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.

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.

Spiritual Desperation-are you there?

Desperation, a sense of total helplessness and hopelessness, is essential to a minimal understanding of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 19-21; Ephesians 2

Selected Verses

Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, “Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?”  Isaiah 20:5-6

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-6

Reflections

God sent Isaiah to show Judah the folly of their trusting in Egypt and Cush for deliverance from the then-dominant power of Assyria. The prophet, under God’s direction, went about barefooted and naked for three years to show them how destitute they really were. God would have Egypt and Cush barefoot and naked before it was over.

Paul paints a vivid picture of lost people. They are not merely weak in spirit, not just sick. Rather, they are stone cold dead in trespasses and sins. They may have been trusting that they were good enough to pass muster in a relative sense, that is, good enough to pass if graded on a curve instead of against the absolute perfect righteousness of God. In reality, they deserve hell, but instead God, who is rich in mercy and great in love, makes “them alive together with Christ” and saves them by grace alone.

Then what? Does He send them back into the world to try to improve their future record? No. He raises them up with Christ and seats them in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And these were previously dead, hopeless people. Spiritually bankrupt, they had nothing to offer God.   They could not earn their acceptance nor pay their debt. All they could do was believe and receive what God did.

Think about it

Do you hold out some hope that you will eventually measure up to God’s perfection? Or does desperation describe your spiritual state?  Do you see your true condition apart from Christ: dead, alienated, condemned? It is not a good feeling to be desperate, but let us be desperate so that we can appreciate the great mercy and love of God for us.

Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of our sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe. It’s heart check time.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

Selected Verses

Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.  Isaiah 5:15-16

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.    Galatians 3:13-14

Reflections

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts.  It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day.  It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one.  The people were living in denial.  They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God.  It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them.  They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1).  At the same time, they needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5).  They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20).  We do too.

The Galatians situation is even more perplexing.  Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers were turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope.  Paul is astonished.  Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem.  It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God.  This attitude comes from either not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin.  Usually both.

Think about it

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death.  He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse upon us through the law.  Do a heart check today.  Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.

The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

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

Today’s reading

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

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Think about it

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

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!

When the Prosperity Gospel Goes Bankrupt

The prosperity gospel teaches “Believe in Jesus and you will have health and wealth.” But many of us find this isn’t true. What then?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 73-74; Romans 5

Selected Verses

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.   Psalm 73:25-26

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.  Romans 5:1-3

Reflections

As Psalm 73 opens, the writer is not satisfied at all—not in God, not with life.  He lays out a common complaint. “Why do the unrighteous prosper while good people suffer?” His observation is accurate in many cases.  You’d think the opposite would always hold. But keep reading.  The Psalm gives us two answers to that question.

The first, and most obvious, answer is that though the present life may be comfortable for them the end of the wicked is ruin, destruction, and terrors (vs.17-19).   In light of this, the Psalmist’s complaint turns into a confession of his ignorance and brutishness toward God (vs. 21-22).

Second, the righteous clings to the hope of a good final end, unfazed by the suffering of his present life.  He has the Lord with Him and enjoys God’s guidance.  The godly anticipate the glory to come (vs. 23, 24). God is all he desires, all he needs. He has everything in Him. Why complain and compare?

Paul in Romans 5 expands this thought as he describes the relationship which the justified sinner has with God. That new relationship is one of peace, grace, joy, and hope all through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are there sufferings? Yes! But even sufferings are a cause for joy, because they serve to build endurance, character, and hope. How is this possible? Because of the love God has “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (vs. 5).

Think about it

Even for us who know Christ, envy of the wicked and complaints about our lot in life will crop up from time to time in our hearts.  Don’t let them take root and flourish. Instead find joy in the hope of coming glory and be satisfied in God alone. As pastor and author Dr. John Piper, famously says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” We will not learn to be satisfied in Him without a good portion of suffering after the prosperity gospel has gone bankrupt.

 

Shut Mouths; Believing Hearts

God’s Law and Christ’s Gospel combine to change us from arrogant unbelievers to grateful disciples–people with shut mouths and believing hearts.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 68-69; Romans 3

Selected Verses

More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.  Psalm 69:4-5

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.   Romans 3:21-22

Reflections

The Psalmist cries out in anguish for the injustice heaped on him, but, at the same time, he recognizes his own folly and wrongs.  He knows that God knows them.  He may have tried to hide them, but they are not hidden from the Lord.  No one is completely righteous before God.  True, some suffer great injustice, but such suffering does not blot out the record of sin committed and establish the sufferer as righteous before God. We are all both victims and perpetrators.

Paul tells the Romans that the law is given to shut our mouths and to hold the whole world accountable to God.  Where can we turn?  We can only turn to Jesus Christ through Whom the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested.  By God’s grace, salvation from the condemnation of the law is through Him for all who believe.  In Christ, there is justification (the declaration that all debts have been paid in full), redemption (the price paid to purchase freedom from slavery to sin and guilt), and propitiation (the offering made to satisfy the just wrath of God).  It is a gift.  So it cannot be earned but can only be received by faith.

Think about it

Beware of trusting in your own works for acceptance before God.  A careful look at God’s law and our own works will show that we cannot satisfy its demands.  We can only shut our mouths and flee to Christ.  In Him alone, we find the gift of salvation which encompasses everything we need to restore us as God’s beloved children.  Be sure you trust Him as the only basis for your justification, not your works or a life relatively better than someone else’s.  We should have shut mouths and believing hearts.

Two Ways to Live–Your Choice

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

Today’s Reading

Psalms 62-64; Romans 1

Selected Verses

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

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

Romans 1:21

Reflections

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

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

Think about it

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

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

 

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

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.