The Brother Who Suffered

Last week I breezed through Genesis 26-50 in two sittings.  God’s redemptive plan and purposes for the world unfold in the life of Isaac and his descendants—Jacob and Esau and their children.  This quick reading in “chunks” makes certain truths more obvious than would a slower reading.  Here’s what I noticed:

God always watches providentially over human history.

This includes every detail whether large events or very small incidents. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and supervision.  He is the God of the universe and the God of every person.  Minute and seemingly unimportant details are under His control—worldwide famine or the dreams of a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants in prison with Joseph.  Everything is interconnected and fits into a huge scheme that the Sovereign God is orchestrating. Our discovery of this truth drives us to worship before Him who takes what people mean for evil and turns it into good.

Sin continually ruins lives and relationships.

Jacob tricks his foolish brother, Esau and their father, Isaac. Jacob goes on to suffer from Laban’s trickery and deceit—getting a taste of his own medicine. Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob agonizes over how Esau will receive him.  Pride and lust permeates these conflicts.  Joseph stands out as one of the exceptional people, a type of Christ, who endures great suffering in order to redeem those who hated and abused him.

Mankind is lost apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention.

What are we to make of this?  Only God intervening by His mercy and grace can deliver lost humanity .  Hostility runs rampant even among the descendants of faithful Abraham.  They jockey for positions and plot against one another.  There is no peace, no goodness, no love, and no kindness.  Yet God works through all kinds of situations to unfold His plan.  He deserves all the glory for His wisdom and power.

Is this not true in your life and mine?  Do you feel overwhelmed by the stresses and rifts you experience among those you hoped would be supportive?  Are your good deeds overlooked and even rejected by those you sought to serve? Take heart in God’s presence and power.  Seek to please Him whether you see results for your efforts or not. Joseph endured years of pain and suffering with little encouragement and affirmation.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Most of all, take heart that God the Son endured all the just wrath of God for your salvation.  He has secured a place for us in glory.  We are not there yet, but He has won the victory over the serpent.  Our inheritance is secure in heaven.  Jesus is our brother who suffered by us and for us.  Trust Him.  Praise Him.

This week I’ll be reading: Matthew 1-28

His kingdom cannot fail

Our first week of Bible reading took us through Genesis 1-25

The whirlwind tour of early human history moved from the Creation, to the Fall of mankind, to the flood, the tower of Babel and right into the life of Abram and on to his son, Isaac.  These are important chapters which set the stage for a biblical understanding of the world and our place in it.

Here are some observations I made on this first stage of our journey.

  1. God is eternal. Nothing but God existed before creation.  And nothing created exists that is not dependent upon Him.
  2. God appears in the world He created making Himself known through His word and actions. As these chapters unfold, we see Him as a covenant maker who watches over all things seeing that what He plans is completed.  At times it appears that His purposes are hanging by a thread.  But He is not limited to human possibilities.  He enables an elderly couple to conceive a child.
  3. His appearances are timely and strategic. Nothing escapes His gaze and His hand. Faith in Him pleases Him, but unbelief brings pain, grief, regret, and death.
  4. He initiates creation and redemption. He ensures that it will come to pass perfectly.  The seed of the woman will bruise the serpent’s head.  His covenant will come to pass and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.

In my life, daily circumstances (this blog post was beset with obstacles including a miserable head cold, a power outage, freezing temperatures and a cross country airline flight) frequently overwhelm me with doubt, impatience, and pessimism about the flow of events personal and global.  A flyover of this biblical terrain brings me much reassurance.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20 so it’s easy to see how everything worked out for Abraham, but I am called to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of circumstances that can seem hopeless and whose outcome is still not revealed.

The old hymn of Charles Wesley (1744), “Rejoice the Lord is King” comes to my mind and heart:

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,

The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Resolved: to honor God by believing Him no matter how doubtful His final victory appears, and to remember that His kingdom cannot fail.

This week’s reading: Genesis 26-50

God’s Perspective

Without God’s Word no one can grasp the importance of believing and serving God.  Only the Bible allows us His perspective.

Today’s Reading

Malachi 1-4; Revelation 22

Selected Verses

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

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.  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

Reflections

Malachi, like the other 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 presumed 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 is 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 recognize their sinfulness and come to have their robes washed in His blood (Revelation 7:14).   These blessed ones do not presume upon God’s mercy but receive the salvation offered in the gospel. They have access to the tree of life and enter the city by the gates. Meanwhile, those who remain in their sins–such as immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood–are outside.

Think about it

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.

All sin will be punished. Unbelievers remain outside the city where God dwells with His people. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ has paid for the sin of His sheep by His atonement. By His wounds they are 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 (Genesis 3:15).

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.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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

Selected Verses

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

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,  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

Reflections

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 without 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.

Think about it

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.

God: His wrath and His joy

How accurate is your view of God? Scripture reveals Him as having both wrath and joy.  He is angry with sin but also joyful with His redeemed people.

Today’s Reading

 Zephaniah 1-3; Revelation 15

Selected Verses

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
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

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

Reflections

The prophet Zephaniah described the anger of the Lord 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 His 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 Almighty.

Turning to Revelation, John’s vision confirms that the wrath of God does have an end point. Seven plagues come upon the earth administered by seven angels. After this we learn that these seven plagues, “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.”

Finished.

What a good word to our ears! Zephaniah has given us a beautiful picture of the delight which the Lord 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).

Think about it

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 full 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. Seek to know Him in truth as He has revealed Himself in His Word because His attributes include His wrath and His joy.

A Time to Love; a Time to Hate

To hate what God hates is good, but not if we do not also love what God loves. We need hearts that are in sync with God’s.

Today’s Reading

Hosea 9-11; Revelation 2

Selected Verses

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
 I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath. Hosea 11:8-9

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.  Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:4-6

Reflections

God’s love for His people is relentless, though He reveals in His Word how His heart recoils with the sinfulness of His people. Ultimately, God restrains His justice against His people and does not destroy them.

Hosea was sent to warn Judah and Israel of her impending judgment. This intervention by the Lord was another act of His patience and mercy. He gave them a chance to repent. He showed them through the sad, painful marital relationship of Hosea and Gomer, how God saw the unfaithfulness of His people toward Him. They repaid His goodness and blessing with idolatry and worship of false gods. Even after all that, God’s compassion toward them was aroused. As He said through the prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord gave the Apostle John messages for seven churches of Asia Minor. Most of them contain warnings of impending judgment for their sin. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, He commends them for several qualities including their hatred of a heretical group called the Nicolaitans. While it was good to hate evil, they were also found to have abandoned the love they had shown earlier. Jesus tells them to repent of this attitude lest they lose their standing as a church completely.

Think about it

Let this be a warning to us as well. Do not hate evil without maintaining deep love for God.  There is a time to love and a time to hate. (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Pray for a heart that is tuned to God’s Who both loves and hates perfectly. 

Contend for the Faith      

Those in spiritual leadership must take care to contend for the faith, that is, to teach the truth accurately and oppose error. Why is this so important?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 1-4; Jude 1

Selected Verses

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.  Hosea 4:6

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:3-4

Reflections

In both readings today, we see God indicting those who have forsaken the truth and who misled those who looked to them for guidance.

Hosea, like other prophets, had a message of warning and hope for Israel and Judah.  The Lord called him to depict God’s mercy and grace toward His faithless people by taking a prostitute for his wife. God told them they were destroyed for lack of knowledge. Their teachers taught lies rather than God’s law. The priests had facilitated national sin.

In a similar way, God called believers in Jude’s day to contend for the faith, that is, the doctrine He gave the Church through the Apostles and Prophets. False and wicked teachers attacked this truth in their deceitful and treacherous ways. They misused God’s grace as an excuse for sensuality. They denied the Lord Jesus Christ. Among other vices, they relied on their dreams. They claimed to get their own truth by direct revelation, a practice Paul also condemned (Colossians 2:18). [1]

Think about it

Truth matters. It matters what we believe, and, if we are in the position of teachers, it matters to all whom we influence for good or bad.  Be sure you know the truth of God’s word and that those you learn from contend for the faith and are not relying on the inventions of their minds.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2292.  See note on verse 8

God’s Wrath

God’s wrath is coming in judgment. Whom do you think will be found in trouble? The objects of His wrath and judgment might surprise you.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 29-31; James 5

Selected Verses

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast,  and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord. 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

Reflections

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.  James singled these people 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.  And 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.

Think about it

Pride and autonomy robs God of His glory and brings His judgment.  Beware of any tendency toward these quiet ways of rebelling.  On that coming day of God’s wrath, do not be found among those who have attempted to exalt themselves.  As Isaiah wrote:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
 let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

Two Kinds of Wisdom

There are two kinds of wisdom. They are very different. Which kind do you have? Learn how you can distinguish between them.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 24-26; James 3

Selected Verses

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, 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

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  James 3:13-16

Reflections

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.

Think about it

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 an earthly counterfeit wisdom we must avoid.

Why does God Save?

The reason God saves has nothing to do with the worthiness or performance of those He saves. So why does He do it? He makes His purposes clear.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 20-21; James 1

Selected Verses

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.  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. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. Ezekiel 20:8-10

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

Reflections

Page after page, Ezekiel lays out the case against Israel and Judah. Their sin and unfaithfulness before a Holy God is 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.  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). The basis of God showing them mercy was the glory of His name–that His name not be profaned and that Israel should know that He is the Lord.

God showing mercy to His elect people benefits us in two ways.  One, the world can see (if we are willing to) that He is able to save His wayward sheep.  Two, His people come to 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.

Think about it

God wanted to save His elect people and that is what He did. Are you one of His? 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.