God’s Righteous Judgment

Final divine judgment is not a popular topic today.  Might that explain why we struggle to find meaning and purpose in life?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 10-12; Acts 17:16-34

Selected Verses

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.   Psalm 10:13-15

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:30-31

Reflections

The Psalmist analyzes the thought processes of the wicked who say, in essence, “God is not going to judge people.” They assume that God doesn’t know what is going on, but He does. They assume that He will not take action against their evil schemes, but He will. The idea of final judgment runs throughout the Bible. God is both holy and sovereign, so He must put right the injustice of mankind. God helps the fatherless and the weak and the poor. He hears their pleas and will bring full justice.

In Athens, Paul declares the existence of the God that they call the “unknown god.” They had many idols, but, in case they had overlooked a god, they added this one for good measure. Paul tells them about the God who is Creator and Sustainer of life. This God cannot be contained in a temple because He is infinite. He is the God who needs nothing and depends on nothing for His existence. He is not distant and aloof but will judge the world in righteousness on the appointed day by a Man whom He has raised from the dead, namely Jesus Christ. Like the wicked of Psalm 10, some of the people of Athens mocked the idea of judgment.  Some wanted to hear more.

Think about it

Many today dismiss the idea of final judgment.  At the same time, they search desperately for a reason to live. Without a clear understanding of the judgment of God we will neither have a reason to live nor motivation to seek God’s forgiveness and to live in holiness before Him. Be sure you are clear on the judgment of God and how Jesus said we may escape it (John 5:24).

 

Why Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

To know God is the supreme privilege and responsibility of mankind. But what if we fail? Can there be mercy greater than judgment?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 28-29; John 11:47-57

Selected Verses

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. 1 Chronicles 28:9

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. John 11:49-52

Reflections

David, in turning over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, charged him to know and serve God.  This was not merely good advice but an urgent mandate.  Solomon would rule over people, but they were God’s people not his.  His leadership would affect the population and be either a credit or discredit to their God.  The God that Solomon needed to know and serve is One who “searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”  He cannot be manipulated or fooled.  He knows not only the actions of all people but their hearts and thoughts as well.  To fail in this mandate is to incur eternal judgment.

Caiaphas was high priest of Israel in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He stood as the highest authority among the Jews who lived under a Roman governor in that day.  Like Solomon, Caiaphas held an obligation to know and serve God, but he failed to see that the Son of God was among them making the Father known (John 1:18).  So the high priest proposed Jesus’ execution  and unwittingly decreed the offering of the true Passover Lamb who would die for God’s elect people both in Israel and throughout the earth. His words had one meaning to him but another in reality.

Think about it

Solomon did fail to fully serve God and so have we. We all deserve to die. But “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God gives the promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him.  Praise Him that the promise of mercy triumphs over the warning of judgment because Jesus died in our place (James 2:13).

Rulers Remembered: the Just and the Unjust

Does it seem like evil rulers get away with murder while just ones are forgotten?  Beware! For they will all answer to the Eternal Judge.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 23-24; Luke 22:31-53

Selected Verses

The God of Israel has spoken;
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
 he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.       II Samuel 23:3-4

But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.            Luke 22:53b

Reflections

As David neared the end of his life, God reassured him. Just governance would not be overlooked.  The Lord blesses the king who rules justly, that is, in the fear of God.  The despot is a law to himself.  The tyrant recognizes no higher authority than himself.  He rules without fear of a final judgment day before a completely informed Eternal Deity (Romans 2:16).

The Lord’s blessing on the god-fearing leader is described in terms analogous to beautiful weather and an abundant harvest.  There is sun and rain in just the right amount resulting in lush crops.  Human hearts fill with energy and joy in the anticipation of a good day and a good future as they live under just leadership.

By contrast, in the darkest moment of human history, hard-hearted, treacherous rulers surrounded the Son of God in the Garden of Gethsemane.  They came to escort Him to His death.  They epitomized unjust rulers, lacking any fear of God.

Unsurprised Jesus awaited them.  He spoke directly and fearlessly showing them that their actions were cowardly, done under cloak of night, away from the crowds of attentive listeners who sought His teaching.  He made it clear that they operated only by permission of God the Father Who allowed them their hour to act and freedom to carry out the dark deeds they had contrived.

Think about it

Unjust rulers have their day, but God will bring justice on them and blessing on those who have ruled justly.  Woe to the ruler who ignores his date with the Judge of the whole earth.

Give thanks. God remembers just rulers and punishes unjust ones. Their hour and power will end.  Whatever your role in this world exercise your authority in the fear of God.

Do Jesus’ Parables Teach Salvation by Works?

In light of Jesus’ parables, we might wonder if He is teaching that we are saved by our own merits. Did Jesus teach salvation by works?

Today’s reading

Leviticus 4-6; Matthew 25:1-30

Selected Verses

And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. Leviticus 4:20b

And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew 25:30

Reflections

In today’s reading in Leviticus the phrase oft-repeated is “he (or they) shall be forgiven.” In yesterday’s reading the emphasis was on “a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” The sacrifices described in Leviticus resulted in God being pleased and the worshipers being forgiven. God does not merely show restraint in not punishing the sin of true believers, He forgives them and He is pleased with the offering they make.

Of course we know from the New Testament that these offerings all pointed toward Jesus Christ, the final and complete offering for the sins of His people. In Him, God is pleased and we who believe in Him are forgiven.

So what does the parable of the talents in Matthew have to do with this? Here we see God’s judgment portrayed on one who failed to invest his talent for the master’s benefit. He is not forgiven. In fact, he loses the one talent he had and is cast out of his master’s presence. A similar judgment falls upon the unprepared virgins.

In light of these parables, we might wonder if Jesus is teaching that we are acceptable before God based on our works or personal preparedness. In fact acceptance before God depends on faith in the offering for sin made by Christ. On the other hand the reality of our faith is demonstrated in fully employing the talent or gift God has given us and in having an expectant attitude about the Lord’s coming in power and judgment.

Think about it

Many trust in their own good works for salvation, only to be lost in the end. Others believe that their trust in Christ only needs to be demonstrated once through repeating a prayer, being baptized, or some other outward profession. These self-deceived people fail to show the fruits of faith in their lives.  According to the Bible they will also be lost in the end.  Jesus never taught salvation by works.  Rather He taught that faith bears observable fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Ground your faith in Jesus Christ’s offering for sin. But be sure your faith shows itself  in your life by diligent use of the means of grace (God’s word and prayer and the sacraments) both personally in your home and corporately in your local church.

Leave all; Plod on

Jesus Christ calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  Are His promises and presence enough to keep you plodding on to the end?

Today’s reading

Exodus 16-18; Matthew 19:16-30

Selected Verses

And the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Exodus 16:3

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”  Matthew 19:27

Reflections

God calls His people to leave all and follow Him.  The Israelites experienced hunger, thirst, and war after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.  Their faith faltered.  They thought about the comforts and delicacies of Egypt.  Selectively, they remembered the good times and tasty foods in Egypt and forgot  the daily quotas of brick production, the scrounging for straw, and the beatings by the taskmasters.  They filtered out the bad memories and complained about present conditions.  That was their default position.

Jesus, too, called His disciples to leave all behind and follow Him.  Peter waxed nostalgic, it seems, as he pondered the cost of following the Lord.  “What then will we have?” he asks.

Jesus is quick to reassure him.  What will they have?

  • A new world where Jesus Christ will sit on His glorious throne.
  • Thrones where the apostles would have power and authority to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • All that they had given up 100 times over.
  • Eternal life.

Think about it

How do Jesus’ promises sound to you?  They sound sublime to me.   Can we plod on another day, maybe many more days?  I think so.  Whatever it takes.

Nah, I don’t miss Egypt.

Do you?

 

Heart Responses to God

Today’s reading

Exodus 7-8; Matthew 17

Selected Verses

But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. Exodus 8:32

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  Matthew 17:5-6

Reflections

The God of the Bible has revealed Himself in human history, but the responses are mixed. Some, like Pharaoh, harden their hearts. Others, like Peter, James, and John, fall on their faces terrified.

Pharaoh saw God’s power bringing plagues upon him and the nation. In the first two instances, his magicians were successful in reproducing the same results. With the third plague, the magicians failed to produce gnats and concluded that it is “the finger of God.” In the fourth case, there is no mention of the magicians even attempting to compete with God’s power. Despite the increasing intensity of the plagues, Pharaoh kept hardening his heart.

The disciples on the mountain with Jesus also saw wondrous things. Jesus was transfigured. His face and garments shone with intense light. Moses and Elijah appeared. Starring at this sight, Peter starts babbling about making tents for each of them. Then he and the other disciples hear the voice of God. The starring and babbling ends and they fall in terror before God.

How do you account for these contrasting responses to displays of God’s power and presence? God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but does a gracious work in the hearts of the disciples. Believers in biblical history always fall before God’s revelation of Himself. Unbelievers, like Pharaoh, merely shrug off the evidence of God’s presence and power as if it were a mere coincidence. To Pharaoh, the plagues were an inconvenience, not a sign indicating that the eternal, omnipotent God was near.

Think about it

How do you respond to God’s revelation of Himself?  If you believe, you will have a proper fear of Him, not horror that makes you run from Him but awe that causes you to fall before Him in worship and reverence.

Fear God for His majesty and power in creation and providence. Fear God for, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 4) says, He is “a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”  Praise God if He has given you, not a hardened heart, but a tender, believing heart that fears Him.

Jesus: Judge or Savior?

Today’s reading

Genesis 38-40; Matthew 12:22-50

Selected verses

 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.  But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.

Genesis 38:6,7

 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:30-32

Reflections

God reveals Himself in His Word as a holy Judge.  As Creator, He has every right over us and we have every obligation to serve and obey Him.  Does He not have the right to execute sinful and rebellious creatures?  Didn’t Jesus preach about judgment?

God brought the judgment of death on the sons of Judah, Er and Onan.  Jesus warned of judgment on those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.  He spoke of the day of judgment on which the people of Nineveh would rise up and condemn the evil, adulterous, sign-seeking generation of His day that refused a greater prophet than Jonah and a greater king than Solomon.

A common misconception is that Jesus never suggested that there would be judgment, that He only spoke of love and peace.  Not so. Rather, Jesus called His hearers to repent and believe the gospel.   He warned of a sin that would never be forgiven. He taught that there would be condemnation for careless words and that contemporary society of that day was worse than wicked Nineveh.

But Jesus also gave hope to repentant sinners who recognize their lost, hopeless condition, who receive the revelation of God in Christ, who don’t demand other signs, and who flee from the wrath to come.

Think about it

Jesus Christ is Judge of those who reject Him, but the Savior of those who believe in Him.  He came to save His people from their sin, but not all are His people.  In eternity, will you know Him as Savior or as Judge?  Make sure you know you are His.

 

God’s Election; Man’s Response

Today’s reading

Genesis 33-35; Matthew 11

Selected verses

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”   Genesis 35:2,3

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  Matthew 11:25-27

Reflections

God is sovereign over all things, including His call and election of people to Himself by grace through faith for salvation.  He hides truth from those who are wise and understanding in this world but reveals it to little children.  The Son has authority to reveal the Father to whom He chooses.

But this does not mean that there exist some who desperately want to be saved but cannot be because God turns them away.  Jesus makes this offer,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

God’s sovereignty in calling people to Himself is seen in the life of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The lives of all three show serious flaws.  Jacob, for example, tolerated his family members serving idols. None deserved God’s grace.  God chose them freely, not based on their merits.  Likewise, God did not choose people from cities like Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, even though Jesus had performed “most of his mighty works” there.  They refused to repent in spite of the compelling evidence that Jesus was the Christ. So they bore their own responsibility for their condition.

Think about it

Pride in one’s own wisdom is an insurmountable obstacle to faith and, thus, to salvation.  Pray for a childlike spirit, for grace to believe and repent.  Come to the One who will give your soul rest and your life a purpose, yoked with Him in His redemptive work.  You will discover His election of you to salvation.

Battle Lines Drawn

Today’s reading:

Genesis 3-5; Matthew 2

Select Verses

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”  Genesis 3:15

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.  Matthew 2:16

Reflections

In Genesis 3, temptation and sin enter the human experience.  By listening to the serpent and eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve fail the test of trust in and obedience to God.  They are confronted, exposed, convicted, and sentenced, but even here there is hope of ultimate salvation (Genesis 3:15) while the conflict with the serpent continues down through the ages.

Indeed that conflict plays out in the lives of the first siblings, Cain and Abel, culminating in murder.  It continues through subsequent generations leading up to a judgment on all mankind which we will read about tomorrow.

God would have been just to execute the sinning first couple immediately, but instead He promises an ongoing conflict in which the serpent’s head will be crushed by the offspring of the woman, whom we will later learn is none other than Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:14,15).  More about that later.

In Matthew 2, the birth of Jesus is met with both international recognition and royal rejection.  King Herod’s scheme to kill the infant is thwarted and prophecies are fulfilled through that heinous action.  Here the serpent, through the king, strikes at the heel of the woman’s offspring (figuratively speaking).

In these readings, God’s holiness, sovereignty, and mercy are clearly seen as He rules over the earth, blessing those who believe in Him, and using evil to work out His plans and purposes for good (Romans 8:28) .

Think about it

The battle lines are drawn in Genesis 3.  That battle continues in our time but the victory has been secured through Jesus Christ. Do you trust in Him, the woman’s offspring who crushed the serpent’s head by His death and resurrection? Are you relying upon Him as your Savior?  Think about that.

 

The Longing Soul

What is your soul longing for?

Babylon falls.  All who put their hope and trust in the world’s glamour, riches, and comforts weep and mourn.  For them all is lost. But there are others, those who longed for a better country, a heavenly one.  They will not weep.  They will gain an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled.  What is your soul longing for?

Today’s reading:  

Revelation 13:11-18:24

My selection:

“The fruit for which your soul longed
    has gone from you,
and all your delicacies and your splendors
    are lost to you,
    never to be found again!”

Revelation 18:14

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.