Suffering before a Perplexed World

Honoring Christ by maintaining hope even in the midst of great trials and suffering, makes the Christian life a huge curiosity to unbelievers.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 36-37; First Peter 3

Selected Verses

In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.  But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.”  But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.  Ezekiel 36:19-21

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

First Peter 3:14-16

Reflections

The persistent idolatry of Israel and Judah brought on their downfall, but did they learn from it?  No!  They continued to profane the name of the Lord by not admitting before their captors that God was punishing them for their sin. The God of the universe did not fail so that enemy armies overthrew and captured His people.  So the captors scratched their heads and asked, “Why did this happen to them?”

Judah received a perfect opportunity to show repentance and to honor their God before pagan nations, but they failed.  So Ezekiel declared their guilt to them.  We will learn in the book of Daniel that there were at least a few Jews who were faithful to God while in captivity, but they seem to have been the exception and not the rule.

Peter wrote his readers–who were in a kind of captivity in the first century A.D.–that they should accept their suffering for righteousness sake.  In other words, they should submit to undeserved persecution and maintain hope and trust in the Lord.  He tells them to be ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Hope in the midst of unjust suffering is as rare as it is hard to explain.  The question they should anticipate is, “Why are these people still so hopeful under all this opposition?”

Think about it

How do we prepare for the possibility of suffering for righteousness sake?  Should we prepare little sound bites or memorize trite phrases?  Peter told his readers then and us now, to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.”  Do not be like the Old Testament Jews who profaned the Lord’s name. Instead, by honoring Christ in your heart be ready to honor Him with your words.  Create perplexity in the watching world.

God’s Plan; Our Part

God is working out a plan to redeem His elect people from all the nations of the earth. It will succeed. Do you know your part in this grand plan?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 3-4; Second Thessalonians 3

Selected Verses

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.  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. 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

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

Reflections

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 so “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.”  Paul worked with zeal, discipline, and knowledge. But without God’s working in the hearts of Paul’s hearers nothing would occur.  God’s workers must always pray because they need His power.

Think about it

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 go proclaim the good news of life in Christ to your neighbor, coworker, or some unreached people around the globe. God raises up shepherds to feed His people (Jeremiah 3:15) and He gifts each one in His Church to serve (First Corinthians 14; Romans 12:3-8). If you have not done so, find your calling and do your part.

The Extent of Salvation

How far does salvation extend? God saves people completely and He saves them everywhere–from every tribe and tongue and nation to the ends of the earth.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 50-52; 1 Thessalonians 1

Selected Verses

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. 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,  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

Reflections

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.  Isaiah passes on more information about the details of this plan, which we will see in tomorrow’s reading.

With the coming of Jesus Christ, that salvation was more 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 completely 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.”

Think about it

The gospel proclaims salvation everywhere. Those who believe experience the beginning of a complete transformation. 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 under surveillance, and they are called to live so that neither their lifestyle nor their speech enable disbelief by others.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 48-49; Colossians 4

Selected Verses

Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
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

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 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

Reflections

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 latter option which prevails. By the same token, if the believer speaks in ways that are coarse, hurtful, lacking grace, or even corrupt (i.e. 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.

Think about it

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.

Dangerous Alliances

Beware of forming alliances with fools and unbelievers. Your intention to “reach” them is likely to fail and result in your own downfall.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 25-27; Second Corinthians 6

Selected Verses

Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him. Proverbs 27:22

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.

Second Corinthians 6:14-16

Reflections

The Proverbs sound many warnings about associating with fools. Here we see another reason why. You really cannot change a fool. You may take extreme measures similar to the process of crushing grain, but it will be futile. “His folly will not depart from him,” we are told.   Send him for advanced education, intensive therapy, military boot camp, wilderness survival training. You name it. It won’t help. He is a fool and he remains a fool.

Are there no exceptions? Yes. We already saw that there are exceptions to the Proverbs, that these maxims are general principles, but not ironclad promises that never fail.  Nevertheless, you should not expect someone who has demonstrated a track record of folly to change even through much rehabilitation.

Paul on the other hand, tells the Corinthians to never be yoked unequally with unbelievers. No exceptions. This verse is often quoted in reference to choosing a marriage partner. Believers don’t marry unbelievers. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul may have been intending for them to apply his command to those false prophets that had arisen among them or come to them (Second Corinthians 11:12-14). The principle has wide application. Beware with whom you link up.

This does not mean we are not to seek to win unbelievers to Jesus Christ. On the contrary, we do build bridges of communication (First Corinthians 5:9-13). It is quite a different thing to seek to win a lost person (who, at some level, is going to be a fool for being an unbeliever) versus forming a binding partnership in marriage, business, or in the church with that non-Christian.

Think about it

Pray for the unbelieving fool, but beware that you do not form forbidden alliances with him or her.  He is, by virtue of rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, the worst kind of fool.  Give him the good news of salvation for even he is not too lost for Christ to save.

The Sniffable Christian

Christians are called to shoulder a heavy responsibility, one that even the Apostle Paul found daunting. Did you know you emit a distinct fragrance?

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 17-18; Second Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts.  Proverbs 17:3

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?   Second Corinthians 2:14-16

Reflections

One of the themes in Proverbs is the dichotomy between fools and wise people, between the faithful and the slothful, between those who receive instruction and those who are wise in their own eyes. While it is not always evident to the observer the true state of another person’s heart, God is able to test hearts and He does. Precious metal is purified by fire. The hearts of people are tested by God. So God’s judgment will never be unjust. He is a Judge who truly has all the information. [See Romans 2:15-16]

Paul bares his thoughts and feelings about his ministry. He finds it painful to confront people on hard issues and when he does, he does it because he loves them. This does not mean that the responses he gets are always positive. He gets strong reactions to his mere presence because wherever he goes God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

That fragrance will be either the scent of life or the stench of death depending on the heart condition of the one doing the sniffing. So God who tests hearts uses His people to reveal the state of hearts. This is not the only way God tests hearts, but it is certainly one way. And Paul exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Think about it

Indeed, who wants to carry such a burden? Who wants to be the person who, when entering the room, causes the crowd to either flee from him or flock to him? But that is the role of the believer and, if we are such, we should assume this role with humility and submission.

No, we are not sufficient for these things. But it is not us. It is Christ in us. He “always leads us in triumphal procession.” Trust Him. Follow Him. Expect to be sniffed.

By the way, if you find Christians abhorrent, be forewarned. You are probably perishing. May God give you grace to repent, believe, and find life in Him.

Wait till you hear this!

The story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is amazing and inspiring, but it’s nothing compared to what God did next. Wait till you hear this!

Today’s Reading

Psalm 78; Romans 7

Selected Verses

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.  Psalm 78:4

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. Romans 4:4

Reflections

With the perspective of the New Testament and the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we could say “Wait till you hear this!” to the Psalmist who reveled in God’s mighty works to Israel. God had done for Israel something unthinkable, unimaginable. He brought ten plagues on Egypt, delivered an enslaved people from that world powerhouse, led them out of the land loaded with spoils, opened up the Red Sea for them to cross, and drowned the pursuing army in the water behind them. This is a story that needs to be told generation after generation.  Pass it on!

But wait till you hear this!

In the New Testament we learn that God took on human flesh and lived on earth. We know Him as Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. His people rejected Him and crucified Him, but His death bought redemption from the guilt of sin under the law.  His death was not a terrible tragedy but the greatest victory ever accomplished.

How do we know?

He rose again from the dead. Since that time millions have believed in Him. They trust Him, not their own good works, for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. These millions understand themselves to have died with Him so that His death for sin serves as their death for sin.  They are free from any remaining condemnation because their debt was fully paid by Jesus. As a result, these believers from every nation and language in the world belong to Him and live to bear fruit for God.

Think about it

God delivered a nation of a million people out of Egypt, some 3500 years ago, but in the past 2000 years, right down to today, He has been delivering untold millions of people from spiritual death and slavery to become His fruitful people. Tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He is doing. Pass it on! Wait till they hear that!

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).

To the End of the Earth

What is the relationship of the Christian to the world?  God prohibits marriage to unbelievers, but sends us to evangelize them to the end of the earth.

Today’s Reading

Ezra 9-10; Acts 1

Selected Verses

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.  And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.”   Ezra 10:1-2

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8

Reflections

God promised in His covenant with Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Meanwhile, God told His people entering the Promised Land to destroy the heathen nations and not to intermarry with them. Whenever they disregarded this command, they suffered for it and brought problems on the nation. Yet there were clear exceptions where foreigners joined themselves to Israel and worshiped Yahweh. Some examples are: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, all who entered into the royal lineage of David and Jesus Christ.   The arrogant disregard for God’s law appalled Ezra as he witnessed those marriages. The kingdom had just experienced severe judgment, being ejected from their land and taken captive, in part, for their mixing in marriage and in worship with unbelievers.

Yet it was always God’s plan to save people from all the nations. Jesus announced the imminent coming of the Holy Spirit to His Apostles. They would receive power and they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.   Their mission would not be fruitless. The result?  The Church exploded throughout the entire known world within a few generations.

Think about it

God calls the Church is to be holy and evangelistic. Naturally, this creates tension as we seek to live and witness among lost people without adopting their beliefs and sinful lifestyles. Rely on the Holy Spirit, not your own power, and be a witness to Jesus. He is the only hope of the world. In Him all the families to the end of the earth will be blessed as they hear the gospel and believe in Jesus Christ.