTY DAYS

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern SwitzerlandIn Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.

The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.

Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.

It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

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CANDLEMAS

Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel! [Luke 2:29-32 (NLT)]

You may have celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (or Purification of Mary) at church yesterday. Also known as Candlemas, this day commemorates an incident found in Luke 2 when, forty days after the birth of Jesus, three important events occurred: the ceremonial purification of Mary, Joseph and Mary’s dedication of their firstborn son to God, and Jesus’ first entrance into the Temple. It was then that Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as the Messiah for whom they’d patiently waited. The association of candles with this event in Jesus’ life is understandable; upon seeing Jesus, Simeon declared him to be the light that would reveal God to the nations. Traditionally, a candle-lit procession preceded the Mass and all of the candles that would be used in the church that year were blessed. Candlemas night, people would place lit candles in their windows.

Although seven major festivals were ordained by God in the Old Testament, none were ordained in the New and nothing in Scripture requires the observance of any of our traditional Christian holy days. Although the liturgical year is not God-ordained, it does follow major events in the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels. Christ’s resurrection was observed in the second century and His birth may have been celebrated as early as AD 336. As for Candlemas, a sermon about the importance of this date goes back to AD 312 and the earliest rites to AD 381! Initially, a small celebration, Candlemas became one of the twelve major feast days throughout Europe after prayer and fasting stopped a plague in Constantinople in AD 541.

Because God never ordained the celebration of any of the events in Jesus’ life, some Christians, in strict obedience to the command to neither add nor subtract from God’s Word, do not observe any of the usual Christian holy days such as Christmas or Easter. Others object to their celebration because so many of them have pagan roots or are associated with superstition. For example, coming half-way between the winter solstice and spring equinox, Candlemas coincided with the Gaelic festival of Imbolc and people believed that the weather this day predicted the climate for the rest of the winter (an early Groundhog Day).

Most evangelical Protestants do not observe Candlemas while most Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox churches do. Should Christians observe Candlemas, days like Christmas or Easter, or seasons like Advent, Epiphany or Lent? As long as we don’t add superstitions or non-Scripture based significance to them, there seems no harm in remembering the day Jesus was born, the Magi’s visit, His forty days in the wilderness, the resurrection or the day the Jesus visited the Temple and was recognized as the light of the world. May this day serve as a reminder of the darkness that existed on earth until Jesus brought His light into it. Let His light shine within each one of us!

Our bright shining candles are a sign of divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. [Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (AD 638)]

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. [John 12:46 (NLT)]

Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. [Philippians 2:14b (NLT)]

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KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:5-7 (NLT)]

white ibis - juvenileAfter his wife complained about the roaches that had invaded their garden and begged him to destroy their underground nest, a Brazilian man poured gasoline into the hole he believed to be the source of the infestation and then tossed in lit matches! Within seconds, a massive explosion destroyed his yard while his home security camera captured the entire thing. “I had no idea that this could happen!” he said. Although the man did destroy the roaches, he destroyed his yard in the process! I’m not sure where he got his bright idea but I would guess that his Smartphone was involved. A quick search with mine told me that pouring gasoline on a roach colony is an effective way to eliminate the pests. Assuming a certain amount of common sense among its readers, however, the site had no warning about the explosive nature of gasoline vapors!

According to Apple, we pull out our smartphones some 80 times a day; I suspect many of those times we’re consulting Google. While our phones give us easy access to an extraordinary amount of information, they don’t make us any smarter; they just make us think we’re smarter than we really are. Long before the internet, Solomon warned us about being impressed with our own wisdom. Nowadays, knowledge is abundant but true wisdom is scarce!

Proverbs is a treasure trove of Biblical wisdom. Written mostly by Solomon, the book stresses the importance of godly living so that people will ”live disciplined and successful lives” and do “what is right, just, and fair.”[1:3] At least six different Hebrew words are translated as wisdom in Proverbs and the first one of those is chokmah [1:2]. Used 41 times in Proverbs, this Hebrew word also referred to the technical skills and abilities used in doing things. God endowed the weavers, goldsmiths, architects, and other artisans who fashioned items for the Tabernacle with chokmah. Rather than theoretical knowledge, this wisdom is a practical application of that knowledge; it is making the right choices at the right time and in the right way.

The five other Hebrew words used in Proverbs are binah (understanding, comprehension) leb (heart), ormah (craftiness, prudence, shrewdness), sakal (prudence, common sense) and sekel (insight). None of those words have anything to do with the knowledge of facts—they are about understanding, evaluating, and discerning how to use knowledge. Wisdom is skill, expertise and competence in understanding how life really works and how to achieve positive results. It is a keen insight into life and the ways of dealing with life’s problems. It’s been said that “Knowledge knows that a tomato is a fruit but wisdom doesn’t put it in a fruit salad.” It could also be said that knowledge knows that both gasoline and fire will kill roaches but wisdom doesn’t mix the two! Let us be wise in our use of the vast array of knowledge that lies at our fingertips!

The decisions we make are either wise or foolish and Proverbs makes it clear that the beginning of wisdom lies in fear of the Lord. While it’s easy to get information on line, true wisdom comes from God! Granted, Scripture doesn’t specifically warn us about dropping matches into a gasoline-filled hole, but Proverbs 14:16 tells us, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” That the Brazilian man also posted his folly on line aptly illustrates two other proverbs: “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness,” [13:16] and “The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge, but fools broadcast their foolishness.”[12:23]

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. [Charles Spurgeon]

Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. [Proverbs 3:13-15 (NLT)]

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THE PLEDGE

A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. [Numbers 30:2 (NLT)]

Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to me. The people will declare, “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.” [Isaiah 45:23b-24 (NLT)]

green heronEvery Tuesday, we begin our afternoon Bible study with prayer and by saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Bible. The words we use are attributed to Homer Grice, a Southern Baptist minister, who wrote them for Baptist Vacation Bible Schools in 1925. He combined two verses from Psalm 119 into this simple vow and versions of it continue to be used by Vacation Bible and Sunday Schools, Christian homeschoolers, and even adult Bible studies. Because it reminded me of elementary school and standing by my desk with my hand across my heart, starting class with this pledge seemed rather childish at first. Once I carefully considered the words, however, I realized that saying this pledge always reminds me that the Bible is at the center of a Christian’s devotion to Jesus Christ. It was in Him that the Word became flesh and, through Scripture, God continues to speak to us today.

A pledge is a formalized promise but pledging allegiance to the Bible means more than simply promising to read it. The promise of allegiance indicates our loyalty and obedience to God’s holy word. The Bible is unlike every other book ever written—ones written to entertain, inform, explain, improve, or motivate us. Its author is God and its words are there to transform us! The Bible is more than words; it is the Word—the living breath of God. This simple pledge of allegiance reflects the importance of Scripture and its vital role in the life of a believer.

The pledge’s words mean that we honor and respect the Bible; we will let its words govern our thoughts, words, and actions. We vow that God’s words will be a lamp to light our way in this dark and difficult world so that we don’t get lost or step off His path. We promise to hide the Bible’s words in our hearts to keep us from sin (just as they did when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness). This pledge reminds us that studying God’s Word is a matter of the heart with these words: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. May it be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and may I hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.”

I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. … Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. …Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. [Psalm 119:11,34,105 (NLT)]

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CHECK YOUR SOURCE

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

columbineBroken people were drawn to Jesus but Mary Magdalene was not as broken as many people think. Magdalene was not her last name; it simply means “from Magdala” and the Gospels’ writers added it to distinguish her from the many others Marys: Jesus’ mother, Martha’s sister, the wife of Clopas, and the mother of James and Joseph.

When we first meet Mary Magdalene in Luke 8, her name is linked both with women “who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases” and those who “were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and the disciples.” Luke then elaborates that Jesus cast seven demons from her. Nowhere does he (or any other gospel writer) say anything about Mary’s immorality. In fact, since she was one of the women helping to financially support Jesus’s ministry, it appears that she was an upstanding, respectable and wealthy woman.

Whether it was because Luke’s first reference to Mary Magdalene follows the story of the nameless sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet or that Mary had been cured of seven demons but the idea developed through the centuries that she was immoral and probably a prostitute. Mental illness in 1st century Palestine was attributed to evil spirits and those demons probably were a mental illness of some kind. While we don’t know if her disorder was epilepsy, depression, paranoia, psychosis, or something else, Scripture gives us no reason to question her morals. We must never make the error of confusing mental illness with immorality.

It didn’t help Mary’s reputation when, in 1324, the Roman Catholic Church established a home for “the rescue and maintenance of fallen women” and called it the “Magdalen House.” Her reputation suffered further harm when, in 1591, Pope Gregory I gave a sermon associating her seven demons with the seven vices and then fused her with both the sinful woman and Mary of Bethany (both of whom washed Jesus’s feet). When monks and priests read Gregory’s sermons rather than Scripture, the erroneous story of Mary continued to be told.

It was not until 1969 that the Roman Catholic Church declared that Mary Magdalene was not the fallen woman who washed Jesus’ feet. Unfortunately, people seem to love a juicy story and Mary’s undeserved reputation still lingers. She continues to be portrayed as a repentant prostitute, the nameless woman caught in adultery, or even as Jesus’ lover or wife. There is absolutely no Scriptural basis for any of those assumptions.

Mary Magdalene appears in all four Gospels and is mentioned thirteen times. We are given no reason to think that she was anything other than a once ill woman who helped financially support Jesus and the disciples. In fact, when she’s mentioned with other women, her name usually comes first, implying that she was their respected leader. It is only when she is standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ family (His mother and aunt) that her name follows those of others. What we do know from Scripture is that, when others fled, Mary Magdalene was there. She was present at the Crucifixion, sat across from the tomb with the mother of James and Joseph as Christ’s body was laid in the sepulcher, was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection, and was the first to preach the news of His resurrection.

While I wanted to restore a good woman’s reputation with this devotion, its main purpose is to caution us as to where we get our Biblical knowledge. While it’s tempting (and often easier) to get it second-hand—from sermons, devotions, commentaries, conversations, books, websites, movies and other media—those never should be our sole source of information. God’s word is our spiritual nourishment and, just as a vitamin pill is no substitute for eating real food, there is no substitute for reading Scripture first-hand. After all, to discern between opinion, fact, and fiction, we must know the truth and the gospel truth is found only in the Gospel!

Just because it’s in print doesn’t mean it’s the Gospel. [Michael Jackson]

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. [2 Timothy 2:15-16 (NLT)]

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CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR LONG

But the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! [Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)]

christmas cactusSeveral years ago, I was given a Christmas cactus in early December. It had just started to blossom and, by Christmas, it was in full bloom and beautiful. A Christmas cactus typically goes dormant by Easter but mine bloomed until mid-May. The next year, it blossomed again at Christmas but the flowers weren’t as spectacular; it was dormant by February and didn’t survive the summer. Regretfully, I’m a neglectful gardener and my record with plants is dismal. The cactus actually lasted longer than any of my holiday poinsettias.

The spirit of Christmas shouldn’t end when we take down the tree, put away the crèche, the flowers drop from the Christmas cactus, or the poinsettia gets tossed! We can’t leave the baby Jesus in the manger and forget that He grew, taught, led, suffered, died, rose, ascended into heaven, and will come again! We need to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts well beyond the time the toys break, the holiday cookies are eaten, the Christmas cactus goes dormant and the poinsettia dies. The spirit of Christmas—its joy and anticipation—the good news of the gospel message—shouldn’t be dependent upon the calendar. It should flower all year long unless, of course, we become neglectful and forget to fertilize and water it with God’s word and prayer. A pastor friend always keeps a small nativity scene in her office to remind her (and her visitors) that the manger is as important a symbol to Christianity as is the cross. If we have Jesus in our hearts, we can be Christmas people no matter what season it is. May the spirit of hope, love, joy and peace, so present during Christmastime, continue in your hearts all year long!

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. [Calvin Coolidge]

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

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