God’s Plan; Our Part

God is working out a plan to redeem His elect people from all the nations of the earth. It will succeed. Do you know your part in this grand plan?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 3-4; Second Thessalonians 3

Selected Verses

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.  And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. Jeremiah 3:15-17

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. Second Thessalonians 3:1-3

Reflections

Jeremiah paints a sad picture of the spiritual adultery of Israel and Judah, but, against that backdrop, he superimposes the triumph of God’s plan to gather to Himself all nations, redeemed and righteous, before Him. Again and again, the prophets assure us that God will win and His plan will succeed.

When we turn to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, we find him diligently laboring to instruct them in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to exhort them to live holy lives. He asks for prayer so “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.”  Paul worked with zeal, discipline, and knowledge. But without God’s working in the hearts of Paul’s hearers nothing would occur.  God’s workers must always pray because they need His power.

Think about it

God’s purposes cannot fail for He is sovereign. At the same time, you and I have a part to play. It may be to pray. It may be to go proclaim the good news of life in Christ to your neighbor, coworker, or some unreached people around the globe. God raises up shepherds to feed His people (Jeremiah 3:15) and He gifts each one in His Church to serve (First Corinthians 14; Romans 12:3-8). If you have not done so, find your calling and do your part.

The Victory of the Gospel

Will the gospel win the victory? God’s word–though ignored, thwarted, ridiculed, and opposed–will always triumph.  He guarantees it.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 53-55; 1 Thessalonians 2

Selected Verses

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  1 Thessalonians 2:1

Reflections

Isaiah gave Israel and the world the greatest message in all of history in chapter 53. The Servant of the Lord would bear the sins of His people and “make many to be accounted righteous” (53:11). This truth, that One who is holy and righteous has taken the just wrath of God for sinners, is at the heart of the gospel message. [See “The Messiah’s Anguish and Satisfaction”].

This is the best news ever told, but would this news get to the world? Would those who desperately need hope for forgiveness and reconciliation with God hear about this? The answer is “yes!”  Nothing can stop God’s word from going forth. Plenty of forces mounted up against it in Paul’s day and in ours. The Apostle suffered in Philippi.  They treated him shamefully (2:1).  Did he give up?  No! He went right on to Thessalonica. There he continued to preach the word and this letter shows that the message bore amazing fruit in the lives of the people. Then, those new believers preached it to the surrounding region.

Think about it

We live in an unprecedented time of global communication.  This is both a blessing and curse, since much of the communication is evil and deceptive.  But technology also effectively proclaims this gospel.  And despite all kinds of opposition, God’s word can never be defeated. Are you confident in the power of the gospel to change lives? Are you certain that God will open doors for His word–that He will use it to accomplish its every purpose? Fear not! God’s word will triumph. Proclaim it with confidence wherever you can.  God guarantees the victory.

The Extent of Salvation

How far does salvation extend? God saves people completely and He saves them everywhere–from every tribe and tongue and nation to the ends of the earth.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 50-52; 1 Thessalonians 1

Selected Verses

The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. Isaiah 52:10

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

Reflections

There are two dimensions to God’s salvation: the geographical dimension and the spiritual dimension. We see this today in Isaiah’s prophecy and Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

Isaiah records the intention of God to show His power to all the nations of the earth. He would show this by revealing His salvation–His ability to redeem men and women, boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, and nation. This was always His plan.  Isaiah passes on more information about the details of this plan, which we will see in tomorrow’s reading.

With the coming of Jesus Christ, that salvation was more fully revealed. The kingdom of God was near. The apostles proclaimed the good news. The church was scattered throughout the Roman Empire taking the gospel to Jews and Gentiles on its way to the ends of the earth. Paul brought the message to Thessalonica. The people heard and believed. They received the salvation that is in Christ. Here we see how completely God saves people. They “turned to God from idols.” Why? They turned “to serve the living and true God.” Not only that, they set their attention on waiting “for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

Think about it

The gospel proclaims salvation everywhere. Those who believe experience the beginning of a complete transformation. They continue to be changed by it throughout their lives. This is the message which the world needs to hear in every generation until Jesus returns from heaven. Pray, send, give, and, if God wills, go that the blind may see and the deaf hear the truth.

To Spiritually Multi-task

God’s people are called to walk in holiness and bear fruit that glorifies Him. By His grace and the power of His Spirit we can spiritually multi-task.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 27-28; Ephesians 5

Selected Verses

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit. Isaiah 27:6

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Reflections

Paul has painted a glorious picture of the purposes of God in all the earth, uniting Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Christians are made alive in Him–made one with God and all other believers.  He calls them to live in a way that is worthy of their high calling.

In today’s reading the apostle uses the image of walking to describe the Christian life, that is, a life lived as imitators of God. That walk is to be characterized by love, reflecting the sacrificial love of Jesus for us. We are to walk as children of the light.  That means fleeing impurity, and covetousness, and even talk that shows approval of such behavior.   Wisdom should be evident in our way of life and in our use of time. This does not mean we live in joyless asceticism, but we exchange the artificially-induced peace and pleasure of drunkenness for the filling of the Spirit and God-glorifying, church-edifying singing.

Isaiah foretold of the time when Israel would fill the world with fruit.  Certainly it would be far more than he could have imagined. God planned to unite Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah everywhere from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Think about it

The kingdom has come in part and it will come fully when Christ returns for His bride, the Church. I can’t wait, can you? Meanwhile, let’s fill the world with fruit as we walk in love, light, and wisdom. By His grace, let us spiritual multi-task till He comes or calls us home.

The Purposes of God

God’s purposes include all nations, all peoples, and all times and result in the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 22-23; Ephesians 3

Selected Verses

Who has purposed this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth. Isaiah 23:8-9

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. Ephesians 3:11-12

Reflections

It is not hard to see that the Bible reveals a God Who is over all the earth and all mankind. It is true that He chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants, but even that covenant included all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

Through Isaiah (and other prophets) God gave warnings and instructions to the Gentile nations around Israel and Judah. Today we read about God’s purposes to bring down the pomposity of Tyre and Sidon. They were proud in their successes, congratulating themselves for their victories and prosperity with no thought for God.

What concern did the God of Israel have for Tyre and Sidon? The same concern He had for all the families of the earth. Their prideful arrogance offended Him, but also drew His mercy and grace as He purposed that His Son would be the Savior of the world, including those from Tyre and Sidon and a thousand other tribes and nations that would come and go through human history.

The mystery of God’s purpose was revealed to Paul and the other apostles and, through their writings, it was revealed to us.  God was working out His plan for the fullness of time “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).  This was Paul’s calling, to announce this mystery, the uniting of all in Christ. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are now one with God and with each other. Paul prays that his readers in Ephesus (and beyond) may grasp “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and that they “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).

Think about it

Press on to know God’s glorious purposes through Jesus Christ. We have only scratched the surface on the eternal purposes of God.

Wait till you hear this!

The story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is amazing and inspiring, but it’s nothing compared to what God did next. Wait till you hear this!

Today’s Reading

Psalm 78; Romans 7

Selected Verses

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.  Psalm 78:4

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. Romans 4:4

Reflections

With the perspective of the New Testament and the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we could say “Wait till you hear this!” to the Psalmist who reveled in God’s mighty works to Israel. God had done for Israel something unthinkable, unimaginable. He brought ten plagues on Egypt, delivered an enslaved people from that world powerhouse, led them out of the land loaded with spoils, opened up the Red Sea for them to cross, and drowned the pursuing army in the water behind them. This is a story that needs to be told generation after generation.  Pass it on!

But wait till you hear this!

In the New Testament we learn that God took on human flesh and lived on earth. We know Him as Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. His people rejected Him and crucified Him, but His death bought redemption from the guilt of sin under the law.  His death was not a terrible tragedy but the greatest victory ever accomplished.

How do we know?

He rose again from the dead. Since that time millions have believed in Him. They trust Him, not their own good works, for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. These millions understand themselves to have died with Him so that His death for sin serves as their death for sin.  They are free from any remaining condemnation because their debt was fully paid by Jesus. As a result, these believers from every nation and language in the world belong to Him and live to bear fruit for God.

Think about it

God delivered a nation of a million people out of Egypt, some 3500 years ago, but in the past 2000 years, right down to today, He has been delivering untold millions of people from spiritual death and slavery to become His fruitful people. Tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He is doing. Pass it on! Wait till they hear that!

When the Church is Full of Hypocrites

God blesses His people so that they shine as a light to the world and the nations come to Him in faith. But what if believers are hypocrites?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 65-67; Romans 2

Selected Verses

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.  Psalm 67:1-2

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  Romans 2:23-24

Reflections

The Psalmist has a lofty view of the impact of God’s blessing on His people spreading out to all the nations of the earth.   Truly, God does rule over all the earth. He is the God of all flesh. Through His providence He rules over everyone and everything. Nothing escapes Him. All owe Him everything.

But, alas, this vision of a worldwide impact of blessing and worship dimmed due to the very people who had the Word of God. Paul says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of [them].”

How did God deal with this? He judged His people for their unfaithfulness through the captivities of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But He acted for the sake of His own name to restore them to the land (Ezekiel 36:16-38).

In Jesus’ lifetime, the Jews faced the question of whether or not to believe the Messiah, the Christ whom God had sent them. Most of them failed to believe, yet according to Paul they still maintained their spiritual pride and arrogance, looking down on the Gentile pagans. In Romans 2 he warns them not to be smug in their cultural superiority.

Think about it

Fellow Christian, have you considered how our hypocrisy as believers can cause the lost to blaspheme our God?  Have you pondered how God’s blessing on us is impacting the unbelieving world around us?

At the end of the age, God will bring His elect from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 7:9-10). In Abraham through whom came Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The Psalmist had it right.  “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (67:7).    And they shall. Pray for the fulfillment of this promise soon. Flee hypocrisy.  Live in such a consistent, God-honoring way as to bring glory to Him.

 

Flee to the Banner

Would a soldier in dire straits not flee to the banner raised by his commander?  Not likely.  So why do some refuse to flee to the banner of Christ’s gospel?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 59-61; Acts 28:16-31

Selected Verses

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow.
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer us!  Psalm 60:4-5

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.  And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.

Acts 28:23-24

Reflections

David uses a military analogy to faith and salvation.  The troops are scattered and about to die.  The commander sets up a banner to rally them back.  They see the banner and head for it.  There they are saved from defeat and the tide of victory is turned in their favor. Would a soldier who is in dire straits not flee to the banner raised by his commander?  Not likely.

Yet look what happened when Paul raised the banner of the gospel among the Jews in Rome.  He used their Scriptures in his efforts to convince them.  Some believed and some did not.  Why not?  It was not that Paul had failed to be clear.  He diagnosed their condition from the prophet Isaiah.  Their hearts were dull, ears nearly deaf.  They closed their eyes. The banner was raised.  They refused to flee to it.

They had their opportunity, but they did not grasp it.  Paul told them he would take the message to the Gentiles, and they would listen.

Think about it

Those who fear God are His beloved.  They show their true identity by fleeing to the banner He has raised, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There they find salvation.  But dulled hearts do not respond to the message despite its clarity.

Have you fled to the banner?  If not, Christ has sent out the command to all to repent and believe the gospel now. Pray that God would deliver you from a dull heart and grant you faith that leads to repentance.

If you are one of His disciples, your task  and mine is to keep proclaiming the good news of life in Jesus Christ from the Bible, accurately and faithfully, as Paul modeled.  Some will believe. Some will not.  Take courage. Stay the course, because to everyone who flees to the banner, God will grant salvation.

 

The Authority of the Bible

The Christian church spread widely and rapidly in the First Century.  Do you know why?  It can happen again if we follow the Apostles’ example.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 13-16; Acts 18

Selected Verses

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  Psalm 16:9-10

And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews is public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. Acts 18:27-28

Reflections

In the First Century, the Apostles used the Scriptures of the Old Testament powerfully and effectively as they spread throughout the known world proclaiming that the promised Christ had come. Later the New Testament containing the Apostles’ teaching would be added, completing our Bible.

The Messiah, Christ, was promised to Israel and sent to them. He lived out His life and ministry culminating in His death by crucifixion, His resurrection, and His commissioning of His Apostles to go into the entire world and make disciples of all nations. That work which Jesus commissioned still goes on today throughout the earth.

The Psalms are filled with references which had immediate relevance to their time but would later be more completely fulfilled by Jesus in His earthly life. Here we have a prophecy which both Peter and Paul understood to point clearly to His resurrection (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35). To see Christ in the Psalms and other Old Testament scriptures motivated the Apostles and fueled their boldness as they preached to the Jews.

One of those Jewish converts to Jesus Christ was a gifted man named Apollos. He displayed great eloquence in his speech and diligence in his study of the Word of God, but he received needed help from the mentoring of Paul’s disciples, Aquila and Priscilla. Apollos went on to Achaia and had an effective ministry encouraging the believers and showing the Jews from the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

Think about it

Do you rely on the Scriptures as the basis for your faith and in your presenting Jesus to others? We need to beware of relying on arguments based on mere human reasoning and logic and neglecting to point people to the claims of Christ made in God’s Word. Let the Word of God be your authority for your life and your ministry. The Apostles modeled this and we will be wise to follow their example. We may yet see amazing growth in Christ’s Church.

God’s Ambassadors

God has appointed His people to be His ambassadors to those who do not know Him. The gospel goes out by word of mouth from those who have believed.

Today’s Reading

Job 13-15; Acts 8:26-40

Selected Verses

You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
For then you would number my steps;
you would not keep watch over my sin;
my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity.  Job 14:15-17

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  Acts 8:35

Reflections

Scholars believe that Job lived about the same time as Abraham. Before his call from God, Abraham was a polytheist (believing in many gods). Job on the other hand, seems to grasp a theology of a single sovereign and holy God. But Job has no clear understanding of the resurrection or of life after death. Yet Job does show a longing for reconciliation with God through some kind of covering for his sin. He seems to have an inkling of hope of a resurrection, perhaps like a tree that is cut down but grows back up from its roots (14:7-17). It’s just not very clear. He longs to know more and, soon, God will tell him more.

In the period following the stoning of Stephen and the subsequent persecution, God sends Philip to speak with an Ethiopian eunuch, the queen’s treasurer, who had been in Jerusalem to worship. Philip is able to explain to him the meaning of Isaiah’s writing and the good news about Jesus Christ. This results in the official’s baptism. In these touching words, Luke records that the eunuch, after this one-on-one Bible study with Philip, “went on his way rejoicing.”  We can only imagine the impact of this man’s testimony before the court officials of Ethiopia.

Think about it

God knows the hearts of those who seek Him, Job, the Ethiopian, and everyone else. He may directly intervene, as He will do with Job later on in our reading, or He may send someone to explain the gospel as He did in the case of Philip and the queen’s treasurer.  Did He send someone to you? Has He sent you to be a light to someone else? Give thanks for His providence in sending those who can help us understand His truth and in sending us to pass on the good news of Jesus. If you belong to Christ, God has appointed you His ambassador because the gospel goes out powerfully by word of mouth (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).