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.

 

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

Steering a Straight Path

Today’s reading: Hebrews 10:19-12:29

My selection:  Hebrews 12:14

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

My reflections: In the Christian life, there are two important dangers to avoid.  One leads to unwarranted confidence and pride, the other to unremitting guilt and despair.  The first danger is to think ourselves acceptable to God by means of our good works and religious observances. The second danger is to downplay our responsibility to seek peace and holiness and to presume on the grace of God.  The writer of the Hebrews calls his readers to seek peace in their relationships with all others and to pursue holiness in their daily lives.

How do we avoid these two dangers and maintain a safe course down the middle of the road?

On one hand, I cannot be proud of my spiritual and moral standing.  If I am saved, it is not by my works, but by the work of Jesus Christ, my High Priest. Yet if I am saved, I am saved to do good works, to live at peace with others, to grow in holiness. I cannot have Christ and be unchanged in my life, unperturbed by my persistent sin.  If I have Christ, there must be evidence, there must be a hunger and thirst for righteousness.

My challenge: Are you not somewhat haunted by the words, “holiness without which no one will see the Lord”?  Beware of presuming on the grace of God.  Assurance of salvation is based on God’s promises but also evidenced by a changed and changing life.  Repentance will be a regular part of the life of one who knows that his or her holiness falls far short of God’s glory and that there will never be enough holiness in us to merit God’s favor.  Ultimately we are saved by faith in the One who offered the perfect sacrifice for sin and whose righteousness is credited to us, but, meanwhile seek the holiness without which no one will see God.  Be pursuing holiness while trusting in Christ’s holiness.

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