Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Living A Transformed Life

Titus 2:11-14 

Today’s Scripture passage comes from the often overlooked book in the New Testament, St. Paul’s Epistle to Titus.  Titus was a Gentile convert of the Apostle Paul, possibly from the city of Antioch, and was with Paul during some of his missionary journeys.  Later Paul appointed Titus to be a leader of the church in the island of Crete.  The Book of Titus is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, giving him some instructions on requirements and duties of elders and leaders of the church.  This Epistle also gives instructions to help believers grow in their faith in the Lord Jesus.  Let’s take a look at what the verses from our passage today can teach us.

One thing that the Apostle Paul taught new believers, after he had led them to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus, was that they no longer needed to live under the power of sin.  This is something that believers today also need to get a grasp of.  The death of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary, and His following resurrection from the dead, defeated the power of Satan and broke the power of sin to hold believers in captivity.  Paul wanted new believers to know this, and he instructed Titus to teach this to the church in Crete, as well.  We need to practice this in our life, and not continue to live as though we are still slaves to sin.

God’s plan of salvation saved us from the penalty of sin (vs. 11), the power of sin (vs. 12), and the presence of sin (vs. 13).  When we become saved, the power of sin is broken, and we are able to live a new and transformed life.  As believers, we are to renounce sin and its evil desires, and live actively for God.  When temptations come knocking on our door, we need to send the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us, to answer, saying “No!”.  Instead of following and courting sin, our lives should be lived in service to God.

In verse 14 Paul teaches us that we were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Greek word Paul used for “redeem”  is “lytroo” and it means to release or liberate by payment of a ransom.  We were being held captive by sin and Satan, but the Lord Jesus Christ purchased our release, our salvation, through His shed Blood (Mark 10:45).

Paul continues on, saying that we are God’s peculiar people.  That is an odd or uncommon way of saying that we are God’s special people, His own, belonging especially to Him.  Jesus purchased us with His Blood, so now we belong to Him.  Because of that, Paul tells us that we need to be zealous of good works.  Good works are the product, not the means, of salvation.  Good works do not save us, but if we are saved, they will be the by-product.  Christianity is not a social club, where we have no other responsibility other than to just believe in Jesus.  As believers, bought with the price of the Blood of Jesus, we are to be zealously pursuing good works, be committed to Jesus, and to serving others.

There are some who claim that verse 11 teaches Universalism, saying that all people have salvation and are saved.  This is a false interpretation of this verse.  The Scriptures correctly teach that Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of everyone who believes (John 3:16-18; John 3:36).  Only those who believe are saved.  Those who remain stubborn and refuse God’s grace will be excluded from salvation because they have chosen disobedience over obedience.

Looking back over our passage from God’s Word, we see a verse that declares that Jesus was not just a good and holy teacher, not just a good man like so many people today claim, but rather was God Himself, the second Person of the Trinity.  In verse 13 we read “the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.”   We see the use of the definite article “the” with the word God, plus the connecting conjunction “and” with Jesus Christ.  This shows that the first and second nouns are one and the same person.  The Lord Jesus Christ is, and always was God, which is a good declaration to make as we close out this year!

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Triumphant King

 Psalm 98

Generally, when a baby is born, there is rejoicing in the family and among friends of the family.  Everyone is happy, and there is a lot of oohing and aahing over the baby.  When the baby Jesus was born, His mother Mary and foster father Joseph rejoiced, along with all of the angels in heaven, the shepherds who were told, and later the magi who came to worship Him.  Today, believers all around the world celebrate Christmas and rejoice with the birth of Jesus, His first coming to earth.

Yes, Christmas festivities honor the first coming of the Lord Jesus to earth, and we celebrate and venerate that occasion.  The coming of Jesus to earth the first time brought salvation to all who accepted Him and welcomed Him into their hearts.  There is another time when there will be rejoicing among believers, and that is when Jesus returns to earth a second time.  The first time He came, though He was God, He came as a helpless baby, and His ministry focused on teaching and serving others, and dying as the Suffering Servant.  This second time when He comes, He will come as the victorious King that He is.

Our psalm for this week proclaims the excitement and joy over the rule of the Lord in His kingdom.  In the past, kings and emperors would frequently lead their armies in battle against the enemy.  In the last 100-200 years this hasn’t generally been the case, but prior to then it was quite often the case.  When they would return victoriously, there was generally great rejoicing among the people of their realm.  There would be victory parades, victory bands, and huge crowds of people shouting their cheers.

In verse one we read that the Lord has won the victory.  The psalmist proclaims that the victory was won by His power, not some other leader or military general, but through His right hand and holy arm.  It was through His power and His leadership, and it was a marvelous victory.  No wonder the people are rejoicing!  Who did He win the victory over?  Ultimately the victory is over Satan and his followers.  Since the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, Satan has held power over the earth and over so many people throughout history, and certainly today many have chosen to follow him.  When Jesus returns a second time He will destroy the power of Satan, along with his demons and his followers.

When Jesus came the first time, He made known His salvation and His righteousness to the whole world (vs. 2).  Over the succeeding centuries believers have been proclaiming His saving message to the ends of the earth (vs. 3).  When He came the first time the angels rejoiced, along with His immediate family, but certainly not the whole world.  When He returns the second time, though, it will be a different story.  We see the psalmist tell of a whole population breaking forth in song, rejoicing and singing, with instruments, a band, a whole orchestra ringing forth (vs. 4-6).   When a triumphant king returned, no one in the city kept silent!  Likewise, when our victorious Savior returns, His people will give a great cheer and erupt into praise and welcome!

The psalmist says that not only the people, but that all of nature will rejoice, as well (vs. 7-8).  Nature has been held under captivity by Satan since the Fall, and when Jesus comes they, too, will be set free.  Nature knows its Creator, and will sing forth in praise to Him when He returns as the triumphant King.

When Jesus returns He will judge the world (vs. 9).  Because God is victorious over evil, all those who follow Him will be victorious with Him when He judges the earth.  Unlike human rulers who often judge their conquered enemies with vindictiveness, Jesus will judge in perfect righteousness.  God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just. Those who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus will have no need to fear.  Those who haven’t will face His wrath.  As we come to the close of another year, are we waiting with anticipation for the return of our victorious king?  It could be at any time!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

His Name Will Be Called....

 Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Many soon-to-be parents take great care when choosing a name for their coming baby.  Some wish to honor a dear relative or friend by naming the baby for them.  Others page through baby name books, searching for a name that signifies something meaningful to them, or they pick a name that is special to their culture or heritage.  Then there are those who just pick a name that is the latest fashion for boys and girls that year.  In our Scripture passage today from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet shares some names that the Messiah was given, in addition to His regular given Name.  Let’s take a look at what Isaiah has to share with us today.

First, before Isaiah introduces us to the special Names that the Messiah is called by, he tells us that the Messiah will be a great light to enlighten those who are in darkness (vs. 2).  Jesus is this great light that Isaiah prophesied about.  He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).  We call the planet Venus the morning star.  Sometimes, when the season is right and the sun is just below the eastern horizon ready to rise and start a new day, it’s brilliant light will reflect off of the planet Venus, making it one of the brightest lights in the sky, ushering in the dawn from the night, just as Jesus did.  Jesus keeps us from falling into the darkness of false teachings and evil.

Jesus is the Light who shines on everyone living in the shadow of death.  He came to deliver all people from their slavery to sin (John 8:34-36).  The darkness of our souls is much more dangerous than a temporary power outage.  When power goes out in a home, we may stumble around in the dark, and perhaps knock into things, getting some bruises.  If one remains in spiritual darkness, they risk eternal damnation.  Spiritual darkness brings with it fear, hurt, and hopelessness.  It brings with it the sins of lies, gossip, backstabbing, cheating, violence, and hatred.  Jesus came into this darkness as the Light of the world (John 8:12), with knowledge, truth, righteousness, hope, and life.  His coming as the Messiah brings light to remove the darkness of the captivity to sin that Satan has us held by.

Isaiah continues on in our passage, and now shares several names and qualities that the Messiah had (vs. 6).  First, he relates how the Messiah would come and be born as a child.  He did not just appear as an adult, nor was the role or position of Messiah given to someone as an adult.  The first Name here that is given is that of Wonderful, someone who is filled with wonder and awe, a marvelous person.  People will often, when speaking of someone they love, say they are wonderful.  They think that person is the best.  That would certainly describe Jesus!  He is exceptional, distinguished, without peer.

Jesus is called our Counsellor, one who advises and gives counsel.  When we have a problem or an issue, we often go to someone we think is wise, and seek their advice about what to do.  Jesus is certainly the first and best one we should seek counsel from.  He gives wise and right counsel for every area in our life (John 14:16-17).  Isaiah next calls Him the Mighty God.  This is another verse that reaffirms the deity of Jesus.  He wasn’t just a man who came to fill the role of Messiah.  He was and is God incarnate, God who became man, born as a baby into this world that He, Himself had created.

Jesus is also described as the Everlasting Father, the Father of Eternity.  He, alone, is the source of eternal life.  He is timeless and He will care for His people.  He is a ruler whom His people will look to in very personal terms, a “father”.  Jesus is no mere earthly ruler.  His reign is everlasting.  Any ruler, whether king or president, does not have to treat his subjects as though he were their father, but a ruler who truly cares for his subjects will show that love.  Jesus’ reign will be both protecting and providing, like a father.  Jesus is the Everlasting Father - a powerful protector and perfect provider.

Lastly, Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.  The word “peace” or shalom in Hebrew means well-being, flourishing, and wholeness.  Sin made us enemies with God.  Jesus made peace possible with God (Romans 5:1).  Sin has broken human relationships.  Jesus has made peace possible with others.  Those who trust in Jesus for salvation have God’s favor.  On our own, peace is unattainable.  That is why Jesus came.  He is the Mighty God who will be a benevolent ruler, bringing eternal peace on earth.  His government is one of justice and peace (John 14:27).

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Mystery Revealed

Romans 16:25-27 

Have you ever had something that was puzzling you for a long time, something that was difficult to understand or difficult to do, and then finally you understood it, the meaning became clear?  Perhaps you were pondering something over and over, and then finally it was as if a light went on in your brain.  Ah Ha!, now suddenly the meaning becomes clear, and the puzzle can be solved.  In our very brief Scripture passage for today, the Apostle Paul describes such an event, where now we understand what God is doing.

Our Scripture passage for today is the closing verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which we will take a very brief look into this day after Christmas.  Here Paul gives a benediction, which comes from the Latin word meaning to bless.  In many churches the priest or pastor will give a benediction, a prayer or words spoken to bless the congregation before they leave.  Paul also gives a doxology, praising God for His work through the Lord Jesus Christ.

In these closing verses Paul makes mention of a mystery that had been hidden or secret from time past, but is now made clear or plain.  The word “mystery”, when used in the New Testament, does not have its modern connotation.  It is not like an Agatha Christie mystery, or something on an episode of  Murder, She Wrote.  Instead, it refers to something hid in former times, but now is made known.  The New Testament’s most common mystery is that God would provide the same access to salvation for Gentiles as well as for Jews, without the Gentiles going through the Jewish faith.

Throughout their history the nation of Israel was not only called to righteousness, but was also appointed to be a light of God’s message to all nations.  Light is one symbol that is emphasized throughout the Christmas season.  Jesus came to be a Light in this dark world of sin (John 8:12).  God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him (I John 1:5).  God called us out of the darkness of sin and Satan, and into His Light (I Peter 2:9).  All around the neighborhood we see the twinkling Christmas lights that many put up on their homes and yards.  Just as those shine out a cheery message, God calls us to be His light to the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Rome.  Ancient Rome was essentially the capital of the world.  The early church there had great potential to be a beacon of light, spreading the Gospel to many.  Today, with modern technology, we have the entire world open to us.  We have the potential to be a widespread influence for the Gospel.  The mystery is no longer hidden.  Both Jews and Gentiles have the Gospel message of salvation open to them.  Jesus came into the world to make that possible.  Let’s be that beacon of His light and shine God’s message to everyone we can!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Friendly Beasts

Luke 2:4-7 

Many of you will be reading this on Christmas Eve, and in honor of the Christmas holiday I thought I would take a look at an old Christmas song that comes from an even older Christmas fable, entitled The Friendly Beasts.  I remember the song quite well from my childhood, and it was always a favorite of mine.  The song and the fable, besides being endearing, I believe also have a lesson to teach us.

The fable tells the story of how the animals that were in the manger the night that Jesus was born, were briefly given the ability to speak.  Each animal there spoke of the gift that they had given Jesus, the Son of God and their Creator, that evening.

The first animal to speak is the donkey.  The gift that he gave the Lord Jesus was to carry His mother, the Virgin Mary, many miles from her home in Nazareth to the town of Bethlehem.  That journey, taken on foot by Joseph, and Mary on the donkey, would have taken several days, quite probably even over a week.  Also, it would have been a difficult one for Mary, as she was nine months pregnant.  Knowing how I felt shortly before the birth of both of my two now adult children, I can say it would not have been too comfortable a journey!  The donkey, though, says he did his best to bring her safely to Bethlehem.  That was his gift to the Lord Jesus.

The next animal to speak was the cow.  She says that her gift to Jesus was her manger and hay.  The Gospel account of Luke in Scripture says that Mary and Joseph laid the newborn child in a manger.  The Greek word used is one that describes a feeding trough used by farmers for their cattle, one they would use to place the hay.  Joseph would have cleared it out, placing nice, fresh, sweet-smelling hay in it, and laid the wrapped infant down to sleep.   The cow gave up use of her feeding manger and the fresh hay that night for her Creator God.

The sheep was the next animal to speak.  The gift he spoke of giving was from the wool, which would have been used to wrap and clothe the Baby Jesus.  The sheep who would have been in the stable that night when Jesus was born most likely did not give the wool that would have been used to wrap Baby Jesus, as it is a process to shear sheep and then take the wool and make fabric to be used as swaddling clothes.  However, this sheep spoke on behalf of all sheep which gave their wool to clothe Jesus, their Creator.

The last animal to speak was a dove from the rafters of the stable.  The dove and her mate gave the gift of comforting coos to help the Baby Jesus relax and go to sleep.  I occasionally hear mourning doves in my neighborhood, and their cooing can be a soothing sound.  The calming coos were her gift to the Lord Jesus.

So what gifts can we give the Lord Jesus this Christmas?  It is the day in which we celebrate His birth, and yet most people are more concerned with what they are getting, not with what they can give to Jesus. There is another Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy, that also tells of a young boy who gave what he could, that of playing his little drum for the Baby Jesus.  Can we help others carry their burdens, like the donkey did?  How about doing what we can to help others have a place to rest, something to eat or wear, like the cow and sheep.  Or maybe we can bring some comforting joy to others, like the dove did.  Jesus told us that what we do for others, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40).  What gift will you bring to Jesus this Christmas?

Monday, December 21, 2020

His Mercy Endures Forever

 Psalm 136

All of us at one time or another, have probably had to memorize something.  One of the best ways to memorize something is to repeat it over and over again, so that it gets stuck in our brain.  That is how little children learn their ABC’s, 1-2-3’s, etc.  Repetition, over and over again.  That is the best way to memorize Scripture verses and chapters.  We read the verse over and over again until it is finally in our memory.  When someone wants to get their message across to where it finally sinks in, it often has to be repeated over and over again.  Parents know that, when they have to tell their children something repeatedly.  God knows that about people, as well, that the best way for them to really know and believe a truth is to repeat it over and over again.  This is what we find in our psalm today, a truth about the Lord God repeated in every verse, so that there is no escaping it.

There are many parts of the Bible that are repeated several times.  God repeats the Ten Commandments twice in Scripture.  Many of the parables are repeated several times in the different Gospels, along with portions of the Sermon on the Mount.  When God repeats something, it must be important for us to know.  Many of His commands and instructions for living a faithful Christian life are repeated over and over throughout the Epistles.  Here in Psalm 136, God repeats the phrase “for His mercy endures forever” over and over again, in each and everyone of the 26 verses.  This must obviously be something important that He wants us to know, learn, and get firmly into our minds.

Mercy is God withholding or holding back the punishment that we are due and deserving of.  It is His forgiveness, and the love and compassion He has upon us as weak and helpless humans.  The anonymous writer of this psalm was so grateful of God’s mercy to him and to all of us, that he wanted everyone to be fully aware of this, as well.  If we got what we deserved, where would we be?  We would be condemned, of course.  If God did not have mercy upon us, His righteous judgment would call for instant death and damnation to the pits of hell.  However, God does have mercy upon us.  He has deep love and compassion for us, so much so that He sent His Son Jesus for our salvation, whose birth we celebrate later this week.  He didn’t have to do that, but because He has love and mercy on us, He did.

God doesn’t just show His mercy to us one time, and then that’s it.  If we mess up and sin again, He doesn't come down on us like a ton of bricks.  No, as we read here over and over again, His mercy endures forever!  God’s mercy, love, kindness, and faithfulness will always continue.  It flows from a well that will never run dry.  God’s love is loyal and faithful, even when His people sin against Him.  He is faithful in loving us.  Steadfast love is an integral part of the character of God (Exodus 34:6).

This psalm, like so many of the psalms, was probably originally set to music, and was sung antiphonally, sung or recited back and forth with two groups.  One group would sing or recite the first half of each verse, and the second group would continually respond with “for His mercy endures forever”.  Setting something to music is one way that makes memorizing a bit easier.  In the first three verses we see the character and person of God.  He is not just any old deity, like the myriads of deities the pagans worshipped.  He is the God of gods, the Lord of lords.  The pagan gods were false, fake, the constructions of the people’s minds.  However, Yahweh is the one, true, all-powerful, all-knowing, everlasting God.

In verses 4-9 the writer focuses on God, the Creator.  The same God who made everything, promises to love His children forever.  When we think of all of creation, all of the wonders on our planet, let alone the vastness of space, why would God even bother with us (Psalm 8:3-4)?  Yet He does.  He loves us and His mercy towards us endures forever.  Verses 10-24 focus on the history of God’s relationship with His people.  The psalmist recounts countless times that Yahweh showed His mercy and love for His people.  We could, and really should, go through our own lives, and that of our families, and recount the many times God showed us His love and mercy, especially as we come to the close of this year.  The final two verses close out the psalm by showing God’s mercy through His provisions.  He doesn’t forget us, but provides for and nourishes us.

As we look forward to Christmas in a few days, we can be thankful for that greatest act of love and mercy God showed to all mankind, that of providing us a Savior, who came to take the sins of the world upon Himself, and providing us a way to be reconciled to God.  As our psalm repeatedly says, “For His mercy endures forever”!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

When God Says No

 II Samuel 7:4, 8-16

We’ve made our plans to do something really nice, something special, something we believe would be good, and then we’re told “No!”, it can’t happen, it won’t be allowed.  Whether this is some good project we wanted to do at work, something good we wanted to do with or for our children at home, or something else, it is a big disappointment.  Is my boss angry at me or out to get me?  Are the people who tell me no just trying to be mean?  Maybe, or maybe not.  How about when it is God who tells us “No”?  There are times when we pray for something, something that we believe is a good prayer, not anything selfish, maybe even something that could be a blessing to others. Then the answer we receive is, “No, the Lord doesn’t want that.”  In our Scripture passage today, we read of something that King David wished to do, and the “No” response that God brought to him.  Let’s take a look and see why, and what the Lord had planned instead.

As we know from reading our Bible, King David loved the Lord God, and had a strong personal relationship with Him.  After he became king of Israel, David built himself a grand palace, as any king naturally would do.  However, after David built his own home, as he looked around at how wonderful it was, he then thought about the Tabernacle, and how the Ark of the Covenant was residing in tents. Here he was in a luxurious palace while the Ark of the Covenant, where the Mercy Seat was, was just in a tent.  It just didn’t seem right to him.  David wanted to build a house or Temple for God.  That would seem to be a good desire, wouldn’t it?  David felt so, and he started to make plans, to draw up the blueprints, and start purchasing the materials.

However, God had different plans, and He sent His prophet Nathan to tell David that He said “No”.  Was it because David had done something wrong, or that God was angry at him for making these plans?  No, that was not the case here.  When God says no, it is not necessarily done for discipline or rejection.  That was not the case here with David.  With only a few exceptions, David pursued God’s will in his life, and wanted to do His will.  However, God told David no, he was not to build God the Temple, and David was to accept that answer.

God had something better, something greater in mind for David.  As His prophet Nathan spoke His words to the king, he found out what that was.  God was going to build David a great house, not a physical dwelling place, which he already had, but a dynasty, a lineage, which would rule over God’s people forever.  This was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-36), who was David’s descendant, and who is greater than any Temple, which would later be built by David’s son Solomon.

God reminded David that He had abundantly blessed him, raising him to success from being a lowly shepherd to becoming a king (vs. 8), and had protected him wherever he went (vs. 9).  Now God promised David that He would continue to bless him even further.  The Lord gave David a special promise that his lineage, his house, his descendants would last forever, and his throne would last forever (vs. 12-16).  Again, this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who is a physical descendant of David.  We know that God keeps His promises.  Since we do not see any descendants of David reigning today, and they haven’t for about 2,500 years now, either God failed in this promise, or we see and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, God’s Chosen One, and know that He is the fulfillment of this promise.  Jesus is greater than the Temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD, and has never been rebuilt. Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection, and He is seated at the right hand of God, reigning forever, which is a fulfillment of that promise.

Whenever we find God saying “No” to a prayer or desire of ours, we should look to see why.  It might be that our desire may be harmful to us or others.  Or perhaps, as we saw with David, God has something even greater for us than what our plan was.  He is always looking out for us, and we can trust that He always keeps His promises, as well.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Pointing To Jesus

John 3:23-30 

Last week our Gospel reading centered around John the Baptist, and his ministry of preparing people for the coming of the Messiah, his fearless and bold preaching, and announcing the Lord’s coming appearance.  Today our Gospel reading takes another look at John the Baptist, and another aspect of his character.

Despite his hardline preaching of repentance from sin, John the Baptist was a popular preacher.  Crowds of people came out from nearby Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to hear him speak.  There were even some folks who came down from Galilee to hear him, such as the brothers James and John, along with their friend Andrew, all of whom later became Jesus’ disciples.  John the Baptist had his own band of disciples, men who followed him around, near the Jordan River area where he was baptizing.  Even King Herod was interested in John the Baptist, and in hearing his message.

Now, though, as we read in our Scripture passage for today, John’s disciples were experiencing some professional jealousy over the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the people who were flocking to Him (vs. 25-26).  They had been enjoying the crowds and popularity that John the Baptist had, and were probably feeling rather good about themselves and their association and connection with his ministry.  But now, here comes this other man, this new preacher, and people were heading over to Him!  This “new kid on the block” was attracting more crowds.  They noticed that John’s attendance numbers were dwindling, and Jesus’ were growing, and they were not happy, so they went to John and complained.

What did John the Baptist do about that?  If he had been like some preachers today, he might have tried to think up some new ways to put more pizzazz into his preaching.  Maybe add a new and popular “worship band” to attract the younger people.  He might even have gotten some of his disciples to spread a little bad gossip about Jesus and His disciples to discredit His ministry, and bring the crowds back to himself.  We see this type of rivalry among many big ministries today as they each try to outdo the others in attracting large crowds.  However, John the Baptist did absolutely nothing like that.

Instead of being jealous of Jesus, John exhibited humble faithfulness to Jesus and His ministry as the Messiah and Son of God.  John reminded his disciples of some of the things he had preached about, such as that he was not the Messiah, but that his ministry was to announce the coming of the Messiah (vs. 27-28).  John’s disciples must not have been paying too much attention then, especially since John had pointed Jesus out to the crowds the day that He came to be baptized (John 1:29-36).  John the Baptist knew right from the start that his position and calling was to point others to Jesus.

John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and that his work was to prepare the way for Him.  John knew that he was merely a vessel for God to use to point people to the Savior.  As he spoke to his own disciples he gave the example of a bridegroom and his best man (vs. 29).  The best man doesn’t get the bride.  He is there to help and assist the bridegroom before and during the wedding, and then steps back when the bride arrives.  John told his disciples that he was the best man, there to serve the Groom, which was Jesus, the Messiah.

Just like with John, our true mission should be to influence and point people to follow Jesus, and not ourselves. How many preachers and teachers today want the focus to be on themselves and their ministry, rather than on Jesus?  John the Baptist was willing to decrease in importance (vs. 30).  Any attention drawn to ourselves distracts from God.  Jesus is the Savior and the hope for the world, and He alone should get all of the credit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Rejoice, Pray, And Give Thanks

 I Thessalonians 5:16-18

The year 2020 is quickly coming to a close.  As I write this there are only 16 days left till a new year begins.  This has been a very difficult year for most people, with illness and death striking multitudes, and many also suffering loss of employment and dire financial hardship.  Yes, it has been a very difficult year, and thus the words of our very short Scripture passage for today may seem quite difficult to swallow.  In these very brief verses we have three instructions- rejoice, pray, give thanks.  Let’s take a look at these verses and see how we can apply them to our lives, regardless of what we might have gone through, and maybe are still going through this year.

The first instruction Paul gives us is to “rejoice always” (vs. 16).  How can we do that when so many terrible things have happened, both in our own lives and all around the world?  That seems almost impossible to do.  Rejoicing isn’t hard when the good times roll, but what about when tragedy strikes?  How can we rejoice then?  Paul was very familiar with difficult times, yet he could tell us to rejoice always.  In spite of the frequent persecution he faced as he traveled spreading the Gospel, the beatings, stonings, imprisonments, Paul knew that joy is appropriate at all times (Philippians 4:4).  Paul also practiced what he preached, as both he and Silas sang hymns of praise while sitting in prison with their backs ripped open from a brutal whipping (Acts 16:22-25).

Verse 16 is a very special verse.  In the English Bible “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse.  However, in the original Greek, I Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always” is the shortest.  In Greek “Jesus wept” is 3 words and 16 letters.  “Rejoice always” is 2 words and 14 letters.  Jesus wept so that we can rejoice always.  We can rejoice because our sins have been taken away at the cross.  We can rejoice because we are not alone when we have Jesus.  We can always rejoice because we, and all who believe, will go to heaven.  Jesus wept so we don’t have to.  We can rejoice!

In the next verse God instructs us to pray without ceasing (vs. 17).  If God tells us to pray, that must mean He is going to respond.  In order for Him to respond, though, we must have a right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, and pray according to His will.  Though believers should remain in an attitude of prayer all through each day, we don’t always have to be praying audibly.  We should have a prayerful attitude, acknowledging our dependence upon God.  Believers should not be praying repetitious prayers, but pray persistently and regularly.

Prayer is the key to conforming our image to that of Jesus, especially when the trials of life threaten to consume us.  We serve a God who answers prayer!  We need to go to Him in prayer, believing that He will see us through all situations.

The final instruction in our Scripture today is that we give thanks in everything (vs. 18).  How can we be grateful for illness, heartaches, difficulties, and loss?  We can’t unless we recognize that God allows pain and hardship in our life for His good purposes and glory.  Joseph in the Book of Genesis is a good example to look to.  God is good.  His purposes are good.  He has promised to be with us in every circumstance.  We can give thanks to God for the good He can bring out of the events we experience, even if that event is unpleasant.

In order to thank God in all things, we need to be able to see Him in all of the details of our life.  We can thank God and trust Him when we believe He is intimately involved in our circumstances, and will be working everything for our good (Romans 8:28).  This doesn’t mean that we are thankful for evil things that happen, but we should be thankful for God’s presence, and for the good that He will accomplish through the distress.

We have a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who helps us give thanks in every situation.  Rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving are linked.  Exultation and gratitude hinge upon regular communication with God.  A prayerless person cannot be thankful for long.  They are too overwhelmed with their problems.  Talking with God replaces problems with peace.  The power of praise and thanksgiving can work miracles from God.  He can release mighty power through a heart full of faithfulness and praise.  When we focus on God working in our life, our spirits lift, we rejoice more, pray more, and then can give thanks in everything.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Set Free!

 Psalm 126

Being held captive by somebody or something is not pleasant.  We want the freedom to come and go, and do as we please within reason.  With a few exceptions, in most places slavery does not exist.  Yet people still find themselves held captive.  Though sometimes it might be in a hostage or kidnapping situation, usually today people are in captivity to some habit or influence that they have gotten into.  It could be with some substance such as alcohol or drugs, or maybe a sinful or just plain annoying habit they have.  The longer they are in its clutches, the more difficult it is to get free.  Our psalm for this week speaks of the joy of having the Lord bring one back from being in captivity.

The people of Israel had been held captive against their will several times in their history.  For several generations the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt.  God delivered them from this captivity through the hands of His servant Moses, leading them through the Red Sea on dry land.  After arriving in the Promised Land, the twelve tribes each took possession of their land.  However, over the ensuing years there were times when the surrounding nations, such as the Philistines, came and overpowered portions of the land, bringing some of the people under their power and control.  God allowed this to happen as punishment for the people having turned to pagan idolatry.  Finally, due to their sin and idolatry the whole nation was taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  They remained in captivity for about 70 years, and then God slowly allowed the people to return.

Our short psalm for this week begins with words describing the joy and praise of the people when the Lord set them free from captivity (vs. 1-3).  We can imagine how happy slaves were when they were set free from being held in captivity and chains.  I remember reading about three girls in Ohio who had been kidnapped and held captive for many years, and how they finally made their escape.   There was great rejoicing and happiness that day!

Since slavery or kidnapping are not likely to be our experience, how can we relate to this psalm?  Before anyone accepts Jesus as their Savior they are held captive to sin, they are a slave to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16).  Our sinful desires and lifestyle hold us captive, and ultimately it is the devil who is holding the chains and whip, keeping us in bonds.  Ask any recovering alcoholic or drug addict and they will tell you that when they are using the drugs they are in captivity.  The same is true with someone addicted to pornography and many other sinful activities.

God does not want anyone being held captive by Satan and sin, and that is why He sent His Son to pay the price for our sins, and set us free.  When we turn to the Lord Jesus and accept Him as our Savior, He sets us free from the control of sin in our life, and we are free.  We can sing and rejoice just like the Israelites when they came back from captivity.

When the slaves of the South found a way to become free they told others.  They told other slaves the different routes and locations of safe houses on the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North.  They knew that it was unfair to keep that knowledge to themselves.  The same is true when we experience freedom in the Lord Jesus.  We need to tell others who are in captivity with their sins of the freedom they can have with Jesus.  Jesus compared the spreading of the Gospel with that of sowing seed in His Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15).

As our psalm closes, the writer tells of those who go out sowing seed in sorrow, but will come back again bringing a harvest with joy (vs. 5-6).  He wasn’t just speaking about actually planting seed and reaping a crop.  As Jesus said, they are sowing the Word of God, and bringing a harvest of souls for the Lord.  It isn’t always easy to bring a witness to others, and it can be heartbreaking when they reject the Lord time and again.  Yet, we cannot keep the Good News to ourselves.  We must go out bringing the Word, and we will come back again with a harvest for the Lord.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

No More Tears

Isaiah 65:17-25

Though life sometimes brings some beautiful moments, it is often filled with sorrow and weeping.  Don’t we often wish that we could go through our days without running into things that bring such trial and grief to us?  Don’t we wish that someone would come up to us and say that this will never happen again, that our days of tears were over for good?  As we read through our Old Testament Scripture passage for this third week of Advent we see that this isn’t just wishful thinking.

As the prophet Isaiah was nearing the close of his book, he was looking way into the future, to the time when God will make a new heaven and a new earth.  Isaiah told us of some of the characteristics of this new world, which we also see described in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation.

One very important characteristic is that there will be no more weeping or crying (vs. 19).  Isaiah had spoken earlier in his prophecies of a day when the Lord will wipe away all tears (Isaiah 25:8), and this is a promise given in the Book of Revelation, as well (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).  This world is filled with so much sorrow and both physical and emotional pain, so many things that make people cry.  We hear the sound of weeping in funeral homes, in hospitals, in the divorce courts, and in homeless shelters.  The hardest part of these tears is that often it feels as if no one hears the crying and weeping.  Does anyone care?  God has promised us that He does hear, and He will answer (vs. 24).   In the future world that He has prepared for His children, He will wipe all of their tears away.

In God’s future world there will be no premature death (vs. 20).  One of the worst heartbreaks there must be is when a parent’s beloved baby dies.  Isaiah records God’s Word, His promise that in His new kingdom there will not be a time when an infant will live only a few days.  Not only infants, but God promises there won’t be young people, or even middle aged people dying.  No one there will die before their time.

Another cause for weeping and heartbreak is when we work hard for something like a house or property, and then it is lost to us, perhaps due to some type of financial collapse, or maybe an invasion in the country by enemies.  However, God promises us that in His new kingdom, we won’t build a house and have someone else inhabit it, or plant a crop only to have someone else enjoy the fruits of our labor (vs. 21-22).

Another heartbreak can be when we feel that no one hears us, that no one cares enough to listen to what we have to say.  Sometimes there are people fortunate enough to be so close to another person that they know exactly what the other one is thinking, and that they don’t even need to finish their sentence, but the other one knows exactly what they are going to say.  More often I think it is the opposite.  No one cares to listen or acknowledge us.  Sometimes we might even feel that God doesn’t hear us.

However, God promises us that He does hear His children when they call out to Him (vs. 24).  God is not reluctant to hear us.  He is a prayer-answering God.  He promises to deliver us (Psalm 50:15).  Even when we stumble through our prayers, God has given us the Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Romans 8:26).  Sometimes we feel distant to God.  It is at these times when we need to exercise our faith and demonstrate that we believe God despite our perceptions (Hebrews 11:6).  Even when we feel isolated, God is not distant.  He is closer than we can imagine, and He will answer us even before we can pray.

Jesus affirmed this for us when He told us that the Father knows what we need, even before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8).  Before we even utter a word, God is involved in answering.  While we are speaking, God is involved in bringing to pass the very things He planned from the start.  As we wait expectantly for His return, we can let His promises to us bring us encouragement and hope.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Prepare The Way Of The Lord

 Mark 1:1-8

As we are closing out the second week of Advent, our Gospel reading for this week is the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark.  Mark is one Gospel that does not contain any type of nativity account.  In Luke we find the traditional account of the birth of Jesus, with His birth in the manger, the shepherds, and the angels.  In Matthew we read about the magi, or wise men’s visit to the baby Jesus.  In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, he shows us how Jesus existed from all time as part of the Trinity, long before His physical birth here on earth.  Mark, though, doesn’t contain any such account.  He begins his Gospel at the time when Jesus begins His ministry.  However, as we’ll see, Mark’s opening verses do fit in with this Christian season of Advent.

Advent is the time in the Christian calendar for spiritual preparation and anticipation of the coming Christmas season, when Jesus came to earth as our Savior, and also looking forward to His imminent second coming.  Our Scripture passage for today is the opening verses from Mark’s Gospel, and give the account of John the Baptist, and his announcing of the coming of the Messiah, which is what Advent is about.

John the Baptist was the divinely promised messenger, sent to prepare the way for the Messiah.  Mark quoted from both Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, as he knew John was the fulfillment of these prophecies (vs. 2-3).  Just like an ancient royal envoy, who went ahead of the king to see that all was ready and in order, John the Baptist came ahead of Jesus the Messiah and Son of God.  John the Baptist was the culmination of Old Testament history and prophecy.  He was also the beginning of the historical record of the Gospels.  Though the prophets had foretold the coming of the Messiah for many generations, very few people were seriously anticipating or even thinking of His forthcoming arrival.

When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, he came to the Jordan River, just a short distance outside of Jerusalem, which was nearby to the west of the river.  John was different from the other religious leaders of his day.  He preached from the banks of the river, rather than indoors in a synagogue or at the Temple in Jerusalem.  John’s messages were strong and cutting, and to the point. He definitely did not soften his message to please his audience.  John the Baptist differed in other ways from the other religious leaders of his day.  They lived in comfortable homes, many in luxury in Jerusalem and other nice villages.  He lived in the wilderness.  They had comfortable and expensive clothes.  John the Baptist’s clothes were made from camel’s hair and were rough (vs. 6).  They dined well, whereas John’s diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.  His values were not in physical or material luxuries, but in spiritual matters.

As John the Baptist began his ministry, he called for the people to prepare for the soon arrival of the Messiah (vs. 4).  He urged the people to give up their selfish way of living and renounce their sins.  Knowing that the Messiah was soon to come, he preached that people needed to seek God’s forgiveness and establish a relationship with Him by believing and obeying His Word.

John the Baptist called for the people to repent and turn to God in preparation for the coming Messiah.  His baptism would be a sign of repentance, a sign that a person had decided to change their life, giving up a sinful and selfish way of living, and turning to God.  Baptism did not produce repentance, but was its result.  Repentance is more than a change of mind or remorse.  It involves turning from sin to God, and results in righteous living.  True repentance is a work of God in the human heart.

John the Baptist’s ministry was to prepare people for the coming Messiah.  Many people are preparing for Christmas with all of the outward ways of shopping, decorating their houses, etc.  Have you prepared your heart for Jesus?  Does He already reside there, or do you need to ask Him to be your Savior?  Are you prepared for when He will return a second time?  That could be any day, at any moment.  Are you ready for His arrival?

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Waiting Patiently For Us

 II Peter 3:8-15, 18

People can be very impatient sometimes.  They want something right now, and don’t want to wait for just the right time.  We don’t like delays, no matter who is doing the delaying.  We don’t like them, even if it might be for an ultimate good, either.  In his epistle, the Apostle Peter touches on what we might think is a delay, and what God is ultimately doing.

As the Apostle Peter begins our passage, he reminds us that God does not view time in the same way that we do (vs. 8).  God understands time much differently than man.  For man, a thousand years seems like a very long time, yet it isn’t for God.  Moses said the same thing in Psalm 90:4.  However, we are impatient, and don’t like the seeming delay in Jesus’ return, sometimes even wondering if He has forgotten His promises (vs. 9).  Before Jesus ascended back into heaven, He promised His followers that He would return again.  That was about two thousand years ago, and we’ve been waiting ever since.  Some people, especially unbelievers, question or even mock this promise by the Savior.  Peter states, though, that Jesus is waiting His return so that more sinners will repent and turn to Him.

When people are stubborn and unrepentant, God waits patiently for them to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  God prefers that they see the error of their choices, and turn back to His righteous path.  He has delayed the day of His judgment so that more people may turn to Him.  God has an immense capacity for patience before He breaks forth in judgment.  He endures endless blasphemies against His Name.  There are rebellions against Him, and the breaking of all of His laws.  God is waiting patiently while He is calling and redeeming the lost to be saved.  Those who perish and go to hell are those who reject Jesus Christ.  They have an unrepentant heart, rejecting Jesus and holding on to their sin.  God delays His return because He is patient and desires time for people to repent (vs. 9).  In light of that, we as Christians should not be living idly, but instead realize that time is short, and there is important work to do in spreading the Gospel.

Some people have falsely believed that verse 9 teaches a type of Christian universalism, believing that because God doesn’t want anyone to perish, all people will be saved and go to heaven.  This is not true. The verse states “...but that all should come to repentance.”  God gave us free will to choose or reject Him.  The way He provided for salvation, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, was sufficient to save everyone, but we must repent from our unbelief and accept it.  Those who don’t will be condemned (John 3:18).

Peter continues, stating that the Day of the Lord will come when we aren’t expecting it like a thief in the night (vs. 10).  The Day of the Lord mentioned often in the Old Testament, is a specific intervention of God in human history for judgment.  Ultimately it refers to the future time when God will judge the wicked on earth and end this world system.  It will have a surprise arrival, sudden, unexpected, and disastrous to the unprepared.

Realizing that this day will come, we should put our confidence in what is lasting and eternal, and not be bound to earth and its treasures or pursuits (vs. 11-12).  This is a challenge for Christians to conform their lives to God’s standards, in light of coming judgment and eternity.  We should be living separated from sin, and with a reverent attitude.  Having an eager anticipation for the Lord’s return should keep us living productively.

Living with the end in view requires spiritual vigilance and self-control (vs. 14).  If we belong to Christ we do not need to be afraid of the future, and instead should be engaged in seeking the salvation of the lost.  Believers should not fear the future day of God, but eagerly hope for it.

In the meantime, as Peter instructs us, we should grow in maturity and a deepening knowledge of Jesus Christ (vs. 18).  We should be growing spiritually, renewing our minds in the Word, and learning more truth about God.  If every day we find some way to draw closer to Jesus, we will be prepared to stand for His truth in any and all circumstances.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Revive Us Again!

 Psalm 85

As we look back on this past year, which is rapidly coming to a close, most of us would agree that it has been a difficult year for just about everyone.  A global pandemic, bringing death to many, and the resulting lockdowns causing the loss of jobs and financial hardship and even ruin to multitudes.  There have been riots across the country, and the destruction of businesses, homes, and private property resulting from them.  There has also been political turmoil and division, with groups of people unable to even be civil to each other.  One wonders what has become of peace, of mercy, truth, and goodness or decency.  As we read through our psalm for this week, the psalmist speaks of the Lord bringing these virtues back to His people.

There have been difficult times all throughout history, and the people of Israel had their fair share of them.  This was mainly due to their own sin and disobedience to the Lord God.  As the psalm begins the writer tells how the Lord turned around the bad fortune of His people (vs. 1-3).  Throughout their history, because of their sin, God had sometimes allowed the enemies of Israel to overrun either the whole country or various parts of the land.  Frequently when this happened some of the people were taken into captivity, most notably by the Babylonians.  However, when our psalm was written the Lord was forgiving His people, and bringing them back to their land.

Life must still have continued to be difficult, as the psalmist seemed to feel that God was still angry with His people (vs. 4-5).  He questioned whether God would be angry with them forever, as from his perspective, it might seem like that.  Now he is praying that the Lord will turn His anger away from them.  When we are going through an extended difficult time, it might feel like God is angry with us forever, too (vs. 5).  We then pray, too,  like the psalmist did, for God to show us His mercy (vs. 7).

Like we do today, the psalmist was desiring mercy, truth, peace and God’s righteousness, goodness and decency in his land and among the people.  He wanted to see days with God’s goodness, and not feel like His anger and wrath were upon the land.  The psalmist knew that when God’s anger came, it was because of the people’s sin, but it was still difficult to live through.  So what was the solution?  It is the same as today, and that is that the people need a great spiritual revival (vs. 6).  The people then, as now, were spiritually weak, spiritually ill, many even spiritually dead, yet feeling that they were alright.  They were just going through the motions of their faith, but their heart was not in it.  Just as a physically weak or ill person needs a jolt of health to improve, so the people then, and people today as well, need a spiritual revival.  Spiritual revival restores us to a right relationship with God.  It also returns us to a place where we can delight in Him, and celebrate His goodness, love, and mercy.

The psalmist knew this, and he pleaded for God to revive His people, bringing them back to spiritual life.  Periodically there have been great revivals in many countries.  When this happens we see a proliferation of the virtues the psalmist desires (vs. 10-11).  When revival happens, then people show mercy to one another, rather than being out for their blood.  God’s truth abounds, along with His righteousness.  When there is a spiritual revival, when people turn back to the Lord and are on fire for Him, He will pour out His love and goodness upon us (vs. 12).  There will be peace among people.  As the psalmist says, mercy and truth will meet together, and righteousness and truth will kiss.

As believers, we should pray as the psalmist did, for the Lord to send revival to His people.  It is only when we have a great revival in the Church, that the conditions in the world will have a chance to improve, bringing God’s mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace.  

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Comfort Ye My People

 Isaiah 40:1-11

Every time I read the beginning of this passage of Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, I immediately think of Handel’s Messiah.  When I read the first four verses, I almost always have the music playing in my mind as background accompaniment, in my mind hearing a strong tenor voice singing the verses.  Let’s look deeper into this passage, one which inspired Handel enough to include it in his beloved oratorio.

As our Scripture passage from Isaiah opens, God is speaking to His people, telling them He wishes to bring them comfort.  They had been punished by God for their many sins, and for turning away from Him.  When they repented and returned to faithful worship, He wished to bless them (vs. 1-2).  True and genuine repentance must precede divine consolation.  God will bring His comfort to those who have a saving relationship with Him.  To those, He will bring hope in the midst of suffering.   The seeds of comfort are often sown in the soil of adversity.  We often must face adversity, but we can have God’s comfort as we face it.  We find comfort and encouragement in God’s Word and in His presence.

As Isaiah continues, he instructs the people to be preparing their hearts and lives for the coming Messiah and Savior (vs. 3).  We need to remove all obstacles from our hearts for the coming Messiah through repentance from the sins in our lives.  John the Baptist was the official fulfillment of this role of preparer for Jesus the Messiah.  He reminded people of this need for repentance (Matthew 3:1-2).  Jesus, Himself, did the same (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15).

Isaiah speaks of a time when the mountains are brought low, and the crooked paths are made straight (vs. 4).  Our problems can seem like very high hills, or even like mountains. From our perspective they seem large and insurmountable.  However, when we spend time worshipping and praising God, and bringing our problems to Him in prayer, we climb to higher ground, and the problems don’t seem so huge.

The prophet continues on, reminding his audience that our lives here on earth are fleeting and comparatively brief (vs. 6-8).  Our strength and ability might seem impressive, but it is short-lived.  It is when we are at the end of ourselves that God offers us His comfort and strength.  All of humanity is transitory, here today and gone tomorrow.  Thus, we should not be trusting in our own power or ability, nor in wealth (James 1:9-11).  However, as Isaiah reminds us, God’s Word abides forever (vs. 8).

God’s Word is eternal and unfailing.  Public opinion is changing and unreliable, but God’s Word is constant.  Over the centuries critics have attacked the Word of God, but it is still standing.  They have died, but the Bible remains.  Their words are forgotten, but God’s Word is still changing lives.  We can depend on the trustworthy Word of God.

When hardships arise, we need a solid foundation on which to stand.  Our own feelings can lead us astray.  However, God is faithful and unchanging.  We can trust His promises.  The Bible is the actual Word of God.  It is truth.  It never changes.  When we believe and rely on it, we will have a sure foundation to base our lives on.

Our Scripture passage opened with God promising to bring comfort to His people, and now as Isaiah closes this portion of Scripture here, he shows us the comforting image of God caring for His people like a shepherd cares for his flock (vs. 11).  The Lord promised His people that He will be their Shepherd, guiding us in our daily lives and giving us comfort.  God is our Shepherd, caring for and guiding His flock.  He is powerful, yet careful and gentle.  We can know His gentle tender care when we are anxious, and seek His love and peace.  We know He is our Good Shepherd, holding us close to His heart, and carrying us in His everlasting arms.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Alert And Watching

Mark 13:24-37 

I do not like winter.  I don’t like the cold temperatures, nor the ice and snow.  Where I live, in the Chicago area, winter is a long season, arriving early and usually staying well past when the calendar says it is spring.  Because this is my least favorite season, I keep an active lookout for signs of coming spring and warmer weather.  I eagerly look for that first robin, and for the beginnings of leaf buds on the trees.  These are all signs that spring is on her way.  There may still be another snowstorm, but once these signs start to appear, we know it won’t be too much longer.  In our Gospel reading to close out this first week of Advent Jesus instructs us to also be on the lookout for signs of something even more desirable than the coming of spring.  Let’s look into our Scripture passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and it is only days before He will be betrayed to His enemies.  During this time the disciples asked Jesus about future events, including His coming kingdom, and when this will happen.  Jesus described some of the events that will occur prior to His return, and what the signs of His coming will be.  Just like there are things that I look for every winter to show that the cold and snow should be leaving soon, there are things that will show that Jesus’s return will be soon.  And when He returns, the world will see Him coming with power and glory (vs. 26).

People may wonder how Jesus will return to earth.  Scriptures tell us that Jesus will return to earth in the same manner in which He left (Acts 1:9-11).  He left in the clouds, and will return the same way.  God uses the clouds as His chariots (Psalm 104:3).  While Christ possesses great power and glory, His return will be accompanied with visible manifestations of that power and glory.  He will redeem the believers, restore the devastated earth, and establish His rule on earth.

When Jesus returns He will send forth His angels to gather together all the saved believers (vs. 27).   The believers will come “from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth”.  This signifies that there are believers throughout the whole world.  They come from all nations, all ethnic groups, and from all language families.  There are believers from everywhere on earth, and the Lord will send His angels to gather them all to Him.

Throughout this chapter, and in other places in Scripture, the Lord gives us things that we should be looking for that indicate that His return is coming.  Just as we look for signs of the coming spring after a long, hard, cold winter, we need to be alert to signs indicating Jesus’s imminent return (vs. 28-29).  During these weeks of Advent, people start getting ready for the coming Christmas holiday.  They decorate their homes, address Christmas cards, do shopping, and plan menus.  Many of the Scripture passages from the Lectionary and read in church during Advent urge us to be ready for the coming of the Lord.  

As Jesus continued His talk with the disciples, He proclaimed the infallibility and eternality of God’s Word (vs. 31).  It is impossible for God’s Word to be negated, destroyed, or altered in any way.  People have tried for centuries to eliminate the Bible, but they have never succeeded.  They are gone, but God’s Word remains.  Even if the earth passes away, the truth of God’s Word will never be changed or abolished.  God and His Word are the only things that are truly stable and can be relied upon.

Another thing that Jesus instructed His disciples about is that no one knows the exact date when He will return (vs. 32).  Every so often we hear about some preacher who has somehow come up with a date when Jesus will come back.  However, they must not be very Biblically literate, as Jesus plainly stated that no one knows that date.  The time of Christ’s return will not be revealed in advance to any man, or even the angels.  We need to be spending time in preparation, and in telling our family, friends, and neighbors about Jesus, not in trying to calculate dates.

In closing, Jesus gave a warning for believers to be on guard (vs. 33-37).  He told us to watch, a call to stay awake and be alert, looking for approaching signs and warnings.  He tells us to be in prayer, as well, as we always need God’s assistance.  Are we in eager anticipation for Christ’s return, just as a child is for Christmas, and the winter-weary are for spring?  Jesus tells us to watch!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Are You A Saint?

I Corinthians 1:1-9 

What comes to your mind when you think of the word “saint”?  First might possibly be the holy people that some Christian denominations honor, whose statues or pictures we might find in their buildings.  We might also think of a particular person we know who is especially good and devout, that rare person who seems to be almost perfect.  Most of us, though, would not fall into the category of saint, or so we think.  However, that is not what the Apostle Paul says.  In our Scripture passage for today, from his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul calls the believers there “saints”.  Let’s take a look at what he says.

The word “saint” in English comes from the Latin word “sanctus”.  That is also where we get the word “sanctified”, which means something set apart as holy for God.  Everyone who has come to Jesus for salvation and had their sins forgiven is set apart as holy, is sanctified, is a “saint”.  We tend to think of saints as special, as super-holy people.  Some Christian denominations like to remember particularly godly people who have passed on as “saints”.  That is okay, as their lives can inspire us to follow their example.  However, we all are saints according to the Biblical use of the word, if we have accepted the Lord Jesus as our personal Savior.

Paul called the believers in the church in Corinth saints.  However, if we take a closer look at that church through the reading of his letters to them, many of those Corinthians had behavior that would scarcely be considered saintly!  Many of them were an unruly bunch.  That church had its share of problems, including sexual sins and some sharp dissension among some of the members.  Some of them were taking each other to court.  They fought with each other over all sorts of matters, such as arguing over whose spiritual gifts were better than others.

When addressing this group of believers, Paul said that they were “called to be saints” (vs. 2).  God personally calls each of us to be citizens of His eternal kingdom.  We are called to be “saints”, to be “sanctified”, to be “holy”.  We are called to be set apart for His service.  Paul’s aim in his letter to the Corinthian church, with their significant problems, was to bring their actions and lifestyle into closer harmony with God’s expectations for those He has made His own.  Because we are called to be saints, we should be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

We may wonder how we can live a life that is sanctified, that is holy for the Lord.  As Paul continued his Epistle, he told the readers that when we get saved, the Lord gives us everything that we need to live for Him (vs. 5).  We have everything that spiritually we will ever need.  We need to pray for God to bring forth what we need when we need it.  God distributes His spiritual gifts to believers when they get saved, and they help to build us up, give us knowledge, help us to become sanctified and holy, and help to edify the church (vs. 5 - 7).

When Jesus returns, the believers will stand before Him blameless, sanctified, and holy (vs. 8).  That will not be because of our great ability or shining performance, but because of what Jesus accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.  All who believe in Jesus will be considered blameless when He returns.

In addition to being called to be saints, we are called by God into the fellowship of His Son.  That fellowship is achieved when we accept Jesus as Savior (vs. 9).  God is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9).  He has promised to take care of us, and He will.  He cannot lie, and He never changes.