It’s About God

What is life about? The Bible tells us there is coming a day of judgment. Every knee will bow before God and recognize Him.  Life is about Him–not us.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 34-36; Philippians 2

Selected Verses

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Isaiah 35:1-2

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:9-11

Reflections

No matter where we open our Bibles and read, we are never far from the theme of the glory of God. His glory is proclaimed everywhere, but, between the fall of Man and the final judgment, humanity falls short of that glory. Contrary to popular culture, it’s not about us.  It’s about God.

Isaiah prophesied of a day of restoration when deserts would blossom and dry land would be refreshed. In that blessing of the earth, all would see God’s glory.

At the time of this writing, the eastern United States had gone through ten days of rain. In Virginia, our joy at seeing rain after weeks of drought began to give way to gloom as the cloud cover remained day after day and steady rain saturated the ground. Floods arose taking out a hundred-year-old covered bridge. We prayed for relief and for safety from trees falling before expected high winds.

Then on the eleventh day, here at Thistle Dew Farm, we woke to cloudless, blue skies. The sun shone brightly, drying up the mud and restoring the beauty of early autumn.  I praised God and I’m sure I was not alone.

Jesus knew the suffering of becoming a human, a servant, and a prisoner. He knew condemnation and the unspeakable pain of flogging and crucifixion. He bore that to save His people from their sin. God exalted Him and glorified Him. One day every knee will bow and recognize His Lordship. This will bring glory to God the Father.

Think about it

We live in a time characterized by fanatical self-worship. To be free, to be autonomous, to act however we please with no consequences, to be enraged that any one should call us to bow to God–these values rule our day. But it’s not about us. It’s about Him. Be sure you trust in Christ for forgiveness and life. Do not let the day of restoration be your day of condemnation. Your life and all of human history is about God

God’s Grand Narrative

Though we live in a time of corruption and conflict, God’s grand narrative for His people comforts us and assures us. He will complete it with certainty.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 24-26; Ephesians 4

Selected Verses

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1

 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16

Reflections

God planned the “grand narrative” of the Bible, as Sinclair Ferguson calls it, from eternity past.[1]  We can summarize it by the terms: creation, corruption, conflict, and consummation.  As Isaiah expressed it, these are “plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He wrote all of human history before it started. What He plans He completes.

Isaiah observes the chaos of the times and anticipates the coming judgment. But he also makes sweet promises. God will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces. The Lord will keep in perfect peace all who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 25: 8; 26:3). “Trust in the Lord forever,” writes Isaiah, “for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (26:4).

Paul, too, has the big picture in view as he exhorts the Ephesians to live in the unity of the Spirit of God. What has God done for them? He has sent them apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip them for His service. Why? God has done this so that they may grow in unity and maturity in Christ. These two objectives go together.

We still live in the middle period of the grand narrative which began with creation and continues with corruption (Genesis 3:1-13) and conflict (Genesis 3:15). But Jesus Christ has come announcing that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He told His disciples to pray that the Kingdom would come, so we know there is more to come (Matthew 6:10).

Think about it

As you look at the ongoing corruption and conflict of this world, do you lose sight of the Kingdom? Do you  forget that God is completing His plans perfectly? Trust in the Lord, as Isaiah said. Seek unity and maturity as Paul admonished. God will fulfill His grand narrative

[1]  Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, 2014, p. 76

 

The Purposes of God

God’s purposes include all nations, all peoples, and all times and result in the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 22-23; Ephesians 3

Selected Verses

Who has purposed this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth. Isaiah 23:8-9

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. Ephesians 3:11-12

Reflections

It is not hard to see that the Bible reveals a God Who is over all the earth and all mankind. It is true that He chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants, but even that covenant included all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

Through Isaiah (and other prophets) God gave warnings and instructions to the Gentile nations around Israel and Judah. Today we read about God’s purposes to bring down the pomposity of Tyre and Sidon. They were proud in their successes, congratulating themselves for their victories and prosperity with no thought for God.

What concern did the God of Israel have for Tyre and Sidon? The same concern He had for all the families of the earth. Their prideful arrogance offended Him, but also drew His mercy and grace as He purposed that His Son would be the Savior of the world, including those from Tyre and Sidon and a thousand other tribes and nations that would come and go through human history.

The mystery of God’s purpose was revealed to Paul and the other apostles and, through their writings, it was revealed to us.  God was working out His plan for the fullness of time “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).  This was Paul’s calling, to announce this mystery, the uniting of all in Christ. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are now one with God and with each other. Paul prays that his readers in Ephesus (and beyond) may grasp “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and that they “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).

Think about it

Press on to know God’s glorious purposes through Jesus Christ. We have only scratched the surface on the eternal purposes of God.

Aiming to Please God

Life has meaning because we will all stand before an Omniscient Judge from whom we will receive our due. We must aim to please Him.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 23-24; Second Corinthians 5

Selected Verses

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?  Proverbs 24:11-12

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Second Corinthians 5:9-10

Reflections

Today’s reading in Proverbs points us to our responsibility for the lives of others who are dying, and we may assume, unjustly. Innocent people are killed by war, poverty, and abortion to name a few of the obvious causes. The media insures that we have a daily dose of the worst atrocities on the planet. We cannot say we know nothing about this. It is easy to be overwhelmed before breakfast seven days a week.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that this life is fleeting. Meanwhile, we should “make it our aim to please him.” To begin with, we please Him when we recognize our utter depravity. We are not able to be righteous before Him, not in ourselves. We please Him when we trust in the One who died for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (verse 21).

Think about it

Starting with Christ as our Redeemer, we may consider how we can further aim to please God. Clearly, no one of us can do everything to correct all the ills of our world and the culture of death. But we can do something.  Edward Everett Hale, though a Unitarian, made this wise observation and resolution, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

So what can we do in our aim to please God?  We can pray. We can proclaim the good news of life in Jesus Christ. We can give to ministries that serve hurting and dying people.

Life matters because there is judgment to come. Aim to please God. Begin by trusting in Christ alone for your righteousness.

When the Church is Full of Hypocrites

God blesses His people so that they shine as a light to the world and the nations come to Him in faith. But what if believers are hypocrites?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 65-67; Romans 2

Selected Verses

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.  Psalm 67:1-2

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  Romans 2:23-24

Reflections

The Psalmist has a lofty view of the impact of God’s blessing on His people spreading out to all the nations of the earth.   Truly, God does rule over all the earth. He is the God of all flesh. Through His providence He rules over everyone and everything. Nothing escapes Him. All owe Him everything.

But, alas, this vision of a worldwide impact of blessing and worship dimmed due to the very people who had the Word of God. Paul says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of [them].”

How did God deal with this? He judged His people for their unfaithfulness through the captivities of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But He acted for the sake of His own name to restore them to the land (Ezekiel 36:16-38).

In Jesus’ lifetime, the Jews faced the question of whether or not to believe the Messiah, the Christ whom God had sent them. Most of them failed to believe, yet according to Paul they still maintained their spiritual pride and arrogance, looking down on the Gentile pagans. In Romans 2 he warns them not to be smug in their cultural superiority.

Think about it

Fellow Christian, have you considered how our hypocrisy as believers can cause the lost to blaspheme our God?  Have you pondered how God’s blessing on us is impacting the unbelieving world around us?

At the end of the age, God will bring His elect from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 7:9-10). In Abraham through whom came Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The Psalmist had it right.  “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (67:7).    And they shall. Pray for the fulfillment of this promise soon. Flee hypocrisy.  Live in such a consistent, God-honoring way as to bring glory to Him.

 

Rulers Remembered: the Just and the Unjust

Does it seem like evil rulers get away with murder while just ones are forgotten?  Beware! For they will all answer to the Eternal Judge.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 23-24; Luke 22:31-53

Selected Verses

The God of Israel has spoken;
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
 he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.       II Samuel 23:3-4

But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.            Luke 22:53b

Reflections

As David neared the end of his life, God reassured him. Just governance would not be overlooked.  The Lord blesses the king who rules justly, that is, in the fear of God.  The despot is a law to himself.  The tyrant recognizes no higher authority than himself.  He rules without fear of a final judgment day before a completely informed Eternal Deity (Romans 2:16).

The Lord’s blessing on the god-fearing leader is described in terms analogous to beautiful weather and an abundant harvest.  There is sun and rain in just the right amount resulting in lush crops.  Human hearts fill with energy and joy in the anticipation of a good day and a good future as they live under just leadership.

By contrast, in the darkest moment of human history, hard-hearted, treacherous rulers surrounded the Son of God in the Garden of Gethsemane.  They came to escort Him to His death.  They epitomized unjust rulers, lacking any fear of God.

Unsurprised Jesus awaited them.  He spoke directly and fearlessly showing them that their actions were cowardly, done under cloak of night, away from the crowds of attentive listeners who sought His teaching.  He made it clear that they operated only by permission of God the Father Who allowed them their hour to act and freedom to carry out the dark deeds they had contrived.

Think about it

Unjust rulers have their day, but God will bring justice on them and blessing on those who have ruled justly.  Woe to the ruler who ignores his date with the Judge of the whole earth.

Give thanks. God remembers just rulers and punishes unjust ones. Their hour and power will end.  Whatever your role in this world exercise your authority in the fear of God.

His Kingdom is Forever

No king and no kingdom have lasted for long.  But we now know the identity of the King whose reign will last forever. Do you know Him?

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 30-31; Luke 17:20-37

Selected Verses

Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.  I Samuel 31:6

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed,  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:20-21

Reflections

The king is dead! Long live the king!  The cry goes out from the subjects who are either grieved or relieved depending on the nature of the king’s reign.  It happened in Israel on the day of Saul’s death.

Saul, the first king of Israel, had a miserable reign thanks to his own foolishness.  He failed to obey God,  to trust God, and to recognize his sin.  He never sought forgiveness.  God’s Spirit departed from him.  He became paranoid and obsessively chased David around for years trying to kill him. His reign wreaked with his foolish decisions and dissolved in defeat and shame.

What are we to make of this?  The then-new kingdom that had started out with some optimism and hope that Israel would be stable and successful ended in failure.  A better king was desperately needed if a better realm was to be established.  A kingdom will never be better than its king.

God raised up a new king and a new dynasty under David as we shall see in II Samuel.   The kingdom of God would come with the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ of the line of David.  That is the true and final kingdom, but it would not come immediately during Jesus’ earthly ministry which ended in His crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Think about it

We still await the culmination of the kingdom.  But we already know the identity of the King.  We know that He is the perfect Son of God.  We know much about His kingdom.  His rule will be perfect.  The people of His realm have been forgiven and will be made perfect when that kingdom comes in its fullness.  His kingdom will be eternal.

Let us live for that day, announcing the true King Jesus Christ.  His Kingdom is forever!

Watchfulness: good and bad

Jesus said be watchful for His return.  Moses warned against a bad watchfulness that leads to sinful disobedience.  Do you know the difference?

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 14-16; Mark 13:14-37

Selected Verses

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.  Deuteronomy 15:9

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  Mark 13:26-27

Reflections

One of the functions of God’s word is to warn His people to obey Him and not look for creative ways to avoid doing right.

In ancient Israel, God instructed His people in how they were to manage their economy so that there would be no poverty among them.  God made provisions for addressing those in need. But the Lord knew their hearts.  He warned them against trying to evade their responsibilities.  If the year of release were near, a loan would be almost an outright gift.[1]  He warned them not to take into account the coming year of release, as they were considering the needs of their poor brother.  One might be tempted to ignore the appeal of the needy, but the Lord would hear his cry and bring judgment on the neglectful, unresponsive relative.

In Jesus’ teaching about the coming time of tribulation, He also warned people to be watchful, but for a different reason.  The coming of the Son of Man in power and glory is certain but the time is unknown.  In contrast, the years of release or of Jubilee came predictably every seven years or every 49 years. There is a godly watchfulness and an unrighteous watchfulness.

Think about it

Believers should live each day as if the Lord could come.  We ought not to think that today does not matter because final judgment seems to be delayed.  Neither ought we to neglect our duties in this world because we are convinced the Lord will be here within hours.  We are called to be watchful in a good way not calculating so as to disobey.

Do the things God has called you to do today.  When He comes you will be glad you did.

[1] See note in the Reformation Study Bible, page 275

The Church in Glory

A Vision of Glory

John sees a vision of heaven.  What does he see?  He sees an innumerable multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  Who are they?  They are worshipers of God who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.  They are not sinless beings but forgiven, cleansed sinners who by God’s mercy and grace through the atoning work of Jesus Christ are able to worship with the angels!  This is the Church in glory, the Church triumphant.  This is our destiny, my brothers and sisters.

Today’s reading:  Revelation 3:14-8:5

My selection:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:13-14

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.

Thy Kingdom Come

Today Isaiah gives his original readers a glimpse past the difficult times of Judah during the prophet’s long ministry (Isaiah 9-12).  God revealed that a day was approaching when His kingdom would come fully upon the earth.

The end of all things

They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.  Isaiah 11:9 (ESV)

Don’t you long for that day to come?  I do.

And for now

Meanwhile, Jesus told His disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. [See Matthew 6:9-13].   Many centuries have passed since Jesus spoke those words and even more since Isaiah wrote his book.  But God’s elect people cannot be discouraged or distracted.  We will not give up until He comes and His will is done everywhere. God declared it.  His prophets and apostles wrote it.  We read it and trust it. It will be done.

The Apostle John wrote : “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  Revelation 22:20 (ESV).

Keep trusting.  Keep praying.

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