Final Victory

God will bring final victory over all the forces of evil, therefore He calls His people to separate themselves from those who are doomed.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 4-6; Revelation 18

Selected Verses

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” —Zechariah 4:6-7

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.”—Revelation 18:4-5

Reflections

There have been many moments in history when it appeared that God’s people had no hope of final victory. The Lord always sent messengers to reassure the Church that she would not be ultimately defeated.

In Zechariah’s day, the temple was in ruins and God commanded its rebuilding. It seemed impossible and, in fact, it was. But it did not depend on the strength or might of human beings, even of those who loved the Lord and longed to see worship restored. Through the vision, the prophet understood that it would be successful through the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. God commands all the armies of angels and He does His will which no one can thwart.

John was permitted to see the fall of Babylon. She had commanded the world, economically and culturally, and seemed invincible. All who dealt with her enjoyed wealth and pleasure. But her end is assured. She will be brought down to nothing. Her ruin will be mourned by those who depended on her. God called His people to come out and not to go down with her in judgment.

Think about it

What is your view of the dominant culture of our day? Are you optimistic that God’s truth will ultimately triumph? If you are one who has been bought by the blood of the Lamb, flee both pessimism and compromise. Final victory is assured.

Judgment: Does God Delay?

Beware of confusing God’s apparent slowness to anger with any weakness or ambivalence. He will bring judgment sure and final in His time. [1]

Today’s Reading

Nahum 1-3; Revelation 13

Selected Verses

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.  Nahum 1:2, 3

Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 13:7-8

Reflections

The Bible from start to finish shows us that God is firmly in control of  human history.  Nothing escapes His knowledge, His presence, or His power.  That does not mean that He watches human history as a disinterested bystander.  He will act in His time to reward faithfulness and punish evil.

In Nahum’s day, the nation of Assyria was imposing her power on the surrounding nations.  Israel had already fallen to her and Judah, under King Manasseh, was a vassal state. Nahum proclaimed the power of God in the midst of this difficult situation.   Assyria would fall, he assured them.  God is slow to anger but not weak in power.  He would pour out His wrath.  Meanwhile, Nahum, whose name means comfort, reminded Judah that “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (1:7).

John sees two beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth.  These united with the dragon wreak havoc on God’s people, who do not take the mark of the beast which gives access to commerce.  It seems like a hopeless situation, yet God limits the time allotted to these beasts.  God reassures all who refuse to worship the beast–their names were recorded before time in the Lamb’s book of life.

Think about it

Let this bring comfort to us who believe but warning to all who confuse God’s patience with any kind of weakness.  His judgment will come in His time, not ours.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, introductory notes to Nahum, p. 1587

 

Contend for the Faith      

Those in spiritual leadership must take care to contend for the faith, that is, to teach the truth accurately and oppose error. Why is this so important?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 1-4; Jude 1

Selected Verses

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.  Hosea 4:6

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:3-4

Reflections

In both readings today, we see God indicting those who have forsaken the truth and who misled those who looked to them for guidance.

Hosea, like other prophets, had a message of warning and hope for Israel and Judah.  The Lord called him to depict God’s mercy and grace toward His faithless people by taking a prostitute for his wife. God told them they were destroyed for lack of knowledge. Their teachers taught lies rather than God’s law. The priests had facilitated national sin.

In a similar way, God called believers in Jude’s day to contend for the faith, that is, the doctrine He gave the Church through the Apostles and Prophets. False and wicked teachers attacked this truth in their deceitful and treacherous ways. They misused God’s grace as an excuse for sensuality. They denied the Lord Jesus Christ. Among other vices, they relied on their dreams. They claimed to get their own truth by direct revelation, a practice Paul also condemned (Colossians 2:18). [1]

Think about it

Truth matters. It matters what we believe, and, if we are in the position of teachers, it matters to all whom we influence for good or bad.  Be sure you know the truth of God’s word and that those you learn from contend for the faith and are not relying on the inventions of their minds.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2292.  See note on verse 8

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

Healing for Sin-sick Souls

Sin causes pain and death, but the sinless Lord Jesus Christ’s pain and death resulted in a full and final cure for the iniquity of His people.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 7-8; First Timothy 2

Selected Verses

 For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? Jeremiah 8:21-22

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. First Timothy 2:5-6

Reflections

Jeremiah was in grief over the sin of Judah. He had a message. It was from God. It was true, but it gave him no joy. He had to proclaim to the people their sin and failure. No wonder people called him “the weeping prophet.” Sin has painful consequences for unrepentant sinners, but also for those who love them and can only watch them spiraling down into judgment. Jeremiah loved his fellow countrymen. He could call them to God, but he could not heal them when they refused to listen. In those days, Gilead was an area east of the Jordan known for its medicinal products. [1]  The prophet longed for some balm or ointment to cure the sinful populace.

I remember an old spiritual we sang in my childhood. The refrain is:

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Amen! Paul had the happy work of proclaiming that there is healing in our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who gave Himself as a ransom. Our High Priest Jesus is the mediator between God and men. He took our sin upon Himself, dying on the cross, rising again, sending forth the Apostles to spread the news, and ascending to the right hand of God. Jesus cures not merely the physical body but the “sin-sick soul.”  Jeremiah longed to find such souls. But he found hard hearts, unreceptive to his diagnosis of their need.

Think about it

If you are sin-sick, find healing in Jesus who gave Himself for such as you.  [See Mark 10:45; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18, 19].

[1]  Reformation Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 8:22, page 1276

Salvation Belongs to the LORD

God is sovereign over salvation. He uses means, such as gospel preaching but also works directly opening the hearts of His own so they hear and believe.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 1-3; Acts 16:1-15

Selected Verses

Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Psalm 3:8

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.  Acts 16:14-15

Reflections

The Psalmist was in dire straits. According to the title of Psalm 3, David wrote this during his exile from Jerusalem while his son, Absalom, briefly overthrew his father’s kingdom. David turned to God in the crisis, recognizing that only the Lord could save him. “Salvation belongs to the LORD,” he affirms. Absalom had skillfully won over the people of Israel to support him. David fled Jerusalem. But it seemed inevitable that David would be assassinated and Absalom would take firm control of the kingdom.

Yet, “salvation belongs to the LORD.” David held to that truth, and, against all odds, Absalom listened to David’s planted advisor, Hushai who purposely gave him bad advice. Absalom followed it, and died in the ensuing battle (2 Samuel 17-18). God saved David’s life and kingdom. The odds set by probability cannot limit God.

Lydia was a worshiper of God, a Gentile woman who believed in the God of Israel and the moral law of Moses without adopting the dietary and ceremonial laws. Luke tells us that the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul said. Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, neither a Lydia nor anyone else is able to hear and believe the gospel (Jeremiah 13:23; John 6:44, 65; Romans 9:16; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9-10).  God saved Lydia spiritually. [1]

Think about it

God saves kings and Gentile women, like David and Lydia. How does the truth that “salvation belongs to the Lord” affect your prayer life and your daily confidence in Him? Can you lie down and sleep, knowing the Lord will sustain you? Trust Him when in danger for He saves.  Proclaim the gospel to others knowing that God opens hearts as He wills and saves lost people.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible notes p. 1945

Fleeing to Satan? Really?

Who would flee to Satan?  If you think no one would ever consciously do that, read on.  It is done every day by those who reject the Incarnate Son of God.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 34-36; John 19:1-22

Selected Verses

And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels.  He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia,  to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.   2 Chronicles 36:19-21

They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”  So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.  John 19:15-16

Reflections

When people attempt to flee from God, they always flee to something else.

The margin notes in the Reformation Study Bible helpfully point out that at Jesus’ trial, the chief priests in their eagerness to rid themselves of Jesus Christ confessed to being loyal to Caesar.  In other words, they forsook their professed allegiance to the Lord God as their ruler (Psalms 24; 47).  God alone is ruler over all the nations and peoples of the earth.  He alone is worthy of worship and praise.  But the chief priests, in rejecting Christ, enthroned Caesar in their hearts and minds.  Such was the level of their sin.

The people of Judah had also forsaken their God, despite the brief return to some level of faithfulness under the reign of Josiah.  In fleeing from God, even by failing to honor one of His laws like the keeping of the Sabbath, they turned to other gods and other laws.  God through Jeremiah told them they would pay for their negligence of the Sabbaths.  They would have forced Sabbath-keeping during their seventy years of exile.  This was the indictment against Judah that resulted in their captivity in Babylon.

Think about it

Keep your heart with all vigilance (Proverbs 4:23) for those who abandon the Lord do not move to a neutral position spiritually and theologically, but they actually flee into the arms of Satan.

Learning to Trust the Love of God

The path of God may take us through pain, suffering, and death, but never away from His love and compassion. Will we trust Him?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 26-27; John 11:18-46

Selected Verses

And Obed-edom had sons: Shemaiah the firstborn, Jehozabad the second, Joah the third, Sachar the fourth, Nethanel the fifth, Ammiel the sixth, Issachar the seventh, Peullethai the eighth, for God blessed him.  1 Chronicles 26:4

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  John 11:33-36

Reflections

Today’s reading in 1 Chronicles includes long lists of names, yet, as we have seen before, there are treasures to be found in these lists.  One example is the comment about Obed-edom,  “God blessed him.”  The note in my Reformation Study Bible (page 626) helped me remember that Obed-edom was the man who took care of the ark of the covenant for three months after a mishandling of it had resulted in death (1 Chronicles 13:13-14; 2 Samuel 6:10-11).  Now we pick up with this same Obed-edom and learn that God’s blessing included eight sons who served as gatekeepers.

What image do you have of the Man Jesus?  Is He too cool and calm to ever show grief or sadness?  Is He always upbeat, joyful, and in total control?  Think again. John 11 does not give us that picture.  When Jesus arrived at Bethany, the home of Martha and Mary, He was deeply moved and troubled by what He saw there: a distraught family, friends seeking to console them, and everyone grieving.  His love and compassion for the sisters and the friends of Lazarus expressed itself in tears that flowed.  Isn’t it curious that Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead in a few minutes, but for the moment He entered into the agony of the bereaved family and felt their suffering?

Think about it

God’s plan for the lives of Obed-edom and Lazarus took them in different paths centuries apart from each other but always under the providential care of the Lord who reigns over all things.  Praise Him who does not overlook the loving and careful service of Obed-edom. Neither will He forget your service for Him. Take comfort in this. The Lord who cared for Lazurus’ family knows and cares for you who are His.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Fear not.  His plan is good and ends with His victory.  Meanwhile, walk on by faith and keep learning to trust the love of God.

Mercy for Limping Cross Bearers

Can we ever hope to be accepted by a holy God?  Not on the basis of our perfect lives but there is acceptance for believers in the One who is Perfect.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 15-16; Luke 14:25-35

Selected Verses

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” I Samuel 15:26

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27

Reflections

God is merciful, but that quality must not be allowed to eclipse His holiness.

Saul persisted in disregarding the commands of God.  In the battle with the Amalekites, he spared the king and the better animals rather than carry out the orders given by God through Samuel.  When confronted by Samuel, Saul shifted the blame to the people, making his sin even worse by failure to own up to his responsibility.  He showed his lack of heart toward God by referring to the Lord as “your” (Samuel’s) God.

Jesus called people to follow Him and to be His disciples, but He was not so desperate for followers that they could come on their own terms.  He told them they must hate their relatives and even their own lives if they would follow Him.[1]  Those who follow Christ carry their cross, ready to die for Him at any time.  This would not be an easy road and one ought to count the cost before setting out.

Think about it

But is there no mercy and grace for our failure and sin?  Yes, of course there is. Jesus showed mercy and grace to Peter who denied Him at the time of His arrest.  Are disciples of Jesus in danger of rejection with no appeal for forgiveness?  No.  The Lord is forgiving and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  But remember Whom you serve.  He is perfectly holy and we need to take seriously our walk with Him.

Christian brother or sister, learn from Saul who barely confessed his sin after repeated promptings by Samuel.  Confess sin fully.  Receive mercy and grace to go on.  You get a fresh start each day.  Jesus paid for your sins.  Believe Him and keep limping on carrying your cross.

[1] “[Jesus] teaches that being His disciple means loving Him so unreservedly that all other loves seem to be hatred by comparison.”  Reformation Study Bible page 1818

Watchfulness: good and bad

Jesus said be watchful for His return.  Moses warned against a bad watchfulness that leads to sinful disobedience.  Do you know the difference?

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 14-16; Mark 13:14-37

Selected Verses

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.  Deuteronomy 15:9

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  Mark 13:26-27

Reflections

One of the functions of God’s word is to warn His people to obey Him and not look for creative ways to avoid doing right.

In ancient Israel, God instructed His people in how they were to manage their economy so that there would be no poverty among them.  God made provisions for addressing those in need. But the Lord knew their hearts.  He warned them against trying to evade their responsibilities.  If the year of release were near, a loan would be almost an outright gift.[1]  He warned them not to take into account the coming year of release, as they were considering the needs of their poor brother.  One might be tempted to ignore the appeal of the needy, but the Lord would hear his cry and bring judgment on the neglectful, unresponsive relative.

In Jesus’ teaching about the coming time of tribulation, He also warned people to be watchful, but for a different reason.  The coming of the Son of Man in power and glory is certain but the time is unknown.  In contrast, the years of release or of Jubilee came predictably every seven years or every 49 years. There is a godly watchfulness and an unrighteous watchfulness.

Think about it

Believers should live each day as if the Lord could come.  We ought not to think that today does not matter because final judgment seems to be delayed.  Neither ought we to neglect our duties in this world because we are convinced the Lord will be here within hours.  We are called to be watchful in a good way not calculating so as to disobey.

Do the things God has called you to do today.  When He comes you will be glad you did.

[1] See note in the Reformation Study Bible, page 275