Who is Worthy?

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

Today’s Reading

Amos 1-3; Revelation 5

Selected Verses

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

Think about it

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

From a Cloud to a Kingdom

No fallen human being is able to merit favor with God, but He, by the work of His Son, changed His elect people from a cloud to a kingdom.

Today’s Reading

Hosea 5-8; Revelation 1

Selected Verses

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:4-6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1: 5-6

Reflections

Hosea expresses God’s view of His people. He laments their instability. Their unstable love is like a morning cloud or dew. It melts away rapidly. Their sacrifices and burnt offerings were unacceptable for they were not done out of steadfast love or from knowledge of God. They went through the motions. What? Did they think God could be fooled? So the Lord, through Hosea, says “What shall I do with you?”

God Himself answered the question. What He did was to send His Son to free us from our sins by His blood. Why? Because He loves us. His love is unchangeable and unstoppable. Not only that, He desired a kingdom for His glory. His purposes are wise and good. Although Israel failed to become what He called them to be, through Jesus Christ, all the nations have been called to be a kingdom and priests to Him. And He is glorified and has dominion forever and ever.

Think about it

Unregenerate man attempts to please God with fleeting love and phony sacrifices, but God graciously acts to redeem a people who know God, who are freed from their sins and made a kingdom. A cloud vs. a kingdom, what a contrast! Give praise to God for His love and wisdom

Handling the Spiritual Conflict

Beware! The conflict of lawless people versus God’s people began in the Garden and continues to this day. Here’s how to handle it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 45-46; Second Peter 3

Thus says the Lord God: “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God.”  Ezekiel 45:9

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  Second Peter 3:17-18

Reflections

God had a special message for the princes of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. They were not to abuse their power bringing violence and oppression on the common people. On the contrary, they were to execute justice and righteousness. They were to abide by the same laws as everyone else in such matters as worship and property rights. There was to be no privileged class in Israel, not even the royal family.

The political situation of God’s people changed between Ezekiel’s time and Peter’s day. The Church did not live in their own designated land but was dispersed among the Gentile nations of the world (First Peter 1:1).  Believers were subject to the ridicule of scoffers who openly doubted that the Lord would fulfill His promise to return. These unbelievers conveniently ignored the evidence of God’s power and presence in the Creation and the Flood. This made it easy for them to dismiss the promised “day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly”.

Peter reassures his readers that the Lord is not time-bound as we are and that He will carry out all His judgment on His schedule. Meanwhile, he charges them not to be carried away with the error of the lawless who were given over to the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority (Second Peter 2:10). Instead, they were to focus on growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Think about it

These two qualities, grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, are bound together. By His grace He has made Himself known to us. By the knowledge of Him we grow in grace, being ever more assured that our faith is not in vain. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, and gain stability in the midst of our on-going spiritual conflict.

The Sufferings of Christ

The sufferings of Christ on the cross brought an end to the elaborate (but futile) Old Covenant sacrifices for sin and guilt. And they bring sinners to God.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 40; First Peter 5

Selected Verses

And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered.  Ezekiel 40:39

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.  First Peter 5:1

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, God took him into the inner chamber where there are tables for the washing and slaughter of the various kinds of sacrifices: burnt, guilt, and sin offerings.  Such was the enormity of the sin of God’s chosen people that He commanded the sacrifices to be repeated over and over with no seeming conclusion.  Sin and sacrifices were the way of life on a daily basis.  Talk about life on an endless treadmill!

Would there be no deliverance from the sin or the futility of the animal sacrifices?  Yes, indeed, there would.

Peter witnessed that deliverance accomplished by the sufferings of Christ.  The Apostle knew what those sufferings meant. “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” he wrote (First Peter 3:18).  Christ’s sufferings meant that a sufficient offering had finally been made.  Christ suffered once for sins.  His one offering was sufficient because He was righteous. No other person and no sacrificial animal could accomplish what His sufferings accomplished which was to bring unrighteous people to God.

Peter counted himself as one of those unrighteous people graciously brought to God.  He lived out the rest of his life and ministry in the light of the cross of Christ.  When he appealed to the elders among his readers to be faithful and humble shepherds of God’s flock, he did so as one who had never lost sight of the reason for Jesus’ sufferings.

Think about it

Have you grasped the meaning of the sufferings of Christ?  Leave aside any effort to earn forgiveness through any merit of your own, or any feeble offerings to God.  They cannot suffice.  Only the One who suffered for His people on the cross can bring us to God.  Trust in the sufferings of Christ.

Glory Revealed

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

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 38-39; First Peter 4

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Think about it

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

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

The Soul Shepherd

God provided Someone to care for His people, but His identity was a surprise. Have you discovered Him? Is He the Shepherd of your soul?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 34-35; 1 Peter 2

Selected Verses

I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:22-24

 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24-25

Reflections

Not infrequently, the Bible uses the analogy of sheep to people. Sheep need constant care. They cannot survive without a shepherd. They are prone to make foolish decisions and get themselves in big trouble.  Not being able to defend themselves, they are susceptible to predators.

Ezekiel condemns those who were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel and Judah. They looked out for themselves and neglected those in their care. God declared to them that He would rescue His flock and get them to safety. He would pronounce judgment. He would provide one shepherd who would feed them and faithfully fulfill the role of shepherd to them. This shepherd to come is identified as God’s “servant David.” Of course, David died four centuries before the time of Ezekiel, so the prophet would have been thinking of a descendant of David. We know Him as Jesus Christ, clearly of the lineage of David.

Peter refers to Christ as the Shepherd and Overseer of the souls of those to whom he wrote. It is Jesus who fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel and rescued His flock. He has fed His people with truth and He will come again to judge those who have rejected His Lordship and His Priesthood. Meanwhile, He calls those He has saved by His death and healed by His wounds to die to sin and live to righteousness. In the first century, the vast majority of the Jews rejected the Soul Shepherd that God had sent them. He didn’t fit the stereotype they had imagined for their Messiah.

Think about it

Has the Shepherd rescued you from the agony of straying like sheep?  Do you know the joy of returning to Him? If so, give Him all the praise and seek to live to righteousness until we enter His presence through death or His return for us.

The Man Who Stood in the Breach

Those who trust in the Man who stood in the breach should be filled with humility and gratitude which is evidenced by mercy and impartiality toward others.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 22-23; James 2

Selected Verses

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.  Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.

Ezekiel 22:30-31

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James 2:1

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, invaders broke through the walls of the city. The false prophets did not risk their lives to close these breaches or to stand in them (Ezekiel 13:5). God looked, but there was no one who would do this. My study Bible notes refer to the contrast with Moses who, as a true and faithful leader, stood up in the spiritual breach for Israel when they crafted and worshiped a golden calf. Moses pleaded with God to spare Israel their just punishment and God heard him. [1]  Now the so-called prophets ignored this need. God poured out His wrath on the nation.

Finally, God Himself took on flesh and lived among us to bring atonement for sin and mercy for His people. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Man who stood in the breach against our enemy. He is the Good Shepherd who did not flee when danger came. He bore the pain of death for us. [John 10:7-18]. James calls all who hold the faith in Him to reflect that faith in our actions and attitudes toward others. There should be no partiality based on socioeconomic classes. There should be no favoritism toward the rich nor discrimination against the poor. Those who have received mercy must be merciful or they show they deserve judgment.

Think about it

Be sure your relationships show mercy and not partiality. You have been saved by the Man who stood in the breach for us. Pride and haughtiness have no place in our lives.

[1] Reformation Study Bible p. 1415 note on 22:30-31

Arrogant Unbelief

God is pleased with those who turn away from arrogant unbelief and trust Him even though death overtakes them still waiting.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 10-12; Hebrews 11:1-19

Selected Verses

 And the word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, ‘The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision.’” Ezekiel 12:21-23

 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13

Reflections

The people of Judah and Israel had heard the visions of the prophets but had not seen their fulfillment. They grew impatient, then dulled, and, finally, arrogant in unbelief. “Nothing is going to happen,” they told themselves as they went on with their idolatry, seeking power from pagan gods.   All kinds of evil arises when a society collectively begins to assume that there is no God or that, if there is, He is powerless or complacent towards sin.

Ezekiel warned them of the soon coming fulfillment of the visions. All those prophecies about the fall of Babylon, the rise of Persia, and the return of the Jews to Jerusalem all came to pass on God’s schedule. He showed them all up for fools who demanded that God do their bidding on their schedule.

But our waiting patiently in faith for God to act pleases Him. Hebrews 11 is a monument to those who trusted God to their dying day without seeing His promises fulfilled. They were included with all who “draw near to God [believing] that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (vs. 6)

Think about it

Not everyone lives to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are privileged to live in the era of the last days, following the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, including His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the building of His Church throughout the nations. Yet there is more–much more–to come.

Be sure you don’t fall into the arrogant unbelief of the people of Ezekiel’s day who thought nothing would ever happen and who demanded that God perform for them. Christ will return, but, even if not in our lifetimes, God will be pleased as we draw near to Him in unwavering faith believing that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

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 Perfect and Eternal Priest

Fallen humanity needed a priest to intercede before God, but only the perfect and eternal priesthood of the Son of God would prove effective.

Today’s Reading

Lamentations 1-2; Hebrews 7

Selected Verses

He has laid waste his booth like a garden,
laid in ruins his meeting place;
the Lord has made Zion forget
festival and Sabbath,
and in his fierce indignation has spurned king and priest.

The Lord has scorned his altar,
disowned his sanctuary;
he has delivered into the hand of the enemy
the walls of her palaces;
they raised a clamor in the house of the Lord
as on the day of festival. Lamentations 2:6-7

For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Hebrews 7:28

Reflections

The Book of Lamentations tells the sad, bitter story of the consequences of the sin of Israel and Judah. Despite the law of God which established the priesthood of Aaron, the sacrifices, the worship in the temple, none of this was done without sin. The glories of the past faded away as God sent Babylon to kill and destroy the city known as “the joy of the whole earth” (2:15). The writer of Lamentations was completely clear that this had occurred as a result of the sin of the people. God brought about the wreckage for the gross failures of king and priest and citizenry.

But He had another plan all along. He would send His own Son as a king and priest. The destruction only served to prepare the way for that Messiah who would come. The letter to the Hebrews explains eloquently how the ministry of Jesus Christ, the sinless and eternal High Priest, far exceeds the tarnished and mortal priesthood of the Mosaic law.

Think about it

It was necessary for God to show the world that only Christ could be the High Priest that was needed, One who had no sin to atone for and who would live forever to make intercession for His people. All we need is Christ as our High Priest. His priesthood is after the order of the king of righteousness and the king of peace. In Him we find righteousness and peace forever. Look no further than our Lord Jesus Christ for the path to acceptance before the Holy and Eternal God.