Closer To the Heart

It’s Thursday morning, but it really needs to be Friday. Oh, well. I don’t have much to offer by way of introduction this morning, so I’ll get right on to the devotions. To read my other blog, check out Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit.

Today’s Bible readings from Discovering the Bible, by Gordon L. Addington:
Matthew 11:1-19
1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples
3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:
5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
10 This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John,
14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’
19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

This passage is all about John the Baptist. Jesus makes some interesting observations. The first thing that happens is that John sends his disciples to Jesus, wanting to know if he is “the one.” Jesus tells them to go back and report what they have seen to John. A lot of times, Jesus was one of those frustrating people who didn’t answer questions directly. Then Jesus speaks to the crowds about John, telling them that he fulfills the prophecy, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” (v. 10) This is a quote from Malachi 3:1. Then Jesus makes a strange statement. First he says that there is no one born of women who is greater than John the Baptist. But then he says, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The notes in the Reformation Study Bible say that this is referring to all of us who came after, receiving the Holy Spirit, who participated in what the prophets saw from a distance. I can see that, but I also believe that it is another statement of how we are to see ourselves. One of John’s most famous statements was “He must increase; I must decrease.” “He” referring to Jesus Christ. John knew his place. He didn’t try to insist that he was greater than he truly was. He knew who the “great one” was. We need to know our place. The last shall be first, remember?
I admit I’ve always been a little puzzled by verse 12. Again, I look to the notes in my Bible, which say that the kingdom is pressing ahead with force, but violent men, such as Herod, are attempting to overcome the kingdom by force. But it is not the “strong and forceful who obtain the kingdom but the weak and helpless.”
Jesus then says that John is “Elijah who is to come,” and then utters those famous words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Where do we get those ears? We get them from God, of course. Only God can enable my ears to hear.
The last segment of the passage is Jesus’s “we just can’t win” statement. John was accused of having a demon because of the simplicity (and weirdness) of his lifestyle. He hardly ate or drank anything. The “Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” Indeed. The “sinner” has no greater friend than Jesus!

Isaiah 6
This is a relatively famous passage. When I was in seminary, we were taught that this chapter was to be the “model” for worship services. I have since dispensed with that thought. I understand the thought behind it, but I don’t agree. Our model for worship should be the New Testament church. However, there is a pattern of interaction here that is well-noted. God initiates the whole thing. He appeared to Isaiah. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (v. 1) The vision must have been beautiful! He saw God and the seraphim above God. What marvelous creatures these must be! And we will see them someday! The seraphim were worshiping God, saying “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (v. 3)
Then we see Isaiah’s response. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v. 5)
Now, it’s God’s turn again. He sends one of the seraphim, who has taken a burning coal from the altar. The seraphim touches the coal to Isaiah’s mouth, saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (v. 7) Now this is significant. For one reason, because Jesus had not yet died for our atonement yet.
After God cleanses Isaiah, then he puts out the call. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was immediate. “Here am I! Send me!” I can almost picture Horshack in “Welcome Back Kotter,” hand stuck up in the air, going, “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Here am I!!! Send me!!!” I believe that’s how committed Isaiah was. So God gives Isaiah his message. But it’s not a good one. In fact, Isaiah is to go tell the people NOT to understand! “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” (v. 10) “For how long?” asks Isaiah. “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” (v. 11-12) However, there will be a remnant spared, a holy seed, according to verse 13. Later in Isaiah, we are shown that “the prophetic word closes the way of God to those who are rebellious, proud, and hypocritical, but opens it to the deaf, the blind, the humble, and the poor.
Does God call all of us go “go” in this manner? I do not believe so. Isaiah’s call was singular. It was special. We are all supposed to carry the treasure of the gospel around with us in our “jars of clay,” but we are not all “prophets.” We don’t all carry the same message that Isaiah carried. Too many sermons try to use the call of Isaiah as a universal call to all Christians, but if that were true, then wouldn’t the message that Isaiah carried also be our message? Just something to ponder.
Incidentally, this passage reminds me of this song:

Proverbs 2:9-22
As this passage continues, we are shown the results of gaining wisdom. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; (vv. 9-10) I like that phrase, “knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” Have you ever met people who weren’t interested in knowledge at all? “I’ve got my mind made up, don’t confuse me with the facts!” Yep. Anyway…this knowledge will then, in turn, protect us. Understanding will guard us, protecting us from the “way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil.” (vv. 12-14) Most of us recognize…there are people who slip up and do bad things sometimes. Then there are people who fit the above description exactly. They rejoice in doing evil! Those are the people from who we need protecting! But there’s more…we will also be protected from the “forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.” (v. 16) I think this passage refers more than to just marital infidelity (it definitely does refer to that…). I think it refers to all departures from the standards of our God. Any time we forsake our God, and chase after false gods, be they true idols, or just something in our lives that we place higher than God, we are committing spiritual adultery. And sin, with its temptations, stands on the street corner, like that adulteress, and beckons us with smooth words. God’s wisdom and knowledge will protect us from that.
The final result is more positive. So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it, but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. (vv. 20-22) So there we have the benefits of wisdom.

A couple of days ago, Tabletalk Magazine smashed our toes by speaking about corrupt speech. Today, it goes deeper. Today, we get to the root of that corrupt speech. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31) In truth, we can work all we want to put away the physical manifestations like gossip and slander, but until we deal with the malice, wrath and bitterness in the heart, it won’t do us much good. The heart is the seat of all of our impurity. What we are to put away is “the consuming feeling of hatred that seeks only the destruction of others and not their restoration to fellowship with God and with other people.” We must, by the Spirit’s power, keep our anger in check.

Father, I cry out to you this morning for more wisdom and understanding! There are so many things in life that I don’t understand. I know that I won’t understand some of them, ever. But your wisdom is so high and beautiful, and I ask to be filled with it. I pray that I be filled with your Holy Spirit today, Father. Let me be your witness to someone today. Give me wisdom to be ready to share the gospel with someone if called on. Let me be ready. Put away my fear; that fear that paralyzes me every time I think about talking to someone about you. Just let me be ready.
I also pray that I not entertain any thoughts of malice or wrath toward any human being, Father. Let me be a person of grace and compassion. Let me seek the restoration of all, no matter what.
There are so many thoughts going through my mind right now…I can’t single them out. Holy Spirit, filter my mind and carry my prayers to the Father. Be my intercessor.

Lord, I pray for this day. Give Christi a good day today, Lord, a day free from stress. I also pray for my day at work, Lord, that it will go well.

Once again, I ask for relief from the heat wave we are experiencing, and bring us some much needed rain, Father. Our land is dry and wasted. We need refreshment.

Look at the heart…especially if there are issues with the mouth. Because what comes out of the mouth comes from deeper within.

Grace and peace, friends.

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