Does it matter?

Looking at life from the perspective of 40, 50 or even more years, it is possible to be completely mistaken about the importance of believing God and serving Him.

Today’s reading: Malachi 1-4; Revelation 22

18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. Malachi 3:18

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Revelation 22:14-15

One of the advantages of a careful reading of the Bible is the reader gains God’s viewpoint on human history and destiny. Although Malachi wrote around 500 years before John penned his Revelation, these writings converge in a harmonious and glorious view of the final end of all things.

Malachi, like all the prophets, sees clearly the inward and outward sins of the people he addressed. He goes into detail about their idolatry, their failures in marriage, and their stealing God’s money. The Jews were presumptuous before God, thinking that either their status as descendants of Abraham exempted them from obedience or that the Holy One of Israel was unconcerned about righteousness in His people.

The prophet warns them that the day of the Lord was coming. They would see that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. It does matter how one lives before God.

John points us to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Those who are accepted before God are those who recognize their sinfulness but come to have their robes washed in His blood (Revelation 7:14).   They do not presume upon God’s mercy but receive the salvation which is offered in the gospel. They have access to the tree of life. They enter the city by the gates. Meanwhile, those who remain in their sins, such as immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood, are outside.

It does matter. No one gets away with their sin. All sin will ultimately be punished. For those who do not believe, they will be punished and barred from the city where God dwells with His people. For those who believe in the Lamb, their sin has already been paid for with the atonement of Jesus Christ. He bore our sins so that by His wounds we may be healed (1 Peter:2:24).

Be sure you know that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Thank you for walking through the Scriptures with me this year and, if we have not met here, may we meet in glory to worship the Triune God. Our life here matters and  it does matter forever.

Happy New Year!

Note:  Tomorrow I will begin another year in the Bible using the reading plan from my book, “Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days.”  You may purchase the book in either kindle or print editions by clicking here.

All Things New

Those who believe God’s word live today in the light of a day to come when He makes all things new.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 13-14; Revelation 21

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. Zechariah 14:9

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5a

The Urban Dictionary defines the “now generation” as “People who want instant gratification.” By definition Bible believers are not members of that group. We live for a day when His kingdom will come and the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Zechariah’s prophecy and the vision of John in Revelation intersect in today’s readings. Here we can see:

  1. God exercises authority over all things. He sits on the throne and there is no one who can compete with Him.
  2. All come to Him in worship.
  3. All things are made new. The fallen world with sickness, sorrow, tears, and death give way to a new heavens and earth where all is renewed.

Flee from the foolishness of the “now generation.” They want what they want and they want it now. Don’t fall for that illusion. Cling to the promises of God for a day when all things will be made new. The new year which is about to begin gives us an opportunity to consider how to make necessary changes to live more fully in the light of that day to come. How will you invest the year ahead to reflect an attitude of expectancy and faith in the day when the Lord makes all things new?

The Key and the Book

While Bible scholars and students disagree over the interpretation of certain prophetic passages, the absolute sovereignty of God over all the affairs of human history is never in doubt.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

16 For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

17 “Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!” Zechariah 11:16-17

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. Revelation 20:1

When the Bible addresses the final events of time, not every detail is clear, but what is clear is that God reigns over all and that every person will stand in judgment before Him. There are three possible responses to these passages: comfort, terror, or ridicule. For those who believe in the Triune God revealed in Scripture, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well. For those who do not believe, their attitude may be to dismiss the assertions with ridicule or to ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true.

Zechariah shows us that God is the One raising up leaders, even evil ones. He is the One who is also judging them and putting them down. God doesn’t merely permit some wicked to gain power. He actually controls their ascendance and uses it for His purposes, in some cases to discipline His own people. In the end, He brings judgment on these ungodly powers.

In Revelation 20, God’s control of the cosmos is demonstrated by the key and the book. The key, entrusted to an angel, is the key to the bottomless pit, the place where Satan is cast and held impotent. Satan is completely wicked but he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. There is also a book, the book of life, in which are written the names of those chosen to live and not be condemned to the lake of fire.

Those who consider these claims to God’s sovereignty over all things and of a final judgment to be mere myths are left, it seems to me, with the alternatives of a universe which is out-of-control and human existence which is without purpose. I don’t find this comforting or reassuring at all, do you? Praise God for His sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book.

The Bride’s Dress

The true worship of the saints is more than merely acceptable. It is the glorious attire of the Church, the Bride’s dress.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 7-9; Revelation 19

5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Zechariah 7:5-6

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:6-8

Do our good deeds, done for God on earth, matter in heaven? The answer may surprise you.

Zechariah was sent to confront Judah about her unacceptable service to God. Oh, she had fasted and mourned. She had put on an outward show of brokenness and repentance, but the Lord saw through the phoniness and hypocrisy. True service to God is performed with fear of Him, not some kind of self-serving motivation. It is done by “small and great” since no one is exempt from responsibility before Him (Revelation 19:4). It is futile to attempt to perform outward acts of service to God that are not matched by inward piety.

John relates his vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb. What a joyous occasion it is! There is nothing quite like a wedding celebration where bride and groom are filled with love and hope for their future. They commit themselves fully to one another “till death do us part.”   But no matter how splendid the ceremony, the banquet, or the couple, nothing compares to the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.

At weddings, the big question is always, “how will the bride look? What will she wear?” Through John’s vision we are allowed the rare privilege of seeing the bride before the ceremony. Are you, like me, surprised by her attire? We expect it to be fine linen, bright and pure, but on closer examination we see that this linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. That is what she is wearing.

Fellow disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, never underestimate the eternal significance of your righteous deeds done in fear of and love for Him. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). You and I are creating the bride’s dress.

Final Victory

God will bring final victory over all the forces of evil, therefore He calls His people to separate themselves from those who are doomed.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 4-6; Revelation 18

6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. 7 Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”  Zechariah 4:6-7

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities. Revelation 18:4-5

There have been many moments in history when it appeared that God’s people had no hope of final victory. The Lord always sent messengers to reassure the Church that she would not be ultimately defeated.

In Zechariah’s day, the temple was in ruins and God commanded its rebuilding. It seemed impossible and, in fact, it was. But it did not depend on the strength or might of human beings, even of those who loved the Lord and longed to see worship restored. Through the vision, the prophet understood that it would be successful through the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. God commands all the armies of angels and He does His will which no one can thwart.

John was permitted to see the fall of Babylon. She had commanded the world, economically and culturally, and seemed invincible. All who dealt with her enjoyed wealth and pleasure. But her end is assured. She will be brought down to nothing. Her ruin will be mourned by those who depended on her. God called His people to come out and not to go down with her in judgment.

What is your view of the dominant culture of our day? Are you optimistic that God’s truth will ultimately triumph? If you are one who has been bought by the blood of the Lamb, flee either pessimism or compromise. Final victory is  assured.

 

 

God Rules

Both believers and unbelievers alike can lose sight of the fact that God rules over human history and will ultimately conquer all those who oppose Him.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 1-3; Revelation 17

13 Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Zechariah 2:13

16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. Revelation 17:16-17

My seminary professor, Steve Brown, used to quip, “Christians don’t pray because they are afraid God doesn’t exist. Atheists don’t pray because they are afraid He does.”   Certainly, there are times when everyone doubts God’s existence. Our experience can make us question whether our faith is based on reality. Is our experience a reliable basis for faith? The Scriptures tell us to trust what God has said, not what our hunches tell us.

Zechariah delivered messages to Judah assuring them that though their forefathers had brought God’s judgment on themselves, they were not thereby automatically left with no hope. Each person is responsible before God to repent of sin and turn to Him in faith. There are times when God may appear to be unengaged or sleeping, but that is an illusion. All the earth owes Him glory and honor. It is wise to keep silence before Him.

In John’s visions, he sees that reality. There is chaos and wickedness in the world, but do not be confused. God is still ruling over all things. He puts His purposes into the hearts of those who hate Him and they do His bidding without intending to.

Our observations on the state of the world, if uninformed by Scripture, are not trustworthy.  Let God’s Word give you a solid basis for faith and life. You will know that, indeed, God rules.

Why Some Repent

Do you know why some repent and others do not? How do you explain the widely differing responses of people to the severe adversity of God’s judgment? The answer is clear in Scripture.

Today’s reading: Haggai 1-2; Revelation 16

14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, Haggai 1:14

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. Revelation 16:8-9

During Haggai’s time, the people of Judah in captivity in Babylon had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. They had settled down and begun to build their comfortable and fashionable homes. Haggai was sent to tell them that God was not pleased with their wrong priorities. They had left the temple in ruins while they focused on their own houses. God sent them drought. The crops failed.

The message of Haggai and the failure of the crops seemed to get their attention. But in the case of the people living under the outpouring of God’s wrath by the seven angels of Revelation 15-16, there is a completely different reaction. No matter what bowl of wrath is poured out the people do not repent and give God glory. They do not recognize His power and their sin. Their response is completely irrational. The only exception is the voice coming from the altar who give God the praise for the display of His justice and power (Revelation 6:9-11).

Adversity, in and of itself, does not produce repentance. As the bowls are poured out and one judgment is piled upon another, the cursing of God continues without diminishing. How do we explain this insane attitude toward the Sovereign and Holy God? Why did the people in Haggai’s day repent after a crop failure while the people of John’s vision dig in and curse God? The difference is that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people.” This turned them to obedience and service to rebuild the temple.

Do not expect repentance and praise to God to come from rebellious sinners unless the Lord stirs up their hearts. Pray that God may show mercy to those who are under His wrath by not only sending adversity and a messenger with the gospel, but by also stirring up their hearts. That is why some repent and others do not.

 

His Wrath and His Joy

Scripture reveals a God of wrath and joy.  He is angry with sin but also delighted with His redeemed people.

Today’s reading: Zephaniah 1-3; Revelation 15

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:16-17

1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.  Revelation 15:1

The prophet Zephaniah described the anger of God against all the sin and corruption of, not only Judah but, all the nations of the world. He warns of the coming of the day of God’s wrath. That day would come and the judgment would be complete. Is there no escape? Yes, there is a hope for those who humble themselves before the Lord.

John’s vision in Revelation confirms that the wrath of God does have an end point. There would be seven plagues applied to the earth by seven angels. We are then told that the seven plagues, “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.”

Finished. That is a good word to hear. Zephaniah has given us a beautiful picture of the delight which God has in His own. Several phrases show the completeness of His care and describe His presence (in your midst), His power (mighty one who will save), His joy (He will rejoice over you… exult over you with loud singing).

If we are to be biblical in our understanding of God we must grasp these realities of His being. He is absolutely holy and will not let the wicked go unpunished. He is also a God of love and mercy and will save all who come to Him in faith through His Son, the Lamb of God, who took away the sin of the world.

Be sure your understanding of God is accurate. Know Him in truth as He has revealed Himself in His Word.  His attributes include His wrath and His joy.

A Call for Endurance

God calls His people to endurance, by faith, even in the most severe of trials, because His promises are sure and His power is invincible.

Today’s reading: Habakkuk 1-3; Revelation 14

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places. Habakkuk 3:18-19

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:12-13

Down through the ages, the saints of God have been called to live by faith in His word. Often they have had to stand under intense opposition and persecution.

Habakkuk was perplexed about the spiritual state of Judah. Why did God seem to ignore the injustice and corruption in the nation? God responded that He would send the Chaldeans to discipline Judah. That answer drove Habakkuk to even greater confusion. How could God use such a wicked people to discipline His own people who while sinful were not nearly so evil as the Chaldeans? The Lord explained that when He was finished using the Chaldeans to discipline Judah, He would then turn His wrath on them, too.

Habakkuk gets it. He concludes with a psalm of praise and commitment to God. The prophet says he will trust God and rejoice in Him no matter what. Now that is an example of faith!

In Revelation, God gives John a picture of the things to come. There will be great trials. The saints must respond to the call to endure with obedience and steadfast faith in Jesus. Once that is over, they will be received into eternal rest where their deeds in this world will be remembered.

Walk in faith and obedience, my brother and sister. The time will come soon when the stress and pressure of this world will be over. Our reward is certain, so endure.

God: Patient and Powerful

God’s slowness to anger must not be confused with any weakness or ambivalence. [1]

Today’s reading: Nahum 1-3; Revelation 13

2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet. Nahum 1:2,3

7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 13:7-8

If there is anything we can learn from reading the Bible carefully from cover to cover, it is that God is firmly in control of all of human history. Nothing escapes His knowledge, His presence, or His power. He is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. That does not mean that He accepts everything that happens with no further action. He will act in His time to reward faithfulness and punish all evil.

In Nahum’s day, the nation of Assyria was imposing her power on the surrounding nations. Israel had already fallen to her, and Judah, under King Manasseh, was a vassal state. Nahum proclaimed the power of God in the midst of this difficult situation.   Assyria would fall, he assured them. God is slow to anger but not weak in power. He would pour out His wrath. Meanwhile, Nahum, whose name means comfort, reminded Judah that “ The Lord is good,  a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (1:7).

In John’s vision, he sees two beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth. These are united with the dragon and they wreak havoc on God’s people, who do not take the mark of the beast which gives access to commerce. It seems like a hopeless situation, yet there is a limit on the time allotted to these beasts. There is a reassurance to those who refuse to worship the beast. Their names were recorded before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Let this bring comfort to us who believe but warning to all who confuse God’s patience with any kind of weakness.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, introductory notes to Nahum, p. 1587