Goodbye to the Good, Old Days

The destruction of Jerusalem brought inconsolable grief, a deep longing for the good, old days, but God had something new and far better planned.

Today’s Reading

Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 8

Selected Verses

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. Lamentations 5:21-22

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:6-7

Reflections

The writer of Lamentations pours out his grief for Jerusalem, which lies in ruins. The best he can imagine is some kind of return to the wonderful days of peace and prosperity, maybe the reign of Solomon when Israel was one kingdom, rich in wealth, politically dominant, free from oppressors.  Ah, to return to those days again!

But Jeremiah had already prophesied that there would be a new covenant, not like the old one to which the people were unfaithful. [See Jeremiah 31:31-34.] The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that the new covenant made the old one obsolete. The good, old days were not so good, after all. The old covenant only served to show the sinful condition of the nation and the need for a better covenant, a better priest, and a better sacrifice. That is exactly what God did through Christ.

Think about it

Ecclesiastes 7:10 advises us:

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

In the midst of difficult and trying times, it is easy to look back to some past era that seems to have been better. Resist that temptation and let go of the longing for some golden age of yesteryear. God, in Jesus Christ, has brought us a whole new covenant that far exceeds anything ever known. Pray that we may be faithful and live in anticipation of that day when His kingdom fully comes and all things are made new.

Zion: A City Filled with Righteousness

The ultimate aim of the Christian is to bear the fruit of righteousness that comes from God and brings Him glory and praise. Our destiny is Zion.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 31-33; Philippians 1

Selected Verses

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.  Isaiah 33:5-6

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Reflections

The fall of Man in Genesis 3 touched off the millennia-long battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ. The enmity goes on, but never doubt the certainty of final victory through the resurrection of Jesus.  He has already defeated Satan. Those in whom God has begun His work will be perfected at the day of Jesus Christ, the day of resurrection, the final judgment, and the glorification of the elect (Philippians 1:6).

The work of Christ in His people has already begun. It bears the fruit of righteousness through the Lord.  That fruit brings God glory and praise and pleases Him. It is not to the credit of any human but to God. It fulfills the original purpose of mankind whom God made in His image and according to His likeness.

Isaiah makes a similar connection between the glory of God and the righteousness He produces in His people. “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.” God wants Zion filled with righteousness and He will do it.

Think about it

Meanwhile, we pray for growth in righteousness and eagerly await that day of completion. In a city filled with righteousness, God “will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.” Rather than trust in gold and silver, “the fear of the Lord [will be] Zion’s treasure.”

World leaders promise to bring about stability and prosperity, but which of them proclaims the need for the fear of the Lord who produces true stability and prosperity through righteousness? When Christ returns, there will be no more competition for dominance or for honor. Until then, pray that day may come soon when we shall dwell in Zion.

Judgment–Maybe Today?

God rules in judgment over all. No one escapes.  For you and me, our meeting with Him could be sooner than we think. Are you ready?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 13-15; Galatians 6

Selected Verses

This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back? Isaiah 14:26-27

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8

Reflections

Isaiah saw a clear vision of God, Holy and lifted up.  Now he proclaims oracles against various nations: Babylon, Assyria, Philistea, and Moab. All of these kingdoms were, at one time or other, a threat to Israel and Judah. God assures His people through Isaiah that all these nations are under His control. He will deal with their arrogance and pride and injustice.

Paul has admonished the Galatians to reject the false teaching of those who had come to bewitch and unsettle them (3:1; 5:12). Now he reminds them that God sits on the throne.  He will act in judgment on those who are deceived–who think they can sow to their own flesh and get away with it. Two errors concerning sin are in view. One, that by keeping the law we can be justified before God. This is also called “works righteousness.” Two, that sin is of no importance so we may sin all we please with no consequences. Only through the cross of Christ may we find forgiveness of sin. God will judge those who reject His Son, who is the only Savior and the only means of salvation.

Think about it

The nations of the Old Testament world have gone, removed from their proud perch. They failed to believe that God rules. Judgment is sure, and judgment is final.

We now face death and judgment.  What do you believe will happen to you?  Are you trusting your own good works to be acceptable before the Judge?  Are you presuming that God is not really serious about our sin? Do not fall for those deceptions.  Christ’s death is the only way to salvation. Do not trust in your good works. Do not foolishly assume that God is not serious about our sin. Be ready to meet your God. It could be today.

The Best Is Yet to Be

All this world offers pales in comparison to the glory awaiting those who know God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The best is yet to be.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 21-22; Second Corinthians 4

Selected Verses

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Second Corinthians 4:14-15

Reflections

In Old Testament times, much of the focus of God’s commands and promises was on the way of wisdom and blessing in this life.  Proverbs holds out much hope for reward for those who are humble and reverent before God.  He has made a covenant with Israel to be their God, to keep them as His special people, to forgive their sins as they repent before Him and keep His law.

But behind these great covenant promises was an even greater ultimate end.  God would send the Messiah.  He would be the King in the lineage of David.  He would also be the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, who would be pierced and crushed so that we might be healed and have peace (Isaiah 53).

All this was still in the future at the time of Proverbs.  Meanwhile, the faithful would heed the call to humility and the fear of the Lord.  Many would see a reward in this life, but not all.

Then, came the Lord Jesus Christ proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).   Alas, the old covenant kingdom of Israel was a mere shadow of the Kingdom of God.

Paul resisted it until he could resist no more, confronted as he was on the road to Damascus by Christ Himself (Acts 9:1-31).   Now Paul tells the good news of the resurrection.  God’s grace was going out to more and more people.  Thanksgiving shouts went up everywhere that grace went and God was being glorified in places like Corinth, where darkness had ruled with an iron hand.

Think about it

Down through the centuries the gospel that promises life through the resurrected Christ has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth.  Do not lose heart!  Jesus told us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come”  (Matthew 6:10).  He is answering that prayer as the gospel goes forth and grace is received by millions in the most unlikely places.  Most of all, God is glorified.  If you are blessed with riches and honor and life in this world, rejoice!  But remember, the best is yet to be when we enter into His kingdom and glory forever.

Preparing for Finals

Public acclaim in this world is of no consequence. What matters is the state of our hearts when we stand before God in final judgment.

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:49-104; First Corinthians 4

Selected Verses

Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.

Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.

May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame!  Psalm 119:78-80

It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.   First Corinthians 4:4-5

Reflections

The Psalmist knew severe opposition because of his trust in God and obedience to His law. His life was a rebuke to those who had no regard for the Lord. He prayed that the insolent would be shamed and the God-fearers would be drawn to him so that they would know God’s word even better. But he also prayed for a blameless heart with respect to the Law of God. He did not want to be put to shame before the Judge.

In a similar way, Paul sought to be found commendable before God. He had received both criticism and acclaim by people. Some identified themselves with him to such a degree that they went around saying, “I am of Paul.”   This was causing serious division in the church. Paul would not hear of this. He said, “It is the Lord who judges me.” He did not want the approval of men, especially since it was a basis for division.

How should they look at Paul and others, like Apollos? They were mere servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (vs. 1). He already said that they could do nothing but plant or sow, but had no power to cause growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul served God with a continual awareness of the judgment to come. He sought only to be faithful. Like the Psalmist, he wanted to have a blameless heart on that day when “the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”

Think about it

I heard of a Sunday School teacher who had a class for senior citizens. He said they attended faithfully because, at their advanced age, “they were preparing for finals.” Do you serve Christ with this mindset? Are you seeking only His commendation at the end of your life? Be preparing for finals today.

A Basis for Confidence

Our hope is not in the triumph of an earthly kingdom, but in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, we serve Him with confidence.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 32-33; John 18:24-40

Selected Verses

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.  2 Chronicles 32:7-8

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  John 18:36

Reflections

Pilate, the Roman governor, was presented with Jesus to be tried, yet no charges were filed against Him. Rightly, Pilate wanted clarification as to the offenses of the prisoner. It finally came out that Jesus was claiming to be a king although His kingdom was not an earthly one. Nor were His followers mounting any kind of attack against the powers of Rome. It was a bizarre exchange in which Pilate looks confused and perplexed. He tries to release Jesus but finally succumbs to mob pressure. So much for the so-called rule of law! But since Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, it could not be defeated by any force in this world, not even the misapplication of law in the Roman Empire.

By contrast, the kingdom of Judah in Old Testament times was a kingdom of this world. Like every aspect of the culture of Israel in those days (the priesthood, the religious ceremonies, and the political structure) life in the kingdom revealed the instability of mankind and the need for a greater kingdom with a Perfect King. That King was and is Jesus Christ. Hezekiah had some good days and saw temporary victory over the Assyrians. Manasseh was famously evil during most of his life, but in the end he repented. Amon reverted to the worst days of his father. Stability eluded them. Nothing lasted long.

Think about it

The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom based on truth and governed by a Perfect Eternal King. We wait for it, but we should not be idle in our waiting. What has God given you to do today to hasten the day when our faith shall be sight? Do it with all your heart and with confidence. The King is coming and His kingdom is spiritual and eternal.

The Army that Self-destructed

God will be glorified and His and our enemies will self-destruct as we maintain our focus on Him, our confidence in Him, and our praise toward Him.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 20-22; John 16:1-15

Selected Verses

And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.  For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.  2 Chronicles 20:21-23

The ruler of this world is judged. John 16:11

Reflections

Here we have one of the most bizarre battles in all of history.  Three armies are drawn up against Judah and King Jehoshaphat.  The king is terrified, but he wisely turns to God for direction and wisdom.  Reassured by the Lord, Jehoshaphat appoints a choir and marching band to go ahead of the army praising God.  The Lord intervened on their behalf so that the three enemy armies began to kill each other.  The praise band played while the opposition forces self-destructed.  Jehoshaphat’s army watched.  God was glorified.

Jesus spoke solemnly to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.  He told them they would suffer hatred, ejection from the synagogues, and even martyrdom, but He promised them the Holy Spirit.  He assured them they would be at an advantage since the Helper would be with them unlimited by the confines of a human body.  The ministry of the Spirit would be to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.  The Lord told them “…the ruler of this world is judged.”

Think about it

Do you believe that what seems like the hopeless situation of the Church of Jesus Christ today is completely under God’s control? Do you trust Him to bring ultimate victory over the forces of the ruler of this world? Can you, like Jehoshaphat’s praise band, give thanks to the Lord, knowing that his steadfast love endures forever? Might we suffer?  Of course, but our hope is in the Lord.

Take heart. The ruler of this world is judged and his armies will self-destruct.  Praise God in advance.

 

What to do while longing for the Kingdom

It’s natural and good to be longing for the full arrival of the kingdom of God. But Jesus gave us an assignment while we are waiting.  Do you know what it is?

Today’s reading

Judges 20-21; Luke 11:1-28]

Selected Verses

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25

And he said to them, “When you pray, say:  ‘Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.'”  Luke 11:2

Reflections

The theme of the book of Judges is “there was no king in Israel [so] everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Especially the final chapters of the book show selected incidents which illustrate this same theme.   People disregarded the law.  Their worship of God was corrupted.  Their marriages were in disarray.  There was sexual immorality reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah.     It is not hard to see that public opinion in Israel would soon favor installing a king.  That would happen soon.  But would a king in Israel solve the problems that existed under the Judges?

Hold that question for a bit and fast forward to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus’ disciples observe His prayer life.  They ask for instruction about prayer.  Jesus gives them the prayer we usually call “The Lord’s Prayer” with its assortment of sample petitions.  After addressing God as Father and praying that His name be held as holy, the Lord gives them this petition, “Your kingdom come.”

Now, back to the earlier question.  The kingdom of Israel would not solve the problems of their society, much less the problems of the world.  But Jesus came announcing the first stages of the arrival of the kingdom of God.  He also gave His disciples the assignment of praying for the kingdom to come in its fullness.

Think about it

We have a responsibility to the secular governments or kingdoms we live in now. However, the only government that will last forever is the kingdom of God ruled by the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Are you longing for that kingdom to fully come?  Isn’t it hard to wait for the eternal reign of our Lord, where peace will be permanent, sin will be unknown, love and justice will be the norm, and there will be no more sickness, sorrow, and death?  We know from Scripture that this is God’s ultimate will.  It is right to be longing for the kingdom, but Jesus told us to pray that it may come soon.  Pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is a prayer God is going to answer.

Facing the Truth

God’s word calls us to quit believing lies and deceiving ourselves.  Jesus tells us why the time is now to begin facing the truth.

Today’s reading

Judges 6-7; Luke 8:1-21

Selected Verses

But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.”   Judges 6:31

For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.  Luke 8:17

Reflections

The moment of truth had come in Israel. The angel of the Lord sent Gideon to tear down the altar of Baal that his father had erected. The local folks cried out in rage, but Joash, Gideon’s father, showing a complete change of heart stood up against the mob. He astutely observed that if Baal were a god, he would be able to take vengeance on the perpetrators himself. Thus, in one moment the light of truth shone on the lie of Baal. That false god was a mere invention of men, not a god with power to do anything for himself or against others.

Jesus in a more general statement announced that all hidden things would be made known and every secret was going to come to light. One of the secrets is that those who disregard God and His word and who trust in other gods believe lies. They delude themselves. This is why Jesus warned His hearers to “take care” how they hear.

Think about it

Hearing God’s Word and believing it have long been a problem. It began with the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is crucial to hear and believe God’s instructions and commands. Those who don’t hear or who hear and ignore what they have heard will stand before God’s judgment and lose what they thought they had.

Are you an eager hearer and careful doer of God’s word? Check your attitude and be sure you are. Better to face the truth now and follow it, than to suffer exposure as a fool on that day when God uncovers every lie and makes manifest every hidden thing.

 

Leave all; Plod on

Jesus Christ calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  Are His promises and presence enough to keep you plodding on to the end?

Today’s reading

Exodus 16-18; Matthew 19:16-30

Selected Verses

And the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Exodus 16:3

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”  Matthew 19:27

Reflections

God calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  The Israelites experienced hunger, thirst, and war after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.  Their faith faltered.  They thought about the comforts and delicacies of Egypt.  Selectively, they remembered the good times and tasty foods in Egypt and forgot  the daily quotas of brick production, the scrounging for straw, and the beatings by the taskmasters.  They filtered out the bad memories and complained about present conditions.  That was their default position.

Jesus, too, called His disciples to leave all behind and follow Him.  Peter waxed nostalgic, it seems, as he pondered the cost of following the Lord.  “What then will we have?” he asks.

Jesus is quick to reassure him.  What will they have?

  • A new world where Jesus Christ will sit on His glorious throne.
  • Thrones where the apostles would have power and authority to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • All that they had given up 100 times over.
  • Eternal life.

Think about it

How do Jesus’ promises sound to you?  They sound sublime to me.   Can we plod on another day, maybe many more days?  I think so.  Whatever it takes.

Nah, I don’t miss Egypt.

Do you?