judgment

2 Chronicles 2, Nahum 1

Today our OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 2 and Nahum 1

This devotional is about Nahum 1.

Ninevah was the capital city of Assyria, an empire that defeated and took captive the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They Assyrians were more than a mighty army and a world power; they were an incredibly cruel to the people they defeated. Their enemies, therefore, hated and feared the Assyrians more than they did other enemies.

The prophet Jonah was sent to preach judgment to Ninevah. He refused to go to Ninevah and had to be dragged there by God via the fish that we read about in Jonah 1-2. It was his hatred of the Assyrians and his fear that God would forgive them that caused Jonah to head for Tarshish instead of Ninevah. Sure enough, the people of Ninevah repented and God was merciful to them.

Here in the book of Nahum, God’s prophet had a second word for the Assyrians. Right out of the box in verse 2, Nahum said to the people of Ninevah, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.” Bad news, Ninevah, the forecast calls for judgment.

Verse 3 tempered the message of God’s wrath with the phrase, “The Lord is slow to anger....” This is part of what Jonah said to God in his complaint when the Ninevites repented: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger...” (Jonah 4:2e). Here, Nahum echoed that truth briefly in 1:3 but then continued, “...but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” This is the message about God that is missing in our culture.” Christians and non-Christians cling to the truth that God is loving-and he is! But the fact that God doesn’t dramatically judge sin with a worldwide flood or fire and brimstone in this age has lulled people into complacency about the wrath of God. Nahum’s warning for Ninevah was that God was very angry with them and that he would punish them for their sin. But within that message of judgment there was still the offer of mercy in the words, “The Lord is slow to anger” (v. 3a). Later in verse 7, Nahum returned to positive aspect of God’s character when he wrote, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,” but he quickly added, “...but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness” (v. 8).

God’s wrath and God’s judgment are not the core of our faith but they are important to our faith. Until people believe that God is angry and his judgment is coming, they will not repent and receive his mercy. As Christians, then, we can never soft-pedal or re-define sin, no matter how acceptable sins may become in our society or how much our society reacts against the truth of God’s wrath. The most loving thing you can tell a sinner is that God is angry and preparing judgment for them but that he will be merciful if people turn to Christ.

Look for ways to talk about that today with someone who is under the wrath of God.

1 Chronicles 3-4, Amos 3

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Amos 3.

This devotional is about Amos 3.

Judgment is coming to Israel but in this chapter God tells his people that they shouldn’t be surprised when it arrives. The chapter begins by reminding Israel that God chose them to be blessed and rescued them from Egypt (vv. 1-2a). Then in verses 3-6, God’s prophet reminds the people that things happen for a reason. Specifically:

People don’t randomly walk side by side; the reason they walk side by side is that they have agreed to take a walk together (v. 3). Lions don’t roar when they are hunting; that would scare off their prey. The reason they roar is that they have caught something and want to keep others from trying to take it (v. 4). Birds don’t fly into traps; they get caught in traps because they are drawn there by bait (v. 5a-b). The trap doesn’t close on its own; rather, the reason it closes is that something has taken the bait (v. 5c-d). When someone sounds an alarm, people get scared because the alarm was triggered by incoming armies. When you have a live person blowing the trumpet’s alarm, you don’t get alarm malfunctions or need drills like we have. So people had a reason to be scared when they heard the sound of a trumpet.

So, things usually happen for a reason and the reason that Samaria would fall and Jerusalem would, too, later is that “the Lord caused it” (v. 6d).

The good news, though, is that God warns his people before he sends judgment on them. That’s the message of verse 7, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” The rest of the chapter goes on to tell the people, again, that God has warned them through his prophets. The implication, then, is that they should repent.

People don’t like messages of judgment. Who would? No fortune cookie will tell you that within a year you’ll be dead of cancer. Who would want to read that? Some people would complain to restaurant’s management if they got a fortune like that. But if you were dying from cancer and didn’t know it, that’s exactly the message you’d need to hear, like it or not. An accurate diagnosis gives one a chance to avoid the inevitable disaster.

God has left us in this world to make disciples but also to warn the world of God’s coming judgment. People complain and call us unloving when we talk about sin, judgment, and hell; they should understand that the message of warning is a gracious act of God. On the day of judgment no one will escape by saying, “I didn’t know I was guilty before God.” On the contrary; many will have as part of their condemnation the fact that they heard the warning of God’s word and ignored it.

If you are reading this and have not come to faith in Jesus, please listen to the warnings of God’s word and turn to him in faith and repentance now. If you’ve already become a Christian, please don’t avoid talking about God’s justice and the need that everyone has for forgiveness.

2 Kings 24, Joel 3

Today, read 2 Kings 24 and Joel 3.

This devotional is about Joel 3.

“How can a good God allow so much evil and injustice in the world?” This is one common question that opponents to our faith ask.

A big part of the answer is described here in Joel 3. Put simply, “God doesn’t. He does not allow any evil or injustice in the world” in the absolute sense. Instead, those who do any kind of evil or injustice at all are storing up judgment (Rom 2:5) for themselves. God is long-suffering and patient, so his wrath has not yet been turned on this world.

But it will be. Joel 3 describes one day in which God’s wrath will fall. Verse 2 says this to all the nations that abused Israel: “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel....”

After this trial that God promised in verse 2, how many will find themselves guilty and receive God’s punishment as a result? Verse 14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The Valley of Decision is not where people decide for or against God. It is the place where God dishes out what HE has decided; namely, the sentence of judgment he handed down to the guilty when he put them on trial in verse 2.

This passage specifically warns the nations that oppressed Israel but plenty of other passages in scripture show us that God will judge every sin and every sinner. The only escape will be God himself. Yes, the one who is angry, vengeful, and judging to those who oppose him will lay down his arms of war and open his arms of love. He will protect his people from the wrath poured out on the wicked. Verse 16d-e says, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” By grace God has grafted many Gentiles into the category called “his people.” By that same grace he not only rescues us from the coming wrath (1 These 1:10) but he pours out his love and provision on us instead (vv. 17-20 here in Joel 3).

All of the blessings of protection from God’s wrath and provision and prosperity for eternity comes to us through Christ. He bore God’s wrath for us so that, by grace, we could escape these terrible Day of the Lord events. Passages like this one remind us of what Christ has accomplished for us; they also remind us that God has given us the responsibility to spread this message of grace to the world until he comes.

Who could you reach out to with the grace of the good news this week?

1 Samuel 18, Lamentations 3

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 18 and Lamentations 3.

God punished Judah for her sins, particularly the sin of idolatry; Jeremiah was one of the faithful ones who:

  • worshipped the Lord only
  • prophesied on God’s behalf and
  • suffered for speaking the truth to his fellow Jews

Yet throughout the book of Jeremiah and here in Lamentations, we saw how the prophet Jeremiah took God’s punishment personally. Here in Lamentations 3, Jeremiah continued the personalization of God’s wrath. In verse 2, for example, he wrote, “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light....” Notice how many times in verses 1-21 how many times Jeremiah used the word “I,” “me,” or “my.” Just scanning these verses shows you how the invasion of the Babylonians felt to Jeremiah like a personal attack from the Lord God.

Starting in verse 22, the prophet changed his perspective. Despite all the traumatic judgment God had brought on his people, Jeremiah looked to the Lord for hope. He realized in verse 22 that his sins and the sins of the nation called for much greater judgement even than what they had received. He understood that being alive to greet any new day was an act of God’s mercy; as he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23). This marked a major shift in his perceptions.

In verse 24-25, Jeremiah affirmed that the Lord was the only real answer to the problems and traumas he and his nations faced. He urged himself and anyone who would read these words to seek the Lord (v. 25b) and wait patiently (v. 24b, 26a) for him and his salvation. All of this hope was based on God’s goodness. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (v. 32).

While waiting for God’s deliverance, Jeremiah also recommended personal introspection: “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven’” (vv. 39-42). This is what the people of Judah should have done before the Babylonians invaded. Repentance would have brought God’s mercy according to his promises in the Law. But, having felt his wrath for their sins now, repentance remained the only right response for his people.

In Christ our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure. When we are in Him, God views us and treats as perfect because he has credited us with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Still, we are not fully redeemed in the sense that we continue to have a sin nature and we follow that sin nature with disobedience to God’s word. Although God does not punish us for our sins--those were punished on the cross--he usually allows the consequences of sin to play out in our lives and he will bring his hand of loving discipline into our lives to make us holy. That can feel like a personal attack unless we remind ourselves of God’s loving, gracious character as Jeremiah did in verses 22-26. If you’re experiencing some painful problems in life, have you looked to God’s character for encouragement and strength? Have you examined your life and expressed repentance for sins that may have brought these problems into your life?

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point to them which was to deliver truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet is commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God--our God--is the true God and because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God but because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him. Neither are we. This is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, Psalm 139

The schedule calls for us to read Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, and Psalm 139 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

In yesterday’s reading, we noted the Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day...”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “... we wait for you....”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness...” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant. In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98

Today the schedule calls for us to read Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98.

This devotional is about Psalm 98.

The end of the world, at least as we know it, is usually thought of as something to be feared. The unbelieving world around us frets about the extinction of humanity through climate change, or an asteroid hitting the earth, or the sun exploding or dying. We Christians read the book of revelation and stand in fearful awe of the tumult that will precede the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Unbelievers have much to fear about the end of world, but not for the reasons that they think. The end of this world means accountability before God. The Bible tells us that each person who has ever lived will stand and give an account of his life before a holy God. Apart from the righteousness of Christ credited to us by God’s grace, none of us will have a satisfactory answer for how we’ve lived our lives. And, as he promised, God will punish everyone who died in their sins.

It is sobering--and very sad--to think about the billions of people who will be tormented for eternity for their sins. It is surprising, then, to read the Psalmist’s encouragement to sing “for joy” (vv. 4, 6, 8) because God “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b). And, how will that judgment be delivered? “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” according to verse 9c-d. In other words, when God’s judgment comes, he will give everyone exactly what they deserve.

So, given that everyone will get what they deserve and that, apart from Christ, each of us deserves God’s eternal wrath, why does the Psalmist encourage us to sing for joy? Two reasons.

First, those who die in their sins have no excuse. Verses 2-3 tell us that “the nations” and “all the ends of the earth” have seen “his salvation” (vv. 2a, 3d). No one who dies apart from Christ, then, can plead ignorance. God has revealed himself and humanity turned a blind eye to him.

Second, the world cries out for judgment and righteousness. Everyone who has ever been sinned against understands the pain that injustice causes. When Jesus “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b), he will be doing what is right. This world, which is distorted by sin, will finally be restored to what God created. If you’re in Christ by faith, that is a very good thing, something that should give you joy. When Jesus comes to judge, God will no longer be disregarded or questioned or mocked. He will restore the world to the state he created, a state where sin is punished and joy reigns because of righteousness. All the heartaches and problems that sin has caused in this world will be banished and, for the first time ever, a righteous society will exist. These are reasons for joy.

This Psalm, then, calls each of us who believe in Jesus to rejoice in our hearts and sin with joy from our lips because of God’s salvation (vv. 1-3) and because of his judgment (vv. 7-9). Do you rejoice in these truths?

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, and Psalm 18

This devotional is about Genesis 19.

Today we’re reading Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, and Psalm 18.

Did you see that meteor that flashed through the sky on Tuesday night? If not, click on the youtube link at the bottom of this devotional.

But, first, read the passage and the devotional....

On Tuesday evening, just after 8 p.m., I was driving south on Maple Rd. in Saline to pick up my daughter from a choir rehearsal. All of a sudden, the sky lit up with blue light. It was so bright and the source of that light seemed to be behind me. Then it flashed brightly and was gone. I kept waiting for a sound..., something. A crack of lighting? No, it was bright for too long to be lighting and the weather conditions certainly didn’t seem right for that. Was it an explosion? That didn’t seem right either because the light was so blue.

It wasn’t until I saw the news this morning that I learned it was a meteor. I’d never seen something like that before. It was completely unexpected.

This is what the judgment of God on Sodom and Gomorrah was like. Abraham had never seen anything like it and I’m sure his heart sank when he saw it (vv. 28). Likewise, when Lot tried to warn his would-be sons-in-law, they “thought he was joking” (v. 14b). Even Lot himself and his family had to be hustled out of Sodom by the angels (v. 16). The prophecy they received about God’s coming judgment seemed unbelievable because they’d never seen anything like it before. When it happened, it was surreal because they’d never seen anything like it before.

This is how it will be when Christ returns to judge the world. It is hard to visualize that happening because none of us has ever seen anything like it. Whether we can visualize it or not, it is true and it will happen in reality. Like Abraham and like Lot, we should take God’s promise of judgment seriously and we should warn those around us that God’s judgment is coming. It might seem to those we warn that we are joking (v. 14b), but God is merciful and has promised to save some in this age.

The return of Christ and his judgment will be like nothing you or I have ever seen before. But it is true and it will happen. What are we doing about that?

OK, here you go--the meteor video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SqbKhRaqHg

Revelation 20

Today we’re reading Revelation 20.

This chapter is where we get the doctrine of the Millennium. The word “millennium” is Latin for “one thousand years,” the exact period of time that verse 2b says Satan will be bound. During this one thousand year period, those who were martyred during the Great Tribulation were resurrected (v. 4) and “reigned with Christ a thousand years” (vv. 4, 6).

No Christian likes the idea of being persecuted for Christ; being “beheaded” for him is a gruesome and terrifying concept. Yet, verse 6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (which is the one described in verses 4-5). The reason they are blessed is that “the second death has no power over them.” Their faith in Christ stood the test of persecution and even martyrdom which demonstrated that it was genuine. Therefore, they are safe forever from the “second death” and, in fact, “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

In contrast to this resurrection, verses 11-15 describe the general resurrection of the rest of mankind (v. 13). These people did not reign with Christ; they were judged by him for how they lived during their time on this earth. (v. 13: “each person was judged according to what they had done”). But notice that the result of this judgment was not based on what they had done; rather, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). God will judge every sinner at the judgment of the dead and he will describe the reasons why they deserve to be in the lake of fire based on their works. But those who escape that judgment do not escape it because they had good works. Instead, those who escape the lake of fire did so because they were found in the book of life.

This is the gospel; this is the central truth of our faith. An impartial judgment of our works by a just God would ensure that every one of us would be a goner. But God, in his grace, chose some of us--not because of our works but simply because he is gracious. He wrote our names in his book of life so that we would escape this judgment. But, so that he would not be unjust for forgiving us, he sent Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

If you’ve been reading these devotionals over the last year, it seems very likely to me that you’ve trusted Christ and are following him. But it is possible that you haven’t done that or that you found this page on our website through some other means. Do you understand that, on your own, you have no basis on which God should allow you into his presence after this life is over? You may be a very good person relative to many other people but compared to God, all of us are wicked, fallen, and completely deserving of eternity in a lake that burns with fire.

Do you understand that Christ came into the world to save sinners from this lake of fire? Have you come to God at some time in your life and put your faith fully and only in Jesus Christ? If not, please cry out to God for mercy and ask him to save you because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you.

If you have trusted Christ, remember that God has an incredible, eternal future waiting for you. Whatever problem you face in life today, whatever price you pay for following him will be forgotten when you serve him and reign with him forever. Take hope in that!

Revelation 18

Merry Christmas! Read Revelation 18 today.

The judgment that was prophesied for Babylon in chapter 17 was described here in Revelation 18. Nothing specific is detailed about her demise; instead, it was described by angels then mourned by men on earth. But, before he destroyed Babylon, God warned his people to flee it so that they would be delivered from his judgment (vv. 4-8).

There are unbelievers in our world who object to our message by pointing to what they call the genocide of the God of the Old Testament. What is often missed, however, is that God routinely warns the wicked before he brings judgment on them. He warned the world through Noah before the flood, he warned Lot and his family before Sodom was consumed, he warned Ninevah through Jonah, Nebuchdnezzar in Daniel, and so others. Although God is just when he judges humanity, even his justice is tempered by mercy because he warns people to repent and flee his wrath. Keep this in mind when people object to the gospel, particularly the doctrine of hell. God told us about hell so that we would fear him and receive his grace in Christ to avoid it.

In fact, part of the message of Christmas is that God came down into our world to warn us of his coming judgment and deliver us from that wrath in Christ. As we give thanks for Christ today, let’s remember to look for opportunities to warn others around us and show them how to escape God’s judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 16

Today we’re reading Revelation 16.

Have you ever wondered why people who are dying don’t just pray the “sinners prayer?” After all, if God will save everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, then someone could live a completely selfish, sinful life and be saved just before they reach eternity. So, why don’t more people do that?

One answer is that becoming a Christian is not just about praying some words, like a magic incantation. Receiving the gospel starts with changing your mind which is the act we know theologically as “repentance.” That change of mind requires a work of God in someoane’s heart which causes them to want God instead of sin. If you genuinely want God, you’ll turn to him as soon as you realize that you want him, not wait until the very end of your life. Although there are exceptions, the longer people live, the more hardened they usually become in their sin and rejection of Christ. To receive Christ is to renounce your pride, to admit that you’ve been living wrongly your whole life, and to fall on his grace alone because you’re unable to fix yourself or your situation. Apart from the grace of God, human pride keeps us from such repentance.

This is why the people described in today’s chapter “refused to repent and glorify him” (v. 9, and similar wording in verse 11). Instead of calling for God’s mercy, then, people cursed him for his justice (vv. 9, 11, 21). This is the natural response of humanity to the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

This is why we must pray for God to open hearts and change minds so that people will turn to God for grace instead of cursing him for his justice.

Revelation 10

Today, read Revelation 10.

Before that seventh trumpet sounded, John saw the vision described in this chapter. While the language in this chapter describes a visually stunning scene, very little of what John saw here is interpreted for us directly.

The “mighty angel” is another revelation of Christ. This interpretation is based on the description of his appearance in 10:1, the stance he took of one foot on land and the other on the sea, and the description of his voice in verse 3 as “a loud shout like the roar of a lion.”

After seeing and hearing him, John was commanded to take the scroll he came with and eat it (v. 9). This is a strange thing to do with a scroll but God was making a point with visuals here. As John ate the scroll, it tasted great (vv. 9-10) but was nauseating when digested (v. 10). The scroll, then, was God’s word but particularly God’s word of judgment. Once John digested its message, he learned that he “...must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v. 11). The taste of sweetness when John ate it visualized that it was God’s word; the sourness John felt as he digested it described how painful the message would be. Nevertheless, as a servant of the Lord, he must be obedient to what God commanded him to do.

None of us has the same level of responsibility for God’s truth as John did; each of us, however, is aware of the painful rebukes and promises of judgment God’s word has for unbelief and sin. Are you prepared to be faithful to what God’s word teaches, even if thinking about the consequences of disobedience make you sick?

Revelation 6

Today’s reading is Revelation 6.

Yesterday we read in Revelation 5 that God was holding a scroll that was closed by seven seals. Jesus was the only one qualified to open the seals on the scroll and, in today’s reading, he began doing that. In this chapter he opened six of the seven seals on the scroll. Each time he opened a seal, something bad happened on earth. At the end of the this chapter, we learned that the bad things that happened were not random, natural events. Instead they were “...the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (vv. 16b-17).

There are a number of questions which have to be answered to interpret this chapter and figure out its meaning. Getting into all the interpretive questions and viewpoints is not appropriate for a devotional like this one. The major lesson is that God’s anger at the sins of humanity will eventually be expressed on earth and it will be destructive (vv. 2, 8), deadly (v. 4), and terrifying to every type of person on earth (v. 15).

It is interesting that, despite all the devastation described in this chapter, the martyrs who spoke out when the fifth seal was opened did not view the tribulations described in this chapter as expressions of God’s justice. In fact, they cried out to the Lord for justice, wondering aloud when God would “judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (v. 10). This indicates that the expressions of wrath we read about in this chapter are not so much about God’s justice but about subjecting the earth to his authority. That’s why the white horse, revealed when the first seal was opened “rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (v. 2). This tribulation period, then, is a period of war. It is the almighty God, king of the universe, squashing the rebellion of humanity against his rule and bringing the rogue province of earth back under his full control.

The people on earth interpreted the cataclysms described in this passage as acts of God’s wrath (vv. 16-17). They were correct about that; however, they believed that death could cause them to escape God’s judgment (v. 16a) while the martyrs of verse 10 were wondering when God’s judgment would begin. The martyrs understood (and the ones hiding did not, apparently) that God’s judgment would be handed down later when each person who ever lived would stand in his courtroom. As bad as the tribulations in this chapter were--and they were horrible--they were not the final judgments of God but acts of war by which God would subject everything to himself and establish his kingdom permanently.

When I have witnessed about Christ to others during my life, I have occasionally met someone who said, “I believe we’re in hell right now.” They don’t have a clue what they’re saying. This life can certainly be painful and destructive and, when the events of this chapter happen, things will get far worse. But the very worst devastation and suffering that anyone experiences on this earth is minor compared to the death sentence that God will hand down in the future when the day of his judgment actually comes. In addition to inviting people to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ, we need to warn them that there is a day of judgment coming. It is unavoidable and the sentence that God passes down on that day will eclipse even the worst suffering that has ever happened in this life.

Have you turned to Jesus for refuge from that day of judgment? Are you warning the people around you about the fact that they will answer to God for the way they have lived on this earth? Are you inviting them to the only hope of avoiding God’s judgment which is the atonement of Christ that we read about yesterday in Revelation 5:9-10?

Acts 24

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

So, Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to protect his life from a plot by his Jewish opponents at the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 23. Five days (v. 1) after Paul arrived in Caesarea, his Jewish opponents showed up there to charge him with stirring up conflict among the Jews (vv. 2-9). Paul answered the charges against him by appealing to what actually happened and the lack of proof his opponents had for their charges (vv. 10-13). Paul skillfully wove the gospel into his defense starting in verse 14. Felix, the governor who was handling this case, punted the case to a later date (vv. 22-23).

But a few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla set up a private meeting with Paul (vv. 24-26). This meeting allowed Paul to specifically bring the gospel to this couple. An interesting aspect of this is that Felix was a Gentile, a Roman governor, but his wife Drusilla was Jewish (v. 24b). So Paul had a mixed audience religiously when he spoke to this couple. How did he handle this opportunity? According to verse 25, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come....” Let’s break that down:

  • “righteousness” refers to what is right, how someone measures up to a standard. In this case, the standard is God’s perfect holiness as revealed in his Law.
  • “self-control” has to do with a person’s ability to say no to his sinful impulses and choose to do what is right instead.
  • “judgment to come” of course, refers to the fact that every person will stand before God to give an account of his or her life.

In other words, Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about right and wrong, about their inability to control themselves enough to do what is right, and about the fact that God would judge them individually for doing what was wrong. What was the reaction? “Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave...” (v. 25b). In other words, Paul’s conversation with them caused Felix to feel the conviction of sin and his need for a savior.

Unfortunately, he did not repent at Paul’s teaching and find forgiveness in Christ. But once again Paul’s approach when talking to him is instructive for us when we speak about Christ to unbelievers. Almost any point of sin is an adequate starting point for the gospel. When you are talking with an unbeliever, if they complain about an injustice in the news or about crime or about the lack of self-control they see in others or in young people, that is an opportunity to talk about Christ. Why do people dislike it when others can’t exercise self-control? Because an uncontrolled population is dangerous and difficult to live in. But what standard do unbelievers use to complain about the sins, injustices, and failures of self-control in others? They appeal to God’s standards, even though they may not know it or even may deny it. The Bible says that the law is written on the heart of every human. That means that we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Use that! Show them how they too fall short of the standards they apply to others and admit to them that you, too, fall short but that Jesus didn’t. This will give you the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us to deliver us from the coming judgment of God at the end of the age.

Romans 8

Today we come to the greatness of Romans 8.

And there is so much in this chapter that I could write more than a week’s worth of devotionals on it. I’ll stick, however, to the opening paragraph. In the previous chapters we were taught much about the Law and its relationship to humanity. On Friday, in chapter 7, we learned that God’s Law is great and holy; our problems with it are not with IT but with ourselves: “...the Law is spiritual but I am unspiritual” Paul wrote, “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14). As Christians, we are torn by our mental and spiritual desires to obey God’s law (7:21-22, 25b) and our sin nature which rebels against God’s holy commands and makes us subject to death (7:16-20, 25c). What is the remedy for this spiritual dilemma? Romans 8:1: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are “in Christ Jesus” therefore the condemnation of the law has been removed from us. That removal took place through the atonement of Christ for our sins (vv. 2-3). The result of his atonement is that you are not guilty before God because God has credited to you the righteous life Jesus lived (his “active obedience”) and the atoning death Christ died (his “passive obedience”). Verse 3b-4 says that in these words, “And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Did you notice that phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us....” If you are in Christ, you’ve kept the law fully. The law has no beef with you because Christ has fulfilled it all on your behalf. He’s met every standard spelled out there and paid every penalty for your failures (and mine).

Many Christians live with a feeling of defeat. We beat ourselves up for our sin struggles and our failures. If that’s you, please take heart today. If you’re in Christ, it’s all good. Jesus has done all that you will ever need to cancel the law’s condemnation over your life and to declare you perfect in the sight of God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” so stop condemning yourself and live in the freedom of complete forgiveness!

Romans 2

Today let’s read Romans 2.

At the end of chapter 1 we read, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). That verse concluded a lengthy description in chapter 1 about why God’s wrath and judgment is being revealed against human wickedness. Humanity rejected God, therefore God has allowed wickedness to flourish within the human race. Rather than being fearful of God’s judgment, however, people keep on sinning and approve of others who sin.

Here in chapter 2, Paul turned from those who approve of sin and those who practice it to those who condemn and judge sinners (v. 1). Since those who approve of sin and sinners are condemned in chapter 1:32, we might expect that those who condemn sin and sinners would be approved by God. No, said Paul, “because you who pass judgment do the same things.” There are no points for righteousness awarded to sinners who condemn other sinners. We may comparatively evaluate ourselves to be better than other sinners, but we still deserve God’s judgment because of our own sins (v. 3) and lack of repentance (v. 4). Instead of earning favor with God for judging other sinners, the self-righteous sinner is “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath” (v. 5). All humanity--Jew or Gentile, self-righteous or self-declared sinner--are headed for judgment before Jesus Christ (v. 16). In verses 17-29, Paul narrowed his focus to his fellow Jewish people. He pointed out that even the most upstanding Jewish person has broken God’s laws (vv. 21-24) and that God wants people who inwardly, genuinely belong to God, not people who have the religious symbols of godliness (vv. 25-29).

As I discussed yesterday, Paul seemed to be laying out his doctrine of the gospel to these Roman believers so that they would receive him and support his ministry when he came to them. This chapter, then, was designed to show how Jewish people are under God’s judgment, too, just like their Gentile counterparts in chapter 1. This passage applies, then, not only to Jews who reject Jesus in order to live self-righteous lives; it applies to anyone who thinks himself to be righteous by comparison to others but who still sins. Agreeing with God’s word about what is sinful is not impressive to God; what matters to God is obedience (v. 13) and we all fall short there. Tomorrow we will see the remedy to this in Christ. But even if we’ve received that remedy, we should take to heart the things said about the self-righteous in this passage. If you have any moral character at all, you will be able to find lots of examples of people who fall short of your moral virtue. But, if you have any honesty at all, you will have to admit that you fall short daily of your own standards, not to mention God’s moral standards. Instead of judging others in order to feel good about ourselves, God wants us to acknowledge our own failures to be perfect. Then, just as God showed compassion to us in Christ we should reach out to other fallen people around us with compassion and the hope that is found in the gospel.

Have you ever thought about the people around you not as your spiritual inferiors but as people who need God’s rescue to save them? When we remember that we are all in the same moral boat as everyone else, speeding relentlessly toward God’s wrath, it gives us a greater humility about ourselves and a greater compassion for those who are bound in their sin and in need of salvation. So check yourself when you find yourself disgusted with others; they are not any different than you and I are, except that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

Luke 12

Today’s passage for Bible reading is Luke 12.

This chapter is really about the future from beginning to end. It starts with a command against hypocrisy (v. 1) but Jesus commanded against hypocrisy because secrets will be known at the judgment (vv. 2-3) so people should live in light of God’s judgment not the judgment rendered by people (vv. 4-12).

In the middle of this teaching, some guy in the crowd interrupted Jesus and asked Jesus to step in and help him settle his estate with his brother (v. 13). Jesus turned even this interruption back to his topic about the future when he rebuked the man for his greed (vv. 14-20) because he was thinking only about his life on this earth and not on eternity (v. 21). Then, returning to his subject, Jesus told the disciples not to worry about how their daily needs will be met but to trust God to meet those needs (vv. 22-30) while they work for his kingdom (vv. 31-34) and prepare for its arrival (vv. 35-59).

Passages like this one call us to reconsider where we put our time and money. If you knew that Jesus would return tomorrow or before the end of this year or that your death was immanent, would you worry about making every last dollar? Would you care about buying a fancy new car or house if you had your basic needs for shelter and transportation cared for? Most of these disciples of Jesus lived many decades beyond this time and, unless the Lord does come soon, most of you reading this devotional have many decades left in your life as well.

But compared to infinite time--what we call “eternity” how much does six or seven or even ten decades matter? On one hand, it matters a great deal because your eternity is settled during the time you spend on this earth. But that’s in God’s hands; he’s the one who redeems and calls. If he’s called and redeemed you, does it matter if you die with a million dollars in the bank or if you have only the one dollar in your pocket to show for your life?

I believe in living wisely and planning for the future but are we doing that to control our materialistic impulses and to be wise managers of what God has provided to us or are we doing it out of fear that there may not be enough for us in the future.

And what about God’s work--are we using retirement planning as an excuse to avoid funding God’s work through the local church, church planting and missions? If so, we are living by short-sighted standards because God tells us that investments made in this life pay dividends in eternity: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vv. 33-34).

Luke 9

Today we reading Luke 9. Click here for that chapter.

At the beginning of this lengthy chapter, Jesus told the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet” (v. 5). Toward the end of this same chapter, Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village “to get things ready for him” (v. 52). I take that phrase to mean that Jesus was sending some of the people mentioned in yesterday’s devotional to prepare for Jesus’ arrival because he was going to stay and teach in that village for a while on his way to Jerusalem. According to verse 53, “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” James and John were incensed by this rejection. Claiming the supernatural power that Jesus had conferred on them in verse 1, these two brothers “asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”

Their question demonstrated the wrong spirit toward those who had rejected Jesus. When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet in verse 5, the reason he gave was “as a testimony against them.” It was for their warning and rebuke that Jesus commanded the disciples to do this, not because they were angry or ready to send judgment on the towns that rejected them. That is why “Jesus turned and rebuked” James and John in verse 55. These men were not concerned about the lost souls of these Samaritans; they were ticked off at being rejected and wanted to show them some power!

Jesus surely will bring judgment on anyone who rejects him in this life. That is one of his promises and one of his roles when he returns. Until the day of judgment begins, however, Jesus calls us to show grace and mercy to his enemies, not to call for their destruction. We should keep this in mind when unbelievers mock our faith, or belittle us personally, or even persecute us. We should definitely testify to them about the judgment that Jesus will bring for these actions; that’s what he told the disciples to do in verse 5--testify against them. But we should be merciful and plead with them as we do this knowing that their eternal souls are at stake. So consider your heart and attitude toward those who are hostile to righteousness, to Christianity, Christians, or Christ. Don’t hope for and call for God’s judgment; tell them of God’s judgment but in a way that shows them how much we want to see God’s mercy in their lives.

Matthew 7

Today the schedule calls for us to read Matthew 7, so I recommend doing that now.

This chapter is the end of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” that we started on Friday back in Matthew 5. Right away Jesus commanded us not to judge (v. 1a). The reason? “or you too will be judged.” And the standard for the judgment is the “the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” In other words, God will judge us for judging others. But what exactly is Jesus teaching here about judging?

First, he is not talking about a legal situation. For human society to exist peacefully, there must be peaceful methods for resolving conflicts. That requires some kind of decision-maker: a judge, a jury, an arbiter. So, this isn’t a command for you to avoid jury duty or to recuse yourself from everything if you’re a judge.

Second, Jesus is not talking about using discernment. In the same context down in verse 6, Jesus commanded us not to “give dogs what is sacred” or “throw your pearls to pigs.” The “dogs” and “pigs” are metaphors for a certain kind of person. Jesus was commanding us not giving truth to those who obviously will not recognize it as precious. It takes discernment to know what kind of person is like a dog or a pig and Proverbs commands and instructs us to live with discernment, so Jesus is not forbidding the use of it here.

The attitude Jesus commanded us to avoid is the attitude we label as “judgmental.” It is the attitude of harsh criticism we feel (and sometimes speak) toward others, condemning them as evil or jerks or stupid as if we had all knowledge like God does. An example may help (one that I’m totally guilty of, to my shame): If a person cuts me off in traffic and I think (or say), “that guy is a selfish jerk” I have judged him in the way Jesus spoke against here. Maybe he is a selfish jerk or maybe he’s late for a job interview or his wife is in labor or he’s preoccupied by fear or grief or stress and just didn’t notice me. So Christ commands us not to take on a God-complex and pass judgment on everyone. Instead, we should learn to show grace to others who seem difficult or unkind to us.

If I judge someone’s driving but I don’t know that person and he or she never hears my condemnation, little damage is done. Others in the car might lose some respect for me, but I haven’t done any damage to the other driver. But when we judge others in our lives without having many (any?) important facts, we poison our relationship to that person. We may never speak our judgment out loud, but we start to treat that person differently.

More importantly, when we judge others we are expressing a deep, disgusting sin--the sin of pride. We judge others because we think we are better than they are--smarter, more compassionate, more discerning, more godly, whatever. This puts us at odds with God, the only one capable of judging justly and the one who “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). So, consider your heart, your attitude toward others and ask God to give you more grace and humility in your relationships with other people.

2 Chronicles 5:1–6:11, 1 John 4, Nahum 3, Luke 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 5:1–6:11, 1 John 4, Nahum 3, Luke 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 Nahum 3.

As we read yesterday in Nahum 2 and again today in chapter 3, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. Remember that God’s law--imprinted in our consciences and written in his word--is the standard by which we are judged. It is impossible to keep the law of God because of our sin natures but that does not exempt us from accountability to the Lord and judgment by the Lord for breaking his laws. What our inability to keep his laws requires is his grace. Christ secured that grace by taking our penalty on the cross and he forgives us by grace when we trust in Christ’s crossword for us.

So the kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression. Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes this city as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses...” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17). 

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive. I was thinking about this after hearing the news of Fidel Castro’s death. Castro killed thousands of people directly by execution and indirectly as his own people tried to flee his repressive, violent regime. He will have much to answer for on the day of judgment and I expect the Lord will hold the world leaders and opinion-makers accountable who are now praising him after his death.

We should consider, too, how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians. Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for too many wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

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.