1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1–3, NKJV).
Israel was lost. Only the gospel of Christ, not the Law of Moses, would save them (Rom. 1:16; Acts 4:12). Therefore Paul, himself a Jew who previously persecuted Christians, earnestly desired and prayed for their salvation. He was convinced their zeal for God did not save them. Misguided by their allegiance to the Law, they refused to submit to God’s plan of salvation. Even now, many religious people who are zealous for God contradict the gospel in their zeal (Matt. 7:21-23). We should not confuse passion for God with God’s approval. Scripture says God wants sinners to be saved and “to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God will not save us from our sins when we are ignorant of the truth of Christ (John 8:24). The example of Israel warns us not to establish our own way of salvation like they did (“their own righteousness,” Rom. 10:3). They believed their salvation was through the Law of Moses and rejected “the righteousness of faith” revealed in the gospel (Rom. 10:4-8). We must be careful not to make a similar error. We must submit to God’s righteousness by faith in Christ and obedience to His gospel (Rom. 10:3, 9-13; 6:17-18). Then we can be confident of our salvation, regardless of whether we are a Jew or a Gentile (Rom. 8:1-2; Gal. 3:26-29).
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—44 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43–44, NKJV).
Did you know more is recorded in the New Testament about hell from the mouth of Jesus than anyone else? The eternal fire of hell’s unending punishment is real and a substantial deterrent against evil. In today’s passage, Jesus used hyperbolic language (cut off the offending hand, foot, eye, Mark 9:43, 45, 47) to describe the urgent need to eliminate sin in our lives lest we fall under eternal condemnation. The fire of Jerusalem’s refuse dump (gehenna, “hell”) was a fitting figure of the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and those who do not follow Christ’s will (Matt. 25:41, 46). We gain nothing when we choose not to repent of sin. In the final judgment, those who “do not obey the truth” will suffer the corruption, agony, and darkness of being removed from God’s blessings forever (Rom. 2:5-11). Better to surrender the sin that seems most important to us and do God’s will than to “go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43). While the goodness of God leads us to repentance, so does the wrath of God (Rom. 2:4-5). So, “sing to me of heaven” and warn me of hell. Jesus spoke of both to persuade faithful, righteous living (John 14:1-6; Mark 9:43-48). Purged of sin and tried by fire, the sacrifices we make to live for Jesus will preserve us unto the day of eternal bliss (Mark 9:49).
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5, NKJV).
Devout men gathered in Jerusalem to observe the feast of weeks (Pentecost, Acts 2:1; Lev. 23:15-21). Yet, the apostle Peter indicted these devout Jews along with the house of Israel for crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:36). Devout means to be cautious and circumspect, hence “pious,” religious. The gospel teaches Christians to be devout in faith and life (Eph. 5:15; James 1:26-27). Consider what the Scriptures say about being devout. (1) Being devout does not necessarily mean one is saved. These devout men were guilty of crucifying Jesus (Acts 2:23). Cornelius was devout yet lost without the gospel (Acts 10:2; 11:13-14). (2) Devout people are convicted of their sins when they hear the word of God. They were “cut to the heart,” pierced to the quick, when the word of God exposed their sin. (3) Devout people want to know what to do to be forgiven by God of their sins. Therefore, they said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do” (Acts 2:37)? (4) Devout people gladly accept the gospel and obey it to be saved. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). (5) Devout Christians will continue to follow the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). Let us be careful to hear, accept, and obey the gospel, being devout in word and deed each day.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living (Psalm 27:13, NKJV).
The faith of David before Goliath is legendary (1 Sam. 17). His faith continues to encourage God’s people. Psalm 27 is one such source of encouragement. (1) David’s faith was firm in the Lord. Even when the wicked came against him to devour him and if an army encamped against him, he would not be fearful but confident. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1, 2-3) (2) David’s faith informed his desires. “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Ps. 27:4). (3) David’s faith caused him to seek the upright paths taught by God. “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a smooth path because of my enemies” (Ps. 27:11). The way of righteousness delivers the faithful from the adversary’s lies and deceit (Ps. 27:12). (4) David’s faith endured trials with patience, courage, and trust in God’s power to bless (Ps. 27:14). He waited on the Lord, knowing he would see God’s blessings in his life (Ps. 27:13). Like David, Christians see God’s blessings with eyes of faith, both in the “land of the living” and in the eternal realms where death is no more (Mark 10:28-30).
1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:1–2, NKJV).
Peter, James, and John saw a glimpse of Christ’s divine glory and majesty when His appearance changed on the mountain (2 Pet. 1:16-18). Christ had shared the glory of eternal deity with the Father from time immemorial (John 17:5). When He came to earth, He humbly emptied Himself of the appearance of divine glory and became “in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5-8; Micah 5:2; John 1:1, 14). When His form changed on the mount, the brilliance of His countenance revealed the brightness of His divine glory. Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the prophet appeared with Jesus, and they talked about His approaching death in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Awakened from slumber and fearful, Peter proposed honoring Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but his plan was silenced by the voice of the Father and the command to listen to His Son (Matt. 17:3-5). Jesus has authority over Moses and Elijah (the Law and the prophets, Matt. 5:17-18). Like the apostles, we must hear Jesus and follow all He says because He has all authority over the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 3:22-23; Heb. 1:2). A touch of the Master’s hand and the reassurance of His voice calmed the apostles’ fear (Matt. 17:6-8). So may we humbly and reverently listen to and obey the word of Christ day by day (Col. 3:17). When we do, Christ’s word calms our souls with the assurance of His presence and eternal life (Heb. 13:5; 1 John 5:11-13).
17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus expected His apostles to understand His warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, but they were only thinking about physical bread (Mark 8:14-16). He said their hearts were “still hardened” because they could not perceive (understand) the meaning of His warning. They needed to comprehend the corrupting influence of their error, immorality, and hypocrisy (Matt. 16:11-12; Luke 12:1). Here is a lesson on being distinctive hearers. It matters how we hear Christ’s word. Jesus said, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). The Pharisees disputed with Jesus and rejected His signs (Mark 8:11-12). Like their forefathers, they were “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51-52). We must have open hearts to receive the gospel of Christ, lest the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians corrupt us. (Demanding preaching that scratches itching ears still happens, 2 Tim. 4:3-4.) When we resist the word of Christ, we are disputing with and testing Jesus just like the unbelieving Pharisees (Mark 8:11). May we humbly, reverently, and obediently accept the word of Christ. We understand Christ’s teachings when our will is to do the will of God (John 7:16-17; Eph. 3:3-4; Heb. 5:12-14). Open your heart to the gospel of Christ, and you will be blessed (Acts 17:11-12).
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36, NKJV).
Why did the house of Israel crucify Jesus? The Messiah they longed for came to them, and Israel rejected Him (John 1:11). The fundamental reason the rulers and the mob crucified the Lord of glory was their unbelief (1 Cor. 2:7-9; Matt. 27:23-25). They did not believe Christ’s report (message) even after seeing His works (Isa. 53:1; John 12:37-40; 5:31-47). Neither did they believe the prophets who foretold of the Messiah (John 5:39-40; Luke 4:16-29). Notably, Peter said, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). They were without knowledge (ignorant), not because the truth was unavailable to them, but because they chose to ignore it. The house of Israel ignored the truth of God and crucified the Savior in their unbelief. (1) They ignored the prophets (Acts 3:18). They ignored the words of Jesus (John 8:37-47). (3) They ignored the works of Jesus (John 10:31-39). Even many rulers who believed refused to confess Jesus to avoid being rejected by men (John 12:42-43). We point out Israel’s unbelief to warn the Israel of God (the church, Gal. 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:4-5). Christians can develop evil hearts of unbelief and fall from the living God (Heb. 3:12). When we sin willfully “after we have received the knowledge of the truth,” a “certain fearful expectation of judgment” and “fiery indignation” awaits (Heb. 10:26-27, 31). Ignorance is not a justifiable defense. Do not ignore the Messiah and His gospel. “Repent and be converted,” and live faithfully to Christ each day (Acts 3:19; 2:37-42).
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Galatians 5:16–18, NKJV).
In today’s passage, walking in the Spirit is equivalent to being led by the Spirit (v. 16, 18). Being led by the Spirit is a matter of free will, a choice to live by faith. The Spirit does not force Himself upon anyone. Being led by the Spirit is tantamount to living in the Spirit. By crucifying the flesh with its passions and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). Again, this is a choice of faith we make, a life we choose to live. The Spirit of God leads Christians when we hear (and obey) the gospel (the faith, Gal. 3:1-2; 1:11, 23). The Holy Spirit revealed the gospel, confirmed its validity through miracles, and inspired its proclamation (Heb. 2:1-4; Eph. 3:3-5). When we follow the Scriptures, we are following the Spirit of God. Do not expect the Spirit to act upon you in some way distinct from His word. He is speaking through His word to you and me. We walk in the Spirit when we submit to the gospel of Christ (Rom. 8:1-2, 5-8). See this choice of faith to follow the word of God and live by the Spirit in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” We are alive in Christ and are led by the Spirit when we choose to live according to the gospel He revealed.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13, NKJV).
Discouragement is a tool our adversary, the devil, uses against us. The encroachment of spiritual foes wears us down unless our faith remains focused on the Lord Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Worldliness in the church, false doctrine threatening and deceiving hearts, apathetic negligence of spiritual duties, derelict fathers, careless mothers, disobedient children, and the moral decline of our nation are just some of the things that cause Christians to lose heart. David faced enemies who sought his life, yet he was confident in the Lord’s strength and salvation (Ps. 27:1-3). He waited on the Lord with faith, and the Lord delivered him from his foes (Ps. 27:4-5, 14). Likewise, we face spiritual enemies intent on destroying our souls, but the Lord’s strength sustains us in our spiritual struggles (Eph. 6:10-13). We refuse to be discouraged because we believe the Lord’s goodness blesses us in “the land of the living” even as we anticipate eternal glory (Phil. 4:4-7). Encouraged by the faithfulness of the Lord, “let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). So with David, let us “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14)!
For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light (Luke 8:17, NKJV).
The truth cannot be hidden. In context, Jesus had just explained the parable of the seed and soils. The condition of the heart determines whether God’s word (the seed) penetrates, germinates, and bears fruit (Luke 8:11-15). Untold amounts of time and energy are wasted trying to cover up, divert, deceive, and lie about the truth. Jesus later explained the efforts of such hypocrisy are exposed by the light of truth (Luke 12:1-3). Every sin we attempt to hide is uncovered and open before the eyes of God, even when they are concealed from others (Heb. 4:13). The light of His truth reveals our hearts and the sins that erupt from within (Heb. 4:12). When David hid his sins, he experienced increased grief and pain, but he found forgiveness when he acknowledged his sin to God (Ps. 32:3-5). Let us follow his example instead of Achan, who could not conceal his sin nor escape its punishment (Josh. 7:10-26). Today, may we meditate on the truth that God knows all about us, and His truth will save us when we open our hearts to His word and follow His will. Paul’s summary persuades us to live in the light of truth, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (1 Tim. 5:24-25).