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Through the Bible August Week 1 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 1: Jesus’ Ministry (John 1-10)

August 1-7

         John’s Gospel is very much unlike the others.  The majority of the content of this book is found nowhere else.  It’s been estimated that 90% of its material is unique.  Nothing is found here about Jesus’ birth, selection of the twelve, casting out demons, or the Judgment.  A very likely explanation for this is that John wrote much later than the other three, as much as 30-35 years.  Since these had been around for some three decades and had received a wide acceptance and broach circulation, John did not need to simply repeat what was found in them.  So, instead, he addresses “new” material and information and a very different vantage point in approaching Jesus’ life.  Neither would it be far-fetched to imagine that some of his themes (life, light, etc.) were in response to some of the thinking and teaching that had emerged in the decades since Christ’s departure.

This week’s reading will take us through the first ten chapters of John’s Gospel.

Through the Bible, July 22

Reading: Mark 1-2

Summary: Mark moves very quickly to the ministry of Jesus.  No introduction is given to this Gospel other than the very first verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  No record is given here of His birth, much less John the Baptist’s.  He moves immediately and briefly through the ministry of John, the baptism and temptation of Jesus–all in thirteen verses.  He marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with the imprisonment of John.

Mark begins with Jesus preaching and healing in the region of Galilee, particularly in and around the city of Capernaum.

Devotional Thought:

I Wonder

The Bible sometimes raises questions for which it provides no answers.

Jesus famously called James and John to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).  They had up to that time been fishers of fish.  Their time had been spent engaged in the gainful employ of commercial fishing. They left that to follow Jesus, which offered no prospect of monetary compensation.

They left their father, Zebedee, in the boat along with the hired servants.  They had been mending nets, but abandoned that task.  I wonder how Zebedee—and we can only imagine how he got his nickname, “Thunder” (Mark 3:17)—responded to his sons walking away from their jobs in the family business.

Later Peter would claim, “We have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28).

That was all quite a commitment, wasn’t it?  It causes me to wonder.  What have I left to follow Jesus?  From what would I walk away to devote myself to service for Him?   Is my following Christ sacrificial or have I adjusted my discipleship to fit my comfortable lifestyle?

I have more questions than answers.

Through the Bible, July 1

Reading: Luke 1:1-4; John 1:1-18

Summary: That each of the four Gospels is written for different original audiences and from different perspectives is nowhere else any more evident that in the introductions written for both Luke’s and John’s Gospels.  Luke’s is very interesting in that it was apparently written with one person (Theophilus) in mind (see also the introduction to Acts—1:1-2).  Also Luke states that other accounts of Jesus’ life had been written which he consulted.  These may—or may not—have included Mark and Matthew (John was written much later).

John’s introduction is entirely different as his Gospel is very different.  As a matter of fact, the other three (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are called “Synoptic” Gospels because of their great similarity and shared content.  Much of John’s content is unique.  He, it is said, begins his Gospel on the plain of eternity.  Mark introduces his gospel with a mere sentence (see the introduction to week one’s reading) and Matthew uses Jesus’ genealogy (see tomorrow’s reading) to introduce his.

Devotional Thought:

Where The Story Begins

The story of Jesus does not begin at Bethlehem in a manger.

His origins are not to be traced to a virgin’s womb.  His efforts on our behalf did not start with the initiation of His public ministry.

Jesus has always been.  In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth? Jesus was present (John 1:1).  Even “before the foundation of the world” the Father and Son laid the plans that culminated in the greatest act of all time—the “culmination of the ages” (Heb. 9:26; NASB; John 17:24; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

The great love with which God has loved us is not only shown in the remarkable sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but also in the fact He has known and loved you and me even before there was a you and me, or anything else for that matter.

Sometimes beauty can be seen up close where all the detail and all the intricacies are evident.  But for full appreciation, it might also require stepping back and seeing the larger picture–the scope and grandeur.

Thank you John, for a larger view of Jesus.

June Supplemental Reading

Week 5: Supplemental Reading

June 29-30

            June’s two supplemental reading days will focus on Psalms apparently written during the time of exile or after.  The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the seventy years of exile had greatly affected the Jews’ understanding of themselves and their relationship with God.  Aside from the explicit historical reference of Psalm 137, this shift in perspective seems to appear in several of the Psalms and has led many to believe they were penned during the time of restoration, though this is far from certain.

Through the Bible, June 13

Reading: Ezra 4-6

Summary: The work of the Jews-returned-to-Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel was not without opposition.  As a matter of fact, their efforts were legally stopped based on complaints sent back to the king of Persia.

Eventually, the original decree of King Cyrus was located and the work was allowed to resume.  But, the delay had lulled the people into inactivity and the efforts of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (June 15-17 readings) were enlisted to motivate them to focus their efforts on God’s house.

Devotional Thought:

Finished!

Finishing a task can, at times, be challenging—even when we consider it a God-given, noble and necessary endeavor.

Such was the building of the temple following Babylonian captivity.  What better, God-centered, and more important project could be undertaken?  Yet, it almost didn’t get finished. Opponents armed with legal verdicts brought work to a halt.  Time-consuming correspondence finally cleared up the legalities, but during the long delay, enthusiasm waned.  God intervened with prophets to re-energize the people to get the ball rolling again.  Finally, the temple was completed.

Just because what we’re doing is good and right and necessary and even at God’s behest, doesn’t guarantee unhindered, smooth, and enthusiastic progress.  We may experience times of great progress, frustrating delays, opposition, movement by fits and starts, the need for outside intervention to reorient priorities and provide motivation.

Whatever!  Keep moving forward.  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.

Maybe it’s time to refocus, regroup, and begin again. Troubles and challenges and obstacles along the way do not mean this isn’t what needs to be done.  Otherwise, God’s temple would have never been rebuilt.

Finish!

Through the Bible, May 15

Reading: Isaiah 40; 42:1-17; 44:1-11

Summary: Remember, the second half of Isaiah (40-66) looks primarily to a future chain of events when after Judah is taken into Babylonian captivity, they return to their homeland.  But national faith has taken a blow.  What implication does the fact that the nation had been overthrown by a foreign power have on their God?  Actually, nothing.  That’s not exactly true as those events were not a result of God’s weakness, but rather His sovereignty. He rules even over the Babylonians and used them as an instrument in His hand.

Still, an important message from Isaiah is that Jehovah alone is God.

Devotional Thought:

God is Impressive

Little children are sometimes taught to sing: “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty; there’s nothing my God cannot do.”

No doubt we should be duly impressed with how big and strong God is.  No power or force or influence can overcome Him.  His presence cannot be contained by space or even time.  What would threaten or challenge me fades with a whimper when seen alongside God.  How reassuring is God’s greatness.

At times, though, it’s not power and size that I need.  As a child, I reveled in my big, strong father, but my mother’s tender arms frequently met my greatest need.

Too, God is mighty to rescue and protect and defend and conquer.  Those are most appropriate in their time.  But it’s not every time.  He is equally capable to caress and to soothe and console and comfort and to cheer.  That also is most appropriate in its time.

In Isaiah 40 two statements of God’s might and magnitude serve as bookends to a beautiful depiction of His tender care.  “Behold, the Lord God comes with might and his arm rules for him…Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weight the mountains in scales and hills in a balance” (Isa. 40:10, 12).  Between them, is this: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (v. 11).

As impressive as His might is His tender care.

Through the Bible, April 21

Reading: No Scheduled Reading

Thoughts and Reflections: This is the catch up for the third week of April (15-21).  No readings are planned, but below are some points to ponder based on this week’s readings.

  1. The Bible makes no bones about the extent of Solomon’s wisdom: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30). That is remarkable itself, but so is the fact that people were drawn to this man for his wisdom.  He was world-renown.  “And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34).

People were drawn to, desired, and appreciated wisdom.  Who today is renown for their wisdom?  The fact is, we’re just not that interested in it.

“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” (Prov. 16:16)

  1. The book of Proverbs is actually a collection of collections of Proverbs. Notice these verses:

“The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (Prov. 1:1)

“The proverbs of Solomon” (Prov. 10:1).

“These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” (Prov. 25:1).

“The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.” (Prov. 30:1)

“The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:” (Prov. 31:1).

  1. We sometimes think we know what God is up to; we’ve got figured out His actions and His deeds. Probably not.  “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Ecc. 11:5).

Devotional Thought:

I’m Not Alone

A woman still in the throes of grief in the weeks following her husband’s untimely death, commented on the value of a book on grieving she has been reading, “It let me know that I’m not going crazy.”

It is so good to know that we’re not alone, that we’re not isolated in our hurts and pains and sorrows, that the emotional turmoil and even confusion we feel is a shared experience.

This isn’t exclusive to grieving, but for any trouble we may face.  And that’s where one of the great values of the Psalms lies. So many of the Psalms allow the believer to know that their questions, uncertainty, anger, weariness, angst, or whatever, have been felt before and have been felt by others.  It is not a sign of failed faith or spiritual bankruptcy.

The misguided notion that in order for us to come to God and be received by Him we can only approach Him with all our “ducks in a row,” a high level of confidence and assurance, and an already sanitized and well ordered life is wrong.  It’s not emotionally or spiritually healthy.  The Psalms introduce to us people unsure and hurt and angry and searching.

The inscription of Psalm 102 says this well, “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.”

It matters not what I’m feeling or what I’m experiencing, it’s not new to God.  He’s heard it before and He’s seen it before.  It will help me to work through whatever it is, if He now hears it from me.

Through the Bible, April 17

Reading: 1 Kings 9-11

Summary: It’s interesting that God appeared to Solomon a second time following the construction of the temple to encourage the king to faithfulness (1 Kings 9:1-9).  It almost serves as a precursor to his fall under the influence of his many foreign wives.  The description of this turn of events (1 Kings 11:4) should be read alongside Deuteronomy 17:17.  Warnings long preceded Solomon’s very regrettable course of action.

Also, a notable visit paid to Solomon by a foreign dignitary (1 Kings 10) is used by Jesus in his preaching to illustrate the kind of search and inquiry for wisdom and truth that condemns many religious persons then and now (Matt. 12:42).

Devotional Thought:

A Foolish Purveyor of Wisdom

I can remember my parents making the observation during the disciplinary process, “You know better than that!”

They were right.  And I’m not the only one for whom this phenomenon is true.

That has led to another observation: people sometimes know better than they do.  While ignorance is rarely ever a favorable condition, knowledge is not a sufficient antidote for wrong behavior.

Nowhere is this fact any more evident than in the case of Solomon, the wisest man in the world.

Solomon knew so much.  He knew that fearing God is the foundation of all wisdom and man’s purpose for existence (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Ecc. 12:13).  He knew that a wife (not to mention 700 wives; 1 Kings 11:3) could pose a great challenge (see Prov. 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24).  He knew that life is filled with many pitfalls, hazards, and temptations that required much discernment, courage, and faith.

And, on top of all he knew, he also had been explicitly reminded of the rewards and blessings of faithfulness to God and the dire consequences of failing to do so (1 Kings 9:4-9).

Still, incredibly, Solomon forsook God (1 Kings 11:4-8).

Obviously, we may allow influences into our lives that supersede our knowledge, that surpass our devotion to God, and eclipse all warnings and encouragements.

To succeed where the wisest man failed does not require greater knowledge or understanding, it does not mean that we must be better informed, warned or encouraged than he. For all that Solomon knew, he did not do.

Really, it all comes down to doing what we already know; and that’s why Jesus put ultimate emphasis on actually doing His will (Matt. 7:21; Mark 3:35; Luke 6:46).

Through the Bible, March 31

Reading: Psalms 34, 56, 57, 63, 142

Summary: We’ll return again today to Psalms that are ascribed to the time of David’s life prior to his reign as king (see the March 30 reading introduction). These Psalms relate to his experiences among the Philistines as well as his hiding in caves and the wilderness as he eluded King Saul.

Devotional Thought:

What Comes Out of Your Mouth

The mouth is the bucket that brings up what is in the well of our hearts.  (I can’t take credit for that thought, but I don’t know to whom credit is due.) A very good indicator of the genuine interest and concern and focus of our lives is what we talk about.

Think about that in terms of your every day speech and your relationship with God.  Are the names of God and Jesus on your lips daily?  Is praise of Him and the telling of His great love for us reserved only for certain places and times and in certain company?

Listen to the opening lines of Psalm 34:

I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul makes its boast in the LORD;

let the humble hear and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

and let us exalt his name together!

(Psalm 34:1-3)

This certainly is behind the otherwise curious statement God made to Joshua when commissioning him as Moses’ successor to lead Israel into Canaan.  He charged him to keep all the Law which Moses had given, not to turn from it to the right or the left, to meditate on it day and night, and that it “shall not depart from your mouth” (Josh.1:7-8).

What we love we think about, and what we think about we talk about.

How does God fit in that formula for you?

March 29-31, Supplemental Readings

Extra Days: Supplemental Readings

March 29-31

            Since this month contains days beyond 28, as did January, we will use these last three days of the month for supplementary readings.  As explained then, these are further readings based on ideas or concepts introduced during the regular reading schedule of the month.  These are intended to provide further insight and illustrate how the Bible is a connected, unified whole–not just a loose collection of spiritual writings.