Beside Still Waters

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 7.25-26
25 The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the center. 26 It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths.

Job 7.12
12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep,
     that you put me under guard?

Matthew 8.27
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Reflection: Beside Still Waters
By Erin Newton

I’m quite terrified of the ocean. Maybe I watch too many documentaries or movies about the dangers of the open waters. Too many threats lurk beneath—rip currents, undertows, great white sharks, killer whales, and dare I say, Leviathan.

The sea plays a role in many stories of the Bible, usually as a formidable foe that threatens God’s people: the Red Sea, the raging sea that sends Jonah overboard, and stormy seas threatening the disciples on more than one occasion.

Solomon’s Temple contained features that reflected nature, perhaps the Garden of Eden where God walked among his creation unrestrained. Among the temple furnishings stood a large bronze basin. The enormous size of the bowl was a feat for the Israelite metallurgist. It stood in a fixed location in the Temple—a heavy bronze basin filled with water used for purification and cleansing—and it was called the “Sea.”

The name of the basin is a figurative term for such a large bowl of water, but it strikes at the fearsome image they knew all too well. This Sea, however, is contained, bound, motionless. There are no thrashing waves.

The water served to cleanse the priests (Lev. 8.6) or wash the organs of sacrificed animals (Lev. 8.21). The Sea was no longer a threat, but placed under the watchful eye of God with a renewed purpose. The basin was crowned with gourds and nestled upon the backs of bulls, symbols of life that flow from the cleansing waters.

In the depths of Job’s grief, he calls out to God, asking if he was also constrained like the sea. He recognized the usual threat of the waters but knew that God spoke to the sea and said, “This far you may come and no farther” (Job 38.11).

When a furious storm rolls upon the lake with waves sweeping over the boat, the sea surrenders to the voice of Jesus. Even the winds and the waves obey him.

So why, again, is the Sea in the Temple? Apart from its practical purpose of serving the priests, I think the Sea sits still within the Temple as a reminder—God has this whole world in his hands.

As you enter his presence through prayer, worship, meditation, or reading, look to your left and behold the still waters. The image heralds the supremacy of our God.

Holy, holy, holy is the God of all creation!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.


Today’s Readings
1 Kings 7 (Listen 7:47)
Psalms 25 (Listen 2:18)

Read more about Counting Waves
The disciples urged Jesus to awake, their voices strained with fear. “Teacher, do you not care if we drown?”

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Donate today to support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Amazing Jesus — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: Matthew 8.16-17
16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 
“He took up our infirmities 
and bore our diseases.”

Originally published on February 14, 2023, based on readings from Matthew 8.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Jon, Hong Kong/TX — I recently came across an old recording of Michael Card at some conference and he talked how about Jesus’ response to faith in others was most frequently amazement.

Reflection: Amazing Jesus — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Matthew closes this section saying that the healings prove something about Jesus.

The central feature of this section of healings is the exemplary faith of the centurion. The centurion who previously would send the servant out on his behalf, went out on behalf of his servant. Jesus is amazed. He says the centurion has greater faith than anyone in Israel. Pause for a moment and think about the people to whom Jesus is comparing the centurion…

No one Jesus has found in Israel has shown greater faith than the centurion? Not Mary, Jesus’ mother? Not the twelve disciples? Not John the Baptist? Not the devout leper in the previous scene who said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean”? None of them had greater faith than the centurion? Apparently. So, does it take “amazing” faith to be healed?

The other time in scripture where Jesus is “amazed” is visiting his hometown, where he would receive no honor and find no faith—yet he still healed. (Matthew 13.58; Mark 6.5-6) Faith is not a currency we purchase miracles with. If it was, how could those bankrupt of faith be healed? Jesus’ healings are connected to his identity and his mission, not our faith. 

Jesus’ healings validate his authority to teach and to forgive sins. (Matthew 9.6) But Jesus’ healings are more than a flex against the religious establishment. They tell us who Jesus is. Matthew records them to prove that Jesus is the one Isaiah prophesied. Jesus took weaknesses and sickness on himself to prove that he was the one who could take upon himself the sickness of death.

Healing is an emotional topic because it touches people we know. I have known people healed through medical science and people whose healing was inexplicable to medical science. I’ve also known people who prayed fervently for healing, yet died.

When someone dies, it sounds like an insensitive cop-out to say ultimate healing will come at the resurrection. I wouldn’t recommend it as a counseling strategy. However, we must remember that resurrection is the only form of healing that is not temporary. Every person you read about being healed in the Bible, died eventually. Every one of them will be ultimately healed at the resurrection.

Even today, healings tell the amazing story that Jesus’ resurrection is real and those who aren’t healed now await the full resurrection-healing that he promises.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
How great is your goodness, O Lord! Which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have done in the sight of all. — Psalm 31.19


– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 13 (Listen 3:54)
1 John 1 (Listen 1:28)

Read more about Pain and Healing
Hosea shows how far God is willing to go to heal and restore. God is committed to our healing and restoration. Call on him.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Just because our content is ad-free doesn’t mean it’s free to produce or publish. Please consider becoming a donor to support our work.

Amazing Jesus

Scripture Focus: Matthew 8.16-17
16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 

“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Reflection: Amazing Jesus
By John Tillman

Matthew closes this section saying that the healings prove something about Jesus.

The central feature of this section of healings is the exemplary faith of the centurion. The centurion who previously would send the servant out on his behalf went out on behalf of his servant. Jesus is amazed. He says the centurion has greater faith than anyone in Israel. Pause for a moment and think about the people to whom Jesus compares the centurion…

No one Jesus has found in Israel has shown greater faith than the centurion? Not Mary, Jesus’ mother? Not the twelve disciples? Not John the Baptist? Not the devout leper in the previous scene who said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean”? None of them had greater faith than the centurion? Apparently. So, does it take “amazing” faith to be healed?

The other time in scripture where Jesus is “amazed” is visiting his hometown, where he would receive no honor and find no faith—yet he still healed. (Matthew 13.58; Mark 6.5-6) Faith is not a currency we purchase miracles with. If it was, how could those bankrupt of faith be healed? Jesus’ healings are connected to his identity and his mission, not our faith. 

Jesus’ healings validate his authority to teach and to forgive sins. (Matthew 9.6) But Jesus’ healings are more than a flex against the religious establishment. They tell us who Jesus is. Matthew records them to prove that Jesus is the one Isaiah prophesied. Jesus took weaknesses and sickness on himself to prove that he was the one who could take upon himself the sickness of death.

Healing is an emotional topic because it touches people we know. I have known people healed through medical science and people whose healing was inexplicable to medical science. I’ve also known people who prayed fervently for healing, yet died.

When someone dies, it sounds like an insensitive cop-out to say ultimate healing will come at the resurrection. I wouldn’t recommend it as a counseling strategy. However, we must remember that resurrection is the only form of healing that is not temporary. Every person you read about being healed in the Bible, died eventually. Every one of them will be ultimately healed at the resurrection.

Even today, healings tell the amazing story that Jesus’ resurrection is real and those who aren’t healed now await the full resurrection-healing that he promises.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 47 (Listen 5:03
Matthew 8 (Listen 4:09)

Read more about Pain and Healing
Hosea shows how far God is willing to go to heal and restore. God is committed to our healing and restoration. Call on him.

Read more about The Miracle of Faith
Jesus’ greatest miracles were not stopping diseases…but…helping the faithless to believe, the cynical to trust, the hardened to love

Waves of Mercy

Scripture Focus: Jonah 1.4-6
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Matthew 8.24-26
24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Reflection: Waves of Mercy
By Erin Newton

Jonah is the story of the “scandal of God’s mercy” (William Brown). As a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II, Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. The Assyrian kingdom was notorious for their warfare and ruthless tactics. Ancient depictions from statues and reliefs show actions that would be considered war crimes today. It is no wonder Jonah wished for their judgment rather than their repentance.

On his path to avoid bringing peace to his enemy, Jonah finds himself aboard a ship tossed about by the chaotic sea. Turbulent waters are referenced on a number of occasions to highlight the presence of unrestrained chaos, threatening uncertainty, and the frailty of humanity. God let loose the waves around Jonah’s boat and the people were terrified. Jonah is fast asleep, oblivious to the threats and pleas of the crew around him. When he is woken up, they beg him to join in praying to any deity who will save them from their peril.

The mercy of God is shown in the calming of the storm once Jonah is thrown into the sea. The prophet, a unique chosen person by God, should have been the blessed recipient of God’s grace. Instead, he is swallowed by a fish entering into days of darkness (perhaps even death). The sailors, on the other hand, experience the immediate relief of chaos.

Another man was found sleeping in a boat during a violent storm at sea. When Jesus’ disciples were filled with terror at the possibility of their boat capsizing and drowning at sea, they made similar pleas as we see in Jonah 1. With a word, the waves are restrained and the waters are stilled. Jesus is not thrown overboard but would soon enter into days of darkness and death. This “sign of Jonah” would bring salvation to the enemies of God.

While the book of Jonah highlights the reluctance of a prophet to bring good news to a people he considered unworthy, the larger message is the scope of God’s mercy. It is a story about how we all wish to see vengeance and justice in our time. Yet, if we read the story with eyes focused only on humanity, we miss the far more important truth about God. He loves those we find repulsive. Those we label “unfit” for mercy are the exact people he calms the sea to save.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

Today’s Readings
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29)
John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s.

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?

The Sword Versus The Cross

Scripture Focus: Genesis 8.11
11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Matthew 8.11-12
11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection: The Sword Versus The Cross
By John Tillman

I am writing this devotional after the horror of watching the storming of the United States Capitol building during a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election results. At this moment, lawmakers have returned to work, but much is uncertain, both for the politicians involved, the future of the nation, and for Christianity.

Some of the violent invaders waved the Confederate battle flag and some carried flags proclaiming “Jesus Saves.” Clearly, their true belief is that violence, rather than Jesus, saves. Unfortunately, rather than save, the violence cost four people their lives in the confrontation with police.

We don’t do “hot takes” at The Park Forum. Besides, by Friday, when this post will run, who knows what might have happened or been revealed… But we find comfort in today’s scriptures. Regardless of the events of any day or week or year, it is to the scriptures that we turn.

We find that violence will be cleansed from the earth. In saving Noah and his family, God was saving us. In eliminating the violent line of Cain, God was justly punishing horrendous evil and violence. Those who cling to violence are choosing to line up and follow in Cain’s footsteps.

It is true that “Jesus Saves.” But there will be those who refuse to be saved by Jesus. They might wave a “Jesus” flag, but they want to be saved by other, less demanding things. Many want to be saved by the sword. But those who live by the sword will die by it. (Matthew 26.52) We, however, who choose to die by the cross are made alive by it. (Galatians 2.20; 5.24; 6.14)

We enter the feast of the Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Matthew 8.11) Though these men’s names are revered as patriarchs, it should comfort us to know that they are each spectacular sinners as well.

All who come via the cross, come through Noah’s flood as well and are cleansed from violence and all other sin. When we hold out our hand to the creator, upon it will light the dove of the Holy Spirit, with an olive twig of peace. 

Some have been like brash, foolish Peter, swinging away with a sword of vengeance—we must put it away. We have been sifted, tricked, by Satan. The only way back is to repent and take up the cross instead of the sword.

May we reaffirm our commitment to living as God’s people of peace.
May we reject the call of joining in violence.
May our words reflect that.
May our actions reflect that.
Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 8 (Listen – 3:06) 
Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 9 (Listen – 3:50) Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
Genesis 10 (Listen – 3:29) Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
God does not rejoice in the death of any person, much less any nation, but he rejoices to see justice done to oppressors and the proud humbled.

Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered.