salvation

1 Chronicles 18, Jonah 2

Our readings for today are 1 Chronicles 18 and Jonah 2.

This devotional is about Jonah 2.

Jonah seems like such a rare person--a disobedient prophet. Surely all the prophets struggled with disobedience in their everyday lives as all believers do. Jonah’s disobedience, however, was disobedience to be the prophet God commanded him to be. He refused to go where God commanded him to go because he did not want to deliver the message God wanted him to deliver.

What is often misunderstood about Jonah, however, is the reason for the fish that swallowed him. This passage is sometimes taught as if the fish was God’s judgment, God’s dungeon to punish Jonah. The truth is that the fish saved Jonah’s life. Verses 5-6 describe a man who was drowning until “...you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit (v. 6c). And why did God do this? Because Jonah was repentant: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple” (v. 7).

The fish was an unpleasant place to be, I’m sure. It was certainly part of God’s discipline in Jonah’s life. God’s discipline is never “pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb 12:11). Yet those painful, unpleasant times save us from the self-destruction of our sins. When God allows you to drown in your own sin but saves you through his discipline, the proper response is the one Jonah brought: “I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

1 Chronicles 15, Amos 9

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Chronicles 15 and Amos 9

This devotional is about Amos 9:11-12: “In that day ‘I will restore David’s fallen shelter— I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,[e]’ declares the Lord, who will do these things.”

Things that were once considered great and powerful can, over time, become weak and useless, a shadow of its former self. Sears Roebuck and company was once, and for many decades, a retail giant. How many Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, and/or DieHard batteries have you owned? But now Sears is in bankruptcy and the inventory on the shelves is being sold, never to be restocked.

Great and powerful things can become weak and rickety.

This is what happened to David’s dynasty. David and his son Solomon were blessed immensely by the Lord. David’s “house,” that is, his kingdom passed from one generation to another, split after Solomon died and Judah, the part that was left, became weaker and weaker. Here in Amos 9:11 God refers to David’s house as a “fallen shelter.” This is a word that describes a shack, a temporary dwelling that is not much to look at and not very sturdy. David’s once powerful house was now like house of straw that the first of the three little pigs built in the nursery rhyme.

This verse, however, promises that it will not remain a shack. Instead, God promised to “restore” it repairing “its broken walls and its ruins” and “rebuilt it as it used to be”. God himself would do this restoration and the fulfillment of this promise began with the first coming of Christ.

But verse 12 says something more. In the NIV text it says, “so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name.” But, for reasons too long and complicated to explain here, that might not be the best translation. The alternative translation, which is hiding behind that [e] in the text in BibleGateway, is “so that the remnant of people / and all the nations that bear my name may seek me.” If that is what God originally said in Amos, then his promise is that he will rebuild David’s house so that both Jews “the remnant of people” and Gentiles “all the nations that bear my name” would seek and find God.

This is how the early church understood Amos 9:11-12, too. In Acts, God started saving Gentiles and churches full of Gentiles began to appear. The apostles and early followers of Jesus were uncertain about how to handle these Gentiles. Should the apostles require the men to be circumcised? Should all these new Gentile believers be required to keep the Law of Moses, including the diet of the Jews? The early church wrestled with these questions and, in Acts 15, we read that there was a meeting in Jerusalem to decide the answers. In that chapter--Acts 15--James quoted this passage, Amos 9:11-12 (see Acts 15:15-18). Based on these verses in Amos, the apostles decided that we Gentiles are fully accepted by Christ and are to be treated as equal partners in God’s grace.

Your salvation and mine and the salvation of others all over the world from the time Jesus came the first time until he comes back and restores the kingdom of Israel completely are part of God’s fulfillment of Amos 9:11-12. When Israel was at its weakest point, and David’s house looked like it would be blown over, God promised to rebuild it so that we would hear his call of grace and come to follow him.

Let this fulfillment of prophecy encourage you! Not only are you saved eternally by the grace of God but your salvation was part of the plan of God all along. Now that you’re saved, you are part of the fulfillment of that plan.

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?

2 Kings 5, Daniel 9

Today, read 2 Kings 5 and Daniel 9.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 5.

From the time Elijah was taken to heaven in 2 Kings 1, God had been doing many miracles through Elisha. Widows, families who feared God, other prophets, and hungry people who were just standing around received the benefits of these miracles as we read about yesterday in 2 Kings 4.

But the king of Israel, Joram son of Ahab, had seen some of this miraculous power back in chapter 2 when God gave Elisha a message about how to defeat the rebelling Moabites (2 Ki 3). The overarching purpose of these miracles is always to show that Israel’s God is the true God but, like most unbelievers in the Bible, the demonstrations of God’s power had no affect on Joram’s faith.

Here in 2 Kings 5, Naaman experienced the miraculous power of God through Elisha. God spoke through Elisha and gave instructions that healed Naaman’s leprosy. Naaman was an unlikely recipient of God’s healing grace in this chapter. He was an Aramean and a skillful fighting commander for the Aramean army (v. 1). This made him both an enemy of God’s people Israel and someone Israelites would have regarded as a “heathen.” Yet an Israelite slave girl loved him enough and believed in God’s power so much that she persuaded Naaman to seek God’s power for relief from his leprosy.

The contrasts of faith in this chapter are striking:

  • The slave girl had complete faith that Elisha would heal Naaman (v. 3c: “He would cure him of his leprosy.”).
  • The king of Israel, however, freaked out when he heard what Naaman wanted (vv. 6-7) even though he knew Elisha (3:11) and how powerfully God was working through him (3:15-27). He had no faith that Naaman could be healed.
  • Finally, after Naaman reluctantly obeyed Elisha’s instructions, he came to believe in God and worship him alone (vv. 15-17) because he had experienced complete healing of a fatal disease.

Jesus seized on this story in Luke 4 to make a point about how God saves the unlikely: “And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Lu 4:27). People can see God working up close and directly yet, without the gift of faith, they will not come and worship him alone.

There are many people in our country who don’t believe in God or that he works powerfully in this world today. These people live near churches, know Christians, and some were even raised in Christian families but they are oblivious to the power of God changing lives around them. Instead, it is often the irreligious that God saves and, in national terms, people who live in places with little gospel witness. Many of these people are ready for the gospel and they will eagerly receive God’s grace when you share it with them or when a missionary comes to their land to talk about Christ.

Are there areas in your life where you are missing out on seeing the power of God work just because you lack faith and aren’t looking for God’s works? Are there any people in your life that you don’t share the gospel with because you’ve already concluded that they are heathens who won’t listen anyway?

What does this story in this chapter say about those attitudes?

Joshua 2, Isaiah 62

Today’s OT18 readings are Joshua 2 and Isaiah 62.

This devotional is about Joshua 2

Prostitution is always a sin. Always.

In biblical times, however, some women had few other choices. If a girl’s father died before she was given in marriage or a woman’s husband died or divorced her and she was not able to remarry, she may very well have felt it was her only other choice besides starve.* Take away God and his commands and a Gentile like Rahab may have felt that prostituition was her only option.

Yet Rahab, the prostitute, had extraordinary faith. She had more faith than the generation of Israelites who died in the desert and more than her fellow citizens in Jericho. She heard about what God had done for Israel and she believed (vv. 9-13). Her faith was so strong that she was willing to put her neck on the line for Israel’s spies (vv. 4-7, 15). God rewarded her faith not only by saving her life (next chapter) but also by including her in the ancestral line of Jesus Messiah (Matt 1:5a).

One lesson here is that God saves sinners. You knew that, and so did I, but we are more comfortable seeing that truth applied to “respectable sins” not stigmatic sins like prostitution. While some sins are more acceptable to us than other sins are, they are all wicked in God’s sight and deserving of divine punishment. It is no more difficult for God to save a prostitute than it is for him to save an idolator, a drunk, or someone eaten alive by envy. In fact, because we tend to look down on sins like prostitution, God’s great mercy causes him to save more of “those type of people” than others who are more accepted and acceptable to us.

Keep this in mind when you meet someone who seems like a hardened sinner. It may seem to you like a waste of time to share the gospel with someone like that but people “like that” are eternal souls who will spend eternity somewhere. Given that God can save anyone and likes to choose those who are disfavored in human society, you may find more success reaching out to drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes. Don’t sensor (or silence) yourself just because you have already decided whether or not God would “bother” saving that person. Instead, look for people who are caught in lives of sin and seek to introduce them to Jesus.

*This, by the way, is why polygamy was allowed in the Old Testament. Men died in war or farming accidents or just because women live longer so there were always more eligible women around than bachelors who could marry them. Commanding a man’s brother to marry his widowed sister-in-law or having her marry another man is a better option than starvation or prostitution. Still, the faith of Ruth and the command to allow gleaners which God used to sustain her and Naomi demonstates that there were more options for women than prostitution.

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Today’s Bible readings are Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law. Number 2 is true but impossible because of number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people--no matter how minor they seem to us--would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word. Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people--Old or New Testament--have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Here are your readings for today: Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world--and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear....” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel--ourselves and through missionaries around the world--God is appointing people to eternal life and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116

Today’s readings are Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116.

This devotional is about Psalm 116.

The unknown author of this song proclaimed his love for the Lord (v. 1a), then detailed why he loved the Lord. His reasons for loving the Lord were personal; God saved him from death (v. 3a, 8a). But, although his reasons for loving the Lord were personal, they were not detached from God’s revelation. In verse 5, the Psalmist tied the answer to prayer he received--his salvation from death--to what he had been taught about God from his word. Verse 5’s statement, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” is a paraphrase of God’s revelation of himself in Exodus 34:6: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness....” The songwriter, then, learned from experience what he had been taught in principle. He realized that God’s answer to prayer in his life was one of many examples throughout human history of God being who he is and doing what he does.

What was God’s purpose in saving this man from death? Verse 9 says, “that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, God’s purpose was to show the power of God in his changed life. From the time that God saved him from death until his actual death (v. 15), the Psalmist believed that he should “walk before the Lord” -- a phrase that describes living an obedient life to God.

But this “walking before the Lord” was not payback for his salvation. In other words, the Psalmist did not see living a godly life as something he must do to earn the favor God had shown him. We know that because he asked the question in verse 12, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer was worship; verse 13 describes him offering a drink offering of thanksgiving to God: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (see also verse 17).

So “walking before the Lord” was not an attempt to deserve his salvation. It was a description of how God’s salvation had changed him. His wording in verse 9 makes this clear: “that I MAY walk....” This describes God’s power in his life; it restates what he had said in the phrase just before in verse 8, “For you Lord have delivered... my feet from stumbling.” God not only saved him from death; because he trusted the Lord, God also changed him within, giving him the desire and the power to walk with God and live for God.

God may not have saved you or me from physical death in some near death situation, but in Christ he has saved us from the wages of sin which is death. That is, he’s saved us from an eternity accursed and apart from him. And, just as God has done throughout human history, when we look to God by faith for salvation, he both delivers us from death and empowers us to live! This is something to thank God for (v. 17). If you’re like me, you may not thank God for your salvation very often, but we should. Without God’s gracious and compassionate nature demonstrated for us in Christ, we would be estranged from God daily “stumbling” (v. 8). In Christ, however, we have received the benefit of God’s salvation--both the deliverance from death and the capacity to live for our Lord.

Exodus 18, Job 36, Psalm 66

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 18, Job 36, and Psalm 66.

This devotional is about Exodus 18.

Exodus 18 always leaves me with a few unanswered (and unanswerable) questions. They are:

  • Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, is called “the priest of Midian” in verse 1. Was he a priest of some false god before this chapter? Or did he become a priest of the true God as a result of the events described in this chapter? So, is verse 1 describing him as he was before or after?
  • Why did Moses send his family back to Midian (v. 2)?

As I said, these questions are unanswerable but I wonder about them.

Whatever his background and beliefs, Jethro heard of God’s deliverance for Israel from others (v. 1b) but Moses described what happened personally (v. 8). Moses did not just describe the miracles and the plagues God had used to Jethro; according to verse 8b Moses also told his father-in-law “about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.” This would include the food and water miracles as well as God’s deliverance from the Amalekites which we’ve read about over the past few days. All of this was more than enough evidence that the God of Israel is true. Jethro’s confession of faith in verse 11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods...” may sound like the words of a man who believes in many gods with YHWH being the best, but it is actually a common OT way of expressing truth faith. Couple that statement with the fact that Jethro “was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel” (v. 9) and that he “brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God” (v. 11) and it seems clear that Jethro was truly converted at the time described in this chapter.

Moses’s testimony of God’s work was a powerful instrument in the conversion of Jethro. Have you considered how God might use your testimony to save others? Not just your testimony about how God saved you, but also of the other things he has done in your life? Think about how your salvation and walk with God has impacted your life, then be ready to share that whenever the door opens.

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 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?

Revelation 5

Today’s reading is Revelation 5.

Yesterday, in Revelation 4, John described to us his vision of God, in heaven, on his throne, being worshipped. Here in Revelation 5, John saw that God is holding a scroll (v. 1). However, the scroll was sealed with no one worthy to open it (vv. 2-4). No one, that is, except Jesus who appeared in verse 5.

It is interesting to contrast the description of Christ in verse 5 and John’s description of his appearance in verse 6. In verse 5, one of the 24 elders we read about in Revelation 4:4 described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” This description, plus the statement that he “has triumphed” leads us to expect someone whose appearance is fierce, majestic, and powerful. Instead when John looked at him in verse 6 he saw, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” As if lambs aren’t weak and defenseless enough, this one looks like a dead lamb--one that died violently--hardly someone you would expect to be worthy to open the scroll of God’s revelation.

And yet, that’s what he began to do when he took the scroll from God the Father’s hand in verse 7. Why was he able to do this? The elders and living creatures told us in their “new song” in verses 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain.” The appearance of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb did not disqualify him from opening the scroll; it qualified him TO open the scroll. Why? Verse 9b: “...with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The triumph (v. 5b) that qualified Jesus was not that he defeated all enemies in battle but that he gave himself to rescue us from God’s wrath for our sins.

The result of his sacrifice was stated in verse 10: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This is why Jesus came. To create a new kingdom, composed of people everywhere that Christ redeemed, to enjoy ruling with him in his kingdom on this earth.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you understand that forgiveness of sins is just the first of many blessings that Christ secured for you by his death on the cross? Are you waiting expectantly for his kingdom to come and preparing for it by storing up treasure there?

1 John 2

Today, read 1 John 2.

It can be difficult, at times, to know whether someone who claims to be a Christian really is one. So many people claim to love Jesus, to have believed in him, to be his followers. I find that whenever I meet someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I want to believe their claim.

This passage gives us some objective things to look at to evaluate someone’s profession of faith in Christ. The word “claims” is used in verse 6 and verse 9 to describe someone who says they know Christ. So how do we know if someone is truthful when they say, “I know him” (v. 3), “claims to live in him” (v. 6), and “claims to be in the light” (v. 9)?

The answer is to look at how they live. Does a person claim to know Jesus, to live in him, and to be in his light? If that person’s claim is true he or she will:

  • keep his commands (vv. 3-6)
  • love other Christians (vv. 9-11)
  • won’t love the world (v. 15b)
  • will be loyal and active within a local church (v. 19).

In addition to these things, those who truly love and know Jesus are committed to the truth (vv. 20-27). That is the basic commitment and the other things flow from it. When we love Jesus, we love and are committed to his truth. That truth is what causes us to keep his commands, love other Christians, etc.

How is your love for Christ? Does it cause you to live obediently as Jesus did? Does it compel you to love other Christians, to turn away from the temptations and pleasures of this world, and to be active in our church? These are not conditions we meet to prove that we follow Jesus; they are the natural response of someone who has the “anointing” (v. 20, 27) which is the power of the Holy Spirit within. If you lack these things, you don’t need to try harder, you need to be saved! Turn from your love of this world and receive the gospel message; it will transform you so that you show the marks of spiritual life listed in this chapter.

John 20

Today’s reading is John 20.

This chapter recounts the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-9) and the proof of that resurrection through Jesus’s appearances to many disciples (vv. 10-29). Despite the unprecedented display of power that was Christ’s resurrection, the disciples were very much afraid of the persecution that could come from being Jesus’s disciples. Verse 19 says that they met “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders....” Jesus found them, however, and miraculously entered their meeting behind those locked doors (v. 19b). Then he “... breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This refers not to receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of salvation; it refers to the spiritual authority they would have as Jesus’ disciples once he went away. We see that in the next verse: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). What power did the disciples have to do this? They had the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated responsibility of the Lord.

There really was no reason to fear “the Jewish leaders” because Jesus had triumphed over them in his resurrection. As his followers, the power that raised him from the dead was now working in them to prepare them to be the leaders of his church.

When we live in fear of others on this earth, we are showing ourselves to be incomplete disciples. We are incomplete in the sense that we do not trust the Lord enough to rescue or preserve us from the hands of sinful men. But we have the Holy Spirit and the promises of God when we serve him, so we need to stop considering the bad things that might happen as we worship and witness for the Lord. Instead we need to remember that Christ has overcome all spiritual powers and sinful powers. We have the ability, though his power then, to serve God, worship God, and witness for God. Let’s believe the promises of spiritual power and go to work harvesting the Lord’s people for his church.

John 10

Today, read John 10.

There have been so many religious leaders throughout human history and they have spawned so many different religions. Some of these are connected to Jesus in some way, denying some biblical doctrines about him while affirming others. How does someone know that they have found the truth?

A big answer to that question is given to us here in John 10. Jesus described to the religious leaders (v. 1--“you Pharisees”) many truths about himself and his followers. Using the metaphor of shepherds, sheep, and the pen those sheep are kept in, Jesus taught that the true sheep know the difference between him--the good shepherd (v. 14) and false leaders (vv. 1, 8, 10, 12-13). Because they are true sheep, they know Jesus, Good Shepherd (vv. 3, 14). Because they are true sheep, they enter through Jesus, the true gate (v. 9). All of this describes the spiritual life that God gives to those who genuinely come to Christ. Following Jesus is not a matter of rationally choosing him over other leaders and instead of other religions. It is the result of the new life that God gives by faith. That new life--we call it regeneration--causes us to recognize Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father (to paraphrase 14:6).

Do you ever wonder why some people follow Jesus intensely for a time, then are diverted by the voice of another shepherd? It is because they are not really sheep. Do you ever wonder why some sincere people don’t receive Jesus as the one the Bible describes him to be? It is because they are not true sheep. Anyone you meet who tells you that they are spiritual, that they love God, and/or that they like Jesus but don’t think he was really God is telling you that they are not part of God’s flock (vv. 25-26).

One of the benefits of being part of God’s flock is eternal security, which is taught here in verses 27-30. Verse 28b says, “they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The reason is given in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” There is no need to worry about losing your salvation. Your salvation is not up to you because salvation is a gift given by God that makes you a sheep. It is not dependent on you to remain saved because Jesus and the Father are holding on to you. So, take joy in the gift of eternal life and follow the voice of the shepherd. Continuing to follow him--the doctrine we call preserving in the faith--is evidence of your genuine nature as one of his sheep. Like literal sheep, you may stray at times, but when the shepherd calls you in repentance, you will listen and follow him. This is how you can know that you have eternal life. Let it give you confidence and joy as you serve him today.

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?

1 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions. Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus. Why? Because he “gave himself as a ransom.” Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “...for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is exclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way--Jesus--so he is the exclusive way to God. But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth--Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives....” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man--our Lord--Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Romans 5

Today, read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation. It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15--2x, 16--2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15--2x, 17, 20, 21) of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21). The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ--and that his grace which saved us is available to save others. Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ--not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

Romans 4

Today, read Romans chapter 4.

In yesterday’s reading from Romans 3 we considered the central idea of Christianity which is that reconciliation with God comes as a gift from God. It is not earned by those who work for it or deserved by living a righteous life. It is a gift received by faith when a person believes in the good news.

I mentioned in my devotional yesterday that if you’ve received the gift of salvation in Christ, God is just as much your God as he was the God of Abraham, David and others. Here in Romans 4, Paul goes into more detail about that truth. Paul demonstrated from the Old Testament scriptures that Abraham was given righteousness by faith (vv. 1-3) and so was David (vv. 6-8). But--wait a minute--both David and Abraham were circumcised. That was a physical, permanent mark that they were under a special covenant with God. We Gentiles don’t have that mark--OK, some Gentile men are circumcised, but not as a religious act. So chapter 4 here anticipates the objection of Jewish people that they have a special relationship with God because they have a special covenant with God symbolized and applied to them by circumcision.

Paul points out in this chapter that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he was circumcised (vv. 9-12; see Gen 15:6, 17:9-27). Our connection to Abraham spiritually, then, was by faith not by the covenant of circumcision (vv. 16-17). Just as Abraham believed God’s promises at multiple points in his life (vv. 18-22) we must believe God’s promises are applied to us through faith in Jesus (vv. 24-25). When God declared that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” that was said for our benefit as well as his (vv. 22-23), to show us that it was not obedience to some religious or moral code but faith that gave Abraham a righteous standing before God.

What about you? Are you reading these chapters in scripture and this devotional to try to get some greater recognition from God? If so, you’re missing the point. There is nothing you can do to earn any favor it all with God. That’s true before you become a Christian and after. The death and resurrection of Jesus did everything that was necessary (vv. 24-25). Learning and obeying God’s word are how we grow in the grace God has given us, not how we get more grace or deserve his favor. Whatever you are doing as a Christian--learning God’s word, praying, serving God, giving--keep it up, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to earn God’s favor; that’s actually displeasing to him. Do it because you love him and want to grow to be more like him.