God’s Grand Narrative

Though we live in a time of corruption and conflict, God’s grand narrative for His people comforts us and assures us. He will complete it with certainty.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 24-26; Ephesians 4

Selected Verses

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1

 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16

Reflections

God planned the “grand narrative” of the Bible, as Sinclair Ferguson calls it, from eternity past.[1]  We can summarize it by the terms: creation, corruption, conflict, and consummation.  As Isaiah expressed it, these are “plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He wrote all of human history before it started. What He plans He completes.

Isaiah observes the chaos of the times and anticipates the coming judgment. But he also makes sweet promises. God will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces. The Lord will keep in perfect peace all who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 25: 8; 26:3). “Trust in the Lord forever,” writes Isaiah, “for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (26:4).

Paul, too, has the big picture in view as he exhorts the Ephesians to live in the unity of the Spirit of God. What has God done for them? He has sent them apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip them for His service. Why? God has done this so that they may grow in unity and maturity in Christ. These two objectives go together.

We still live in the middle period of the grand narrative which began with creation and continues with corruption (Genesis 3:1-13) and conflict (Genesis 3:15). But Jesus Christ has come announcing that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He told His disciples to pray that the Kingdom would come, so we know there is more to come (Matthew 6:10).

Think about it

As you look at the ongoing corruption and conflict of this world, do you lose sight of the Kingdom? Do you  forget that God is completing His plans perfectly? Trust in the Lord, as Isaiah said. Seek unity and maturity as Paul admonished. God will fulfill His grand narrative

[1]  Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, 2014, p. 76

 

The God of Wisdom and the Wisdom of God

 “Wisdom is the power to see. and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” J.I. Packer

Today’s reading

Psalms 109-111; Romans 16

Selected Verses

 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!  Psalm 111:10

To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.  Romans 16:27

Reflections

Psalm 111 praises the works of God and tells us there is value in studying them. Scripture includes  the work of scientists and historians here, not to mention educators who train students to do these kinds of work (vs. 2, 4). If God’s glory is seen in what He has done in creation and in providence, then it stands to reason that He is glorified when His works are studied, remembered, and discussed.

The Christian need not hesitate to follow professions which can bring glory to God, but he must beware of careers which will likely force him to reject the very basis for wisdom, which is the fear of God. There can be tremendous pressure to conform to the status quo, the irrational assumption of a Godless universe self-created by a combination of time and chance.   What would be the purpose or benefit of studying such a random cosmos? Can it even be done?

Here is where the godly man or woman, one who fears the Lord, has an advantage. The believer understands that God is wise, that is, He selects “the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it” as Dr. Packer tells us in his classic work “Knowing God”. The Christian researcher can pray for wisdom, praise God for the order and beauty of His works, and (as Johannes Kepler is quoted as saying) “[think] God’s thoughts after Him.”

Think about it

In a day when many doubt the very existence of truth, how are we to find wisdom when we are not even sure there is truth upon which to base it?  Believers will not be discouraged or give up all hope.  We know there is a God.  He has revealed truth to us and He teaches us wisdom as we consciously walk before Him.

We can be sure that all good and honest work done well glorifies God and benefits mankind. Keep walking in the fear of the Lord and seek to use whatever profession or vocation you have to serve Him wisely.

 

Nobodies Made Famous by God

Those whom God chooses and uses for His purposes need not hold high standing in their society. Here we meet two ordinary men–nobodies until God used them.

Today’s Reading

Esther 7-10; Acts 6

Selected Verses

And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.  Esther 8:2

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2-3

Reflections

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther, becoming her guardian and raising her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

The apostles assigned Stephen to a group of seven servants whose task was to serve tables and wait on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

Think about it

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams as they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

The Faithful Church Impacts Culture

The presence of God’s people within an unbelieving culture impacts that society.  But will we learn from history and stand firm for the truth in our day?

Today’s Reading

Esther 1-3; Acts 5:1-16

Selected Verses

 The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel.  And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.   Esther 3:15

And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.   Acts 5:11-13

Reflections

Through fascinating circumstances, Esther, a Jew in captivity, becomes the queen of the Persian king.  About this time, a pompous man named Haman becomes second to the king.  Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, causes proud Haman to become infuriated by his refusal to show him homage.  Haman, learning that Mordecai is a Jew but unaware of his relationship to Queen Esther, decides to use his newly acquired power to exterminate, not only Mordecai but, all the Jews in the empire.  With the decision announced, the king and Haman relax with a cool drink while the capital city turns chaotic.  Tomorrow we will learn how the faithful believer Mordecai fared.

In Acts, the early church was alive with passion for the gospel and with love for its members.  Enter two hypocrites, Ananias and Sapphira, who pretend to give all their wealth to the apostles.  Their truth comes out and they die for their lie.  The news spread and fear gripped everyone both inside and outside of the church.  The word was out: don’t trifle with these Christians!  No one dared to join them, but, on the other hand, “The people held them in high esteem.  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (vs. 13-14). No one joined them unless they truly believed.  Who would enter a group where you might die if you were a phony?

Think about it

Do you, like me, long for a revival in the Church of Jesus Christ, where the level of commitment to God and His people is such that hypocrisy would melt away?  If we are steadfast, like Mordecai, we may yet see that.  Be ready.  The obedient church wins.  Ananias loses. The faithful church impacts culture. God is glorified.

God or Government? Choosing Whom to Obey

God’s people understand that our secular rulers are servants of God who must be obeyed except when they command disobedience to the Lord.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 9-11; Acts 4:1-22

Selected Verses

Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves.  And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.                                                                                       Nehemiah 9:36-37

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. Acts 4:19-21

Reflections

Nehemiah, the governor of Judah under King Artaxerxes, gives an eloquent analysis of the history of Israel from Abraham to the return from captivity. He sees how God has been gracious and good to them giving commands that, if obeyed, would bring them prosperity and security. Even after repeated episodes of rebellion, God showed mercy to them. Nehemiah reflects on their status in his day and sees that the people, although living back in Judah, are virtual slaves in their own land. They are not free to enjoy the fruit of their labor. They are controlled by a foreign power due to their disobedience. He calls the people back to faithful worship of the Lord and they make a covenant to respect the law. This is a wonderful example of a political leader proclaiming spiritual truth and actually facilitating the population’s obedience to God.

Fast forward to the time of Peter and John who in Jesus’ name heal a lame man in the temple. They face opposition from the authorities who prohibit their preaching in the Savior’s name. Peter says that they will obey God. Peter understands that the chief priests are under God’s authority and they will suffer if they prohibit what God commands or command what God prohibits.

Think about it

Are you aware that the powers of governments are granted by God? Officials must answer to Him as we all must. Are you ready to obey God rather than be complicit in disobedience if it comes to that? Be prepared with knowledge of His Word and trust in Him. God can give us wise leaders who fear Him, like Nehemiah. But, if He doesn’t, we will obey God rather than man.

Generosity and Contentment: How we know we’re saved

Faith alone saves but since it is invisible how do we know we are saved? Here are two concrete evidences.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 4-6; Acts 2:14-47

Selected Verses

Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.  I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.  Nehemiah 5:12-13

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44-45

Reflections

The Reformation restored focus on justification by faith alone—faith that expresses itself in good works and good attitudes. In today’s reading we have examples from Nehemiah’s day and from the times of the early Church.

The Jews had suffered greatly through the captivity. When the exiles returned to Judah, some were destitute. Others had managed to accumulate some wealth. The poor had to sell their children into slavery to other Jews just to pay their taxes.

When Nehemiah learned about this he was furious. He called the people together and immediately rebuked those who had engaged in this abusive practice. The response was good because the loan sharks recognized that they had violated God’s law and they stood in fear of Him. Nehemiah’s bold and swift leadership averted the crisis. The wall building resumed amidst joy and unity.

In the early Church, members differed widely in their material wealth. Yet the power of the gospel and presence of the Holy Spirit so moved them that they voluntarily looked out for one another. There seemed to be no need to exhort them to share with one another, at least not at this point.

Think about it

John Calvin wrote that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone, i.e. it is accompanied by good works like generosity and good attitudes, like contentment.  Does your use of material resources reflect trust in God and love for others? Are you generous with what you have? If you have less than others, do you resent your lack or are you content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-10)? Flee from the love of money. Be as generous as you are able. Learn contentment. Saving faith bears fruit in generosity and contentment.

A Basis for Confidence

Our hope is not in the triumph of an earthly kingdom, but in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, we serve Him with confidence.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 32-33; John 18:24-40

Selected Verses

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.  2 Chronicles 32:7-8

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  John 18:36

Reflections

Pilate, the Roman governor, was presented with Jesus to be tried, yet no charges were filed against Him. Rightly, Pilate wanted clarification as to the offenses of the prisoner. It finally came out that Jesus was claiming to be a king although His kingdom was not an earthly one. Nor were His followers mounting any kind of attack against the powers of Rome. It was a bizarre exchange in which Pilate looks confused and perplexed. He tries to release Jesus but finally succumbs to mob pressure. So much for the so-called rule of law! But since Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, it could not be defeated by any force in this world, not even the misapplication of law in the Roman Empire.

By contrast, the kingdom of Judah in Old Testament times was a kingdom of this world. Like every aspect of the culture of Israel in those days (the priesthood, the religious ceremonies, and the political structure) life in the kingdom revealed the instability of mankind and the need for a greater kingdom with a Perfect King. That King was and is Jesus Christ. Hezekiah had some good days and saw temporary victory over the Assyrians. Manasseh was famously evil during most of his life, but in the end he repented. Amon reverted to the worst days of his father. Stability eluded them. Nothing lasted long.

Think about it

The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom based on truth and governed by a Perfect Eternal King. We wait for it, but we should not be idle in our waiting. What has God given you to do today to hasten the day when our faith shall be sight? Do it with all your heart and with confidence. The King is coming and His kingdom is spiritual and eternal.

The Army that Self-destructed

God will be glorified and His and our enemies will self-destruct as we maintain our focus on Him, our confidence in Him, and our praise toward Him.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 20-22; John 16:1-15

Selected Verses

And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.  For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.  2 Chronicles 20:21-23

The ruler of this world is judged. John 16:11

Reflections

Here we have one of the most bizarre battles in all of history.  Three armies are drawn up against Judah and King Jehoshaphat.  The king is terrified, but he wisely turns to God for direction and wisdom.  Reassured by the Lord, Jehoshaphat appoints a choir and marching band to go ahead of the army praising God.  The Lord intervened on their behalf so that the three enemy armies began to kill each other.  The praise band played while the opposition forces self-destructed.  Jehoshaphat’s army watched.  God was glorified.

Jesus spoke solemnly to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.  He told them they would suffer hatred, ejection from the synagogues, and even martyrdom, but He promised them the Holy Spirit.  He assured them they would be at an advantage since the Helper would be with them unlimited by the confines of a human body.  The ministry of the Spirit would be to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.  The Lord told them “…the ruler of this world is judged.”

Think about it

Do you believe that what seems like the hopeless situation of the Church of Jesus Christ today is completely under God’s control? Do you trust Him to bring ultimate victory over the forces of the ruler of this world? Can you, like Jehoshaphat’s praise band, give thanks to the Lord, knowing that his steadfast love endures forever? Might we suffer?  Of course, but our hope is in the Lord.

Take heart. The ruler of this world is judged and his armies will self-destruct.  Praise God in advance.

 

Who me? God’s Fellow Worker?

God gives His people productive work and He supports them in it. Paul understood this when he wrote, “We are God’s fellow workers” I Corinthians 3:9.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 13-16; John 14

Selected Verses

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.  2 Chronicles 16:9a

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  John 14:12

Reflections

King Asa had some good years but, sadly, he veered off course by trusting in the power of a foreign ruler instead of maintaining confidence in the God who had delivered him in former times. Why did he veer off? Perhaps, he thought he was strong enough to handle the situation without the Lord. Perhaps, he forgot that he was merely a steward of God’s people and that God would not abandon him if he was faithful and believing. Maybe it was all of the above. At any rate, his heart was not blameless toward the Lord and he paid for his unfaithfulness dearly with continual wars for the rest of his life.

In John 14, there is a long list of ways that Jesus shows His love for His disciples. He is concerned to bring comfort to their troubled hearts. The Lord wants them to be with Him and He reassures them that He is the way to the Father.  He promises to send them a Helper, the Holy Spirit, and He tells them the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be with them.

There is another promise, however, that parallels my thoughts on Asa. That is, Jesus promised that His disciples would do the works that He did, and even greater works than He had done, because He was going to the Father. His going to the Father coincided with His sending the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the disciples doing those promised greater works. Indeed, those unlikely and unlearned men would soon be changing history with the gospel (Acts 4:13).

Think about it

Here we have two ways to approach our work and responsibility before God. We may rely on our own resources or the resources we can scrounge up from others, like Asa did. Or we may rely on God, maintain a clear understanding that we work with Him and that He will “give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”  Today, be neither overconfident nor overwhelmed, but walk blamelessly before God by Christ’s mercy and be His fellow worker.

Two Kings in Contrast

Today we meet two kings: Solomon and Jesus. Though kings they could not be more different in their lives and in their deaths.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 7-9; John 13:1-17

Selected Verses

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom.  And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.  2 Chronicles 9:22

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  John 13:12-14

Reflections

Solomon was endowed by God with great wisdom. With that came the honor of being consulted by all the other kings and queens of the earth, and of gathering wealth beyond comparison. Although the writer of Chronicles does not focus on it, Solomon was a victim of his own earthly success, being tripped up by the paganism of his many wives and concubines (I Kings 11:1-40). We read that he died and was buried quietly with his forefathers. Humanly speaking, his reign was successful and peaceful.

Jesus had just been received in Jerusalem and acclaimed king of Israel (John 12:12-15). But where do we find Jesus on the night of the Passover? Washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with a towel. He had no recognized earthly power or position. He was not wealthy. Jesus was hunted by the elite, not sought by them for advice. He was merely Teacher and Lord for twelve disciples.  Did He die quietly after a long reign? No. He died in agony on a cross. Unlike Solomon, He would not be buried with his fathers but in a borrowed tomb. Yet, most importantly, neither would Christ Jesus rot in a grave, but rise triumphantly to life as the Conqueror of death and the Savior of His people.

Think about it

Truly Solomon’s reign is antithetical to Jesus’ life and ministry at His first coming, and only a pale reflection of the glory of the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed and which is still to come completely.  Jesus is the King of Israel, the chosen people of God from all the earth who are blessed to be His. Pray that His kingdom may come in fullness soon. Meanwhile, let us follow our Teacher and Lord in humble obedience and loving service.