The Right Man for the Task

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. Genesis 6:9-22 ESV

Despite the seemingly detailed genealogy found in chapter five, it is impossible to know exactly how much time had elapsed before God made the determination to destroy mankind. At least six generations had transpired, leaving a legacy of moral corruption and spiritual degradation. God’s assessment of mankind’s condition was not flattering or hopeful.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5 ESV

The problem was pervasive and it permeated to the very core of man’s existence. Far more than just a behavioral problem, the wickedness of humanity emanated from the heart. This was not a case of good people occasionally doing bad things. It was a pandemic of wickedness that flowed directly from the rebellious hearts of those whom God had created. And the prophet Jeremiah provides God’s further assessment of the fallen state of the human heart.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

As God surveyed the state of affairs on earth, He discovered one man whose life found favor in His eyes. But this revelation did not come as a shock to God. He was not surprised or relieved by Noah’s seemingly inexplicable existence. In the midst of all decadence, immorality, and unrestrained evil, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). And God had sovereignly ordained Noah’s existence. From before the foundation of the world, God had a plan in place that included Noah’s birth, his faithful life, and his role as the future “savior” of mankind. Even Lamech, Noah’s father, had somehow understood that his infant son was destined to be some kind of deliverer who would rescue humanity from the curse. At his son’s birth, Lamech offered up a prayer of hopeful anticipation.

“May he bring us relief from our work and the painful labor of farming this ground that the Lord has cursed.” – Genesis 5:29 NLT

Noah was an anomaly. He was an alien and stranger who stood out from the rest of humanity. In reality, he was the sole image-bearer of God. In fact, Moses compared Noah to another godly man when he declared that “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). Noah was cut from the same cloth as Enoch (Genesis 5:22). In Enoch’s case, he had lived his life in faithful obedience to God and, as a reward for a life well-lived, God graciously transported him from earth to heaven.

Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him. – Genesis 5:23-24 NLT

But God had other plans for Noah. This righteous and blameless man had a divine assignment to fulfill. Because of His justice and holiness, God was obligated to punish wickedness. But because of His infinite love and mercy, God had a plan in place that would allow Him to redeem and rescue a remnant of humanity.

In some sense, Noah was an aberration, a departure from the norm. But in reality, he was a reflection of what God had always intended for mankind. Despite Moses’ description of him as “blameless,” Noah was not a sinless or perfect man. He too suffered from the effects of the fall. Like every other human being, Noah had inherited a sinful nature from Adam.

just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 ESV

Noah’s blamelessness refers to his wholeness. The Hebrew word is תָּמִים (tāmîm) and it means “complete, whole, entire, sound.” It has to do with integrity. Noah was not duplicitous or deceitful. He refused to live a compartmentalized life, attempting to hide things from God or displaying a false outer piety that camouflaged an impure heart.

Yes, because Noah was a descendant of Adam, he was a sinner just like all his peers. But despite his sinful disposition, Noah was able to maintain a vibrant relationship with God. He lived His life in keeping with the will of God, refusing to follow the example of his friends and neighbors. While “everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT), Noah’s mind and heart were fixed on God. According to Moses, Noah was “the only blameless person living on earth at the time” (Genesis 6:9 NLT). And it will become increasingly clear just how willing Noah was to obey God – at any cost.

The situation was dire. The moral state of mankind had reached an all-time low. And their sinfulness had infected the entire creative order.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. – Genesis 6:11-12 ESV

God assessed His creation as having been ruined by mankind’s sinfulness. The Hebrew word, שָׁחַת (šāḥaṯ), can mean “spoiled, ruined, corrupted, or rotted.” The pervasive presence of wickedness, particularly in the form of “violence,” had permanently damaged what God had made. Mankind had un-made God’s beautiful creation. This Hebrew word is the same one used by the prophet Jeremiah when referring to a loincloth that God had commanded him to bury then later retrieve. He writes:

Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled (šāḥaṯ); it was good for nothing. – Jeremiah 13:7 ESV

That is exactly how God viewed the earth. It had been ruined or spoiled by the damaging effects of sin. Humanity had been given the divine mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). But rather than steward and care for God’s creation, mankind had contaminated and condemned it. To the point that it was “good for nothing.”

So, God divulged His plan to Noah.

“I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6:13 ESV

But God followed up this less-than-happy news with the rest of His plan. He let Noah in on the role he would play in the redemption of creation. And this information must have left Noah’s head spinning. He was given very detailed instructions by God for the construction of an ark or large boat. And Noah is informed that first-of-its-kind vessel will become the key to God’s redemption of creation. And as if that wasn’t enough pressure for Noah to bear, God sealed the entire agreement with a legal contract.

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you.” – Genesis 6:18-19 ESV

But this covenant was not the terms of an agreement between God and Noah. God was not obligating Noah to uphold his end of the contract. This was a divine statement of promise, whereby God was guaranteeing to deliver Noah, his family, and all flesh from judgment. They would be graciously and miraculously spared.

All Noah had to do was believe and obey. His part was to build the ark and then to fill it with “two of every sort.” Not an easy task to be sure. But Noah’s construction of the ark was an act of faith, not a form of works. He didn’t earn his salvation. He received it as a gift from God. And the author of Hebrews makes this point quite clear.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 NLT

And Moses confirms that Noah obeyed God.

So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. – Genesis 6:22 NLT

God had promised salvation, and Noah believed Him. And Noah proved his belief through faithful adherence to God’s command. Despite the formidable nature of the assignment and the countless questions that must have filled his head, Noah did exactly what he was told to do. And in doing so, he proved himself to be the right man for the task. The man of God’s own choosing.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Holiness is Not Contagious

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:10-19 ESV

Back on the 24th day of the sixth month, after a 16-year delay, the people of Judah had finally decided to obey God and commence construction on the destroyed temple of God. Nearly a month later, God encouraged them to complete the project by giving them the promise of His abiding presence (Haggai 2:1-5). But after two months of labor on the project, the people began to question the veracity of God’s word and the profitability of their efforts. Despite all their hard work, their crop production had not increased. They had finally obeyed God and begun construction on the temple, and yet, the drought continued, and the fruit of their harvests remained slim. Where were God’s blessings? Why had He not ended the drought and rewarded them for their faithful service?

They fully expected their obedience to produce some form of compensation from God. They were like disgruntled employees demanding a raise for all their hard work. So, God had Haggai deliver a much-needed lesson on moral purity and holiness. And He did so by posing a series of simple scenarios that concerned matters of holiness and defilement. God laid out these credible case studies and asked that the priests provide a ruling.

The first involved meat that had been set apart for sacrifice. According to the Mosaic Law, any meat that remained after the sacrifice was complete belonged to the priests.

“Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the LORD’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Anyone or anything that touches the sacrificial meat will become holy. If any of the sacrificial blood spatters on a person’s clothing, the soiled garment must be washed in a sacred place.” – Leviticus 6:25-27 NLT

“Any male from a priest’s family may eat from this offering; it is most holy.” – Leviticus 6:29 NLT

Based on this commandment, God asks the priests, “If one of you is carrying some meat from a holy sacrifice in his robes and his robe happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or olive oil, or any other kind of food, will it also become holy?” (Habbai 2:12 NLT). And their answer is an emphatic, “No!”

Their answer was based on their understanding that the meat, the priest, and his garments had all been set apart or made holy by God because they were each used in the sacrificial system. The animal that was sacrificed had to be without blemish before it could be offered to God. The priest had to be ritually purified before he could offer the meat as an offering to God. And he wore garments that had been specifically set apart for use in the sacrificial system. The meat, the priest, and his garments were considered holy because they had all been set apart for one purpose: The honoring of God through sacrifice.

But their holiness was not transferable. Their distinction as being “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30) was reserved for them alone. Not just any animal could be sacrificed. Not just any man could offer the meat of that animal to God. And not just any garment could be worn when doing so.

The consecrated priest carrying the consecrated meat in the fold of his consecrated robe was not some kind of a holiness transmitter that could somehow make ordinary food products holy and sacred simply by contact. That’s not how it worked. And yet it seems that the people believed that they were somehow holy by association because they had been working on the construction of God’s holy temple. They expected there to be some kind of transference of holiness accompanied by the requisite blessings that holiness demands. But the answer to the first question put an end to that misguided assumption.

The second question poses a similar but opposite scenario. This time, the situation involves someone who has become ceremonially unclean or impure.

“If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” – Haggaie 2:13 NLT

Once again, the priests were expected to provide their professional assessment and, as before, they respond, “No!” And this is where Haggai drops an unexpected bombshell on the people.

“That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin. – Haggai 2:14 NLT

Yes, they had finally decided to obey God and, for the last few months, they had been making progress on the rebuilding of the temple. But their determination to obey had not absolved them of their track record of sin and guilt. In God’s eyes, they were guilty of sin and, therefore, unclean. Even their offerings were considered unclean by God. This is where the two scenarios come into play. While holiness was non-transferable, the same could not be said of impurity or uncleanness. Just as good health cannot be shared from one person to another, neither can holiness. But disease or illness can be easily transmitted from the sick to the healthy. And the same is true with moral impurity. It can spread like yeast in a lump of dough or cancer cells in the human body.

Ever since the people had returned to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they had been offering sacrifices on an altar they had constructed.

Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening. – Ezra 3:2-3 NLT

But while their intentions were pure, their lives were not. As the book of Ezra points out, they were offering sacrifices before they had even laid the foundation of the temple, where those sacrifices should have been made.

Fifteen days before the Festival of Shelters began, the priests had begun to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. This was even before they had started to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. – Ezra 3:6 NLT

And now, 16 years later, God lets them know that He considered their sacrifices to be impure and unacceptable because they were contaminated by sin. He reminds them that, prior to laying the foundation of the temple, they were suffering from poor harvests caused by the blight, mildew, and hail He had sent upon them. And, even then, they had refused to return to Him (Haggai 2:17).

But now, three months after they had begun to rebuild the temple, God had good news for them. Things were about to change because He had made a determination to bless them. But not because they deserved or had earned it. Up until this very day, they had continued to experience His judgment for their disobedience – despite their efforts at rebuilding the temple. Now, He had something different in store for them.

“But from this day on I will bless you.” – Haggai 2:19 ESV

God could not and would not overlook the 16 years of disobedience that allowed His house to remain a pile of rubble. The people had managed to build homes for themselves but had repeatedly come up with excuses to put off the one thing God had commanded them to do when they returned to the land: Rebuild the temple. In failing to carry out that command, they had dishonored God and brought judgment upon themselves. They had returned to a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3), but their fields remained fruitless, their cupboards bare, and their stomachs empty – all because of their unfaithfulness. Their past disobedience had to be punished. But now God was ready to pour out His blessings.

They had been set apart by God for His glory. He had chosen them to be His prized possession, a kingdom of priests who were to honor Him with their lives. But they had failed to do so. Amazingly, despite their 16 years of apathy and non-compliance and only three months of faithful service, God graciously determined to bless them.

And all of this was in keeping with the promise God had made to the people of  Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. Moses had clearly warned them:

“…you must seek the LORD your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the LORD your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the LORD your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Promise of God’s Presence

12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. Haggai 1:12-15 ESV

It seems that once the people realized that the meager harvests, financial troubles, and lack of sustenance they were suffering were a punishment from the hand of God, they decided to heed the words of Haggai. Speaking on behalf of God, Haggai had pointed out the disastrous nature of their current conditions.

“You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:6 NLT

Haggie let them know that their suffering had been brought on them by God.

You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT

And he had delivered God’s message that more trouble was on the horizon.

I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” – Haggai 1:11 NLT

And if they harbored any doubts or questions about the cause of their suffering, God had made it painfully clear.

“Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. – Haggai 1:9-10 NLT

They were guilty and stood condemned before God. But what makes this whole situation so interesting was that the very temple they had failed to rebuild was the one place they could have turned for divine intervention and assistance. When Solomon had celebrated the opening of the original temple centuries earlier, he had included the following line in his prayer of dedication:

“If there is a famine in the land or a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars… and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive. – 1 Kings 8:37-39 NLT

But there was no temple because the people had refused to carry out the commands of God and finish its construction. Sixteen years earlier they had laid the foundation, but the construction site had remained dormant since that time. Not a single stone was put into place. No lumber had been harvested or milled. But now, because of the words spoken by Haggai, the people were suddenly stirred into action. From the governmental and religious leaders to the lowliest peasant, everyone decided to obey the voice of the Lord.

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. – Haggai 1:12 ESV

Haggai uses the term “remnant” to refer to the people of Judah. This was the very same word that the prophet Isaiah used when foretelling of God’s pending judgment against Judah at the hands of the Babylonians and His gracious plan to allow some of them to return to the land.

A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. – Isaiah 10:21-22 ESV

Isaiah used the Hebrew word, שְׁאָר (šᵊ’ār), which is derived from another Hebrew word that refers to “that which is left, left over, or left behind.” That word, שְׁאֵרִית (šᵊ’ērîṯ) is the one that Haggai used. It carries the idea of “that which is left or remaining.” It’s not just a numerical designation, indicating a smaller group of individuals, but it is also a way of conveying that those who returned had been set apart by God for a special purpose. When King Cyrus had issued his decree allowing the Jews to return, the vast majority of them decided to remain in Persia rather than make the arduous journey back to Judah. They had become acclimated to their lives in Babylon and had no desire to suffer the hardships that would accompany a return to the land.

But a remnant had decided to take the risk and go back to the land of promise. Yet, because of their disobedience, they found the prospects of their return to be anything but promising. And when this “whole remnant of God’s people began to obey the message from the Lord their God” (Haggai 1:12 NLT), their corporate commitment to obey was met with an encouraging message from God.

“I am with you, says the Lord!” – Haggai 1:13 NLT

These words were meant to be a reminder of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel when Solomon had finished the construction of the temple.

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV

God had shut up the heavens and withheld the rain. Now it was time for the people, who were called by His name, to humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways. The temple lay in ruins, but God wanted His people to know that He was with them. His house was may have been non-existent but had not precluded His power or presence. He was among them and ready to act on behalf of them. All they needed to do was repent and return to Him.

God had never truly left them. And while the temple may have been nothing more than a pile of dust-covered rubble, their God remained powerful, ever-present, and ready to act on their behalf. They could count on God.

All the way back to when the people were preparing to enter the land of promise for the first time, Moses had told them, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV). And centuries later, King David would echo those words when he challenged his young son, Solomon, to build a house for God

Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV

And when Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s house, he had finished his prayer of dedication with the following benediction.

The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 ESV

God had been with them when they had entered the land of promise for the very first time. God had been with King David, helping him establish Israel as one of the mightiest nations on earth. And God had been with Solomon, blessing him with great wisdom and wealth, and providing him with a period of peace and prosperity in which he was able to complete the construction of the temple. Now, centuries later, God was letting His people know that He was still with them. But as always, God was looking for humble obedience from His chosen people. He had graciously allowed a remnant to remain so that His will might be done. He was far from done with His people and He had great things in store for them because He was going to accomplish great things through them.

And stirred by the words of Haggai and the promise of God’s presence, “they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” ( Haggai 1:14 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Make the Most of the Time You Have

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:14-18 ESV

Peter has reminded his readers that they are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12 ESV) – a day when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV). But that future day of divine destruction will be followed by God’s recreation of all things. And concerning that promise, Peter states, “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwell” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

The apostle John was given a vision of that momentous day which he recorded for posterity in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

It is to this day that Peter seems to be when he writes, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). As his readers suffer through the trials and difficulties of this life, Peter reminds them of the divine promises that lie ahead. He wanted them to focus their attention on all that God had in store for them. As they waited, they were live godly lives marked by purity, perseverance, and peace. Their faith in God’s future promises should influence their present behavior.

That is why Peter encouraged them to emulate the life of Christ through their own “lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11 ESV) as they wait for the coming day of the Lord. Peter understood that the delay in Christ’s return was difficult to comprehend and had caused some to begin to doubt whether it was really going to happen. He also knew that living a godly life was not easy. And he knew how frustrating it could be to stand back and watch as the wicked sinned, and not only got away with it, but thoroughly enjoyed it. In every generation, Christ-followers must wrestle with the seeming inequities that exist between the children of God and the wicked. The psalmist put it in words to which we all can relate.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble?
The wicked arrogantly hunt down the poor.
    Let them be caught in the evil they plan for others.
For they brag about their evil desires;
    they praise the greedy and curse the Lord.

The wicked are too proud to seek God.
    They seem to think that God is dead.
Yet they succeed in everything they do.
    They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
    They sneer at all their enemies.
They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
    We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:1-6 NLT

But despite the apparent disparities they might encounter in this life, Peter wanted his readers to stay committed and to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). As Peter has already stated, God’s seeming delay in sending back His Son was purposeful. He had a reason and His timing was perfect. Peter reminds them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15 ESV). In other words, rather than embrace the lies of the false teachers and mistakenly conclude that there would be no future judgment, the believers were to view God’s delay from a different perspective. The longer God waited, the more time there was for people to come to faith in Christ. Not only that, it provided believers with additional time to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior. It provided ample time for the divine process of sanctification to take place. It had not been God’s plan to remove every believer as soon as they placed their faith in Christ. Jesus left His own disciples behind and had commissioned them to carry on His ministry of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. They were to remain behind, acting as His ambassadors and emissaries. And the believers to whom Peter wrote had inherited this same divine mandate. Like Peter and the other disciples, their salvation was to be followed by their ongoing sanctification or growth into Christ-likeness. And for that to happen, Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit, which is why Peter could say that God had granted them “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had all the power they needed to live godly lives in the present as they waited for the future.

When Peter told his readers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation,” he was echoing the words of Paul. He even admitted so. In his letter to the Romans, Paul warned his audience, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). Paul was writing to Gentile believers. He wanted them to understand just how patient and gracious God was being with them as He provided with time to continue the process of salvation. Part of what God was accomplishing, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was exposing those areas of sin in their lives that need to be confessed. He was constantly saving them from themselves and redeeming them from the vestiges of the sin-filled lives they had once lived. He was in the process of transforming them into the likeness of His Son.

And the messages of Peter and Paul apply to us today. God has already justified us, declaring us positionally righteous in His sight. But now He is sanctifying us, making us practically righteous, by removing our old nature and replacing it with a new one. Paul puts it this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So Peter reminded his readers to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). He wanted them to know that, contrary to popular opinion and the teaching of “the ignorant and unstable,” Christ was coming again. The false teachers twisted the Scriptures to make them say what they wanted to hear. But Peter warned that God was faithful and His Word was reliable. So they were to live their lives without spot or blemish, unlike the false teachers who he describes as being “blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions” (2 Peter 2:13 ESV). Peter didn’t want to see believers carried away by the tempting promises and slick sounding words of the false teachers. He wanted to prevent them from being “carried away with the error of lawless people” (2 Peter 3:17 ESV). And the antidote for spiritual error was spiritual growth. That is why he told them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

When we first come to know Christ, our understanding of Him is minimal at best. We accept Him as our Savior, but there is little else that we know about Him. We do not fully understand the magnitude of what He has done. We have a minimal understanding of and appreciation for grace. Our knowledge and awareness of all that He accomplished for us on the cross are limited. That’s why Paul told the Colossian believers:

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

We are to grow up in our salvation. We are to increase in our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done. We are to constantly expand our understanding of God’s will for us as we read His Word and listen to the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit within us. Spiritual growth is non-optional for believers. We find admonitions to grow all throughout the New Testament.

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. – 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrew 5:12 NLT

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. – Hebrews 6:1 NLT

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. – 1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT

We must stay the course. We must run the race to win. We must complete the task set before us. We must finish strong. As Peter stated earlier in this same letter, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). We can live godly lives in the midst of ungodliness. We can live righteous lives while surrounded by unrighteousness. We can live Christ-like lives among those who deny Him. But it requires growth. It requires constant dependence upon the One who saved us and a trust that He is continually sanctifying us.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Living Proof

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. – 2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV

Peter wasn’t telling his readers something they didn’t already know. He was simply reminding them of the truths they had been taught since the day they first believed. And he was determined to go on reminding them until the day God called him home. Peter knew that the circumstances they were facing had caused them to question the reliability of God’s promises. The presence of suffering and trials had left them wondering whether following Christ was really worth all the effort. But Peter reminded them that while faith alone in Christ alone could save them, they would need to develop and display the other Spirit-enabled attributes in their lives. He listed virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love as key components of a healthy and growing spiritual life. And while they were already aware of the necessity of these Christ-like characteristics, Peter was going to keep bringing them up until their lives reflected them – regardless of the circumstances. 

There’s a vast difference between knowing the truth and actually living it out in daily life. A cognitive understanding of “these qualities” was insufficient. It was of little use to know the technical definition of self-control if you didn’t actually put it into practice. And any discussion of godliness that failed to produce godly behavior was little more than religious rhetoric. In other words, it was all talk, no action.

For Peter, these qualities needed to be constantly inculcated and incarnated into the life of the believer and ever-increasing in their influence. Otherwise, the believer would risk becoming “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). Notice that his emphasis is on Jesus. His point seems to be that a believer’s ever-expanding knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done will result in effectiveness and fruitfulness. The greater our understanding of all that Jesus accomplished on our behalf on the cross, the more we will seek to live like Him. We will grasp the amazing significance of the Spirit’s role in our lives and seek to live in obedience to His will. And when we do, we will accomplish greater works than Jesus Himself, just as He promised.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12 ESV

Jesus went on to tell His disciples that the power behind those “greater works” would be the Holy Spirit.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

It is only with the Holy Spirit’s help that a believer can transfer “these qualities” from the head to the heart and radically transform their behavior so that it mirrors that of Christ.

You can sense Peter’s urgency as he states, “it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live” ( 2 Peter 1:13 NLT). He was driven by an awareness that his days on earth were limited and that he must carefully steward whatever time he had left to carry out his commission. It is most likely that he wrote this letter from Rome, where it is believed he was eventually martyred by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter lived with a determination to make the most of his time on earth, not wasting a single second that God graciously provided. In the back of his mind, Peter could always hear the prophetic words that the resurrected Jesus had spoken to him on the beach.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 NLT

As the apostle John points out, Jesus was alluding to Peter’s eventual death. It is unclear whether Peter understood the words of Jesus to be a premonition concerning his eventual martyrdom. But he must have understood that by the time he reached old age, he would suffer some kind of arrest and imprisonment. It is believed that Peter was in his 50s by the time he wrote this second letter, and that would have been considered “old” in those days. With each passing year, Peter knew that his time on earth was drawing to a close. He even referenced the words that Jesus spoke to him that fateful day on the seashore.

For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone. – 2 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Peter wasn’t attempting to tug at their heartstrings or put them under some false sense of guilt or sympathetic obligation. He was simply expressing his determination to finish strong. He was going to take advantage of every precious moment he had and use it to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ to “remember these things.” What things? These things: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

Peter wasn’t promoting academic enhancement. He wasn’t looking for ritualistic religious practices or outward displays of self-righteousness. He was expressing an expectation in true heart change that showed up in Spirit-transformed behavior. It seems likely that Peter had in mind the words that Jesus had spoken to the pious and outwardly righteous Jews of His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

And Jesus had quoted the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded by the prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). As God’s chosen and set-apart people, the Jews had displayed a penchant for playing the part. Jesus constantly referred to them as hypocrites, little more than actors in a play, pretending to be something other than what they truly were. And Peter feared that the readers of his letter were running the risk of doing the same thing. If their lives failed to reflect the fruit of righteousness, made possible by the indwelling presence of the Spirit, their worship would be nothing more than a farce. They would become ineffective and unfruitful. Their witness for Christ would become diluted by compromise with the world. And for Peter, that was unacceptable.

He had opened up this letter with powerful words of encouragement.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

Peter expected the recipients of his letter to fully embrace the “precious and very great promises” made available to them in Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on their behalf, they had become “partakers of the divine nature.” They weren’t sinners trying to act like saints. They had been redeemed, renewed, and enjoyed a reconciled relationship with God the Father. In Christ, they were new creations. Their old sin nature, while not fully eradicated, was no longer in control of their lives. They had the power to live distinctively different lives, just as Paul had declared to the believers in Corinth.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… – 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 ESV

Not only did they have the ministry of reconciliation. They were to be living evidence of the transformative reality of Christ’s reconciling work. As Paul put it to the believers in Corinth, “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NLT).

In the same way, Peter greatly desired that his brothers and sisters living in Asia Minor would be letters of recommendation, declaring with their lives the redemptive and reconciling power of the gospel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Shepherding Has Its Rewards

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

At the end of the day, Peter was a highly practical man who knew that theology alone was not enough to help his readers navigate the uncertain cultural waters in which they found themselves. They were drowning in a sea of competing ideologies that stood diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And their status as followers of Christ made them a tempting target for all those who viewed them as a threat to the prevailing status quo. So, Peter went out of his way to apply the promises contained in the Scriptures with the theological lessons found in the life and ministry of Jesus. Peter was a faithful shepherd who cared deeply about the everyday needs of his flock and was determined to help them apply the hope of their future inheritance to their present circumstances.

At this point in his letter, Peter focused his attention on the elders whom God had appointed to shepherd the local fellowships to whom Peter had addressed his letter. All throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, there were individual gatherings of believers that were being shepherded by faithful men. These men played a vital role in guiding and protecting the men and women who were being “grieved by various trials” 1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Since many of these believers were still relative infants in Christ, they were not yet spiritually mature enough to understand and endure the difficulties they were encountering. And that’s why the elders were so vital to the health and overall well-being of each local church.

This rather brief parenthetical statement was aimed at those men who shared Peter’s role as a God-appointed elder in the church of Jesus Christ. He had even opened his letter with the salutation: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:1 ESV). He presented himself “as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV.  Along with sharing their distinctive role as an elder, he brought the added weight of having been a personal eye-witness to the suffering and death of Jesus. In a sense, he was establishing his official status as an apostle of Jesus.

He had been there the day that Jesus had been crucified and killed. But, not only that, Peter had plenty of first-hand experience when it came to the topic of suffering. Ever since the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, Peter had faithfully preached the gospel of the kingdom and been rewarded with arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, and even disciplinary beatings. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of righteousness. And he was calling the local elders to step up their game and lead by example. They too would one day be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV). Any suffering they had to endure in this life would be well worth it once Jesus appeared in all His glory at the end of the age.

So, with that hope ringing in the ears, Peter challenges his fellow elders to shepherd well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

Like any good shepherd, they were to do their job willingly and not out of some sense of heartless duty. Shepherding was to be viewed as a privilege and not a job. They were to care for the flock of Jesus Christ with compassion and love, not out of greed or for personal gain.

It was Jesus who used Himself as an example of the “good shepherd.” He was a caring and completely selfless shepherd who put the needs of the flock ahead of His own – even to the point of laying down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

And Peter wanted these local shepherds to remain at their posts, refusing to run at the first sign of trouble. Their ministry as shepherds was to be marked by a deep desire to serve God, and it was to manifest itself in a determination to stand beside the flock even in the face of life-threatening circumstances. They must be willing to lay down their lives just as Jesus had done for them. By following His example, they would become examples to their flock. And Peter reminded them that there would be a reward for their faithful service.

…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:4 ESV

All of this discussion of sheep and shepherds was near and dear to Peter’s heart because he couldn’t help but view it through the lens of his own experience. Even as he wrote these words, he must have had a fateful scene from his past in mind. It was after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead when Peter had a face-to-face encounter with the one whom he had earlier denied even knowing.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Jesus had handed over to Peter the responsibility of caring for His sheep. And that was not something Peter took lightly or for granted. Peter had denied Jesus three separate times, but now Jesus had pressed him to confirm his love three times. And Jesus explained that the way for Peter to prove His love for Him would be by loving and caring for His sheep.  And that is exactly what Peter charged these elders to do.

Peter’s mention of the  “unfading crown of glory” seems to be for motivation. It is intended as an incentive to do their jobs well in this life because there is a reward to come in the next life. But it unlikely that Peter is referring to a literal crown. He is talking about the eschatological reward of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. It is the same reward he mentioned in the opening chapter of his letter.

an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. – 1 Peter 1:4 ESV

The greatest “crowning” achievement of these men will be their faithful carrying out of their role as God’s humble and obedient shepherds. And their reward will be the joy of living in the Kingdom of God – for eternity.

Even if their reward ends up being a literal crown, the book of Revelation reveals that, in the coming Kingdom, no one will stand before God glorying in their own achievements. Instead, they will recognize that all glory and honor goes to God alone.

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
    to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
    and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:9-11 NLT

The greatest reward any of us can receive is to live in the presence of God forever. Anything else will pale in comparison.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Put Off and Drink Up!

1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

In light of the fact that his readers had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV), and called to be holy just as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15), Peter expected them to live lives in keeping with their status as God’s chosen people. As sons and daughters of God, their behavior was to reflect the character of their Heavenly Father. God had paid an extremely high price to ransom them from the empty life they had inherited from their ancestors (1 Peter 1:18). He had sent His Son to die on their behalf. On the cross, the sinless Savior had offered up His life as the unblemished Lamb, providing them with forgiveness of sins and a guarantee of “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT).

But the recipients of Peter’s letter were wrestling with the realities of living in a culture that stood opposed to everything in which they believed. Their minds filled with doubt and despair as they struggled to reconcile their circumstances with their faith. The “good news” they had so eagerly embraced had resulted in some far-from-great outcomes. And while many of their trials were external in nature, they were also suffering from unexpected internal battles that left them demoralized and even doubting their salvation. Peter referred to these inner temptations as “worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).

These inner and outer battles were beginning to take their toll. The congregation to whom Peter wrote was experiencing a sense of disappointment and despair. When they had placed their faith in Jesus Christ, they had done so with an expectation that the good news would produce positive results. But now, they were having to endure unprecedented and unexpected troubles on both an individual and corporate level. That’s why Peter went out of his way to assure them of the unwavering faithfulness of God’s promises because they were backed by the reliability of God’s Word.

…you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. – 1 Peter 1:23 NLT

Regardless of what was happening around them, they could count on God. He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made. But they had their part to play as well. Peter encouraged them to stay focused and fix their hope on God and the reliability of His redemptive plan.

…prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT

But they were not to be content with waiting on the return of Christ and their eventual glorification. They were to take positive, tangible steps that would set them apart as God’s chosen people – His “temporary residents and foreigners” living in exile on earth (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). So he provided them with a formidable and seemingly impossible challenge:

get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. – 1 Peter 2:1 NLT

The apostle Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Ephesus.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31 NLT

And he would provide the believers in Colossae with a slightly abridged version of the same list of off-limit behaviors.

…get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. – Colossians 3:8-9 NLT

Both Peter and Paul were advising their readers to put aside” or cast off those things that might hinder their spiritual walk. They were to be viewed as unnecessary burdens that weigh down and encumber one’s spiritual journey. Like the character, Christian, in John Bunyan’s classic tale, The Pilgrim’s Progress, believers too often journey through life still bearing heavy loads that were meant to be discarded when they came to faith in Christ. Peter describes these burdens as “evil behavior” and then gets specific by mentioning deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and unkind speech. These particular behaviors are attitudes and actions that can do serious and irreparable damage to a church. They can destroy and sense of community and stand in direct opposition to the “brotherly love” Peter mentioned in chapter 1.

Once again, Paul used similar language to encourage the Ephesian believers to put off the old and put on the new.

…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV

Their new life in Christ should be accompanied by new attitudes and desires. Peter puts it in the terms of “cravings.”

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

Peter’s use of the image of a hungry infant longing for milk is powerful. It conveys the ideas of dependency and desire. In using it, he portrays his readers as innocent, helpless, and totally reliant upon the care of another. Since they had been “born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV) “through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 ESV), their lives depended upon the ongoing provision of their Heavenly Father. He had brought about their new birth and He would sustain their new spiritual life. But for them to grow, they would need to crave or long for the right form of nutrition. And contained in Peter’s admonition is the idea that they must develop a taste for the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word. Even newborn babies instinctively learn to appreciate the benefits of their mother’s milk. In time, they develop an understanding that there is only one source that can satisfy their hunger. And the same should be true of every believer concerning the spiritual benefits of God’s Word.

Initially, a baby has no awareness of the nutritional value of milk. He simply eats because he’s hungry. But in time, his body begins to benefit from the nutrients it receives through each feeding, and  it grows – slowly and, sometimes, imperceptibly. And Peter promises that a steady diet of God’s Word results in a believer’s spiritual growth.

by it you may grow up into salvation – 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

In Peter’s mind, spiritual growth in the life of the believer was as natural as the physical growth of an infant. It was a normal sign of healthy maturity.  He even picked up on this same theme in his second letter.

…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… – 2 Peter 3:18 ESV

Peter’s reference to the milk of God’s Word is not meant to suggest a simpler, easy-to-digest diet of spiritual pablum. In other words, this is not intended as an indictment of their spiritual status. This passage is sometimes linked to the following statement from the apostle Paul written to the church in Corinth.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Paul was criticizing the believer in Corinth for their lack of spiritual growth. They had not grown or matured in their faith. Their desire for the “meatier” things of God”s Word had never developed. But that is not what Peter is suggesting. He is not exposing a lock of spiritual growth among his audience. He is simply encouraging them to live their lives in total dependence upon the soul-nourishing milk of God’s Word.

Peter’s goal for his audience was their ongoing spiritual maturity, fueled by constant feeding on the truth of Scripture and the promises of God it contains. At their salvation, they had gotten a taste of God’s goodness. Now, it was time to drink in all the goodness that God’s imperishable seed could provide.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

You Shall Be Holy

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:14-19 ESV

Peter is writing to those whom he considers to be “elect exiles.” They were predominantly Gentile believers living in Asia Minor who, while having been chosen by God, were undergoing unexpected suffering for their faith. Peter has acknowledged that they have been “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6 ESV), but he has also reminded them that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV). And, as a result, they are the heirs of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV).

Peter’s emphasis on this future reality was meant to encourage and motivate the recipients of his letter. He wanted them to understand that their salvation was far from over. While their current experience was marked by suffering and persecution, it would also include their ongoing sanctification and, ultimately, their future glorification. That is why he challenged them to live with the end in mind.

Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.” – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT

Peter knew that by fixing their hope on the final phase of God’s redemptive plan, they would find the strength to endure the trials of this life. God had set them apart as His own and had something truly remarkable in store for them. In a sense, they were no longer citizens of this world. In fact, later in this same letter, Peter refers to them as “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). They were to consider themselves to be strangers living in a strange land. Like the Israelites living in exile in Babylon, these Gentile believers were to consider their living arrangements in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia as temporary. They were not to get comfortable or to compromise their convictions.

Peter wanted them to understand that they were “a chosen people…royal priests…a holy nation…God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT). Their unique status as God’s holy or set-apart people was to impact the way they lived in this life. And Peter made sure they understood the implications of their foreordained inclusion into God’s family.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

Chosen and set apart by God, these people were faced with a choice of their own. Each day they had to decide whether they would live out their new identity in Christ or revert back to their old ways of living. God had called them out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9), and their behavior was to illustrate that reality. Peter’s words of admonition mirror those of the apostle Paul, written to the believers in Corinth.

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14 NLT

And using the Hebrew scriptures, Paul quotes the words of God Himself in order to emphasize the distinctiveness of the Father-Child relationship the Corinthians believers enjoyed.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
    and walk among them.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
    and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
    and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NLT

Peter uses one word to describe this idea of separation and set-apartness: Holy.

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:15 NLT

The Greek word Peter used is hagios, and it carries the idea of sacredness or consecration. It was used to refer to anything that had been set apart for God and deemed to be His exclusive possession. What made something holy was not its inherent value, but its status as God’s possession. The temple was just a building, but because it had been set apart for God, it was considered holy and sacred. Everything in it was dedicated to God and was to be used for His glory alone. There was nothing special about the bowls and utensils that were used as part of the sacrificial system. What made them holy was their designation as God’s possessions. Once they had been set apart for the service of God, they were considered sacred and off-limits for any other use. The same was true of the priests whom God had consecrated to serve in His house. Yes, they were mere men, but they had been set apart as God’s servants, charged with caring for the temple and serving as mediators on behalf of the people.

Peter’s charge to “be holy” was meant to remind his readers of their set-apart status as God’s children. Whether they realized it or not, their identity was no longer the same. While much about their lives remained unchanged, they had undergone a radical transformation. God had set them apart as His own and they were now considered holy in His eyes. What Peter wanted them to realize was that their new status was going to require a new way of living. That is why he wrote, “you must be holy in everything you do” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). As God’s chosen people, they could no longer live as they liked. There could be no sacred-secular split in their lives. They now belonged to God and, as His children, they were to reflect His character.

“You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:16 NLT

Holiness is not something we become. It is who we already are as God’s chosen people. He has set us apart as His own. And as His possession, we are expected to reflect His character and be dedicated to His service – in all that we do.

The thought of God as our Father should bring us comfort and peace. But we should never lose sight of the fact that God is also the righteous Judge “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). Peter did not intend this statement as a threat but as a reminder of God’s expectations concerning His children. The Greek word krinō, which is translated as “judges,” carries the idea of approval or esteem. In a sense, Peter is suggesting that God is looking for holy behavior among His children. He is “judging“ them in order to find something good. He is not looking for behavior that might make us holy, but He is looking for behavior that reflects our holiness.

What God sets apart as His own, He fully expects to remain set apart as His sole possession. That is why Peter states, “you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as ‘temporary residents’” (1 Peter 1:17 NLT). As long as they lived on this planet, they were to remember that they belonged to God. They were His children, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, and His very own possession. The apostle Paul gave the believers in Corinth a similar pep talk.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

God’s possession of His people did not come without a cost. As Paul states, God paid a high price, and Peter describes the exorbitant nature of the payment He made: “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:19 NLT). The apostle John put it this way: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16 ESV).

God sacrificed His own Son so that He might ransom sinful men and women out of their captivity to sin and death. Jesus had even said of Himself, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). And Paul would pick up on this theme in his first letter to Timothy.

He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. – 1 Timothy 2:6 NLT

Peter desperately wanted his readers to understand that their lives were no longer their own. They belonged to God. They had been purchased at a high price and set apart for His glory. They now belonged to Him and were to consider their lives as dedicated to Him alone. But God did not view them as property. He considered them His progeny – His beloved children and the heirs of “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance…pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). And as God’s heirs, they were to emulate their Father’s character through their conduct.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

You Can Mourn Now or Mourn Later

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. Luke 23:26-32 ESV

Jesus’ legal trials may have come to an end, but His physical trials were just about to begin. A condemned criminal had been allowed to walk free, while Jesus, an innocent man, was subjected to a range of violent physical and verbal abuse. Luke goes out of his way to record the overwhelming consensus of opinion that Jesus was an innocent man.

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” – Luke 23:4 ESV

“…behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” – Luke 23:14-15 ESV

A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.  – Luke 23:22 ESV

“…this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent! – Luke 23:47 ESV

As soon as Pilate relented to the demands of the Jewish religious leaders and authorized the crucifixion of Jesus, the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman soldiers. These hardened legionnaires were responsible for carrying out the governor’s orders by subjecting Jesus to the gruesome ordeal of crucifixion – the Roman government’s preferred form of capital punishment. But like a cat cruelly playing with a mouse before subjecting it to death, Pilate’s guards decided to subject Jesus to a range of degrading physical and emotional abuses. With the entire regiment looking on, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29-29 NLT).

These men, having overheard the accusations leveled against Jesus, found it laughable that this powerless and unimpressive Jewish Rabbi would consider Himself to be a king. So, they ruthlessly and mercilessly mocked Jesus, with every cruelty they poured out intended to leave Him humiliated and degraded. And Matthew describes with painful clarity the unsparing nature of their torturous treatment of Jesus.

…they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. – Matthew 27:30-31 NLT

John provides the added detail that Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. This barbaric practice, also known as scourging, was an especially cruel and inhuman form of punishment that was designed to inflict extreme pain and hasten death. According to an article by Ian Tuttle published in National Review, “The Romans meted out whippings with particular zeal, inventing new tools to increase the misery: on the mild end, a flat leather strap; on the mortal end, long whips with, at their ends, balls of metal with protruding metal fragments or pieces of bone. It was not uncommon for the scourging that preceded a crucifixion to prove fatal” (https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/01/flogging-through-centuries-ian-tuttle/).

By the time Jesus left the Roman governor’s palace, He would have been in a severely weakened state, suffering from extreme pain and blood loss. Yet, as a condemned man, Jesus was expected to carry His own cross to the place of crucifixion. But it appears that the flogging had taken its toll on Jesus, leaving Him incapable of bearing the weight of the cross. So, the Romans conscripted a stranger from the crowd to assist Him. And as Jesus painfully navigated the final steps to the crucifixion site, He was followed by “a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him” (Luke 23:27 ESV).

But rather than thank them for their compassionate display of sorrow, Jesus turned to these individuals and gave them a sobering word of warning.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’” – Luke 23:28-30 NLT

His words are similar to the ones He spoke to His disciples while they sat with Him on the Mount of Olives, just prior to His arrest in the garden.

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again…“ – Matthew 24:16-21 NLT

In both cases, Jesus was speaking of future events. He was warning them that even darker days lie ahead, when the judgment of God will fall upon the world for its rejection of His Son. Those weeping at the sight of Jesus’ deplorable condition and mourning the thought of His pending death had no idea He was referring to events associated with the end of time. The book of Revelation describes a future day when God will reign down judgment upon the earth.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” – Revelation 6:15-17 NLT

This was the day to which Jesus was referring. While His death would be the key to salvation and eternal life, it would also result in God’s wrath being poured out on all those who refused to accept HIs Son as Savior. And that would include many in Israel. God’s chosen people would refuse to accept God’s Son as their Messiah and King. In fact, they would participate in His execution, demanding that He be put to death. When He had entered Jerusalem just a few days earlier, the crowds had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). But those joyous shouts of adoration and acclimation had quickly turned to cries of “Crucify Him!” And one day, all those who have chosen to reject the King of kings and Lord of lords will suffer the consequences of their decision and mourn, not for Jesus, but for their own coming destruction.

But when Jesus arrived at the placed called Golgotha, He found himself joined by two other men, both criminals, who would be executed alongside Him, “one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). This seemingly innocuous statement conjures up memories of the conversation Jesus had with James and John. On an earlier occasion, these two brothers had approached Jesus and asked, “Grant that one of us may sit at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37 BSB). And Jesus had responded to their presumptuous request by stating, You do not know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will undergo?” (Mark 10:38 BSB).

Little did they know at the time, that the two places of prominence they had requested would not be royal thrones, but cruel Roman crosses. For Jesus, the cross was a place of honor. He had been chosen by God the Father to lay down His life, and it was something Jesus was prepared to do – willingly and gladly. Jesus had come to lay down His life for the sheep.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And that time had come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Don’t Over-Complicate It

1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:1-4 ESV

This is the second time in the gospels that we find a record of Jesus delivering to His disciples what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. The other occasion is found in the book of Matthew. But the significant differences in the two accounts seem to indicate that Luke and Matthew were recording two different incidents. This should not be surprising because Jesus often repeated key lessons to His disciples. And since prayer was such a vital part of His own earthly ministry, He must have discussed this topic on more than one occasion. 

Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His disciples and causing them to misuse and abuse it. Like so many other Jews, they had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. That was the basis of Jesus’ discussion of prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. He had just covered how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy and, therefore, answer their prayers more readily.

In Luke’s account, he reveals that the topic of prayer was raised by one of Jesus’ disciples. This unnamed individual came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 ESV). It could be that this man expected Jesus to further elaborate on His original discussion regarding prayer. As the disciples observed Jesus day after day, they were eyewitnesses to His own prayerful disposition. He often spent entire evenings in prayer to His Heavenly Father, and Luke indicates that it was after just such an occasion that this disciple approached Jesus with his request.

It seems likely that this disciple remembered what Jesus had said about prayer when He had discussed the topic earlier. But the man was looking for more. He specifically asked that Jesus teach them as John taught his disciples. It would appear that the disciple was looking for the key to a more effective and powerful prayer life. If you recall, when the disciples had failed to cast the demon out of a young boy, Jesus had told them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). Their lack of success in casting out the demon coupled with this insight from Jesus might have prompted a discussion among the disciples regarding their need for more prayer instruction. It wasn’t that they didn’t pray, it was that they must not be praying in the wrong way. Or so they thought.

So, much to their surprise and disappointment, Jesus simply repeats what He had taught them earlier.

And he said to them, “When you pray, say…” – Luke 11:2 ESV

As in the case of Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew’s gospel, what follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for the disciples’ own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that they were to pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides a model to be followed, not a mantra to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every conversation between a child of God and their Heavenly Father. And it provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as His child. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants, and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer by addressing the Father.

The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He loves and cares for us, and He is also responsible for us. He is holy, while we are marred by sin and yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them as peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt,” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We are never to forget that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

Next, Jesus provides an interesting way to address our Father God.

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to tell God that His name should be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. It was tied to his character. So, to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but as His children, we are expressing our desire to live in such a way that nothing we do might profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy through our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states, “your kingdom come.” Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. Not ours. Prayer is to be focused on God, not us. Prayer is not primarily a time to tell God about all the things we think He doesn’t know or to give Him the lengthy list of things we think we need. In His earlier lesson on prayer, Jesus had stated, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom come is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayer allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. That does not mean we are forbidden to ask for things from God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do make requests of God.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. A sincere desire for God’s kingdom to come should change the nature of our requests. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. He is King and knows what is best for us. So, as we pray to Him, our priorities should change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“…the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sinful natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is a sin. It is against the will of God for His children. That is why the apostle Paul had such strong words regarding our need to forgive others.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? Based on the context, it would appear that He wanted us to have an awareness of our dependence upon God. We must recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we won’t sin, but we must ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. And Jesus wanted His followers to know that they could come to God for assistance and deliverance.

The disciple who made this request of Jesus was well-intentioned, but he was overcomplicating the issue. He was looking for a methodology that might result in a more powerful prayer life. We have no way of knowing what John the Baptist had taught his disciples regarding prayer, but this man was wanting Jesus to provide more in-depth instruction on the topic. And yet, Jesus simply reiterated what He had taught them before. Pray humbly to your Heavenly Father. Make it your priority to protect the holiness of His name. Keep your focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. Remain completely dependent upon God for all your needs, including food and forgiveness. And never forget your complete reliance upon Him for surviving the trials and temptations of this life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson