death

Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, Psalm 110

Today’s readings are Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, and Psalm 110.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” This is a verse that I usually quote when I am doing a funeral message. It tells us that it is “better” to go to a funeral than to a party.

That advice is the opposite of our instincts or our desires. Nobody would rather go to a funeral than to a party. Funerals are sad occasions; parties are fun! So why would Solomon tell us to attend a funeral rather than a party if we had a choice to make between the two of them?

The answer is in the last two lines of verse 2: “...for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Why choose funerals over parties? Because someday you’ll be the one who is remembered at a funeral. In addition to the sadness at a funeral, I think that most people don’t like going to funerals BECAUSE it reminds us that we’ll be dead someday. Funerals foreshadow your own death. Most people don’t want to think about that but Solomon said that we should think about it.

Why? Because thinking about your death changes the way you live. After you die, your legacy is set in stone. You can’t make up for your mistakes, seek forgiveness, try to reconcile broken relationships, or receive God’s forgiveness for your sins. After you die, your eternal destiny is sealed and whatever memories people have of you are permanent.

When you think of your life in that light, it should give you some perspective to make better decisions today. If a person is usually kind and loving, they’ll likely be remembered that way. If a person is often selfish and difficult and only occasionally kind, those who know them will carry those memories.

More important than the people who remember you at your death, after death you will face God. If you’re found in Christ, God will welcome you into his presence. If you’re outside of Christ, you will pay the just penalty for your sins for eternity. And, for those of us who are in Christ, we will answer to God for what we produced with our lives. Did we strive to glorify him, to grow in faith, to spread his message of good news, to be generous to those with needs and for the advancement of his kingdom?

This life is a gift of extraordinary value. You can invest it for eternal rewards or spend it for temporary and fleeting satisfaction. Someday, sooner than we realize, probably, it will be over. How does that reality make you think about what you will do today and how you will do it?

Genesis 32, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today we’re reading Genesis 32, Esther 8, Psalm 31.

This devotional is about Psalm 31.

During the Gulf War (the one in the early 1990s), U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf held a famous press conference that made him into a celebrity. In that press conference, he showed a video of a car in Iraq crossing a bridge. Shortly after the car crossed the bridge, the bridge exploded from a bomb that U.S. forces dropped on it. Schwarzkopf referred to the driver of this car as “The luckiest man in Iraq” because he narrowly escaped a death he had no idea was coming.

If luck were real, David was one of the luckiest men who has ever lived. He escaped death time and again--both in general when he went to battle and specifically when he was targeted by Saul and others. Here in Psalm 31 (as in other Psalms), we see past the brave warrior into the heart of this king. The dangers he faced were as stressful to him as they would be to any one of us (vv. 9-10). He dealt with these stresses by turning to God in prayer, pouring his heart out honestly to the almighty about his fears and pleading with God to be his “rock of refuge” his “strong fortress” (v. 2) and to deliver him (v. 1).

Because of the covenant God had made with David, God did deliver him over and over again. Although he was a skilled, prepared warrior, David’s success in battle and his longevity in life were more a matter of God’s protection and God’s will than anything else. David knew this, too. When he asked for God’s help and protection “for the sake of your name” (v. 3b) he was referencing the promises God had made to Israel and to him personally for Israel.

Even as he called on God for help, David knew that his days were determined by the sovereign will of God. When he wrote, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15a), he was humbly submitting to what God had determined for him. If God were to let him die in battle, that is his right as Lord. Yet David was not deterministic about it. Recognizing that God had already decreed when and how he would die did not prevent David from asking God to “... deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (v. 15b-c). He was bold in asking for God’s help and giving God reasons why he should help; yet he was humble and submitted to whatever the Lord had willed.

Until Christ returns, death is a reality for each of us. People we love will die and someday, so will we. Fearing death (and other things in life) is natural. Crying out to God and looking to him for help and deliverance honors him in those moments. So does recognizing that your time and mine will come when God wills. These are all expressions of faith. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith asking God for help when we are afraid as well as trusting his will when the time comes for us to go. We don’t need luck to protect us. Faith in our God is a much better defense.

VIDEO: The Luckiest Man in Iraq: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AjCAuYkrgA

John 5

Today’s reading is John 5.

Every year, some of the funeral homes in our area drop by the church building at Christmas time and leave me a gift. The one that does this most consistently gives me a tin of mixed nuts. I snack on them in my office for weeks--it’s a big tin--and I’m grateful that they brought me something healthy and not just more Christmas cookies. Or shudder fruit cake.

I guess it is good business for them to keep in touch with pastors. The truth is, however, that they are in a recession-proof business. People are dying all the time, so there are always needs to be served in their industry. Everyone likes referrals, as weird as that sounds when talking about funeral homes, but they’re going to get “customers” no matter what.

Doing funerals and attending funerals that I’m not involved in are part of the life of being a pastor. I am always grateful for the opportunity to serve families when they have a funeral. But, I hate the pain and sorrow that death brings. I also hate that many families only get together and reminisce about old times when someone dies. That’s the reality of busy lives and people who live in different parts of the world, but it is still sad.

Jesus promised to end all of this here in John 5. He promised life to those who believe in God through him (v. 24). “Eternal life” is such common terminology in our faith that we sometimes go numb to what it means. Jesus’s promise to us, however, is that God will raise the dead and that all believers will live with him forever.

Visualize this promise: “...a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.... Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” There is an end to death coming and it will be a great day for those in Christ and an absolutely horrid day for everyone else. Each of us will be judged according to what we have done: “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (v. 29b). All of us would be in that latter category and would rise to be condemned if it were not for the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith (v. 24) and the payment that his death made for our sins. This is the hope of the dying, the living who will die someday, and those who live who have lost someone they love in death. Because of Christ’s mercy and grace, death will end and eternal life will reign forever.

The funeral business may be recession proof, but it will be disrupted and made obsolete by the final resurrection. Are you ready?

Romans 6

Today’s reading is Romans 6.

In Romans 5, which we read yesterday, the Scriptures taught that the law produced sin and sin produced death (5:12-14). Sin was, in fact, multiplied by the law (v. 20) but the grace of Jesus also became more abundant where sin increased (vv. 20b-21). Today in chapter 6, Paul raised the question, “Should we sin more so that there will be more grace?” (v. 1). Verse 2 quickly answered that question with a strong, NO!, then the rest of the chapter went on to explain why. Spiritually, we have been buried with Christ and raised to new life with him (vv. 2-4). Our new life in Christ has freed us from the power of sin (vv. 5-7). On that basis, we should consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (vv. 8-11) and, therefore, not allow sin to reign in our bodies (vv. 12-15).

Verse 15 asked a similar question to verse 1. Both the question in verse 1 and the question in verse 15 raised the possibility of us sinning. Verse 1 wondered if we should sin since sin makes grace more abundant. Verse 15 asks if we should sin because we’re not under the law but under grace. The implication of verse 15’s question seems to be, “If grace covers us, shouldn’t we just sin as freely as we want to?” Paul’s answer again is, “No” because sin enslaves us while righteousness, which God saved us for, frees us (vv. 15-18). In verses 19-23, we were reminded that sin is deeply destructive. We quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death...” when we give the gospel but this verse comes in the context of teaching us Christians about sin and death, new life and freedom. There’s no problem with quoting Romans 6:23 in evangelism, but we should also quote it to ourselves when we are tempted. Though we still desire sin, the scripture reminds us that there is no “benefit” to us when we sin (v. 21). We are now ashamed of the sins we’ve committed in the past and the consequences of them brought death (vv. 21b, 23). On the other hand, when we choose to do what is righteous as slaves to God, then the “benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22b).

Sin appeals to us because it lies to us. If offers pleasure without showing us the price tag and the pain that follows it. It is true that Jesus’ grace is sufficient to cover any and all of our sins, but that salvation does not remove the consequences of those sins. The consequences of sin are death and pain and shame while the consequences of a righteous life are all positive--holiness and eternal life. When we understand the truth about sin and the power of Christ’s salvation, we see why making righteous choices in our lives is better in every way than trying to get the pleasures offered to us by sin.

Today you may face moments of temptation to sin. Keep this passage in mind. Christ liberated us from sin not to spoil our fun but to keep us from the death and pain and destruction that sin costs. So trust God’s word and choose to live righteously. You can do it because you have been raised with Christ.

2 Samuel 17, 2 Corinthians 10, Ezekiel 24, Psalm 72

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Samuel 17, 2 Corinthians 10, Ezekiel 24, Psalm 72. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ezekiel 24.

Ezekiel truly lived his prophesies. Many of his actions were object lessons to Israel. Ezekiel 24 records the most difficult object lesson of Ezekiel’s life. The chapter begins with the Lord commanding Ezekiel to record the date because the siege of Jerusalem began on that day (vv. 1-2). Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat and exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah happened in stages; Ezekiel was taken as one of the exiles in an early stage of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack. Now that he has Jerusalem under siege, the final stage of the Babylonian conquest of Judah has begun. 

The toll that being God’s prophet took on Ezekiel’s life is explained in verses 15-27. Because God’s people had idolized the temple, God wanted to show them what losing to Nebuchadnezzar would be like. So the Lord told Ezekiel that his wife was about to die (v. 16) and that he was not to do the customary acts of mourning for her (vv. 16-17). Instead, he was supposed to go about his life looking as he always did, though the Lord did concede in the phrase “groan quietly” that it would be painful and difficult for him (v. 17). Ezekiel gave the prophecy one morning and by that evening his wife died, just as the Lord had said (v. 18). When Ezekiel refused to mourn for her outwardly, everyone wanted to know what to make of his actions (v. 19). His answer was that they also would not mourn when the thing they loved the most—the temple—was destroyed (v. 21). 

By why wouldn’t they mourn if they loved the temple so much? The answer is not stated in this chapter. I usually don’t consult any sources when I write these devotionals, but today I took a peek at one commentary. The commentator wrote that the people would not mourn because they should have expected that it was coming. Jeremiah in Jerusalem was prophesying that Jerusalem would fall and the temple would be destroyed. Ezekiel was prophesying the same thing in Babylon, so when it happened it should not have been surprising. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar was laying siege to Jerusalem. That meant his army was camped around the city preventing anyone or anything from coming or going. This would kill commerce in the city and, being a city, would prevent adequate food from coming in. The people of Jerusalem, then, would slowly starve until many of them died and those who lived were too weak to mount a threat to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. It took a long time for a siege to work and the people would have known that day after day they were getting weaker and more vulnerable. At some point, they would know that defending the city would be impossible so losing their freedom, their city, and their temple would be inevitable. Though they inwardly mourned the loss of these things, there was no sense in grieving because they knew it was coming for a long time.

What a hard price Ezekiel had to pay to be the Lord’s servant! But his loss illustrates something important that every person—even us believers—needs to understand. We cling to idols too much and to the Lord too little. Our idols maybe our relationships that we trust more than we trust God; they might be the job or the income that job provides that gives us a comfortable life. Our idols might be softer, too, or more spiritual. They might be a pastor or Christian author that we admire. May it is our reputation of godliness or service to the Lord. Whatever it is that we love and desire, if it replaces the Lord at the top of our affections, do not be surprised if the Lord topples it. It will be painful and it may seem like God is harsh and unloving. But the truth is that no idol is what God is, and no idol can do for you what God can do. To to cling to anything instead of the Lord will cause problems in your life. God may allow unbelievers to have their idols in this life and deal with them in the next; for his children, though, God loves us too much to let us worship something that is not him.

If you’ve faced a loss in your life that has you questioning God, you should consider whether that thing you have lost meant too much to you. It is never pleasant to lose what you love, but if what you love is keeping you from God, it is necessary for the Lord to prune it from our lives. May God give us grace to look to him in those hard moments of pruning.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 22, Psalms 110–111, Isaiah 49, Revelation 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 22, Psalms 110–111, Isaiah 49, Revelation 19. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27) which maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but probably not an example critics would bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12). 

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not her (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be. 

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof. 

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is putrid enough that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird. No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 12–13, Psalm 49, Isaiah 2, Hebrews 10

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 12–13, Psalm 49, Isaiah 2, Hebrews 10. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalm 49.

Psalm 49 is not usually on the list people have of favorite Psalms, but it one that offers great wisdom to those who meditate on its truths. The passage opens in verses 1-4 with a call for everyone, despite their station in life, to listen to the voice of wisdom. And what is this wisdom that the Psalmist offers? Don’t be afraid of though times and wicked people (v. 5) because everyone is going to die (v. 10a, 12). It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one can buy more time. God does not traffic in human marketplaces, so no matter what you try to offer him, it won’t matter (v. 7). Apple founder Steve Jobs was worth over $10 billion on the day he died. Although he lavishly funded cancer research seeking a cure for his illness, his vast wealth was not enough to save him. He could have offered everything he owned but nobody could give him even one extra moment on earth. “This,” the Psalmist wrote in verses 13-14 “is the fate of those who trust in themselves… their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.” Jobs led the design of a spectacular headquarters for Apple—one that is being built currently—but he is buried in the dust just like everyone else who dies. So, don’t be so easily impressed by wealth, the Psalmist wrote in verse 16 because, according to verses 17-19, “they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.”

What is the alternative to this depressing truth? Verse 15: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” Although the details of the afterlife were fuzzy in the Old Testament, there are passages like this one that express confidence, certainty even, in the salvation of those who hope in the Lord. You’ll never have enough money to live forever on this earth, but trusting in God gives us hope for today and tomorrow because those who trust in him by faith WILL live.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 2, Psalm 36, Ecclesiastes 12, Philemon

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 2, Psalm 36, Ecclesiastes 12, Philemon. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ecclesiastes 12.

I haven’t written much about the book of Ecclesiastes as we’ve been reading it together, but I think it is an important contribution to the Old Testament. Solomon, the author, has had the time, money, and wisdom to spend on trying to find the best possible life. Most of the first six chapters described the various ways people seek to find meaning in life. Solomon tried them and found them to be meaningless—a word that probably means something more like “a frustrating enigma” than totally empty of any meaning at all. In other words, he found some value in these things, but far less of a payoff in each than what each seemed to promise. These disappointing approaches to life were:

  • wisdom (1:12-18)
  • pleasure & possessions (2:1-11)
  • wisdom & folly (2:12-16)
  • achievement through hard work (2:17-26)
  • advancement (4:13-16)
  • wealth (5:8-6:12).

Interspersed within these were exhortations such as

  • to enjoy life (2:24-3:22)
  • to realize that injustice is an unfortunate fact of life (4:1-4)
  • to build relationships (4:5-12)
  • to worship God carefully with reverence (5:1-7)

Then, beginning in Ecclesiastes 7, we have a series of proverbs on wise living that runs through 11:10. Here in chapter 12, Solomon begins to sum up his experience and bring the book to a close. Chapter 12 opens with a command to remember God, the creator, while you are young (v. 1a). Verses 2-8 explain why it is important to focus your life on God while you are young, but what he says in these verses has been understood in a couple of different ways:

  1. One approach to 12:1a-8 is called the “allegory of old age.” This interpretation sees every image as describing a body that is breaking down as it gets older. For instance “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark” is a description of an older person’s failing vision. And “the grinders cease because they are few” is a poetic way of talking about the fact that a person’s teeth are falling out. Each line in this poem, then, describes a body part that is declining in performance as a person gets older.
  2. A second approach is to see this as describing the end of life and the onset of death through the metaphor of a storm. In this interpretation, “the sun and the light” etc. growing dark is describing the approach of the storm. Likewise “the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades” because people see the storm coming and are seeking shelter before it arrives.

Both of these interpretations have some weaknesses, but the second of the two seems to explain the passage best to me. Regardless, both of them are leading toward the inevitable of approach of death. The end of verse 5 demonstrates this when it says, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” It may come slowly and agonizingly like the long decline of old age or it might come--no matter what age you are--fairly quickly like a rapidly moving storm front. Regardless, the point of the passage is that you should not wait to seek God until you are near death. All the godless approaches to life that Solomon tried were frustratingly enigmatic, so none of them will give you the satisfaction you think they will. If you think you should live for pleasure while you’re young then turn to God when you get older, you’ll find that the pleasure you seek is unsatisfying anyway and death will descend on you so quickly that it is too late to do anything differently with the few days of life you have left. 

This truth is one that we should reflect on for ourselves and urge on those who are younger. We all have a tendency to think that there is plenty of time left for us, so people can and will get serious about God as they get older, more mature, and wiser. But the truth is that as you get older you tend to get more set in your ways. Instead of turning to God because you’ve found every other approach to life unsatisfying, older people who have lived apart from God just tend to become cynical and jaded, not worshipful and godly. Solomon’s advice, then, is found in verse 13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” There are many frustrating, enigmatic problems that come with living in this life. We all wish we could solve the riddle of why things that should make us happy leave us feeling, at best, disappointed and, at worst, miserable. But it is foolish to waste our lives trying to disprove Solomon’s teaching. Instead, to make the best of the life God has given you, follow his ways in faith and let him be the judge of all things (12:14). Whether you are young or old, there is no sense in waiting until you get older to serve God. The fun you think you have pursuing your own life will not be satisfying and death will close in on you faster than you can possibly imagine. So, follow God’s ways and trust him to provide the joys and satisfactions that the righteous enjoy. This is the secret of life.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 17, Psalms 20–21, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 17, Psalms 20–21, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 17.

Blood was really important to the rituals associated with Israel’s worship and to the purification of God’s people. This chapter in Leviticus demonstrates just how serious it was with dire consequences spelled out for anyone who sacrifices away from the tabernacle (vv. 1-9) or who eats blood (v. 10). Why was this so important? Verse 11a: “For the life of a creature is in the blood…” Blood carries oxygen (and other important stuff) to every cell in the body of a person or animal and it carries away waste from those cells. It is so essential to life that God chose it to symbolize life itself. When an Israelite sacrificed an animal, the blood of that animal represented the exchange of one innocent life for one guilty life. That’s what verse 11b is saying: “…and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” All of this symbolized and prepared God’s people for the coming sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When the Bible says that “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), it is drawing on the theology stated and explained here in Leviticus 17. When Jesus died on the cross, he poured out his innocent life in order to erase the sin debt for my guilt. His sacrifice was, finally, the one life that could truly solve the problem of our guilt. Thanks be to God.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 10, Psalms 11–12, Proverbs 25, 1 Thessalonians 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 10, Psalms 11–12, Proverbs 25, 1 Thessalonians 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. As a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven. Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for this is to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13). Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” This reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity. The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now. In verses 15-17, Paul describes how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection. Once this resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.” This is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus. Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. It seems clear to me that the coming of Jesus is what the Lord tells us to look for next, so I believe in the pre-tribulational rapture though this is not the place to spell out all the reasons why. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.” Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus. Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.