Restoration after Tribulation

Tribulation is real, but it is not the end for God’s people. He promises a final and ultimate restoration for all His elect.

Today’s Reading

Amos 7-9; Revelation 7

Selected Verses

 I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:15

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

Reflections

The prophet Amos had a gloomy message for Israel. God’s words through him moved the prophet himself. “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” he cries out again and again (7:2). But God relents and promises that all these dire warnings will not be final. There is a day of restoration and joy ahead. It will be permanent. There will be lasting prosperity and security.

Given the depth of sin and failure on the part of Israel, how is this blessing possible?

The gospel of Jesus Christ holds the answer. He is the Lamb of God whose blood atones for the sin of God’s elect. They wash their robes in it. Those filthy robes are made white. They endure the pain and suffering of the great tribulation and though, as Amos admitted, they are small, yet they stand.

Think about it

Do not wonder if you suffer for a time. Some of it, we bring on ourselves by our sin and stupidity and some of it is the sufferings of Christ that His people must bear because of their identity with Him. In the end, there is restoration. Be strong in the Lord, because tribulation is real but it is not the end.

The Danger of Prosperity

No one enjoys adversity, but did you know that a trial is not the worst thing that can happen to you? Are you aware of the danger of prosperity?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 12-14; Revelation 3

Selected Verses

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled,
and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.  Hosea 13:4-6

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.  Revelation 3:17-18

Reflections

It seems to be the experience of many that in difficult times faith flourishes and good character is strengthened, while in periods of ease and plenty laziness and arrogance grows. Can we handle prosperity?

Hosea delivered God’s brutally honest message to Israel and Judah. The Lord told them that He was with them in the wilderness and in the land of drought, but, when they got to lush pastures and were filled, they grew proud and forgot God. This led them to a spiritual wilderness and desert and to the need to recognize their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the letter to the Laodicean Church, the Lord made similar comments to those who were rich and prosperous. They were actually spiritually blinded by their apparent success and security. He diagnosed their true condition as being “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They felt comfortable, but God found them lukewarm. Of course, being cold or hot does not feel comfortable. We prefer a moderate temperature, like lukewarmness.  But God hates lukewarmness–spiritual lukewarmness, that is–in those who claim to be His.

God in His grace and mercy sends His truth to His people. There is always a remedy for prosperity-induced laziness, arrogance, and lukewarmness. That remedy is repentance and confession of sin.

Think about it

If these are not easy times, if you are in the wilderness or in dry lands, remember that the worst thing that can happen to you is not to suffer adversity but to forget the Lord. If these are good times in your life, be sure you are handling prosperity with humility and a God-glorifying focus. Beware the danger of prosperity.

A Time to Love; a Time to Hate

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

Today’s Reading

Hosea 9-11; Revelation 2

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Think about it

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

Why does God Save?

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

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 20-21; James 1

Selected Verses

Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.  But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. Ezekiel 20:8-10

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  James 1:18

Reflections

Page after page, Ezekiel lays out the case against Israel and Judah. Their sin and unfaithfulness before a Holy God is an abomination. God would have been just and right to destroy them at the first failure, but He extended patience and relented again and again.  Why? Three times in chapter 20, He says “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned” (vs. 9,14, 22). Another time He says “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” (v.44). The basis of God showing them mercy was the glory of His name–that His name not be profaned and that Israel should know that He is the Lord.

God showing mercy to His elect people benefits us in two ways.  One, the world can see (if we are willing to) that He is able to save His wayward sheep.  Two, His people come to know Him in truth. James sheds more light on the subject when he writes that “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Why did God save His people? Because He wanted to. It was of His own will. God has no constraints. He has no obligations. He is completely free. He can do what He wants consistent with His holiness. What did He want to do? He wanted to save a people for Himself, the beginning of a new creation.

Think about it

God wanted to save His elect people and that is what He did. Are you one of His? If so, marvel at the greatness of His grace and mercy to you. Remember, you are secure in Him because the reason God saves has nothing to do with you.

Ending Well

While there’s life, there’s hope, but there’s also danger.  Will you be ending well? Here is an exhortation for all of us.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13

Selected Verses

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.   But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Ezekiel 18:20-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, the people had a saying ‘‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2).  The Lord rebuked them for using this proverb. He said that each person held responsibility for himself as to his obedience or disobedience.  Whatever path a person chose, righteousness or sin, was his own and he would enjoy the blessings or suffer the consequences.  A parent’s sin could not make his child incur guilt, nor could a parent’s obedience merit forgiveness to a sinful child.  Each one stands alone before God with his own record.

But change is possible.  No one is locked into a lifestyle of sin or righteousness based on choices in his youth.  It’s how you end up that matters.  After a life of crime, the repentant thief on the cross pleaded for mercy and found forgiveness at death’s door (Luke 23:39-43).  It is also possible that one might prove to be unfaithful at the end of life.  See? It’s how you end up that counts.  It is never too late to repent, but it’s also never too late to rebel.

The writer to the Hebrews gives his readers an assortment of commands in light of all he has written.  Several of them have to do with their relationship with their spiritual leaders, those who had taught them God’s Word (vs. 7, 17).   They must observe the outcome of those godly lives and imitate their faith.  How did those men’s lives turn out?  If they were faithful to the end, the outcome was good.  If not, one ought to be forewarned that even those who at one time show some signs of true faith and obedience to God can veer off and prove to be unbelievers.  This does not mean that anyone can lose his salvation. It does mean that anyone can act pious for a time and then fail to endure to the end [See Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:19].

Think about it

Be on guard against the schemes of Satan.  Do not be presumptuous of your ability to resist every temptation and trap.  We all know some who have not. May you and I endure faithfully and finish by ending well.

Commended by God

Every disciple of Jesus Christ should aim to please God and to be commended by Him at the end of this age. Every other award pales in significance.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 13-15; Hebrews 11:20-40

Selected Verses

 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life,  therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 13:22-23

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.  Hebrews 11:39-40

Reflections

We make much of awards and recognition in our society. But honors only hold meaning when either they come from an important source (like the Medal of Honor given by the President of the United States of America) or they reflect true achievement (e.g. the Eagle Scout award). My wife taught at an elementary school in Texas where at an  end-of-the-year ceremony every student automatically got the “Shark Award” just for being enrolled in the school. It didn’t reflect perfect attendance much less exemplary behavior or outstanding academic achievement. Even the youngest kids quickly understood that the award meant nothing.

God rewards and punishes mankind according to their performance. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the false prophets of Judah that they had failed. Their so-called prophecies sent a deceptive message to God’s people–discouraging the faithful and encouraging the wicked. God stopped them in their tracks and shut down this kind of evil influence.

In Hebrews 11, we read of those who were faithful to their deaths, faithful even though the final fulfillment of God’s promises did not appear. God commended them for their unwavering faith. He calls them people “of whom the world was not worthy” (vs. 38). Now that is a commendation worth getting!

Think about it

What recognition do you seek? Are you after a mere “Shark Award” or are you seeking to please God and receive His “well done”?  No award in this world compares to hearing  God’s approval. Seek His commendation.

Two Traits of True Believers

Although never perfect in this life, Christians will necessarily find sweetness in God’s Word and anticipate Jesus Christ’s return. Are these traits yours?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 1-3; Hebrews 9

Selected Verses

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. Ezekiel 3:1

And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

Reflections

God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to His people during the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Like Jeremiah, he would get a cold reception from his hearers, the exiled Jews.  The Lord commissioned Ezekiel to deliver a message, but with the assurance that he would not be successful in changing their hearts and minds. All who are called to serve God, are called first of all, to be faithful. Success is up to God.

The prophet embraced his calling. The Lord instructed him to “eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” He obeyed and found that–although the scroll contained a message of “lamentation and mourning and woe”–in his mouth it was “as sweet as honey.” But would his hearers agree? No, not at all.  God had already warned him that they were a rebellious people, impudent and stubborn (2:3-7).

The Hebrews, faced with pressures and trials, needed reassurance of the sweetness of the gospel of Christ, which is superior in every way to the Old Testament priesthood. Jesus Christ’s High Priestly ministry resulted in a once-for-all dealing with sin and His exaltation into heaven where He intercedes before God on their behalf.  They also needed reassurance that Christ would appear to them a second time to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.  The writer of the epistle gave them both of these reassurances.

Think about it

Distinguishing traits of believers are: diligent intake of God’s word which they find sweet, and eager anticipation of Christ’s return which overrides the trials, distractions, and seductions of this world. We are not fully sanctified, but pray earnestly that these traits will describe you more and more.

Goodbye to the Good, Old Days

The destruction of Jerusalem brought inconsolable grief, a deep longing for the good, old days, but God had something new and far better planned.

Today’s Reading

Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 8

Selected Verses

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. Lamentations 5:21-22

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:6-7

Reflections

The writer of Lamentations pours out his grief for Jerusalem, which lies in ruins. The best he can imagine is some kind of return to the wonderful days of peace and prosperity, maybe the reign of Solomon when Israel was one kingdom, rich in wealth, politically dominant, free from oppressors.  Ah, to return to those days again!

But Jeremiah had already prophesied that there would be a new covenant, not like the old one to which the people were unfaithful. [See Jeremiah 31:31-34.] The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that the new covenant made the old one obsolete. The good, old days were not so good, after all. The old covenant only served to show the sinful condition of the nation and the need for a better covenant, a better priest, and a better sacrifice. That is exactly what God did through Christ.

Think about it

Ecclesiastes 7:10 advises us:

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

In the midst of difficult and trying times, it is easy to look back to some past era that seems to have been better. Resist that temptation and let go of the longing for some golden age of yesteryear. God, in Jesus Christ, has brought us a whole new covenant that far exceeds anything ever known. Pray that we may be faithful and live in anticipation of that day when His kingdom fully comes and all things are made new.

The Everlasting Covenant

Jesus Christ is the High Priest of a new, everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.  His ministry brings eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 49-50; Hebrews 5

Selected Verses

In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the Lord their God.  They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.”  Jeremiah 50:4-5

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 5:7-10

Reflections

Jeremiah watched while Judah followed Israel into ruins.  God had decreed severe discipline upon His people who shamefully broke His covenant.  Clearly, the old covenant and the old priesthood were not sufficient to save the nation.  But God showed Jeremiah that there would be a new covenant–one that would never fail.  What covenant?  The one made with the sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who paid the ransom for all the sins of all who would obey Him.

The Aaronic priesthood could not save sinners, although (as we can now see) it was meant only to reveal the need for a better priesthood and a better covenant.  The old covenant was not a failure.  It actually fulfilled its limited and designated function.  It pointed to the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, who alone could make atonement for sins as He had none of His own for which to atone.  The old covenant was not a failed experiment on God’s part but a plan to reveal the greater glory that would come through the eternal never-to-be-forgotten covenant with Jesus Christ.

Think about it

The failures of Judah and Israel to obey the old covenant mirror our own failures to live in perfect holiness.  Like Ancient Israel, we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  But by faith in Christ, we have a high priest, appointed by God, who will minister forever not under the weakness of Aaron’s priesthood but after the order of Melchizedek.  Be sure you are not dull of hearing but firmly and clearly grasp the basis of your salvation.  Eternal life or death depends on it.

The Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, so it must be used in God-honoring ways. Here we have contrasting examples of men in authority.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

Selected Verses

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,  yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

Reflections

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had his scribe Baruch write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area, the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to King Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his reign and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Think about it

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and to His authorities when appropriate. Use your authority with grace and restraint.