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

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

Fleeing the Now Generation

Those who believe God’s word flee from the “now generation” and live today in the light of a day to come when He makes all things new.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 13-14; Revelation 21

Selected Verses

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. Zechariah 14:9

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Reflections

Zechariah’s prophecy and the vision of John in Revelation intersect in today’s readings. Here we can see:

  1. God exercises authority over all things. He sits on the throne and there is no one who can compete with Him.
  2. God deserves worship from all.
  3. God makes all things new. The fallen world with sickness, sorrow, tears, and death gives way to a new heavens and earth where He restores all things.

Think about it

The Urban Dictionary defines the “now generation” as “people who want instant gratification.” By definition Bible believers are not members of that group. We live for a day when His kingdom will come and the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Flee from the foolishness of the “now generation.” They want what they want and they want it now. Don’t fall for that illusion. Cling to the promises of God for a day when He will make all things new. The new year gives us an opportunity to consider how to make necessary changes to live more fully in the light of that day to come. How will you invest the year ahead to reflect an attitude of expectancy and faith in the day when the Lord makes all things new?

Three Verbs for Life

Three verbs capture much of what the life in Christ is about for His people of all the earth–walking, serving, fearing. Do they describe you?

Today’s Reading

Micah 4-5; Revelation 11

Selected Verses

And many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.” Micah 4:2

The nations raged,
but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Revelation 11:18

Reflections

The term “nation” in English shows up in both of the passages selected above, but they refer to quite different responses to God’s revelation of Himself and His commands upon mankind.

Micah speaks of a day when the mountain of the Lord and God’s house will be an attraction to all the nations of the world. People will stream there seeking to know God’s ways so as to walk in His paths. If the “latter days” occur between the first and second advents of Jesus Christ (which I believe), then this is being fulfilled even today as the nations turn to Christ in faith. If we take the Church of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth in him (Genesis 12:3), it is easy to see how these promises in Micah are already being kept. There is a great host of people in every nation of the world.  They trust in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and Lord of lords.

John heard the twenty four elders worshiping and saying that the time had come for God’s wrath in response to the raging of the nations. While Micah is talking about people from every nation coming to faith, the elders are speaking of the nations, perhaps on an official level, as they have rebelled against the Lord (Psalm 2). Even so, the elders have not forgotten that God’s servants and those who fear His name have a sure reward. The judgment is a time in which God will winnow out the wheat from the chaff and apply rewards and punishment as required.

Think about it

What will God look for on that day? He will look for those who have walked in His ways, served Him, and feared His name. This is the way of life of the believer in Jesus Christ. Be faithful and be sure that those verbs describe you..

Who is Worthy?

God’s blessings and warnings to Israel did not make them faithful to Him. Only One can be found who is worthy before God the Father.

Today’s Reading

Amos 1-3; Revelation 5

Selected Verses

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.”  Amos 3:1-2

And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.  And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  Revelation 5:3-5

Reflections

In all kinds of human settings, we use rewards and punishments to attempt to encourage desired behavior or to inhibit undesired behavior. As any parent, teacher, or boss can attest, this approach yields limited success, but it seems to be the best option we have.

God did the same sort of thing, first, with our parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden and then with Israel. He blessed them and He warned them. Their response was rebellion and sin. In fact, much of the content of the Old Testament points out this failure on the part of people. To turn against one’s benefactor is a completely irrational act. To disobey God after being clearly warned about the consequences is the height of stupidity. Indeed, sin is stupid, always. Ungratefulness is more than stupid. Israel was guilty, but they were not the only ones. We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

When John got his vision of heaven, this truth, that all are unworthy before God, was confirmed. He saw a scroll with seven seals. An angel’s cry went out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” No one was found who qualified. John was appalled. He wept loudly. Such was the state of all mankind against the backdrop of God’s mercy, grace, and holiness.

Then John saw the Lamb. He was declared worthy. He alone could open the seals of the scroll.

Think about it

How would you respond if you could see the true spiritual state of mankind before God in Heaven? Would you weep? Would you look to Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain and who alone is worthy? Look to Him and give Him the praise and glory He is due. He is the One who is worthy.

The Day of the Lord

On the day of the Lord, those who know Him will worship taking refuge in Him, but those who refused Him will tremble in terror. In which group will you be?

Today’s Reading

 Joel 1-3; Revelation 4

Selected Verses

The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel. Joel 3:16

They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:10, 11

Reflections

Joel mentions or alludes to the “day of the Lord” repeatedly (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:1, 14, 18). He says it is near. It is great and very awesome. “Who can endure it?” the prophet asks. It is a day in which the heavens and earth quake. Should we also quake at the thought of this day?

It depends. Joel says “the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” Those who are His people will find Him a refuge to run to, not a terrifying figure to run from. He is the only safe place for those who trust Him.

John receives a vision of what is to come. The door of heaven is opened and he looks inside. What does he see? He sees the One who is seated on the throne. He sees creatures and elders worshiping Him. These twenty four elders cast their crowns before His throne in an act of adoration which signifies that they have nothing which He has not given them. Nothing they have can be withheld from Him. He is worthy of every possible honor. They cry out to Him of His worthiness, enthralled with His presence. They find Him majestic, glorious, honorable, and powerful.

Think about it

The day of the Lord is coming. Do you long for it or dread it? It depends on whether you will meet Him as your Refuge and Creator or your Judge. Be ready.

Safe in the Lions’ Den

God shows His power in the apparently impossible and hopeless crises of His faithful children who have even been found safe in a lions’ den.

Today’s reading

Daniel 5-6; First John 4

Selected Verses

 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.

So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.                                                                                                   Daniel 6:26-28

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.                                                                      First John 4:4

Reflections

God’s people down through history have been tested and oppressed by evil forces in this world as was predicted in Genesis 3:15. They are not always delivered from those trials, but, by God’s grace and power, they remain faithful to Him and even in death are not defeated. [See also The Grand Narrative].

Daniel’s political opponents set a trap for him. He resolved not to compromise his faith but to trust God to see him through the consequences of maintaining his practice of prayer. God protected him through a night in the lions’ den. King Darius saw the power of God and decreed that all should tremble and fear before Him.

John reassured his readers of God’s power in the face of opposing spiritual forces in the world. He called them “little children” perhaps because of his tender love for them but, probably, also because they were not spiritual giants. Nevertheless, he said they had overcome the false prophets, also called the spirit of antichrist and the spirit of error.  Unlike those in the world, these little children did not listen to the false spirits.

Think about it

Daniel prospered under the pagan kings. Those John addressed were victorious against the forces of spiritual darkness. The faithful do not always prosper in this world. But all who abide in Christ know God’s faithfulness and the ultimate deliverance of what Darius called the kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Stay faithful and confident. You are safe  even in a lions’ den.

When Shame is Good

To experience shame for sin is a hopeful sign that repentance and faith in God are still possible. Do not fear feeling shame but rather not feeling it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 43-44; Second Peter 2

Selected Verses

As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan.  And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. Ezekiel 43:10-11

Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  Second Peter 2:9-10

Reflections

God gives Ezekiel a detailed description of the temple. Then He tells the prophet to pass these details on to the people of Israel so that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. The temple reflected God’s glory so this description was intended to shame the Jews for their sin. Yet the temple also held a message of hope of salvation. Here, in this place of God’s throne, provision was made for a sacrifice for sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ was portrayed in the temple, if we rightly understand it.

In Peter’s time, there were false prophets and teachers who were completely insensitive to sin. He indicts them for their deceptions and schemes to lead believers astray. Peter shows how God in the past has brought judgment on those who rebelled against Him: evil angels, the wicked society of Noah’s day, and Lot’s neighbors in Sodom and Gomorrah. So God has shown that He is able to rescue the godly, like Noah and Lot, and keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment. In view here in particular are those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and who despise authority.

Think about it

If there is anything which describes our society, it is indulgence in the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority. Our contemporaries see shame not as a good emotion leading to healthy repentance. Rather it is considered the result of poor self-esteem due often to a severe religious upbringing.

If this world is trying you, trust Him who knows how to rescue the godly from trials in amazing ways. Pray that God may grant our unbelieving loved ones shame for sin that leads to repentance and faith.

Glory Revealed

History displays the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, but do you know how the story ends? It will culminate in glory revealed.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 38-39; First Peter 4

Selected Verses

So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.   Ezekiel 38:23

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  First Peter 4:12-14

Reflections

Israel and Judah were casualties in the cosmic battle of good and evil.  As God’s people they suffered for their sin and idolatry, but they would not ultimately be lost because God had chosen them for Himself.  He promised to do a new thing with them, make a new covenant with them, and restore them.  Here Ezekiel warns Gog, the enemy ruler, of the destruction which is coming upon him and his forces.  God will show His greatness and His holiness and make Himself known to them.

In short, God would be glorified before the seemingly invincible forces of evil. What an encouragement to the exiles in the Babylonian captivity, far from Jerusalem.

Peter, too, assures the suffering believers of his day that God is not unaware of their plight.  They suffer with Christ.  They do not suffer as a means of discipline for their sin but rather as a means to show the power and grace of God.  Blessing will be theirs, but, first, there is a time of trial to endure.  While they are not suffering for sin but for Christ, they do have God’s presence with them and assurance that their suffering will produce the purification of their faith (First Peter 1:6-7).

Think about it

There will come a day when God’s glory will be fully revealed and His judgment will be finalized. Those who have suffered and been maligned for Him will be rewarded with vindication and their growth in purity of faith will bring glory to Christ.

Do you suffer for Christ today?  Peter says be sure you suffer for Him and not for your sin.  Meanwhile, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator because the day of glory revealed is coming.

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.