Honoring Christ

Honoring Christ by maintaining hope even in the midst of great trials and suffering, can make the Christian life a curiosity to unbelievers.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 36-37; 1 Peter 3

In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.                                                                               Ezekiel 36:19b-21

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.                                                                                                 1 Peter 3:14-16

The persistent idolatry of Israel and Judah brought on their downfall, but did they learn from it? No! They continued to profane the name of the Lord by not recognizing before their captors that God was punishing them for their sin. It was not because of any weakness or limitations on the Sovereign God of the universe that they had been overthrown and sent out of their land. So the captors scratched their heads and asked, “Why did this happen to them?”

Israel and Judah were given a perfect opportunity to show repentance and to honor their God before pagan nations, but they failed. So Ezekiel declared their guilt before them. We will learn in the book of Daniel that there were a few faithful Jews who were very faithful to God while in captivity, but they seem to have been the exception and not the rule.

Peter tells his readers who are also in a kind of captivity in the first century A.D., that they should suffer for righteousness sake. In other words, they should submit to undeserved persecution and maintain hope and trust in the Lord. He tells them to be ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Hope in the midst of unjust suffering is as rare as it is hard to explain. The question they should anticipate is, “Why are these people still so hopeful under all this opposition?”

How do we prepare for the possibility of suffering for righteousness sake? Should we prepare little sound bites or memorize trite phrases? Peter told his readers then, and, I think, he would tell us now “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Be not like the Old Testament Israelites who profaned the Lord’s name, but by honoring Christ in your heart be ready to honor Him with your words.

The Soul Shepherd

God provided someone to be the Soul Shepherd of His people, but His identity was a surprise.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 34-35; 1 Peter 2

22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:22-24

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24-25

Not infrequently, the Bible uses the analogy of sheep to people. Sheep need constant care. They cannot survive without a shepherd. They are prone to make foolish decisions and get themselves in big trouble. Not being able to defend themselves, they are susceptible to predators.

Ezekiel condemns those who were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel and Judah. They looked out for themselves and neglected those in their care. God declared to them that He would rescue His flock. He would get them to safety. He would pronounce judgment. He would provide one shepherd who would feed them and faithfully fulfill the role of shepherd to them. This shepherd to come is identified as God’s “servant David.” Of course, at the time of Ezekiel’s ministry, David had been dead for four centuries, so the prophet would have been thinking of a descendant of David. We know Him as Jesus Christ, of the lineage of David through Joseph (Matthew 1:1,16; Luke 3:23).

Peter refers to Christ as the Shepherd and Overseer of the souls of those to whom he wrote. Clearly, it is Jesus who fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel and rescued His flock. He has fed His people with truth and He will come again to judge those who have rejected His Lordship and His Priesthood. Meanwhile, those He has saved by His death and healed by His wounds are called to die to sin and live to righteousness. In the first century, the vast majority of the Jews rejected the Soul Shepherd that God had sent them. He didn’t fit the stereotype they had imagined for their Messiah.

I hope you have been rescued from the agony of straying like sheep and know the joy of returning to your Soul Shepherd. If so, give Him all the praise and seek to live to righteousness until we enter His presence through death or His return for us.

Seeing Yourself Correctly

Seeing yourself correctly is important. Not everyone does, so how can you be sure you do?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 32-33; 1 Peter 1

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.                                         Ezekiel 32:2b-3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.                                             1 Peter 1:3-5

Pharaoh was one of those people who had a faulty and exalted opinion of himself. He saw himself as a “lion of the nations”, but God had another view of him. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the king of Egypt that he was no lion but a dragon who was fouling the rivers and who was about to be caught and destroyed.

Peter wrote that Christians are heirs of God. It is not their own doing. They didn’t earn this status. God, by His mercy, has granted it to His people. There is a process. First, He caused them to be born again. He did it. They did not will themselves to be reborn. Jesus told Nicodemus a new birth was an absolute prerequisite in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Rebirth is a gracious gift from God’s mercy. Second, because of that new birth, believers have a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Whatever they hoped in before is perishable, defiled, and fading. This new living hope is in an inheritance  totally unlike any material and earthly inheritance. Thirdly, they cannot lose this hope because the inheritance is kept in heaven (not Wall Street!) for them and they are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation which they will see at the last time.

Do you see yourself in the way Peter described, an heir of God with a living hope? If you know the new birth has been granted to you and your faith is in Jesus Christ, you should. Consider if your view of yourself is accurate in accordance with the way God sees you. Remember seeing yourself correctly glorifies God.

God’s Wrath

God’s wrath is coming in judgment, but the targets of His judgment might surprise you.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 29-31; James 5

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast, 9 and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made it,’                       Ezekiel 29:8-9

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.                                            James 5:1-3

Who will be the target of God’s judgment?

In Ezekiel’s day, the Lord pronounced judgment on Egypt. What had they done? It was not so much what they had done or not done, but their arrogant attitude. They prided themselves in the things that God had done. They did not glorify Him, but made idiotic statements like “The Nile is mine, and I made it…” Those who refuse to give God the glory He is due are in special trouble with Him. He would bring His judgment on them and they would know that He is the Lord.

Another target of judgment will be the fraudulent and heartless rich. These are the people James singled out for a stern warning. In the day of judgment, they would be in misery. The riches they trusted in would not serve them at all, but be rotted, moth-eaten, and corroded. There may have been a time when they could buy their way out of trouble but no longer. But take note, it is not the fact that they are rich but that they cheated their workers to expand their wealth. Furthermore, they trusted in their wealth and not in the Lord.

Pride and self-sufficiency robs God of His glory and brings His judgment. Beware of any tendency toward these quiet ways of rebelling. Do not be found among those who have attempted to exalt themselves on that coming day of God’s wrath.

Humility before God

It behooves every human being to learn humility before God. One nation learned the hard way.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 27-28; James 4

Because you make your heart
like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
and defile your splendor.                                                    Ezekiel 28:6b-7

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”                                                                                   James 4:13-15

The prophet Ezekiel spoke for the Creator God, the God of all flesh. So he addressed the neighboring nations of Judah, like Tyre. God indicted Tyre for her arrogance and pride. She was prosperous and presumptuous. Tyre boasted of her greatness, her wealth, and her beauty. She elevated herself and brought on the judgment of God.

James warned his readers of the same danger on a personal level. Some were guilty of a total lack of humility before God. They set goals and made their plans and schedules as if they controlled their own destinies, as if they were immortal, unstoppable. Where is the recognition that we are all no more than “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes?”

In centuries past, godly people routinely wrote D.V. in their correspondence when making plans. “I will come to see you by New Years, D.V.” I googled “D.V.” to see what came up. On the third page of hits, I found a list of 50 possible options for D.V., things like Darth Vader, Death Valley, and Desktop Virtualization. Obviously, none of these were what the Puritans had in mind.About 35th in the list was “Deo Volente (Latin for ‘Lord willing’).” Yeah, that’s it.

In our society, few know Latin and too few know the Lord who reigns and has the final say-so over our lives. I don’t think the folks in ancient Tyre used D.V in their correspondence and neither do we, but, even if you don’t write it or say it, my fellow mist, remember to keep it in your mind and heart as you make plans. Always seek to maintain humility before God.

The Meekness of Wisdom

The meekness of wisdom distinguishes heavenly wisdom from earthly wisdom. Can you detect the difference?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 24-26; James 3

6 For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, 7 therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.    Ezekiel 25:6-7

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. James 3:13-16

James warns his readers about the dangers that lie in the power of the tongue. While it may be attractive to be a teacher, one must beware of the danger of stricter judgment that will come to teachers. A teacher who lacks wisdom will lack meekness and will be subject to judgment. Godly wisdom is accompanied by a gentleness and humility not known in the world where those who are considered wise are frequently arrogant, boastful, bitterly jealous, and selfishly ambitious.

The Ammonites, in Ezekiel’s day, demonstrated precisely that kind of earthly, demonic “wisdom” in their attitudes and statements at the time of the fall of Jerusalem. They rejoiced at the judgment upon the city and kingdom. God promised to bring worse judgment on them for this. They were not the only ones to receive God’s punishment. In each case, the prophet concludes by telling them, “then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Not knowing the Lord is at the heart of the problem because it is the foundation for not fearing the Lord. Since Scripture is clear that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; [and] fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), it is obvious that those who lack fear of the Lord will be ignorant fools no matter how educated and esteemed they may be in this world.

Beware of those modern-day Ammonites who boast about themselves and arrogantly look down on those wayward believers whom God is judging. The absence of the meekness of wisdom is the evidence of a earthly counterfeit wisdom we must avoid.

The Man Who Stood in the Breach

Those who trust in the Man who stood in the breach must show mercy and not partiality toward others.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 22-23; James 2

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.”                                                                                                        Ezekiel 22:30-31

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.                                                                                                                    James 2:1

In Ezekiel’s day, the walls of the city were broken open to invaders. The false prophets did not risk their lives to close these breaches or to stand in them (Ezekiel 13:5). God looked but there was no one who would do this. My study Bible notes refer to the contrast with Moses, who as a true and faithful leader stood up in the spiritual breach for Israel when they crafted and worshiped a golden calf. Moses pleaded with God to spare Israel their just punishment and God heard him. [1] Now the so-called prophets ignored this need. God poured out His wrath on the nation.

Finally, God Himself took on flesh and lived among us to bring atonement for sin and mercy to God’s people. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Man who stood in the breach against our enemy. He is the Good Shepherd who did not flee when danger came. He bore the pain of death for us. [John 10:7-18]. James calls all who hold the faith in Him to reflect that faith in our actions and attitudes toward others. There should be no partiality based on socioeconomic classes. There should be no favoritism toward the rich nor discrimination against the poor. Those who have received mercy must be merciful or they show they deserve judgment.

Be sure your relationships show mercy and not partiality. You have been saved by the Man who stood in the breach for us. Pride and haughtiness has no place in our lives.

[1] Reformation Study Bible p. 1415 note on 22:30-31

The Reason God Saves

The reason God saves has nothing to do with the worthiness or performance of those He saves. So why does He do it?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 20-21; James 1

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. 9 But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10 So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.                                     Ezekiel 20:8b-10

18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.                                                                       James 1:18

Page after page, Ezekiel lays out the case against Israel and Judah. Their sin and unfaithfulness before a Holy God was an abomination. God would have been just and right to destroy them at the first failure but He extended patience and relented again and again. But why? Three times in chapter 20 He says “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned” (vs. 9,14, 22). Another time He says “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” (v.44). God’s purpose in showing them mercy was that His name not be profaned and that Israel should know that He is the Lord.

God shows mercy to His elect people.  Why? Two reasons.  One, so that the world would not be able to claim that He is unable to save His wayward sheep.  Two, so that His people should know Him in truth. James sheds more light on the subject when he writes that “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Why did God save His people? Because He wanted to. It was of His own will. God has no constraints. He has no obligations. He is completely free. He can do what He wants consistent with His holiness. What did He want to do? He wanted to save a people for Himself, the beginning of a new creation.

And that is what He did. Are you one of His people? If so, marvel at the greatness of His grace and mercy to you. Remember, you are secure in Him because the reason God saves has nothing to do with you.


Ending Well

While there’s life, there’s hope, but there’s also danger. Will you be ending well?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.                                                    Ezekiel 18:20b-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.                 Hebrews 13:7

In Ezekiel’s day, the people had a saying ‘‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2). The Lord told them that this proverb was going to be eliminated from their discourse. God said that each person held responsibility for himself as to his obedience or disobedience. Whatever path a person chose, righteousness or sin, was his own and he would enjoy the blessings or suffer the consequences. A parent’s sin could not make his child incur guilt, nor could a parent’s obedience merit forgiveness to a sinful child. Each one stands alone before God with his own record.

But change is possible. No one is locked into a lifestyle of sin or righteousness based on choices in his youth. It’s how you end up that matters. The repentant thief on the cross pleaded for mercy and found forgiveness at death’s door after a life of crime (Luke 23:39-43). It is also possible that one might prove to be unfaithful at the end of life. It’s how you end up that counts. It is never too late to repent, but it’s also never too late to rebel.

The writer to the Hebrews gives his readers an assortment of commands in light of all he has written. Several of them have to do with their relationship with their spiritual leaders, those who had taught them God’s Word (vs. 7, 17). They must observe the outcome of those godly lives and imitate their faith. How did those men’s lives turn out? If they were faithful to the end, the outcome was good. If not, one ought to be forewarned that even those who at one time show some signs of true faith and obedience to God can veer off and prove to be unbelievers. This does not mean that anyone can lose his salvation. It does mean that anyone can act like a Christian for a time and then fail to endure to the end [See Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23; 2 Timothy 4:10a; 1 John 2:19].

Be on guard against the schemes of Satan. Do not be presumptuous of your ability to resist every temptation and trap. We all know some who have not. May you and I endure faithfully and finish by ending well. [For more on this subject click here.]


God Never Lets Us Go

God never lets us go.  But what if we sin, grievously?  Does He still hold on to us?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 16; Hebrews 12

62 I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”                                                                                                Ezekiel 16:62-63

5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?                                   Hebrews 12:5-7

Ezekiel delivers a brutal message to the exiles of Judah, a message filled with emotion and grief for the sins of God’s people in the face of His abundant mercy toward them. God poured out mercy and love on them when they were helpless and dying, but, as soon as they could, they responded with betrayal and spiritual adultery.

How did God respond to this? He cast them out of their land and sent them into captivity, but He did not forget His covenant with them. His punishment was discipline not rejection. There is a difference. God would restore them and keep His covenant with them. In fact, He would establish for them an everlasting covenant, a better covenant than the one they had broken.  What’s more He  promised to atone for them for all that they had done (vs. 53-63).  That is precisely what He did through the death of His Son, Jesus, on the cross.

The Hebrews, too, were experiencing God’s discipline. The Epistle called them to count this discipline not as rejection but as evidence of God’s love toward His sons. Instead of doubting the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, they are to “strive for peace with everyone and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). When this is not the case and one or more of God’s people fail to obtain the grace of God, a root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble. The church is defiled by this process.

Welcome discipline. Take difficulties from God’s hand and let Him show you His grace to endure, to grow in holiness, and to be trained by it. Remember He atones for our sin, and He never lets us go. Never, despite our grievous sin.  If you are His.