Flee to the Banner

Would a soldier in dire straits not flee to the banner raised by his commander?  Not likely.  So why do some refuse to flee to the banner of Christ’s gospel?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 59-61; Acts 28:16-31

Selected Verses

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow.
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer us!  Psalm 60:4-5

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.  And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.

Acts 28:23-24

Reflections

David uses a military analogy to faith and salvation.  The troops are scattered and about to die.  The commander sets up a banner to rally them back.  They see the banner and head for it.  There they are saved from defeat and the tide of victory is turned in their favor. Would a soldier who is in dire straits not flee to the banner raised by his commander?  Not likely.

Yet look what happened when Paul raised the banner of the gospel among the Jews in Rome.  He used their Scriptures in his efforts to convince them.  Some believed and some did not.  Why not?  It was not that Paul had failed to be clear.  He diagnosed their condition from the prophet Isaiah.  Their hearts were dull, ears nearly deaf.  They closed their eyes. The banner was raised.  They refused to flee to it.

They had their opportunity, but they did not grasp it.  Paul told them he would take the message to the Gentiles, and they would listen.

Think about it

Those who fear God are His beloved.  They show their true identity by fleeing to the banner He has raised, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There they find salvation.  But dulled hearts do not respond to the message despite its clarity.

Have you fled to the banner?  If not, Christ has sent out the command to all to repent and believe the gospel now. Pray that God would deliver you from a dull heart and grant you faith that leads to repentance.

If you are one of His disciples, your task  and mine is to keep proclaiming the good news of life in Jesus Christ from the Bible, accurately and faithfully, as Paul modeled.  Some will believe. Some will not.  Take courage. Stay the course, because to everyone who flees to the banner, God will grant salvation.

 

God’s Ambassadors

God has appointed His people to be His ambassadors to those who do not know Him. The gospel goes out by word of mouth from those who have believed.

Today’s Reading

Job 13-15; Acts 8:26-40

Selected Verses

You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
For then you would number my steps;
you would not keep watch over my sin;
my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity.  Job 14:15-17

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  Acts 8:35

Reflections

Scholars believe that Job lived about the same time as Abraham. Before his call from God, Abraham was a polytheist (believing in many gods). Job on the other hand, seems to grasp a theology of a single sovereign and holy God. But Job has no clear understanding of the resurrection or of life after death. Yet Job does show a longing for reconciliation with God through some kind of covering for his sin. He seems to have an inkling of hope of a resurrection, perhaps like a tree that is cut down but grows back up from its roots (14:7-17). It’s just not very clear. He longs to know more and, soon, God will tell him more.

In the period following the stoning of Stephen and the subsequent persecution, God sends Philip to speak with an Ethiopian eunuch, the queen’s treasurer, who had been in Jerusalem to worship. Philip is able to explain to him the meaning of Isaiah’s writing and the good news about Jesus Christ. This results in the official’s baptism. In these touching words, Luke records that the eunuch, after this one-on-one Bible study with Philip, “went on his way rejoicing.”  We can only imagine the impact of this man’s testimony before the court officials of Ethiopia.

Think about it

God knows the hearts of those who seek Him, Job, the Ethiopian, and everyone else. He may directly intervene, as He will do with Job later on in our reading, or He may send someone to explain the gospel as He did in the case of Philip and the queen’s treasurer.  Did He send someone to you? Has He sent you to be a light to someone else? Give thanks for His providence in sending those who can help us understand His truth and in sending us to pass on the good news of Jesus. If you belong to Christ, God has appointed you His ambassador because the gospel goes out powerfully by word of mouth (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

Longing for Heaven

Paul teaches us that it is normal to be longing for the glories of our heavenly home.  They stand in contrast to this present earthly one.  The eternal replaces the temporary.  The permanent replaces the destructible.  Clothing replaces nakedness.  Joy replaces groaning.  Meanwhile, we have work to do here proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading:  2 Corinthians 1:12-6:2

My selection:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,  if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 2 Corinthians 5:1-3

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Preaching Christ Crucified

Paul saw through the phony excuses of those who refused to believe and stuck to preaching Christ crucified.  Can we do better than that?

Today’s reading:

Romans 15:14-1 Corinthians 2:5

My selection:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  1 Corinthians 1:22-24

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Happy 103rd Birthday, Jim Downing

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One of the early Navigators from the 1930’s has a birthday today.  Jim Downing was sixth in a line of godly men reached by the visionary founder, Dawson Trotman.  He continues to set an example of faithfulness and love for God and His Word. Following a career in the US Navy, Jim served on the staff of the Navigators, was a frequent conference speaker, and traveled extensively worldwide teaching the Bible and encouraging missionaries on every continent.

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men[a] who will be able to teach others also.”  2 Timothy 2:2 (ESV)

Happy birthday, Jim.

God’s Plan; Our Part

God is working out a plan to redeem His elect people from all the nations of the earth. We can be confident of His ultimate success and we must play our part in this grand plan.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3

15 “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.                                                                                           Jeremiah 3:15-17

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.                                                                               2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

Jeremiah paints a sad picture of the spiritual adultery of Israel and Judah, but, against that backdrop, he superimposes the triumph of God’s plan to gather to Himself all nations, redeemed and righteous, before Him. Again and again, the prophets assure us that God will win and His plan will succeed.

When we turn to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, we find him diligently laboring to instruct them in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to exhort them to live holy lives. He asks for prayer “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored…” As zealous, disciplined, and knowledgeable as Paul was, the work he did would fail, but for God’s working in the hearts of the hearers.  Prayer is needed because God’s power is needed.

God’s purposes cannot fail for He is sovereign. At the same time, you and I have a part to play. It may be to pray. It may be to heed the call to go proclaim the good news of life in Christ to some unreached group or even to your neighbor or coworker. God raises up shepherds to feed His people (Jeremiah 3:15) and He gifts each one in His Church to serve (1 Corinthians 14; Romans 12:3-8). If you have not done so, find your calling and do your part.

The Victory of the Gospel

God’s word, though ignored, thwarted, ridiculed, and opposed, will always triumph.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 53-55; 1 Thessalonians 2

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.                          Isaiah 55:10-11

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.                                                                                                                            1 Thessalonians 2:1

Isaiah gave Israel and the world the greatest message in all of history in chapter 53, that the Servant of the Lord, would bear the sins of His people and “make many to be accounted righteous…” (53:11). This truth, that One who is holy and righteous has taken the just wrath of God for sinners, is at the heart of the gospel message. [See “The Messiah’s Anguish and Satisfaction”].

This is the best news ever told, but would this news get to the world? Would those who desperately need hope for forgiveness and reconciliation with God hear about this? The answer is “yes!”  Nothing can stop God’s word from going forth. There were plenty of forces mounted against it, in Paul’s day and in ours. The apostle had “suffered and been shamefully treated in Philippi” (2:1), but he went on to Thessalonica. There he continued to preach the word and this letter shows that the message bore amazing fruit in the lives of the people. Then, through those new believers, it was preached to the surrounding region.

Despite all kinds of opposition, God’s word delivered by His messengers can never be defeated. Are you confident in the power of the gospel to change lives? Are you convinced that God will open doors for His word and then use it as He wills to accomplish its every purpose? Fear not! God’s word will triumph. Proclaim it with confidence wherever you can.

The Extent of Salvation

God is fulfilling His purpose to save people completely and to save them to the ends of the earth.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 50-52; 1 Thessalonians 1

10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.                                                   Isaiah 52:10

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.                                                                              1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

There are two dimensions to God’s salvation: the geographical dimension and the spiritual dimension. We see this today in Isaiah’s prophecy and Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

Isaiah records the intention of God to show His power to all the nations of the earth. He would show this by revealing His salvation, His ability to redeem men and women, boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, and nation. This was always His plan, but now Isaiah passes on more information about the details, which we see in tomorrow’s reading.

With the coming of Jesus Christ, that salvation was fully revealed. The kingdom of God was near. The apostles proclaimed the good news. The church was scattered throughout the Roman Empire taking the gospel to Jews and Gentiles on its way to the ends of the earth. Paul brought the message to Thessalonica. The people heard and believed. They received the salvation that is in Christ. Here we see how fully God saves people. They “turned to God from idols.” Why? They turned “to serve the living and true God.” Not only that, they set their attention on waiting “for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The gospel proclaims salvation everywhere and those who believe are deeply changed by it. They continue to be changed by it throughout their lives. This is the message which the world needs to hear in every generation until Jesus returns from heaven. Pray, send, give, and, if God wills, go that the blind may see and the deaf hear the truth.

Life Under Surveillance

Believers are called to live in wisdom and godliness such that neither their lifestyle nor speech contributes to the disbelief of the unsaved.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 48-49; Colossians 4

Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
5 I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, ‘My idol did them,
my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ Isaiah 48:4-5

5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6

Paul concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with some final charges. They are to live wisely in their relationships with outsiders, that is, unbelievers. Two areas for concentration and care are the management of time and the quality of their speech. If a professing Christian is careless with his use of time, he enables unbelievers who observe him to discount either the genuineness of his profession or the veracity of his doctrine. More often than not, it is the second option which prevails. By the same token, if the believer speaks in ways that are coarse, hurtful, lacking grace, or even corrupt (ie. salt-less), he gives evidence that the gospel he professes is either not true or is powerless to change lives. Clearly, unbelievers are quick to grasp inconsistency in Christians to buttress their case against the call of the gospel.

God through Isaiah addressed another tendency of His disobedient, faithless people in Israel. The Lord tells them that His prophecies are designed to remove their claims that the deliverance which He planned for them was the work of their idols. It was a tendency in Isaiah’s day, and it continues to the present, for unbelievers to take credit for anything good that occurs, but to use problems and tragedies as an excuse to blame God or reject His existence.

If you are identified with Christ, your life is under constant surveillance, not just by the Lord but, by your agnostic and pagan friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Be sure your life shows consistency with your profession. They may not believe because of you, but avoid making it easier for them to disbelieve.

The Pompous Dead

Today’s reading: Psalm 47-49; Acts 26

20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.  Psalm 49:20

28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”     Acts 26:28-29

A man who lacks understanding of who God is and how one is saved from sin is no better than an animal, even though he may rank high in the eyes of the world.

The Psalmist exalts God at every turn and is not impressed with the things that society holds of great value: power, prestige, wealth, and knowledge. One does not need to read far in the Scripture before confronting this reality. One may be far up the ladder before discovering it is leaning against the wrong wall.

King Agrippa makes a perfect example of this truth. Luke’s account shows that he and his wife, Bernice, were held in high esteem. They entered the audience hall with great pomp (Acts 25:23). Paul is presented to them and he begins his defense describing his previous life and his conversion to Jesus Christ. Festus discounts the whole story as one of a mad man, deluded through too much education. Paul appeals to the king for confirmation of what he is saying. Agrippa, at least, does not call Paul crazy and admits that what he is saying is more than a mere defense. Agrippa understands that Paul is attempting to win the king to Christ!

What makes Paul so bold as to use his own trial as an opportunity to preach Christ to a king and queen? Paul was not intimidated by all the royal fanfare. Paul was enthralled with the glories of his Lord Jesus Christ. Whether he was consciously thinking about Psalm 49, it is safe to say that he was mindful that “man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”

Are you prepared to grasp even the difficult moments of your life to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ? Remember kings and queens and all other pompous humans without understanding of the gospel and faith in the Savior will perish just like beasts. Be ready to warn them.