The Sufferings of Christ

The sufferings of Christ not only ended the elaborate but futile Old Covenant sacrifices but actually bring sinners to God.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 40; 1 Peter 5

39 And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered. Ezekiel 40:39

1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 1 Peter 5:1

In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, he is taken into the inner chamber where there are tables for the washing and slaughter of the various kinds of sacrifices: burnt, guilt, and sin offerings. Such was the enormity of the sin of God’s chosen people that the sacrifices were repeated over and over with no seeming conclusion. Sin and sacrifices were the way of life on a daily basis. Talk about life on an endless treadmill!

Would there be no deliverance from the sin or the futility of the animal sacrifices? Yes, indeed, there would.

Peter was a witness to that deliverance which was accomplished by the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle knew what those sufferings meant. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…” he wrote (I Peter 3:18). Christ’s sufferings meant that a sufficient offering had finally been made. Christ suffered once for sins. His one offering was sufficient because He was righteous. No other person and no sacrificial animal could accomplish what His sufferings accomplished which was to bring unrighteous people to God.

Peter knew that he was one of those unrighteous people who had been brought to God. [See Luke 5:8]. The rest of his life and ministry was lived and executed in the light of the cross of Christ. When he appealed to the elders among his readers to be faithful and humble shepherds of God’s flock, he did so as one who had never lost sight of the reason for Jesus’ sufferings.

Have you grasped the meaning of the sufferings of Christ? Lay aside every effort to earn forgiveness through any merit of your own, or any feeble offerings to God. They cannot suffice. Only the One who suffered for His people on the cross can bring us to God. Trust in the sufferings of Christ.

Glory Revealed

History shows the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, but, it will culminate in glory revealed.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 38-39; 1 Peter 4

23 So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.  Ezekiel 38:23

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Peter 4:12-14

Israel and Judah were casualties in the cosmic battle of good and evil. As God’s people they suffered for their sin and idolatry, but they would not ultimately be lost because God had chosen them for Himself. He promised to do a new thing with them, make a new covenant with them, and restore them. Here Ezekiel warns the enemy ruler, Gog of the destruction which is coming upon him and his forces. God will show His greatness and His holiness and make Himself known to them.

In short, God would be glorified before the seemingly invincible forces of evil. What an encouragement to the exiles in the Babylonian captivity, far from Jerusalem.

Peter, too, assures the suffering believers of his day that God is not unaware of their plight. They suffer with Christ. They do not suffer as a means of discipline for their sin but rather as a means to show the power and grace of God. Blessing will be theirs, but, first, there is a time of trial to endure. While they are not suffering for sin but for Christ, they do have God’s presence with them and assurance that their suffering will produce the purification of their faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).

There will come a day when God’s glory will be fully revealed and His judgment will be finalized. Those who have suffered malign for Him will be rewarded with vindication and their growth in purity of faith will bring glory to Christ.

Do you suffer for Christ today? Peter says be sure you suffer for Him and not for your sin. Meanwhile, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator because the day of glory revealed is coming.

 

 

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 of 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 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.

Water: Judgment or Deliverance?

Today’s reading: Genesis 6-8; Matthew 3

God exercises His power in judgment on sinful mankind with a universal flood. Even in the flood, He shows His grace and mercy by sparing Noah and his family along with a male and a female of each animal. Sadly, only this small group of 8 people believes and finds salvation from the waters. The rest are lost. So it will be in the final judgment. All will not be saved, but only those who by grace through faith believe in Christ (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Notice Noah’s immediate response to this deliverance. He builds an altar to the Lord and offers sacrifices in gratitude to Him.

Matthew tells us of the events surrounding the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist, son of the high priest Zechariah and Elizabeth, impacts the nation through his preaching and baptizing. Jesus comes to John for baptism showing His submission to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus will perfectly fulfill the law of God.

I Peter 3:18-22 ties both of these passages together showing that God’s mercy to Noah in the flood is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s deliverance of His people from the judgment for sin. The water of the flood brought God’s just judgment on mankind, but the water of baptism in Christ Jesus symbolizes cleansing from sin and the assurance of salvation to all who believe in Him.

Do you have that assurance? Give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ that He submitted perfectly to God’s law in His life and death and that through faith in Him, we are made righteous (I Corinthians 1:30) and because we are righteous, we, like Noah, are safe from the flood of judgment to come.

Saved by Grace; Assured by Fruit

Today’s reading:1 Peter 2:13-2 Peter 1:21

My selection:  2 Peter 1:9-11

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

My reflections: As a young Christian, I was taught to trust in the promises of the Bible, that salvation is by grace through faith, for my assurance of salvation.  Yet as I read this passage, it seems clear that while salvation is by grace through faith and not at all based on the character or works of the believer, assurance of salvation comes, at least in part, by a fruitful, changed life that is the result of that salvation.  An unchanged, unfruitful, stagnant believer in Jesus Christ is a contradiction of terms.

In this one paragraph, there is reference to calling and election, God’s choosing those whom He would save and calling them effectually to Himself, and a reference to the need to practice the qualities listed, character traits of one who has been forgiven and given the promises of God to partake of the divine nature.

My challenge: Are you trusting in God’s grace alone for your salvation?  Do you see the necessity of bearing fruit as an evidence of your salvation?  Do not be passive in seeking the Lord, in abiding in Christ, and in bearing the fruit of a redeemed life.  Seek to grow in the virtues of knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.  Make your calling and election sure.  A rich entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ awaits you.

Tomorrow’s reading: 2 Peter 2:1-1 John 3:10

A Chosen Race; A Holy Nation

Today’s reading: James 3:13-1 Peter 2:12

My selection:  1 Peter 2:9-10

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

My reflections: Here is a remarkable, even stunning, statement which connects God’s purposes revealed to His people at Mt. Sinai to the Church of Jesus Christ.  Exodus 19:5-6 says:

5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.

It was always God’s plan and purpose to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham (Genesis 12:3).  Certainly the Israelites were given the Law, the Prophets and the other Old Testament writings.  Their mandate was to be obedient and, thus, fulfill their calling to be a nation of priests and a holy nation.  Only Jesus Christ, the Messiah, perfectly obeyed God’s voice and kept His covenant.  In so doing, Jesus established His Church as the fulfillment of God’s eternal, unchangeable purpose to bless all the families of the earth and to bring together a people for God’s own possession.

This is not “replacement theology,” as some like to disparagingly call it.  This is “fulfillment theology.”  God’s purposes are perfectly fulfilled in Christ.

My challenge: God has only one people, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone as taught in His Word from beginning to end.  Praise Him for His great wisdom in decreeing this efficiently.  Praise Him for His sovereignty in executing this effectively.  Praise Him, if you are in Christ, for calling you out of darkness into His holy nation by mercy.  Proclaim His excellencies to all who will hear.

Tomorrow’s reading:  1 Peter 2:13-2 Peter 1:21

Fighting Self-deception

Today’s reading: Hebrews 13:1-James 3:12

My selection: James 1:22

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

My reflections: James is concerned about wisdom, that believers be wise in the midst of the rough and tumble of life.  A key part of wisdom is to not be deceived.  One can be deceived about the dynamics of temptation (James 1:12-16), not seeing that there is blessing in remaining steadfast under trial but attempting to shift the blame for temptation to God.  A wise person takes responsibility for his sin.

One can be deceived when he is a mere hearer of the Word of God and not a doer of it.  He knows a lot but practices nothing.  He fails to apply what the Scriptures tell him to his own life and behavior.  He looks into the Word but presumes that it is not addressing any needed change in his life.

My challenge: Beware of self-deception.  It often comes masquerading in the proud thought “I am an exception.  Others need to obey, submit to the truth, but not me. Poor fools.  I am unique.”  Don’t be deceived.  Apply the word more strictly to yourself than to others.  Oh, and be quick about it (James 1:19).

Tomorrow’s reading:  James 3:13-1 Peter 2:12