God’s Sovereignty: The Key and the Book

Scholars disagree over the interpretation of certain prophecies. But none can deny that Scripture affirms God’s sovereignty over everything in the cosmos.

Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

Selected Verses

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.

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

Reflections

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. 

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, the key and the book depict God’s control of the cosmos. The key, entrusted to an angel, opens the bottomless pit where the Lord holds Satan confined and impotent. Although he is completely wicked, he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. We also see a book of life with the names of those chosen to live and not suffer the lake of fire.

Think about it

We can have only one of two possible responses to these passages: belief or unbelief.  For believers in the Triune God, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well.

Unbelievers may dismiss the assertions with ridicule or ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true. Without a Holy God who rules absolutely over all things and Who will judge us in the end, the universe is out of control and life is meaningless. This alternative is unacceptable. 

But praise God! He reigns in sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book. Let us believe Him. 

The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

Thoughts of life and death are never far from our mortal minds. We have death through the man of dust but life through the man of heaven.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 11-12; First Corinthians 15:33-58

Selected Verses

In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death.  Proverbs 12:28

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  First Corinthians 15:47-49

Reflections

Proverbs talks about life–but life in this world, for the most part. There are numerous keys to a joyful, peaceful, prosperous life. All things being equal, these maxims hold true, but all things are not equal. So the Proverbs will not “work” 100% of the time. There are exceptions. Sometimes good, industrious people suffer setbacks despite their best efforts. Righteousness leads to life rather than death, yet the only perfectly righteous Man who ever lived died a horrible death.

So Proverbs tell us how we ought to seek to live, being diligent in our work, kind toward others, speaking well of our neighbor, etc. These are good and right ways to live whether we get all the benefits promised or not. But in the gospel we learn that our good deeds are not sufficient to save us from eternal death. Jesus taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of many, because there was no other way (Matthew 26:26-28).

Paul emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ, the second man, the One who, unlike the first man, did not come from the dust, but came down from heaven. He died and rose again. Now we, by faith, are promised a future in which we will bear the image of the Man of heaven. His resurrection gives us assurance that we too will be raised to have new spiritual bodies.

Think about it

Christ’s disciples certainly seek to be righteous in this world, but they do so knowing they are not earning life but demonstrating that they already have it by the grace of the Lord and faith in Him. If you know this hope of life, live righteously, but trust in the only Righteous One, Jesus. He will see us home and give us new spiritual bodies that cannot sin nor die. We will lose the image of the man of dust and bear the image of the Man of heaven.

Two Ways to Live–Your Choice

Mankind is divided into two lifestyle groups according to a basic issue of world view. Both are vividly contrasted in today’s readings. Which one is you?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 62-64; Romans 1

Selected Verses

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  Psalm 63:5-7

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21

Reflections

David opens his heart again and again showing us how much he longs for God. His attitude is like someone desperate for air and water–he simply cannot live without God.  He finds his satisfaction in Him.  The psalmist finds shelter and protection in Him.  He praises God with joy as he sings of Him.  To him, the worship of God is not a necessary and unpleasant chore for he finds delight in God.

By contrast, Paul describes people who take no interest in God.  They have no time to praise Him nor give Him thanks.  They presumptuously go on their merry way in foolishness. Their negligence is inexcusable because God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in creation (vs. 19-20).  Rather than worship and thank God, they grow even more foolish and exchange the glory of God for images of animals.  They worship creatures, not the Creator.

Think about it

We humans are united by the characteristic of being worshipful beings, but we are differentiated by the object of worship which we choose.  Mankind was made to worship the true and living God and if he will not worship God he will worship something less than God for anything that is not God is less than Him. We must have an object of worship.  It is common to call our celebrities “idols”.  Why not?  We worship them and they encourage it.  But they are fallen creatures, like us, not worthy of worship.  God will  call them and us to answer for our idolatry.

Find your satisfaction and joy in the eternal triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is magnificent.  He is worthy of all our praise and worship.  There is only one true object of worship and there are only two ways to live. The choice is clear. [1]

 

[1] For further information go to: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/

None so Blind

The old saying, attributed to Matthew Henry, is true, “None so blind as those that will not see.”  So, what can we do if we discover we are blind?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 6-7; John 8:21-36

Selected Verses

But Aaron and his sons made offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on the altar of incense for all the work of the Most Holy Place, and to make atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded.  1 Chronicles 6:49

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”  John 8:23-24

Reflections

Ever since the nation of Israel was constituted with the Law of Moses, the priesthood had been established with the system of sacrifices for atonement for sin as the central element.   It was such a significant part of the religious culture of the nation that one tribe, the Levites, were ordained to exclusively tend to the matters surrounding worship and sacrifices.  One family within the tribe of Levi, the descendants of Aaron, was eligible for the priesthood.

God designed the sacrificial system to show the heinousness of sin and the need for atonement, an offering to God for offenses made against Him.  But when Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, came who would be the One to bear the sins of His people, many displayed caution, skepticism, rejection, and hostility toward Him.  As we see throughout the Gospel of John, His origin was debated.  His words were parsed and doubted. His explanations were questioned and re-questioned.  The evidence of His authenticity was dismissed.

Now He plainly tells them that they will die in their sins if they do not believe in Him.  His whole purpose in life is to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1: 21).  He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Faith in Him is a matter of life and death.

Think about it

Yet many refused to see.  The problem of sin has existed since the Fall of Man. God has presented His Son to be the atonement.  Is it not plain?  Is it not clear?  Why persist in unbelief? Why remain blind?  The old saying, attributed to the Puritan Pastor and Commentator Matthew Henry, is true, “None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.”  If your unbelief troubles you, call to Him for faith and the ability to repent.  If you see, give Him praise for His great mercy to you.

Reconciliation with God Brings Joy that Lasts

To be at enmity with God, our Creator, is a hopelessly depressing situation, but to be reconciled to Him brings joy and peace that lasts.

Today’s reading

Second Kings 9-11; John 5:1-24

Selected Verses

 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king’s house. 2 Kings 11:20

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.  John 5:24

Reflections

When Jehoash was crowned king at age seven, Jehoiada the priest, led the nation to renew their covenant with God to be His people.  Certainly, Jehoiada was the real leader of Judah and he led well.  The wicked queen Athaliah had been executed and the rightful heir to David’s throne, Jehoash, was inaugurated.  There was joy in the land as long as Jehoiada lived.

Jesus ministry brought division and conflict in Jerusalem.  He healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, but the Jews criticized Him for healing on the Sabbath, calling God His Father, and “making himself equal with God”  (John 5:18).  Jesus made stupendous claims about Himself in this passage.  He said He only did what the Father was doing. The Son was perfectly in sync with His Father.  Jesus was giving life to whomever He would.  He said the Father had given Him all authority to judge.  Jesus said His word, if heard and believed, imparted eternal life and freedom from judgment and death.

Think about it

Jehoiada’s leadership brought joy to the land of Judah until his death. But neither the priest nor the revival he led would last forever.  Someone greater was needed to lead the people to a permanent solution for the problem of guilt and sin.  That One was Jesus.  His word brings life.  Do you have it?  Trust Him.  He and the Father give life to those who believe His word because through Him, and only through Him, we are reconciled to God. That is a basis for joy that lasts forever.

Heeding a Timely Warning

A person’s life and eternal destiny depends on a willingness to heed the warning. Here we see examples of one who heeded and one who refused.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 25-26; Luke 16:19-31

Selected Verses

And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!  Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!”  I Samuel 25:32-33

He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  Luke 16:31

Reflections

Abigail interceded for her husband and household, warning David that he would regret taking revenge for Nabal’s insult. David saw the big picture: God was his protector and judge to whom he would answer. David was quick to hear (James 1:19). He heard Abigail’s message and called off the attack.

Yet God’s judgment fell on Nabal and he died within days of this incident. What David had planned to do, God did. The result was the same, but by leaving the matter in God’s hands David did not incur guilt.

In the case of the rich man and Lazarus, the former had no concern for his soul or his eternal destiny until it was too late. He realized that his five brothers were similarly oblivious to what awaited them at death. He requested that Abraham send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his siblings to avoid the torment of Hades. Abraham told him that his brothers had sufficient information in the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets, to escape torment and that if they did not heed the warnings already given, they would not heed the warnings of a resurrected man.

Indeed, many have heard that Jesus rose from the dead but ignore His words to their own destruction. They have been warned to flee the wrath to come but continue in complacency and unbelief (Luke 3:7; 13:1-5). Their attitude parallels that of Nabal, the fool, who thought himself safe from punishment. They assume the stance of the rich man who felt safe in his wealth.

Think about it

Have you heeded the timely warning? We cannot hold on to this life. David knew that his soul belonged to God and that his actions in this world were either pleasing to Him or worthy of punishment. He chose to heed the warning and please God. But David was not saved by his own works. Nor are we. Ultimately,  only Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of His people and came back from the dead, can make us who believe in Him worthy of eternal life. We must believe His timely warning.  Do not delay.  Believe Him now.

Is there a secret to the number twelve?

The Bible mentions the number twelve often. Can we know why? Or should we praise God  for His wisdom not yet fully revealed?

Today’s reading

Numbers 1-2; Mark 3:1-21

Selected Verses

These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house.  Numbers 1:44

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.  Mark 3:13-15

Reflections

Twelve tribes, twelve representatives, twelve apostles. It is hard to miss the repetition of the number “12” in the Bible even when you are not reading simultaneously in the Old and New Testaments, as we are.  There seems to be a certain kind of completeness in that number.

In our reading of Matthew, we saw this statement:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”  Matthew 19:28

So there is a connection between the twelve tribes and the twelve disciples (later called apostles).  Is this fully explained?  I haven’t found it yet.  I am okay with not knowing all of God’s reasons and purposes now or ever.  We should not attempt to go beyond what God has made clear in His Word.  He certainly lets us know all that we need to know for life and godliness.  As the Apostle Peter wrote:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

Peter went on to point out that the apostles did not follow cleverly devised myths when they preached the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:16).  Some have tried to make too much out of the secret meaning of numbers in the Bible.  It sounds a lot like cleverly devised myths.

Think about it

Even though God does not always reveal to us His reasons for the things He decrees, we can understand all we need to know to come to life in Him.  Perhaps when His kingdom comes fully we will know the reasons we do not yet understand.  On that day, we will have even more reasons to praise Him for His infinite wisdom.  Meanwhile, start now by faith praising Him for that wisdom.

Does Sin Make Us Sick?

Do you wonder if sickness is divine punishment for sin? One man came to Christ for healing, but discovered He gives something even better.

Today’s reading

Leviticus 26-27; Mark 2

Selected Verses

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments,  if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant,  then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. Leviticus 26:14-16

 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:5

Reflections

The picture God painted for the Israelites of life in the Promised Land, pending full obedience on their part, is nothing short of glorious. Everything the heart could legitimately long for was included as long as the people were careful to obey God’s law. The contrasting consequences, should they not be faithful, is a nightmare. They would experience disease, famine, insecurity, families torn apart, and, ultimately, ejection from the land.

As we will see in the ensuing centuries, despite the warning, Israel did disobey and experienced all of God’s foretold consequences. Even so, the Messiah came to them. Jesus Christ came and healed the sick, cast out demons, preached the good news of the kingdom of God, and forgave the sins of a paralyzed man.

Jesus never taught that there was always a direct correspondence between a person’s sins and his diseases (John 9:1-3).  But He did show that He had power to forgive sin and  to eradicate its impact on our bodies.

Think about it

Have you wondered if the sickness you or others suffer is some kind of divine punishment for sin?  In a general sense, all the disease and suffering in this world is a result of our rebellion against God.  But in a particular sense, it is seldom possible to connect our sin to our sicknesses in a direct cause and effect relationship.

All sickness isn’t caused by our personal sin. But sickness may bring us to Christ who defeated both sin and sickness.  When we come to Him seeking a solution to our felt needs (sickness, relational problems, depression, etc.), we find that He will address our real need (forgiveness and eternal life).  Trust Him completely for what He knows you need today and forever.

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?

 

All Things Made New

More to Come

Today we reach the final page of the Bible.  The book ends but the story is not over.  We yet await the fulfillment of all things when we enter our eternal home.  God’s redemption culminates in the glorification of His people.  Jesus prayed for it in these words:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  John 17:24

Today’s reading: 

Revelation 19:1-22:21

My selection:

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Revelation 21:5-7

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  Revelation 22:21

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Join me here tomorrow as we begin a New Year reading through the Bible using an alternate reading plan that will take us into the Old and New Testaments each day starting with Genesis and Matthew on January 1 and ending with Malachi and Revelation on December 31.

 

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.