What Is the Greatest Mystery in Creation?

Relevant Text: Rom. 16:25-27
Full Text: Job 12, Rom. 16

Knowledge | There is still a lot that we don’t know about the world. How does life arise from nonlife? Why do we need sleep? What causes gravity? [1] It makes sense, of course, that we don’t know these things. After all, doctors didn’t create the body and scientists didn’t create the world. They merely interpret what they see. God, on the other hand, has perfect knowledge about all facts and all events at the macro and micro levels and at all states of existence (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological). He doesn’t just interpret what He sees; He creates and rules it [2].

Mystery | The greatest mystery of His creation, however, is not the world; it’s our salvation. Paul ended Romans with a doxology: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” [3].

Wisdom | I At the beginning of time, when the only wise God planned our salvation, He rejected the possibility that our knowledge would save us. Instead, He chose to save us through the most foolish moment in history – death on a cross. Salvation through a weak and dead prophet seemed senseless. Yet, that was the point. His way of salvation silenced everyone – those seeking signs and those seeking wisdom [4]. It turned the most foolish moment in history into the most powerful one. Why did He do it this way? As Paul wrote in Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” [5].

Prayer | Lord, When we stand in the mystery of your creation and look up at the skies or out to the waters, we sense that our knowledge is but a grain of sand in the beach of your wisdom. Thus, in your presence, we fall on our knees because we know that it is by your grace that our eyes are open to the greatest mystery of all – your salvation. To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John Hodgman. What We Don’t Know. WIRED. (highlighting some of the great questions that remain unanswered – also, it’s also pretty funny)  |  [2] See Heb. 2:10; Col. 1:16  |  [3] Rom. 16:25-27 ESV  |  [4] 1 Cor. 1:22  |  [5] 1 Cor. 1:27, 29. See 1 Cor. 1:18-31 (which also happens to be the passage for tomorrow’s devotional).

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

Relevant Text: Est. 2:22-23
Full Text: Est. 2; Acts 25

Wife | How should a man choose a wife? In their latest book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller argue that spiritual friendship should be the basis for marriage because, “It is easier to turn a friend into a romantic partner than to turn a romantic partner into a friend” [1]. With the same ring of friendship, philosopher Giuseppe Mazzini said, “Look to her not only for comfort, but for strength and inspiration and the doubling of your intellectual and moral powers” [2].

Cinderella | Esther is the Cinderella story of the Bible. An unknown and beautiful Jewish orphan girl rises to become the Queen of Persia. In the first chapter, King Xerxes divorces and deposes Queen Vashti because she refuses his invitation to dinner. In the second chapter, he selects Esther as queen in a beauty contest – hardly the method suggested by the Kellers. Yet, his courtship is not the point [3]; God’s sovereign salvation through her courageous strength is. After all, Esther is not just another pretty face; she is smart and bold and disciplined.

Audience | Shortly after Xerxes and Esther were married, Mordecai – her guardian and adoptive father – overheard two guards conspiring to assassinate the king. So Mordecai told Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on the gallows [4]. Esther was bold in going to Xerxes. After all, anyone who requested a meeting with the king could have been killed. Moreover, she knew what had happened to Vashti when she disrespected Xerxes. Yet, she went. Boldly and loyally, she went. And her husband was saved by her wisdom. Indeed, in marrying Esther, he doubled his intellectual and moral powers.

Prayer | Lord, The purpose of true womanhood is “to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression, namely, in his dying to make a rebellious people his everlasting and supremely happy bride” [5]. In Esther, we see a foreshadowing of Christ – for both put their lives on the line to save your people. Yet, although Esther was beautiful in appearance, Christ was not [6]. Therefore, let us be women who pursue and men who love the true picture of godly femininity – not mere external adornment, but rather “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” [7]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Tim and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. If you’re interested in watching the book launch event, where Bethany Jenkins (founder of The Park Forum) co-interviewed the Kellers, click here.

[2] Quoted in Bill Bennett, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. Chapter: “Man with Woman and Children.” Paragraph 7. Kindle edition, Location 7787. Review on Washington Times: here.

[3] Just because something is mentioned as having happened in the Bible does not mean that the Lord condones it. Very often Bible teachers will distinguish between readings in the Bible that are “descriptive” (that is, part of the history that contributes to the understanding of the story) and readings that are “normative” (that is, teachings that we should follow and do). So, for example, the fact that Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines is descriptive but not normative (after all, the law required that a king should only take one wife – see Deut. 17:14-17). In the same way, Xerxes’ courtship is not mentioned for its normative factor because it’s narrative.

[4] Esther 2:22-23 ESV

[5] John Piper, The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood.” 9 October 2008. Sermon. (with several mini-portraits of strong and courageous women who glorified God with their lives).

[6] See Isaiah 53.

[7] See 1 Peter 3:1-6 (although this is directed to believing women who are married to unbelieving men, its truth is equally applicable to believing women who are married to believing men).

[FN] The title of this devotional is roughly taken from Prov. 31:10.


The Collision of the Primary and Secondary Worlds

Relevant Text: Acts 20:22-24
Full Text: Neh. 10; Acts 20

Worlds | According to Tolkien, the “Primary World” is the world that we live in and the “Secondary World” is the world that we enter into when we read great stories [1]. In the Primary World, we want to be rational. When we’re inside the Secondary World, however, rationality flies out the window. The fantastic can become true.

Collision | In Jesus, however, the Primary and Secondary Worlds collided. The most fantastic story became true when the Lord Jesus willingly died on the cross for all humanity and then conquered death itself by rising from the grave. And Paul never got over it. Prompted by the Spirit, he preached the supernatural grace of God poured out on natural sinners. As he told the Ephesian elders, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God[2].

Longing | Our life in the Primary World is meaningful because the Secondary World is true [3]. On the surface, our culture worships naturalism – the belief that reality is confined to the material and observable. Yet, our hearts long for something more. This is why we love stories like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings – for although our spiritual powers seem atrophied in the Primary World, we long for the Spirit’s supernatural powers of the Secondary World. And like Paul, we have Him in our hearts and in our midst, giving us the freedom and the discipline to testify to the gospel of the grace of God poured out on all the inhabitants of the Primary World who believe in Christ.

Prayer | Lord, Like children who read fairy-stories and ask with fullness of heart, “Is it true?”, we read the story of Jesus and ask, “Is it true?” The reality of the gospel seems almost too wonderful to believe because it reaches beyond our rational thinking. Therefore, open our imaginations and our eyes of faith to believe it so that we may have your Spirit within us. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories.  |  [2] Acts 20:22-24 ESV  |  [3] See 1 Cor. 15:19

The Joy of Understanding

Relevant Text: Neh. 8:12
Full Text: Neh. 8; Acts 18

Suspense | On Sunday night, my two preschool-age nephews and I gathered at the kitchen table to read The Magician’s Nephew. At first, they weren’t interested at all. I tried engaging them by having them say the characters’ names with me or by using my best British accent, but nothing seemed to work. Halfway through the first chapter, however, I realized what I needed to do – make the story more accessible. For example, instead of saying that Polly and Digory walked on “rafters” in an attic, I said that they stepped on “small pieces of wood through which they could fall at any moment.” After I changed a few more references like this, they got it. By the end of chapter one, they were hooked – so hooked, in fact, that neither one wanted to sleep alone that night because they were in suspense about what was going to happen to Polly!

Joy | Mere words on a page – spoken in an understandable and accessible way – can change how we feel about reality. After Ezra read from the Book of the Law, the Levites explained it, the people understood it, and everyone rejoiced: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ … And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them[1].

Prayer | Lord, Your truth – followed by clear explanation – leads to great joy, which is our strength. Therefore, we praise you for your Word and for teachers of your Word. Thank you for making understanding and joy the path to salvation in you. Make us hope-filled saints who rejoice that we belong to you! Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Neh. 8:8-10, 12 ESV

New York City Circa 1857

Relevant Text: Ezra 10:1 (underlined)
Full Text: Ezra 10; Acts 10-11

Police | It was summer 1857. The NYC Municipal Police Force was massively corrupt under Mayor Fernando Wood. So Albany shortened his second term and created the Metropolitan Police Force. But Wood refused to vacate. He and the Municipals occupied City Hall. Police feuding continued throughout the summer until the Metropolitans – with the National Guard – defeated the Municipals and forced Wood to submit. On July 2, courts upheld the Metropolitans’ jurisdiction [1].

Gangs | Two days later, gangs began rioting. Battles raged on Bowery and Bayard. Bloodshed covered Mulberry, Elizabeth and Baxter. Gangs looted and pillaged neighborhoods. Shopkeepers, pedestrians and residents were all fair game. It only lasted a week, but it was intense and total anarchy.

Banks | Then came the financial crisis. The recession got worse on August 24, when the NY Branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Railroad bonds were embezzled, routine transactions ceased, major stocks fell 10%, and depositors demanded gold. Thankfully, a gold delivery from California was expected. On September 12, however, a hurricane destroyed that shipment and fifteen tons of gold sank into the ocean. A month later, the Panic of 1857 took effect and the NY banks were closed from October 13 through December 12.

Revival | In this chaos, God raised up Jeremiah Lanphier – a middle-aged tradesman whose church had relocated uptown. On September 23, he and six others met for noontime prayer on Fulton Street. Fourteen met the next week and twenty-three the week following. By mid-November, over 10,000 businessmen were “confessing sin, getting saved, [and] praying for revival” [2] – like Ezra’s account: “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” [3]. Thousands were being saved and mercy ministries were being opened, e.g., The Bowery Mission, The Salvation Army. There were no lead preachers or famous speakers – just humble men hungry for God. They prayed. He moved.

Prayer | Lord, Lead us in a season of repentance, confession and prayer so that we are awakened to a desire for more holiness. Today, as we live in the midst of uncertain times, we bow before you in humility and pray for our church, our city and our nation. Let us be faithful in small prayer meetings and leave the work of revival to you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Historical sources include: (a) The Religious Revival. The New York Times. (original publication: 20 March 1858), (b) Gregory Christiano. 1857: A Year to Forget. Urbanography., (c) Smithwords, The Great Awakening of 1857-1858., (d) Audrey Barrick, Christians Mark 150 Years of Fulton Street Revival. 23 Sept 2007., (e) Program for the 150th Anniversary celebration of the Fulton Street Noon Prayer. 2007. | [2] See [1](c) | [3] Ezra 10:1 ESV


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