Why the Good News is so Good

The gospel teaches us that we can draw near to God confidently because Jesus Christ bore the punishment for our sins. That’s why the good news so good.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 4-6; Hebrews 10:1-25

Selected Verses

Then lie upon your left side, and I will lay the punishment of the house of Israel upon you; for the number of the days that you lie upon it, you shall bear their punishment. Ezekiel 4:4

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

Reflections

Ezekiel portrayed both the heinousness of the sin committed by Israel and Judah and also the means of atonement which God would make for them. Sin is as disgusting to God as eating contaminated food would be to us, bread cooked over a fire of human feces. Ugh! The punishment for sin is as painful and costly as laying for 390 days on one side. But notice that Ezekiel had done nothing to deserve this suffering. He was symbolically bearing the punishment for Israel and Judah, a picture of what Jesus Christ would do in reality several centuries later.

What Jesus did on the cross was to bring an end to the shadow of Old Testament sacrifices for sin. Jesus actually did bear the sins of His people in a way that Ezekiel could only act out. As Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (I Peter 3:18). Those sacrifices pointed to Him and to the need for better sacrifices than those of bulls and goats. Indeed, His single sacrifice was better, so much better that it satisfied for all time the need for a sacrifice for sin.

Think about it

This is why the good news of the gospel is so good. We are forgiven in Him, but it does not end there. We are called to draw near to God, to enter the “holy places” of heaven “by the new and living way which He opened for us” not in fear and trembling but with confidence. That confidence is based on His faithfulness, not on our own.

Draw near, believing friend. Draw near to God with confidence for He is faithful. That gospel news is true and it is good.

The Loving Kindness of God

Those who find God’s forgiveness and restoration always recognize two things: their own sinful unworthiness, and God’s loving kindness.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 33-35; Titus 3

Selected Verses

Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
for the Lord is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever! Jeremiah 33:11b

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us. Titus 3:3-5

Reflections

Jeremiah’s prophecy is peppered with indictments for Judah’s persistent rebellion against God, His Law, and His prophets. But these lists of failures are also accompanied by reassurances that God will ultimately restore the people He has chosen for Himself. They will be blessed and they will be filled with praise and thanks to the Lord.

Paul wrote to Titus who had the unenviable task of organizing and teaching the congregation in Crete, a society known for being “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Indeed, Paul identifies himself with a list of vices and character flaws that rivals that of the infamous Cretans. He says he and others who have now been saved could be described as “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” It is not a flattering resume, to say the least.

Then God intervened. Everything changed. God the Savior came with His goodness and loving kindness and saved Paul and all upon whom He set His love.

Think about it

Many, like me, will agree that the more we know of God and of ourselves the more amazed we are of the goodness and loving kindness of the Lord. Words cannot describe the relief of sins forgiven, of salvation assured, of adoption as God’s son, and of purpose and calling to serve God. Days spent in malice and envy are now filled with gratefulness and service. No, none who know Him would claim to be sinless or perfect, far from it. But it is all of God’s grace and He will complete what He has begun.

Do you know the goodness and loving kindness of God who saves? If you do, lift up His praises today in all you do.

Christ, Our Righteousness

In Jesus Christ there is sure salvation. Why? Because those of us whom He saves do not depend on our own merits. Rather, He is our righteousness.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 23-24; Second Timothy 2

Selected Verses

 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”  Jeremiah 23:5-6

 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,  for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Second Timothy 2:8-10

Reflections

The prophet Jeremiah had the uncomfortable, but important, task of denouncing the failed, rebellious kings and prophets of Judah. God promised to punish them, but He also gave hope to the faithful among the people. Here we have a clear promise of a future king from David’s line who would deal wisely, execute justice and righteousness, and bring salvation to Judah and Israel. This and other prophecies kept the believing remnant of Israel hopeful until Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came. [See Luke 2:25-38]. Jeremiah and his contemporaries probably could not have imagined in their wildest dreams the extent of this prophecy. God did everything He promised and far more by calling to Himself through Christ people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, all His elect down through history who in one voice confess, “The Lord is our righteousness.” [First Corinthians 1:30].

Paul was concerned that the Church, which was beginning to reflect this global, cross-cultural composition, would be faithful to the gospel and to her head, Jesus Christ. He gives instructions to Timothy about preaching the word, appointing qualified godly leaders (First Timothy 3:1-13), and insuring that the truths taught by the apostles to men like Timothy be passed on from generation to generation. Timothy needed to be careful about his own life, being watchful to avoid distracting worldly entanglements and foolish, ignorant controversies. He must do his best in handling the word of God. To do these things he will always need to keep Jesus Christ central in his mind.

Think about it

God’s word proclaims that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  But God declares all who call upon Him righteous before God. They confess that  “The Lord is our righteousness.” Be sure that is your confession and hope, even while you seek to be faithful in your service for Him.

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.