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.

Our Role in Culture: Finding the Balance

Can believers make a positive impact on culture without being consumed by it? How can we avoid the dangers and find the balance?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 29-30; Titus 1

Selected Verses

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. Titus 1:5

Reflections

While it is true that in Jeremiah’s day the Jews went into exile under the disciplinary action of God upon Judah, life for those exiles was not put on hold as if it were meaningless or purposeless. They would not be coming back to Jerusalem soon. The elderly among them would die before the seventy year captivity ended. False prophets told them to expect a quick return to their native land. Jeremiah, by God’s revelation, commanded them to settle down, plant gardens, buy houses, have children, and seek the welfare of their land of captivity. In other words, God commanded them to do the regular activities of normal life and to be good citizens as much as possible. Indeed, Daniel exemplified this attitude and was a great asset to Babylon in both his personal life and public service. We’ll look at this when we get to the book of Daniel.

Paul wrote his letter to Titus whom he had left on Crete to organize the church under godly leadership. The Cretan people had a bad reputation in general, making it crucial that Titus adhere to the apostolic standards for elders so that the church would not be tarnished by scandal. The church in Crete had to have men above reproach to be their elders. They, like the obedient exiles in Babylon, would stand against the culture of their day and make a difference.

Think about it

There is an ongoing debate among Bible-believing Christians about the role of the Church in society. Should we seek to transform it or flee from it?  Both positions have a basis in the Scriptures.   It is hard to be completely on either side of this debate. God calls us to exercise wisdom that the Church not be consumed with changing society and lose the gospel.  Nor may we be so separate from the world that our gospel witness is lost.

Pray for wisdom to fulfill the role of salt and light, (Matthew 5:13-16) of being in the world but not of the world as Jesus prayed (John 17:14-19).

The Calling to Carry a Cross

Obedience to God does not prevent all suffering. Two godly men were unjustly imprisoned, and Jesus calls His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 20-22; Second Timothy 1

Selected Verses

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.
 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.  Jeremiah 20:7-8

 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Second Timothy 1:6-7

Reflections

As we saw yesterday, God is the potter and we are the clay. That does not mean that we, who trust in and love Him, will automatically have smooth sailing through life. Both Jeremiah and Paul were imprisoned despite their faithfulness to God’s calling.  Their responses were different but God’s faithfulness to both was constant.

Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned by a priest named Pashur. The next day, upon his release from the stocks, the prophet told Pashur that he would watch his friends die, then, he would go into captivity and die also. So Jeremiah seemed to be unaffected by Pashur’s oppression. Nevertheless, following that episode, the prophet records his lament before God. He says the Lord “deceived” him. He was given a calling and a message from God which he could not silence in himself lest he explode. As a result of his obedience, he was the joke of society–the village idiot on a national level.

Paul also was suffering imprisonment in Rome as he wrote his final epistle. There is some sadness and longing to see Timothy but no blaming of God. His focus is still on charging and encouraging Timothy to continued faithfulness in the ministry. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed of my suffering,” Paul writes him assuring him of his love and prayers, of God’s blessing Timothy with His Spirit, His Word, a godly heritage, salvation, and a calling to His service.

Think about it

As a follower of Jesus Christ, are you prepared to suffer?  How do you respond to undeserved suffering? Two faithful servants of the Lord demonstrate that whether you vent before God like Jeremiah or calmly keep serving Him like Paul, God is the potter and He will not let you go until He has made of you what He wills and used you as He pleases. Stay faithful, even when your cross gets heavy and you suffer injustice for His sake (Luke 9:23-25).

The Danger of Neglecting God’s Word

When we neglect the Word of God and the Scriptures are not taught or not heeded or both, evil feels normal and people stand under God’s judgment.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 11-13; First Timothy 4

Selected Verses

But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive. Jeremiah 13:17

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. First Timothy 4:15-16

Reflections

Jeremiah describes Judah as those who have become “accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:24).  They have believed lies and lost the ability to do good. Doing evil feels normal.  They worship idols without hesitation.  The prophet says they have become useless like rotten underwear.  They live under the imminent threat of God’s judgment and their utter humiliation.

Is there any hope? They need a return to God’s covenant, His law.  They have neglected it both in the study of it and the doing of it.  Centuries later it was still a problem in New Testament times. Paul addresses that subject with Timothy.

Paul charges Timothy with teaching the church in Ephesus.  The goal is not merely that they get an education in the Bible but that they be trained in godliness.  Timothy is to model this for them, despite his relative youthfulness.  God calls pastors to grow and to make progress in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.  Paul tells him to “immerse” himself in these things.

Think about it

If you are a pastor or church leader, do those you lead see your progress?  Do you challenge them by a life wholly given to growth in godliness based on the Scriptures?

While this is especially important for pastors, this same exhortation applies to all believers.  False teaching which is only slightly off-track from God’s Word can easily deceive us.  If we continue without course correction, over time we get farther and farther away from the truth.  Like Judah, we can become accustomed to do evil until it feels normal.  Beware of the life of your soul.  Immerse yourself in learning godliness through the careful study and application of God’s Word.

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.

What God Wants

God needs nothing from us. Everything we have comes from Him and belongs to Him. But there is something He wants from us. Does He find it in you?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 65-66; Second Thessalonians 1

Selected Verses

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,  and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. Second Thessalonians 1:9-10

Reflections

In the closing chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah describes the coming new heavens and new earth.  Every pain, every disappointment, every sorrow of this world will be eliminated and forgotten (65:17).  Who will enjoy this new creation?  Who will have God’s favor?  Surprisingly for those who don’t know God well, it is not those who have pompously tried to impress God.  God doesn’t need our works.  He doesn’t need a “house.”  He inhabits the universe.  There is nothing we can build for Him that would adequately reflect His glory.

But there is something in humans that gets God’s attention: a humble and contrite spirit that shows itself in trembling at His word.  God is glorified properly by all who bow before Him and who take His word seriously.  They may also be used by Him to do great things, but the key element of their lives is a heart that bows in worship before Him.

Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, puts his call to holiness in the context of the return of Jesus Christ in judgment.  Believers suffer at the hands of those who neither know God nor obey the gospel of Christ.  Paul wants his readers to focus on living in a way that is worthy of the kingdom of God, worthy of His calling.  He prays to God to work in them to this end, and he charges them to make every effort in this direction, too.

Think about it

God looks for the contrite, humble heart, one that fears no one but God.  Does He find that in you?

The Victory of the Gospel

Will the gospel win the victory? God’s word–though ignored, thwarted, ridiculed, and opposed–will always triumph.  He guarantees it.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 53-55; 1 Thessalonians 2

Selected Verses

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  1 Thessalonians 2:1

Reflections

Isaiah gave Israel and the world the greatest message in all of history in chapter 53. The Servant of the Lord would bear the sins of His people and “make many to be accounted righteous” (53:11). This truth, that One who is holy and righteous has taken the just wrath of God for sinners, is at the heart of the gospel message. [See “The Messiah’s Anguish and Satisfaction”].

This is the best news ever told, but would this news get to the world? Would those who desperately need hope for forgiveness and reconciliation with God hear about this? The answer is “yes!”  Nothing can stop God’s word from going forth. Plenty of forces mounted up against it in Paul’s day and in ours. The Apostle suffered in Philippi.  They treated him shamefully (2:1).  Did he give up?  No! He went right on to Thessalonica. There he continued to preach the word and this letter shows that the message bore amazing fruit in the lives of the people. Then, those new believers preached it to the surrounding region.

Think about it

We live in an unprecedented time of global communication.  This is both a blessing and curse, since much of the communication is evil and deceptive.  But technology also effectively proclaims this gospel.  And despite all kinds of opposition, God’s word can never be defeated. Are you confident in the power of the gospel to change lives? Are you certain that God will open doors for His word–that He will use it to accomplish its every purpose? Fear not! God’s word will triumph. Proclaim it with confidence wherever you can.  God guarantees the victory.