The Brother Who Suffered

Last week I breezed through Genesis 26-50 in two sittings.  God’s redemptive plan and purposes for the world unfold in the life of Isaac and his descendants—Jacob and Esau and their children.  This quick reading in “chunks” makes certain truths more obvious than would a slower reading.  Here’s what I noticed:

God always watches providentially over human history.

This includes every detail whether large events or very small incidents. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and supervision.  He is the God of the universe and the God of every person.  Minute and seemingly unimportant details are under His control—worldwide famine or the dreams of a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants in prison with Joseph.  Everything is interconnected and fits into a huge scheme that the Sovereign God is orchestrating. Our discovery of this truth drives us to worship before Him who takes what people mean for evil and turns it into good.

Sin continually ruins lives and relationships.

Jacob tricks his foolish brother, Esau and their father, Isaac. Jacob goes on to suffer from Laban’s trickery and deceit—getting a taste of his own medicine. Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob agonizes over how Esau will receive him.  Pride and lust permeates these conflicts.  Joseph stands out as one of the exceptional people, a type of Christ, who endures great suffering in order to redeem those who hated and abused him.

Mankind is lost apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention.

What are we to make of this?  Only God intervening by His mercy and grace can deliver lost humanity .  Hostility runs rampant even among the descendants of faithful Abraham.  They jockey for positions and plot against one another.  There is no peace, no goodness, no love, and no kindness.  Yet God works through all kinds of situations to unfold His plan.  He deserves all the glory for His wisdom and power.

Is this not true in your life and mine?  Do you feel overwhelmed by the stresses and rifts you experience among those you hoped would be supportive?  Are your good deeds overlooked and even rejected by those you sought to serve? Take heart in God’s presence and power.  Seek to please Him whether you see results for your efforts or not. Joseph endured years of pain and suffering with little encouragement and affirmation.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Most of all, take heart that God the Son endured all the just wrath of God for your salvation.  He has secured a place for us in glory.  We are not there yet, but He has won the victory over the serpent.  Our inheritance is secure in heaven.  Jesus is our brother who suffered by us and for us.  Trust Him.  Praise Him.

This week I’ll be reading: Matthew 1-28

Three Motivations to Read the Entire Bible

Expected Benefits Sustain Motivation

To stay motivated on a large project, like reading through the entire Bible, we need a firm conviction of the importance of sticking with it to completion.  So how important is knowledge of the Word of God?  Here are three benefits we can only obtain by knowing the Bible.

Salvation

Second Timothy 3:15-17. The Scripture makes us wise to salvation. We get some idea of the power and glory of God from the Creation, but only God’s Word informs us that we are sinners in need of a redeemer.  In short, God is holy and we are sinners. We have a need, and God has the only adequate provision for that need.  He became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross taking the just penalty for the sins of His people.  By our human reasoning we would never imagine such a remedy for our guilt and shame.  We might attempt to gain forgiveness by our good works, but, without the light of Scripture, we would not grasp that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Sanctification

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (First Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). Sanctification has a progressive aspect, in that, over time we grow in our godliness by the Word of God.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (Second Timothy 3:16).  If we would be trained in righteousness, we need the Word of God–not merely on our shelves but–in our hearts.  The Bible works powerfully to teach us truth and to reprove and correct us when we go astray in thought, word, or deed.  The result of this process is training in righteousness or growth in sanctification.  By this growth, we do God’s express will.

Service

Paul concludes his comments on the value of Scripture with this: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” Second Timothy 3:17. God redeemed us “from all lawlessness…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  God called us not for our own benefit alone but to serve Him with zeal.  God intends for us to do this by being equipped with His Word.

Without knowledge of the Word of God we cannot be saved, sanctified, or service-ready.  That knowledge can and will move us forward in these three aspects of the Christian life.  We dare not neglect the Scripture if we care about pleasing God and doing His will.

A plan helps

There are many ways to grow in the knowledge of the Bible: listening to good preaching and teaching, personal reading, study, memorization, and meditation.  All are essential.  We ought to use every means possible to learn God’s truth from His Word.  On this blog, I encourage regular, systematic Bible reading.

God calls us to salvation, sanctification, and service.  Let us develop a deep sense of the importance of starting a regular reading plan and seeing it through to the end.

On Monday, I will post a flexible and practical plan for reading the Bible in the new year based on the concept of “reading the Bible in chunks” developed by Dr. Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Used by permission.

I think you will like it.

God’s Sovereignty: The Key and the Book

Scholars disagree over the interpretation of certain prophecies. But none can deny that Scripture affirms God’s sovereignty over everything in the cosmos.

Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

Selected Verses

For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!—Zechariah 11:16-17

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.—Revelation 20:1

Reflections

When the Bible addresses the final events of time, not every detail is clear, but what is clear is that God reigns over all and that every person will stand in judgment before Him. 

Zechariah shows us that God is the One raising up leaders, even evil ones. He is the One who is also judging them and putting them down. God doesn’t merely permit some wicked to gain power. He actually controls their ascendance and uses it for His purposes, in some cases to discipline His own people. In the end, He brings judgment on these ungodly powers.

In Revelation 20, the key and the book depict God’s control of the cosmos. The key, entrusted to an angel, opens the bottomless pit where the Lord holds Satan confined and impotent. Although he is completely wicked, he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. We also see a book of life with the names of those chosen to live and not suffer the lake of fire.

Think about it

We can have only one of two possible responses to these passages: belief or unbelief.  For believers in the Triune God, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well.

Unbelievers may dismiss the assertions with ridicule or ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true. Without a Holy God who rules absolutely over all things and Who will judge us in the end, the universe is out of control and life is meaningless. This alternative is unacceptable. 

But praise God! He reigns in sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book. Let us believe Him. 

Repent: Some do; others don’t

How do you explain the widely differing responses of people to God’s judgment? Why do some repent and others do not? The answer is clear in Scripture.

Today’s Reading

Haggai 1-2; Revelation 16

Selected Verses

And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.  Haggai 1:14

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

Revelation 16:8-9

Reflections

During Haggai’s time, the people of Judah in captivity in Babylon had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. They settled down and began to build their comfortable and fashionable homes. Then God sent Haggai to tell them that He was not pleased with their wrong priorities. They had left the temple in ruins while they focused on their own houses. God sent them drought. The crops failed.

The message of Haggai and the failure of the crops got their attention. But in the case of the people living under the outpouring of God’s wrath by the seven angels of Revelation 15-16, there is a completely different reaction. No matter what bowl of wrath is poured out the people do not repent and give God glory. They do not recognize His power and their sin. Their response is completely irrational. The only exception is the voice coming from the altar which gives God the praise for His display of justice and power (Revelation 6:9-11).

Adversity, in and of itself, does not produce repentance. As the bowls are poured out and one judgment is piled upon another, the cursing of God continues without diminishing. How do we explain this insane attitude toward the Sovereign and Holy God? Why did the people in Haggai’s day repent after a crop failure while the people of John’s vision dig in and curse God? The difference is that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people.” This turned them to obedience and service to rebuild the temple.

Think about it

Do not expect repentance and praise to God to come from rebellious sinners unless the Lord stirs up their hearts. Pray that God may show mercy to those who are under His wrath by not only sending adversity and a messenger with the gospel, but by also stirring up their hearts. That is why some repent and others do not.

The Day of Wrath

The day of wrath is coming, and no one will be spared. Will we prepare to meet our God, as Amos urged? How can we do that?

Today’s Reading

Amos 4-6; Revelation 6

Selected Verses

Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!

 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! Amos 4:12-13

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

Reflections

If God poured out His terrible judgment on Israel, how much more will He pour out wrath on the whole earth which has rebelled against Him!

Amos continues to lay out for Israel how they have failed God. Repeatedly, he tells them that they ignored all of God’s judgments. “Yet you did not return to me!” he says. Looking at Israel’s history from a distance, it appears inexplicable. How could they not get the message? But they did not. But then, do we?

So Amos tells them to “prepare to meet [their] God.”

John’s vision reveals the contents of the scroll with the seven seals. One by one they are opened. All are frightening, but the sixth drives all the people great and small who are under the condemnation of the wrath of God and the Lamb to cry out for the mountains and rocks to fall upon them. Anything, they think, is better than to experience the full judgment of God.

Think about it

Here we have a picture of what is to come. The day of wrath of the One who is on the throne is before us. Will we prepare to meet our God, as Amos urged? There is a way to prepare. Bow before the Lamb who was slain for sinners and repent of your sins. Ask for His mercy and forgiveness. By His grace, you will stand in the day of wrath.

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

Safe in the Lions’ Den

God shows His power in the apparently impossible and hopeless crises of His faithful children who have even been found safe in a lions’ den.

Today’s reading

Daniel 5-6; First John 4

Selected Verses

 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.

So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.                                                                                                   Daniel 6:26-28

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.                                                                      First John 4:4

Reflections

God’s people down through history have been tested and oppressed by evil forces in this world as was predicted in Genesis 3:15. They are not always delivered from those trials, but, by God’s grace and power, they remain faithful to Him and even in death are not defeated. [See also The Grand Narrative].

Daniel’s political opponents set a trap for him. He resolved not to compromise his faith but to trust God to see him through the consequences of maintaining his practice of prayer. God protected him through a night in the lions’ den. King Darius saw the power of God and decreed that all should tremble and fear before Him.

John reassured his readers of God’s power in the face of opposing spiritual forces in the world. He called them “little children” perhaps because of his tender love for them but, probably, also because they were not spiritual giants. Nevertheless, he said they had overcome the false prophets, also called the spirit of antichrist and the spirit of error.  Unlike those in the world, these little children did not listen to the false spirits.

Think about it

Daniel prospered under the pagan kings. Those John addressed were victorious against the forces of spiritual darkness. The faithful do not always prosper in this world. But all who abide in Christ know God’s faithfulness and the ultimate deliverance of what Darius called the kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Stay faithful and confident. You are safe  even in a lions’ den.

This World–It’s All Gonna Burn

Christ’s disciples must live in this world but never forget that this world will ultimately pass away. And do you know what will last? Read on to find out.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 1-2; First John 2

Selected Verses

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.

Daniel 2:44

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. First John 2:17

Reflections

Daniel, a young Jew in the time of the Babylonian Captivity, was taken to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and given special training to assist the king. He was not among the “starting lineup” on the royal advisory team so he heard about his death sentence without knowing the reason. By God’s grace and mercy, Daniel was able to save his life and that of other wise men by telling the king what his dream was and what it meant. No one else could do that. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar learned that his kingdom would one day be replaced by another, and that one by still another. Ultimately, none of those kingdoms would last because the God of heaven would set up an indestructible kingdom and crush all the opposing kingdoms of the earth.

To his credit, Nebuchadnezzar accepted the interpretation and honored Daniel with gifts and a promotion.  Most importantly, he recognized the God of gods and Lord of kings of which Daniel had informed him.  Even the most powerful king of Daniel’s day bowed to the sovereign God of Israel.

John in writing his letter urges his readers to reject the love of this world and the things of this world.  He tells them plainly that the world is passing away along with its desires.  It’s all gonna burn!  What will last?  “Whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Think about it

To abide forever we must do the will of God.   But how do we know the will of God?  We need to know God’s word to know His will.  Once a crowd asked the Lord, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29).  Our first duty is to believe in the One God sent to reveal the Father to us and to be the propitiation (sacrificial offering to satisfy the wrath of God) for our sins.  God looks for faith in His Son.  That is what pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6). Be sure you are trusting Him and nothing in this world. It’s all gonna burn.

Fellowship with God

Whatever else we may say about salvation and the eternal state of believers, it centers on fellowship with God. What glory it will be!

Today’s Reading

 Ezekiel 47-48; First John 1

Selected Verses

And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There. Ezekiel 48:35

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. First John 1:3

Reflections

Ezekiel concludes the long description of the temple, the city, and the land with redistributed territories for the twelve tribes with the simple words, “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.” What more can anyone desire than that the Lord should be there? Knowing that God is with us gives confidence in the face of huge danger and the threat of death itself (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:4-6; Psalm 23). Several Old Testament figures learned the devastating impact of being abandoned by God (Exodus 33:3, 15; First Samuel 4:21-22; Judges 16:20). Not that they could actually ever be totally away from His presence, but they could be, and sometimes were, under His wrath and judgment and without His blessing and favor (Psalm 139:7-12).

The Apostle John also refers to the blessing of fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. God came to dwell among us, he says, and we saw Him. We touched Him. He came to give us eternal life and fellowship with the Father and the Son. [See also John 1:14-17;17:3].

Think about it

To know Him in truth and to be forgiven and accepted, that is what eternal life is about. The city which Ezekiel described points to that heavenly city, the New Jerusalem where God dwells and where His people live with Him. As John would write later: ” And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).

So whatever else we may say about the eternal state of believers, it will be unclouded, undiminished fellowship with God. Be faithful as you wait for His coming.

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.