I will praise the LORD!
Reading: Psalm 104
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face, they are terrified;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works—
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the LORD.
But may sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more.
Praise the LORD, my soul. Praise the LORD (NIV).
Recently, my wife and I attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Victor. He was a man of deep faith, who was always active in the church. At no point was he ashamed to call himself a follower of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Victor loved his Savior and I am sure his spirit rejoiced to see Jesus face to face.
There is a line from today’s reading from Psalm 104 which is particularly relevant as we think about life and death: when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
In context of this psalm, the author was speaking of all creatures, in other words the animal kingdom, but these words apply to all that breathe the breath of life, including humans. For Victor, who struggled for every breath during the last years of his life, the words of this psalm had true meaning. But the second part of this psalm reading is also pertinent in the context of a funeral: When you send your Spirit, they are created.
I believe in the resurrection of the dead. The grave is not the final end for those who have placed their faith in Christ. A great re-creation will happen. The grave could not hold Jesus, and a day is coming when it will not hold Victor, or any who have died in the faith. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Response: Father God, send your reviving Spirit. Come, Lord Jesus. I long for your return. Amen.
Your Turn: Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Who do you long to greet on the other side?
In today’s reading, Marcus, the centurion, meets with Jonas the tax collector. They discuss the news of the week, namely the huge stir that Jesus has caused in Jerusalem since his triumphal entry into the city. Date: Early morning April 6th, 30 A.D.
As I descended the stairs of the gate, I caught sight of Jonas and his son, unoccupied at the customs booth. With a quick wave of my hand, I signaled my intention to speak with him, and after taking the salute of the sentinels at the gate, I headed straight to the booth. “Good morning, you old goat!” I called out as I approached.
“Well, if it isn’t the top dog himself,” he shot back.
“It’s always good to see a man standing around doing nothing. It sets me at ease,” I said. “Ease?” His eyebrows shot up. “Oh yeah.” He nodded emphatically. “It’s been a week of ease all right. I’ve had my feet up all week.”
Of course, just the opposite was true, and it was true for both of us.
“Do you think we could have a short word?” With a jerk of my head, I motioned in the direction of the road leading down the Kidron Valley.
“Sure,” he answered, and then with a glance and a nod to his son, he transferred responsibility to him. A light mist still hung over the lowest reaches of the valley, but the early-morning sun was promising to burn it off. The swallows nesting along the crevices in the city wall were engaged in a full-throated competition with the songbirds in the trees along the brook. Traffic to and from the city was just beginning to stir.
When we had gone a few paces beyond the gate, I spoke. “I just wanted to say thanks for the help with the Barabbas case.”
“Oh, don’t mention it.” There was relief in his voice. “I thought you were going to warn me about some new plot.”
“No, there’s no new plot.” I hesitated. “Let me rephrase that. There’s no new plot that I know about. You never can be sure what’s being hatched in this crazy city.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that. I guess we learned that with Barabbas.” Jonas nervously bit on the corner whiskers of his mustache, and then continued. “Now, that Galilean prophet? I’ve been losing sleep over him all week.”
“Harmless as a dove,” I said. “Harmless as a dove.”
“How do you know?”
“I checked him out myself on Monday, right back there in the temple courts.” I made a quick double-pump motion with my upraised thumb aimed over my shoulder. “Then on Tuesday I had Claudius in there with the prophet.”
“You Romans have more nerve than brains.” He kicked a loose pebble off the pathway, looked up at me with a quizzical grin, and then with an incredulous shake of his head, he repeated, “More nerve than brains, that’s all I can say.”
“If we didn’t have nerve, we wouldn’t be running this place. Or any other place for that matter.”
He shrugged, furrowed his brow, and then cocked his head to one side. It was his way of reluctantly conceding my point.
“So he’s harmless?”
“Harmless to us.” With my index finger, I pointed first at myself, then at Jonas, and then back again. “Caiaphas, on the other hand”—I paused for effect—“now there’s a man who I’m sure hasn’t slept well all week.”
“So you think the old rusty gate has lost some sleep? Over what?”
“Money. Money and prestige. It can’t look too good having some roving up-country rabbi come in and take over your temple at the religious high point of the year.”
“I suppose not,” Jonas said. But then he added, “You know this prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, he’s been here before. He kicked out the money changers a few years back. Caused quite a stir then. But nothing like this. He’s got the temple guards running scared. That’s what my uncle told me.”
“Your uncle’s right. I saw that firsthand on Monday. So what else do you know about this Galilean?”
“My wife tells me he’s a friend of tax collectors and sinners. She told me one of his disciples was a tax collector before he met the prophet.”
“Ah, tax collectors and sinners?” I responded with a wink and a nod. “Maybe there is hope for the two of us yet.”
Jonas smiled back at me. “So, Marcus, where is this all headed? Some people think he’s the Messiah. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, we’re well aware of that. But he doesn’t oppose paying taxes to Caesar.” I gave my tax collector a supportive thumbs-up signal. “And he hasn’t spoken a word against Rome since he’s been here.”
“That’s not a surprise. He knows better. You and your boys would have him nailed up on Golgotha the moment he did.”
“You’re right about that,” I agreed. “But I honestly don’t think he’s got a quarrel with us. He’s going after the parading hypocrites in long, flowing robes, those killjoy Pharisees and teachers of the law. You know the ones—the religious police who run this place.”
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Reading: Psalm 37
I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
but he soon passed away and was no more;
though I looked for him, he could not be found.
Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.
But all sinners will be destroyed;
there will be no future for the wicked.
The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him (NIV).
Today’s reading is the concluding portion of Psalm 37. As noted previously, this entire psalm contrasts the life of the righteous person with the individual who pursues a life of sin and illicit gain. The righteous will receive their reward and the man who does evil will be destroyed.
We all reap what we sow. If we sow seeds of selfishness, hate and discord, we will reap a harvest of ruin. Paul, the apostle, gives us this warning, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
We can readily conclude that the good man will live because of his goodness. In other words, the righteous person will be saved because of his righteous deeds. But that’s not what this psalm teaches. In fact, the idea that one is saved because of one’s righteousness runs contrary to the message of this psalm and the entire counsel of Holy Scripture. The psalmist clearly states, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD.”
We are not saved by our righteousness. We are saved by the LORD. It is because of His great mercy that we are saved. This aligns with New Testament teaching as Paul declares, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Yes, we are called to live righteous lives and to do good works, but let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that by these means we will earn our way to heaven. Jesus is the way to heaven. Our feeble efforts won’t take us very far. We need His forgiveness and the power of His redeeming blood. We are saved because we take refuge in Him.
Response: LORD God, I thank you for Jesus. I am thankful that I can put my complete trust in you. I am saved by your amazing grace not by my effort. Hallelujah! Lord Jesus, you are the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Amen.
Your Turn: Have you relied on your righteousness rather than God’s grace?