Saturday, December 30, 2023

God's Holy Name

Exodus 34:1-8

One week after Christmas the world celebrates New Year’s Day.  In the Christian calendar, one week after the birth of the Savior, we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus.  This is because eight days after His birth, Mary and Joseph would have brought the infant Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised, and at this time He would have been officially named.  Names are very important, and many parents take a lot of thought and consideration before they pick the name of their baby.  They want a name that has a good meaning, and perhaps characteristics that they wish their child to have.  Jesus was given His Name by the angel who appeared to both Mary and Joseph at different times before His birth (Luke 1:31; Matthew 1:21).  Today’s Old Testament Scripture is a passage where the Lord God proclaims His Name to Moses, and through him, to the people of Israel.

As our Scripture opens the Lord instructed Moses to cut out two new tablets of stone so that He could replace the original stones where the  Ten Commandments had been written on.  Moses had broken them in a display of anger when he saw the people of Israel taking part in idol worship and an orgy of sin.  The Lord called Moses back up on Mount Sinai.  This was to be a special, holy occasion, and no other person or animal was to come anywhere near.  Moses obeyed, made two new tablets, and came back up the mountain (vs. 1-4).

While upon Mount Sinai the Lord descended in a cloud of glory and proclaimed His Name, Yahweh, to Moses (vs. 5).  The Lord also proclaimed some of His characteristics to Moses.  These characteristics tell us more about what the Lord is like, in addition to His Name.  When we hear someone’s name mentioned, we often think of some specific characteristics about that person, either good or bad.  You hear this person’s name and you think of how kind and compassionate they are.  You hear another name and you think of the lies they told.  Another name and you think of a bitter, angry woman. Our personality and characteristics further describe us in addition to just our name.  This is why many new parents take such care when selecting a name.  They won’t pick a name that means “stupid boy” or “ugly woman”!

As the Lord God passed before Moses, He proclaimed that He is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, good, and truthful (vs. 6).  When describing Himself, God didn’t list all of His great accomplishments.  People often do that if asked to describe themselves.  They talk of their job, their university degrees, how many awards they’ve won, etc.  Instead, the Lord told of His character, not in a bragging way, but showing who He truly is.  God’s glory is His character, His nature.  It is revealed to us by His great mercy, His grace, compassion, faithfulness, forgiveness, and His justice.

God is merciful and gracious, but He is also just in His punishment of the guilty (vs. 7).  This is something that many people do not like to think about, and sometimes even deny.  Some modern preachers refuse to preach about this, and even sometimes deny it from the pulpit.  They like to focus solely on God’s love and compassion, and never on His just punishment of sin.  We cannot just portray God with only our favorite attributes.  When the Lord proclaimed His Name and characteristics, He listed both His loving and merciful ones, along with stating that He will not clear the guilty and sinful person who does not repent.  We may portray ourselves or our loved ones with just one or two favorite characteristics, and we often do that with the Lord, however that is not giving an honest picture of who He truly is.  We must worship all of God, not just what we like.

Some people look at verse 7 and say that God is not being fair or kind in His treatment of some people by punishing them for the sins of their forebears.  However, that is not what this verse is really saying.  God isn’t punishing a sinner’s children or grandchildren for what dad or grandpa did.  Instead, God is saying that one’s children and grandchildren will suffer from the fall-out of their sins.  When a gambler throws all of his money away in Las Vegas, his children and possibly grandchildren will suffer.  They are not exempt.  When a parent commits adultery, the whole family suffers.  This is even more clearly shown by the suffering of the alcoholic and drug addict’s family.  Children also frequently learn and copy the sinful behavior of their parents, thus carrying it down for often multiple generations.  Good and godly behavior and blessings are also frequently carried down for generations, as well.

When Moses heard the Lord God Yahweh proclaim His mighty and glorious Name and attributes, he did the only thing he could possibly do, and that was to bow down and worship Him (vs. 8).  As we begin this new year, let us celebrate the day that the Lord Jesus was officially given His Name, bow down and worship Him.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Jesus Gave Himself For Us

Titus 2:11-14

Christmas week is coming to a close.  All the presents have been given and received.  Did everyone like the presents that you gave them?  We always hope so.  It is unfortunate if we give a gift that we feel we have carefully chosen, only to have it rejected, especially if it is callously rejected.  Our Scripture for today is a brief one from the Apostle Paul’s letter to his friend and colleague Titus, and speaks of the gift that God has given to us, given to us on that first Christmas day, but which so many people have rejected.

In our Scripture passage we read that Jesus gave Himself for us (vs. 14).  He was the gift that God gave, grace incarnate, God’s gracious gift to fallen man.  Sometimes we receive a gift and wonder what it is for.  Paul explains that the purpose of Jesus being given was to redeem us, to pay the penalty of our sins.  We were redeemed and saved from sin and purified for Himself to become His special people, His children.

Does this mean that since God gave this gift for everyone, that everyone is saved, that everyone will receive the benefits of salvation, including a place in heaven?  The answer to this is no.  Just like you might have given a gift to someone, only to have them refuse or reject it, so it is with the gift of Jesus Christ that God gave to mankind.  There are multitudes all around the world in every country, all throughout history, that have rejected God’s gift.  This Scripture passage, and other similar ones, do not back the false teaching of “universal salvation”, the belief that everyone will be saved and go to heaven.  The truth is that though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to cover every sin of everyone, one must believe and accept Jesus as their Savior.  Salvation becomes effective only through faith  Only those who believe will be saved.

Imagine, if you will, that I was rather wealthy, and that I was going to give ice cream to everyone in Chicago, where I live.  In order to get that ice cream, though, each individual person must come by me, ask for, and then receive the gift of that delicious treat.  If they don’t come by and ask me for it, they don’t receive it.  I provided the ice cream, it was available, but only those who asked for it received it.  If they didn’t, they lost out.  God provides salvation for everyone, but in order to receive it one must accept Jesus as their personal Savior.  If they refuse Him, if they ignore this specific provision for salvation, they are not saved.  Salvation is available to everyone, but not everyone will be saved, because some will reject the provision God offers.  After death it is too late.  No one gets saved after death.  We may like to think that everyone will be saved and get to heaven, it may make us feel good, but sadly it is not the case.  Multitudes refuse Jesus, right up to their death, and after death it is too late.

Salvation is transforming, and produces a new life in which the power of sin has been broken (vs. 12).  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to live as a Christian, and obey God’s commands.  Jesus’ death rescued us from sin’s control.  He gives us the power and understanding to live according to His will.  In order to do that we must deny, or say no to sin and its temptation and control, and say yes to actively living for God.

We also see in this Epistle to Titus very clearly that Jesus is God.  We see this when Paul calls Him “our great God and Savior” (vs. 13).  Many deny the Trinity, including some who call themselves “Christians”, claiming that Jesus is just a “good man”, a “good teacher”.  However, Jesus is divine, is God, the Second Person of the Trinity.

In closing, Paul reminds us that for those who have accepted God’s gift of His Son, we are not only free from the sentence of death for our sins, but we are also purified from sin’s influence as we grow as a Christian (vs. 14).  The death of Jesus on the cross atoned for every sin, past, present, and future, but only becomes effective, operative, and beneficial to those who believe and accept Him.  God gave that gift to you.  Have you accepted it, and claimed Jesus as your Savior?  Do so today, before this year runs out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Majesty Of God

Psalm 97

One psalm that is often read in church services at Christmas time is Psalm 97.  This psalm proclaims the awesome majesty of the Lord God.  During Christmas time we focus on the little Baby Jesus, lying in a manger, but this psalm reminds us that, though Jesus was born into this world as a tiny human baby, He is, and always was, the mighty God of heaven and earth.  Let’s take a quick look into Psalm 97.

The psalmist opens with a proclamation that the Lord, Yahweh, is King (vs. 1).  He reigns, not only in Israel, among the Jewish people, but He is King over all the earth, over all Gentile people and pagan gods.  Looking at the world today, with all the political turmoil going on in so many countries and places, it is good to remember that God reigns over all the earth.  Various presidents and kings, dictators and military leaders may think that they hold ultimate power.  We may get worried that this or that person may get elected or re-elected as president or prime minister, but we need have no fear, as the Lord reigns.  This world belongs to Him.

As our psalm continues, the psalmist paints a picture of God’s awesome majesty as shown through the powerful forces of nature (vs. 2-6).  When I read in verse 2 that “clouds and darkness surround Him”  my mind pictures some of the amazing photographs taken by some of the high-powered telescopes of galaxies and nebulas way out in the universe.  I picture the “Pillars of Creation” found in the Eagle Nebula, or the “Mystic Mountain” found in the Carina Nebula.  Clouds like that surround the throne of Yahweh in heaven, showing His unapproachable holiness.  Mankind is unable to find Him on their own.  It is only through the Blood of Jesus that we can approach God.

Living in the Chicago area, we get frequent strong thunderstorms during the spring and summer.  I will often go out on the front steps and watch the storms, with the dark cumulonimbus clouds, thunder, and lighting.  Fire and lightning show His incredible power (vs. 3-4).  The whole earth trembles before Yahweh.  His power and majesty is so great that it can even cause the mighty mountains to melt or crumble in His presence (vs. 5).  Nature doesn’t bow to any of the other false, pagan idols, nor can any human rulers claim power over the forces of nature.  In the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus there will be no false gods or religions allowed (vs. 7).

In the middle of this psalm of praise to the Lord, a psalm that describes His great majesty and holiness, the psalmist stops to speak a brief comment to us readers, which we find in the beginning of verse 10.  Here all of us who love the Lord God are told to hate evil.  Some people say that we should never hate anything.  There are some who say one should never even use the word “hate”.   Yet right here in God’s Word, we are told to love what God loves, and to hate what He hates.  In order to know what He loves and what He hates we have to get to know Him.  The only way to truly know God is to read His Word, the Bible.  In His Word we discover what is good and what is evil.  Believers should never play around with anything the Bible says is wrong, is a sin, or is evil.  We should never make excuses for it, or even keep it near us.  If we want to please God, and all Christians should, we need to align our desires with His desires.  If we love the Lord, we will hate what is evil.  As our love for Him grows, our distaste for anything that dishonors or displeases Jesus should increase.

Verse 10 also is another verse that declares the eternal security of the believer.  The Lord preserves the souls of His saints.  He will guard, keep watch, and protect the souls of believers, not only in this life, but in the life to come.  Once we belong to Jesus, we are His forever!

In closing, we are told that we need to rejoice in the Lord.  Whenever we think of the Lord Jesus and all that He has done for us, such as coming to earth as our Savior at Christmas, we should give thanks to His Holy Name.

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Son Is Given

Isaiah 9:1-2, 6

Merry Christmas!  Most of us have already given and opened our gifts by now.  Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birthday.  Usually it is the one whose birthday it is who gets the presents.  However, as we read in today’s Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, God gave us a gift, a very special gift.  This gift is described in this short, brief passage.  What is this gift?  Let’s take a quick look into our Scripture.

As Isaiah opens in verses 1-2, he speaks of people who are in darkness.  He is not speaking of a physical darkness, as if they live where there is no sunshine.  Isaiah is speaking of spiritual darkness.  The people the prophet is talking about are in spiritual darkness and the shadow of death.  In verse 1, Isaiah spoke of the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, which were in the far north of Israel, in an area called Galilee.  These were the people he was speaking of as being in darkness.  When the ten northern tribes split into a separate kingdom, they very quickly fell away from the Lord into terrible idolatry and spiritual darkness.  These were the ones that Jesus would spend the larger part of His ministry with, and bring His saving light to (Matthew 4:15-16).

This is a dark world, overrun with violence, greed, rebellion, and anguish.  Ever since the Fall, which brought sin into the world, we have been dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death.  In a time of great darkness, God promised to send a light.  God’s mercy sent Jesus to dispel the darkness of sin.  No matter how dark it gets, believers are not forsaken.  The Light of Jesus continues to shine for us.

In verse 6 Isaiah proceeds to describe the gift that God gave us.  The prophet speaks of a special Child, a Son that was given.  Isaiah further describes this Child as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

Jesus is the Child that was born, the Son that was given that Holy Night in Bethlehem.  Jesus was both born and given.  The Lord declared that “a child will be born” signifying a human birth.  Yet at the same time “a son will be given”.  God gave His Son so that those who believe in Him would receive eternal life.

The first Name that Scripture calls this special Child and Son is Wonderful Counselor.  Jesus is exceptional, distinguished, and without peer.  We can come to Him in prayer when we need help, and He is there to guide in the right way.  Jesus is the Word, and He is the One who gives the right counsel.  Yahweh is a Triune God, and in the Gospel of John we read where Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, spoke of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, as the Counselor or Helper (John 15:26; 16:7-15).

This Child will also be called Mighty God.  Jesus, the Son who was given, was also revealed to be the Mighty God when the angel of God came to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:23).  Jesus told the disciples, Philip specifically, that He was One with God the Father (John 14:9).  We read the same in the opening verses of the Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:1-3).  Jesus, the Messiah, is not just a great teacher or leader.  He is God Himself, incarnate.

The next Name given is Everlasting Father.  How can the Child, the Son, also be the Father?   This was another indication in the Old Testament of Yahweh being a Triune God, being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is one with the Father, as He is called both Child, Son, and then Father in the same verse.  As the everlasting Father, Jesus is timeless.  He had no beginning, and will have no end.

The final Name that Isaiah gave is Prince of Peace.  Jesus was born 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 it possible for us to have peace with God (Romans 5:1).  Sin broke human relationships, however Jesus made possible peace with others.

Jesus was the gift that God gave to us that first Christmas Day.  A gift of the Son of God, a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  If you do not know Jesus as your personal Savior, today would be the best day to call upon Him to save your soul.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Shepherds Of Bethlehem

Luke 2:1-14

Christmas is upon us.  This devotional is being posted on Christmas Eve, and thus I will try to keep this a bit shorter.  The Scripture reading is the very familiar Nativity account found in the Gospel of Luke.

Many of us have a Nativity set that we place in our house sometime during the month of December.  Among the figures we usually find a shepherd or two, as Luke’s account includes the angel's announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.  Most of us don’t encounter shepherds in our day-to-day life, and those who raise sheep today are probably quite different from those who did so in Bible times.  At the time of Jesus, shepherds were considered among the lowest of the low in society.  They were generally uneducated and poor.  Most of the year they lived outdoors among the sheep they tended, and thus they and their clothes were often dirty, and probably smelly, as well.

Most societies, both back then and today, have a social order, where some people are considered higher, more socially acceptable, and there are others who are lower in rank, and tend to be shunned by “better people”.  Unfortunately there are even some churches where this uncharitable behavior goes on.  It was the same in Biblical times, and the shepherds were down towards the bottom, not much higher than lepers.  They were treated as outsiders, and usually not welcomed to come worship in the synagogues or especially in the Temple in Jerusalem.  However, Jesus welcomed people who were regarded as unclean and outsiders - the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and at His birth, the shepherds.

God didn’t announce the birth of Jesus to the Pharisees or the other religious leaders.  Nor did He announce it to King Herod or to Caesar.  He didn’t announce it to the snobbish, social elites in Jerusalem or the country club crowd.  God chose to announce the birth of the Savior to the shepherds (vs. 8-12).  The message that the angels gave the shepherds was that they would find the Savior, the Son of God in a manger, wrapped in simple swaddling clothes, not in a palace in a warm cradle, attended to by nurses and maids.  They were to go and find Him.  They would be welcomed at His side, there was room for them there.

The angels brought them, and all of us, a message of peace and goodwill (vs. 13-14).  This good news is for all people, all nations, people of every social ranking.  However, God’s peace is only for those on whom His favor rests, meaning those who have accepted Jesus.  God’s peace is not a reward for those who have good will, but it is a gracious gift to those who are the objects of His good will, the saved.

Christmas is the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Though we don’t know exactly what day He was born, this is the day that was chosen to celebrate.  Christmas should be a birthday party for Jesus.  And though a large part of the world celebrates Christmas with gifts, trees, and Santa, only a few include Jesus in their celebrations.  Imagine having a birthday party, but the Guest of Honor is not invited.  Not only is He not invited, so many get angry if He is even referred to.  How many around the world want to have Christmas without Jesus, want to keep Him out?! We see Christmas displays with brightly decorated trees, Christmas lights, plenty of Santas and elves, but sadly Jesus is kept out.  Most Christmas cards don’t even show Him.  And yet it is His birthday!

As you celebrate your Christmas, be sure to include Jesus in the celebration.  After all, it is His birthday, and He should be the Guest of Honor!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Point Others To Jesus

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Throughout the season of Advent, a lot of focus is often put upon John the Baptist.  That is generally because a good part of this fiery preacher’s message was to foretell the imminent coming of the Messiah, which is what we await during this season of Advent.   Our Gospel reading for this week speaks of John the Baptist, and gives his responses to some people who came to question him.  Let’s take a look.

The Gospel of John was not written by John the Baptist.  It was written by the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ disciples, and the son of Zebedee.  He, along with his brother James, and Peter, were among Jesus’ closest companions during His ministry.  When the Gospel writer speaks of “John”, he is not referring to himself, instead he is speaking of John the Baptist.  He introduces John the Baptist here, saying that this was a man who was sent from God, that his ministry and message had God’s blessing upon it (vs. 6).  John the Baptist did not come in his own name, giving his own personal message and opinions.  He was divinely sent, and he was bearing witness to the coming Messiah (vs 7-8).

John the Baptist’s message caught the attention of many people.  Many of those were people who were genuinely seeking God, responding to John’s message of repentance.  Others, though, were there to question him and his message.  They wanted to know exactly who he was, and where he got his message from.

Most of John the Baptist’s ministry took place by the Jordan River, maybe an hour’s walk east of Jerusalem.  Word of his preaching, the message, and his baptizing quickly reached the religious leaders and the Sanhedrin (the governing body of the Jews) in Jerusalem.  Who was he?  They had not heard of him before, nor reviewed any of his credentials.  They immediately sent out some representatives to question him, and find out more about exactly who this guy was (vs. 19-27).  The Sanhedrin didn’t want anyone preaching who might cause any trouble with the Roman authorities, who occupied and governed Israel.  The Pharisees, who felt they were like the guardians of the faith,  also wanted to keep an eye on anyone who was popular.   They certainly didn’t want to lose any of their power and hold over the people spiritually.

These messengers sent to check out this new, strange, oddly dressed, no-nonsense preacher asked him some questions in order to find out more about him.  They needed some words to bring back to Jerusalem. They quickly came to the point and asked John who he was.  John immediately answered that he was not the Messiah (vs. 19-20).   Considering the hard-hitting and straightforward message that John brought, some may have thought that he was, but he immediately confessed that he was not.

Then, considering how he was dressed in camel’s hair and leather clothing, they wondered if he might be a reappearing of the great prophet Elijah (vs. 21).  The last of the Old Testament prophets spoke of God’s promise that the prophet Elijah would return before the Messiah established His earthly kingdom (Malachi 4:5).  The angel who had appeared to John’s father before his birth had said that John the Baptist would go before Jesus in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17).  Jesus also later said that John was the Elijah that had been prophesied about (Matthew 17:10-13).  John had the same type of ministry and personality of Elijah.

They next asked John if he was the Prophet (vs. 21).  This is in reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18.  God promised to raise up a great prophet like Moses, to function as His Voice.  John rightly answered no, as this applied to Jesus (Acts 3:22-23, Acts 7:37).

John answered them back that he was the one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord (vs. 22-23), referencing Isaiah 40:3.  The Pharisees became indignant that if John wasn’t the Messiah, nor the Prophet, nor Elijah, what right did he have to be baptizing (vs. 24-25).  The Pharisees always felt that they were the religious elite, but John didn’t care.  He did what God called him to do.  He was also a very humble man.  His baptism was a temporary symbol of the true, abiding, and effectual baptism of the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (vs. 26-27).

There are many preachers who want the spotlight to be on them.  They want their name to be big and bold, big headlines announcing their coming.  They want books with their picture on it, going on tours, signing autographs, etc.  That was not John the Baptist.  He didn’t want the spotlight.  He had God’s message, and he faithfully gave it, but he wanted the spotlight and attention to go to the One who would follow him.  John knew, and we need to also know that we are not the source of God’s Light (vs. 8).  We merely reflect that Light, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.  Jesus is the true Light.  Be a Light reflector, helping others see their way to God, and how to walk.  Like John, point others to Jesus.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do you want to know the will of God for your life?  Most of us would say that we do.  God has a specific will for each of us, and then a more generalized will for everyone.  The more specific will might be that He wants you to go into a certain career, who to marry, or not marry at all, or where to live.  We learn that through prayer and looking for the Lord’s direction and leading.  The Bible, though, is filled with verses that tell us His more generalized will for all of us.  Today’s Scripture is one such passage.  It is only three verses, and a total of 21 words, 5 in just the first two verses.  God’s message in this passage is short and to the point, but very important for us to pay attention to.

There are three instructions here that the Apostle Paul gives us, that as believers we should be doing.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything.  These may seem simple enough, but are worth looking into more closely.

The first instruction Paul gives us is to rejoice always (vs. 16).  It is just two short words, 13 letters in the New King James Version.  John 11:35, “Jesus wept”, is the shortest verse in the English Bible, and consists of 9 letters.  However, in the original Greek, I Thessalonians 5:16 is the shortest.  In the original Greek the verse in I Thessalonians is 14 letters, whereas the verse in John is 16 letters.  It’s not a contest, though, just a bit of Bible trivia.  Jesus wept, He suffered so that we could rejoice evermore.  We can rejoice because He took our sins.  We can rejoice because we are never alone.  We can rejoice because of our hope of heaven, which Jesus promised all those who call upon Him.  Christians can rejoice because, no matter what happens, we are forgiven and saved.

The second order that Paul gives is to pray without ceasing (vs. 17).  Praying continually doesn’t mean being on our knees all day.  It means maintaining an attitude of prayer, though not always praying audibly.  We need to have a mindset that God is always there.  Having a prayerful attitude will acknowledge our dependence on God.  We can pray frequent, spontaneous and short prayers to Him throughout the day.

Talking with God throughout the day invites Him into even the smallest details of our life.  Even though He knows all, we receive blessings because we will feel His presence throughout every day.  The Lord wouldn’t tell us to pray if he were not going to respond.  If we want God to respond, though, we must meet some conditions.  We must have a right relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior.  We must make right requests, and we should pray specifically and with confidence.  Nothing is too small to share with Jesus.

Lastly, Paul instructs us to give thanks in everything (vs. 18).   We do not necessarily need to be thankful for everything, but definitely in everything.  When something bad or evil happens we can be thankful for God’s presence, and for the good that He can accomplish in the situation.  We should give thanks to God in all circumstances.  He can use the worst circumstances we go through for our good when we love Him.  No matter what we are dealing with, God is always present, always loving us, and always providing for us.

If we see God in all things, we are better able to give thanks.  Our hearts should be grateful to Him, even when we face difficulties.  He is intimately involved in our circumstances.  If we are Christians, and we love God, He will work everything out for our good (Romans 8:28).

Focus on the good instead of the bad.  That will help us develop an attitude of gratitude.  Being grateful is a choice, and it can help change our perspective in life.  Choosing to be grateful in every situation can keep our hearts filled with joy.  It opens us up to receive God’s blessings.

Paul shared that these three things were God’s will for every believer, and things we should be putting into practice every day.  Our joy, being in prayer, and showing thankfulness should not fluctuate with our circumstances.  The more we walk closely with Jesus, the more we will be thankful, the more we will converse with Him in prayer, and the more joy we will have in our life.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Release From Captivity

Psalm 126

Have you ever been held captive?  Most of us would probably answer no.  We haven’t been enslaved.  Most of us haven’t been kidnapped or held hostage, or even been imprisoned.  However, there are other ways to be held captive.  Our psalm for this third week of Advent speaks of being set free from captivity.  Let’s take a look.

Psalm 126 is one of fifteen psalms who are part of the Songs of Ascent, which were psalms said by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem.  Our psalm today, though, was written to celebrate the return of the Jewish people to their homeland following many years of captivity in Babylon (vs. 1).  Most of these people would have been born in captivity, and known no other life than one in the Babylonian Empire.  They would only know about their family’s homeland and the city of Jerusalem through the stories their parents and grandparents would have told.  Perhaps some of the elderly might have memories of living in Judah or Jerusalem, but they were likely young children at that time.

Now they all were returning to their family homeland, and it was like a dream for them (vs. 1).  No one would have expected that the emperor would have given a royal decree stating that the Jewish people could return, but that is what Cyrus did.  This was a dream come true!  This was a cause for celebration and for praise to the Lord (vs. 2-3).

Seventy years earlier the people had been forced out of their homes in Judah.  Their cities, including Jerusalem, were burned, and they were taken to Babylon.  That was a time of tears and great sorrow.  Now they were returning with great joy.  Before they were weeping, now they were rejoicing (vs. 5-6).

What brought about their captivity?  Was it because their armies just weren’t up to the ability to fight off the Babylonians?  Was it because their generals weren’t sharp and shrewd enough to devise good battle plans?  No, that wasn’t the reason.  All throughout the Old Testament we read how the prophets warned the people that if they didn’t stop worshiping the false gods and religions of the neighboring nations, He was going to punish them, and they would be overrun.  The people had sinned.  They had felt that the pagan gods were just as good as their God, and joined in worship of them.  It was sin that brought them into captivity.  However, God was not going to forsake them, and after a period, He brought them back into their homeland.

This is where we can take a look at ourselves.  Before we came to the Lord Jesus we were all held captive to Satan and to sin.  We may not have felt like we were, but we were under sin and Satan’s power.  However, when the Holy Spirit opened our eyes, and we turned to the Lord Jesus, calling upon Him to save us, we were set free.  Our tears and weeping turned to rejoicing.

Are we still being held captive by anything?  Though we may be saved, all too often we still harbor sin in our life.  Is their sin in our life that has us in custody?  We might not realize it, or even want to acknowledge it, but the sins we continue to hold on to can hold us captive.  In our lives, we can let little, or sometimes even big sins creep in and begin to wrap their chains around us.  There are the “big” sins that we know can keep us in their power, such as drugs and alcohol abuse, along with other things like pornography.  We can also be held captive by any number of other sins, like anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, gossip, slothfulness, etc.  We are also in sin when we put anything ahead of the Lord Jesus, or mix the worship of Him with anything else.  We can be held just as captive as the ancient Israelites were in Babylon.

We don’t need to stay in this captivity, though.  By returning to the Lord, confession, and repentance, we can be set free from any captivity sin and Satan has us in.  We can be revived just like a desert after the rain.  When we return to the Lord from a captivity in sin, others will notice the change in us.  Our experience may have had sorrow, but we can use it as a witness to others, bringing joy when they, too, turn to Jesus.  Our tears can be seeds that will grow into a harvest of joy, because God is able to bring good out of tragedy.  Be patient, God’s great harvest of joy is coming.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Coming Kingdom

Isaiah 65:17-25

We hear so much on the nightly news about crimes, about wars, and then environmental problems and natural disasters, it’s no wonder that many of us just yearn for a day when those problems will be no more, and there will be a perfect world.  Some people, particularly non-believers, might scoff that such a time will ever come.  However today’s Old Testament reading for this Third Sunday of Advent speaks of just such a time coming.  Let’s read the message that the Lord gave to the Prophet Isaiah.

This portion of Scripture takes place at two different times.  Verse 17 takes place at the end of the Millennium, when Satan is permanently defeated, and cast into the lake of fire.  At that time God will create a new heaven and a new earth.  However verses 18-25 speaks of the time during the Millennium, and gives a more detailed account and some more information than given in the Book of Revelation.  During this time following the Tribulation period, after the Antichrist and those who followed him and rejected Jesus are destroyed, mankind will live peacefully with each other, and sin will not rear its head until the very end of the Millennial period.

When Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom here on earth, the capital where He will set up His throne and rule from will be Jerusalem (vs. 18-19).  Jerusalem has known terrible sorrow and grief for multiple thousands of years.  David had conquered Jerusalem, taking it out of the hands of the Canaanites, specifically the Jebusites.  Over the next several hundred years it came under attack by the Assyrians and other neighboring kingdoms but held strong until it finally fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.  From that time on it was ruled by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and over a dozen different Muslim Caliphates, with little or no peace to the city or region.  In 1948 the Jewish people regained control over Israel and Jerusalem, but there hasn’t been peace since then, either.  Now there will be no more sorrow for that great city or its inhabitants.

One sad thing we hear about today, and have for ages, is people dying prematurely, either from illness, disease, accidents, or killings.  We hear on the news of children and young people being killed in the cities.  We also hear of childhood cancer and other diseases that cut their lives short.  It is equally tragic when young adults die prematurely from illness or accidents.  However, verse 20 tells us that in the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus this will no longer happen, and long life will prevail.  Someone dying at the age of one hundred will seem like a youth dying, and people may assume that they were accursed, and it was due to sin.

Another blessing of the Millennial Kingdom is that mankind will get to enjoy the benefits of their labors (vs. 21-23).  Today, all too often what we work for, and our personal belongings, can be taken from us due to theft, repossession, or even during wartime.  We can be cheated of our rightful salaries by corrupt, tyrannical bosses who keep the company profits, and not even pay their employees a living wage.  Jesus promises us that we will live in the house that we build, that we will get to enjoy the benefits of our labors, and not someone else.

Occasionally we hear of a person being severely injured or killed by a wild animal, or even once in a while a domestic animal.  Many people have been traumatized by bad experiences with some animals, and are now afraid of them.  And we know, of course, that animals will kill other animals.  During this time that Isaiah describes, any danger from the animal world will be non-existent (vs. 25).

In closing, we are given a very precious promise in verse 24.  Here we read that during the Millennium, Jesus will be so close to us, that He will answer us before we even call on Him.  He hears us before we even finish our prayer to Him.  We don’t have to wait for the Millennium for that, though.  God is that close today to all who have accepted Jesus as Savior.  He hears, and will answer His children before we even put forth our prayers.  Jesus tells us that God knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8).  That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t have to, or shouldn’t bother praying.  We are encouraged to pray (Psalm 50:15), and to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Isaiah has given us a picture of the glorious Millennial Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, and it is certainly a place that one would like to abide in.  Not everyone will make it there, though.  In order for that to be your home one day, you must have a personal relationship with God, and have accepted His Son as your Savior.  I know that I can look forward to dwelling in His Kingdom one day.  Can you?

Friday, December 15, 2023

A Faithful And Fearless Messenger

Mark 1:1-8

If you have an important verbal message to give to many, naturally you are going to be very careful about who you entrust to bring that message.  Not only do you want that messenger to be reliable, you might want someone who you would think would be well-received by the group.  Since it is a verbal message, they can’t just drop off the paper and run.  So you might want someone who would look well and give a good impression.  And then you might want them to be careful how they phrase the message.  In today’s Scripture from the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark, we see who the Lord entrusted with an important message, and how His choice in the messenger was different from what many people’s choice today would be.

Mark opens his Gospel with introducing John the Baptist, the prophet the Lord used to proclaim the imminent coming of the Messiah.  This messenger from the Lord was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.  Mark quoted from two Old Testament Scriptures to describe what this messenger’s task was to be (vs. 2-3).  He quoted Malachi 3:1, and also from Isaiah 40:3.  It had been revealed to John the Baptist that the Messiah was coming soon, very soon, and that the people should get their lives in order for His arrival.  By telling the people to “make a straight path” (vs. 3) John was telling them that they should give up their selfish way of living, renounce their sins, seek God’s forgiveness, and establish a relationship with Almighty God by believing and obeying His Word, the Bible.

In addition to giving the message of repentance from sin, John also baptized people as a sign of their repentance (vs. 4).  He called on all people, from the highest in the nation to the lowliest, the whole nation of Israel, to repent.  John the Baptist’s baptism was not the same as the baptism that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 28:19, which was in the Name of the Trinity, and is a testimony of one’s faith and trust in Jesus for salvation.  John the Baptist’s baptism was one to indicate one had confessed and repented of their sins.

The phrase “for the remission of sins” in verse 4 should more accurately be translated “because of the remission of sins”.  Baptism itself does not bring forgiveness.  True confession and repentance does.  The act of baptism does not save anyone.  It never has and never will.  The people were baptized because they had already repented in their hearts.

Preaching about sin and the need for repentance is never a popular subject.  It wasn’t back in the days of the Bible, and it certainly isn’t today.  Being sent to bring such a message wasn’t going to win John the Baptist too many friends, but he faithfully gave God’s message, and a good amount of people did respond to his words and were baptized.  However, most of the Pharisees and religious leaders did not.  When a preacher today brings up sin, not too many people are willing to hear that.  Many churches will let the preacher know that he should change his topic or he will soon be without a pulpit to preach from.  If the media hears that some preachers are speaking out against certain sins, they are quite likely to get “canceled”.  None of that stopped John the Baptist.  The Lord gave him a message, and he was going to deliver it!

John the Baptist distinguished himself from the other religious leaders of his day (vs. 6).  He lived in the wilderness, possibly in a tent or hut, or even in a small cave.  The Pharisees and religious leaders loved their luxurious homes.  John wore garments made of rough camel hair and leather, whereas the others wore linen and silk.  John ate simple food found in the desert - locusts and wild honey.  The religious leaders would frequently dine at fancy banquets. They were filled with pride, but John knew he was only God’s messenger (vs. 7-8).

Who would you send to deliver your message?  Many of today’s preachers have tossed aside the message that God gave in the Bible for one of their own.  They want the favor and good-will of the people in the congregation, so they preach something to tickle their ears, which is definitely not a message of sin and repentance.  Preaching against some sins might get them in trouble, so they steer clear in favor of public opinion.  They also dress to please the people, wearing the latest fashion trends, and they have enough entertainment and popular music bands to bring in and satisfy the crowds.  That was not the type of preacher that John the Baptist was.  He didn’t care about popular opinions, winning the approval of the elite, or fear being “canceled” for what he said.

John the Baptist was the one that the Lord chose to prepare the way for His Son, Jesus Christ.  He knew that John would faithfully and fearlessly deliver His message.  Are we willing to bring God’s message just as faithfully and fearlessly to a world deep in sin?

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Keeping The Promise

II Peter 3:8-13

Waiting for someone or something is an activity that most people don’t particularly enjoy.  Few people, myself included, like to wait in traffic.  As someone who enjoys reading, I always make sure that I bring a book along most anywhere I go, especially if I expect to be sitting in the waiting room of a doctor.  Even that name, waiting room, can be irritating.  Frequently, though, waiting is necessary.  We wait for test results, for special days to come, and we wait for promises to be fulfilled.  Our Scripture today speaks of a promise that we are waiting to be fulfilled.  Let’s see what this promise is, and what will happen when the promise is fulfilled.

In various places of the Bible, we read of the promise that Jesus will return to earth again, and the coming day of judgment.  Christians look forward to the return of the Savior, longing to see the Lord Jesus, but it never seems to come.  The Apostle Peter wrote the Scripture we are reading today, and he addressed this question.  Even though it was only a few decades following the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, people in Peter’s day were beginning to wonder if this promise would be fulfilled.  Now we are in the final weeks of 2023, and it’s been two thousand years.  Has God forgotten about the promise?

Peter opens our Scripture by explaining that God understands Time much differently than man does (vs. 8).  God is outside of our realm of time, our marking of minutes, days, and years.  He transcends our timeframes.  As Peter said, one day is as a thousand years to God, and a thousand years as one day.  To Him, the two thousand years that have passed have been just like a couple of days.

Even though we may understand that God’s time is not our time, we still may wonder why He is taking so long, why His promise is so slow in coming.  God is not slow.  As Peter continues to explain, Jesus is waiting so that more sinners will repent and turn to Him (vs. 9).  His desire is that people will turn to Him for salvation, but unfortunately not all will.  Man was given free will, and though many have accepted Jesus, so many more have refused.

God is not loitering or late.  Unlike us, He has an immense capacity for patience.  He desires to give more time so that more people will have the chance to repent of their sins and to turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation.  However, that patience does have a limit, and when it has been reached, He will come in judgment.  Those who do perish on that day of judgment and who are sent to hell, do so because they have rejected the only remedy, that being faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

That day when the Lord Jesus returns will come suddenly, unexpectedly, and catch people by surprise, just as a thief coming in the middle of the night does. (vs. 10).  If people knew when the thief would arrive, they would be ready and prepared.  The same is true for the people on earth when Jesus returns.  It will be disastrous for those who are unprepared for Him, for it will be too late.

On that Day of the Lord, there will be great cataclysmic occurrences on earth and in the sky (vs. 10).  Knowing that He is coming again, and that it will happen unexpectedly, and knowing the great events that will be occurring then, Peter gives us a warning (vs. 11).  He gives a challenge for Christians to conform their lives to God’s standards in light of the reality of the coming judgment and eternity.  Christians need to live their lives separate from sin, and in a spirit of reverence.

People we know may fail to keep their promises, especially as time passes since the promise was made.  However, a Divine Promise is certain to be fulfilled.  God made us the promise that He will return, and we can be assured that He will, but like Peter said, it will happen like a thief in the night, suddenly, unexpectedly.  Are you ready and prepared, or slacking off?  Time is short, and there is important work to do for the Lord before He comes.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Revive Us Again!

Psalm 85

Many years ago I used to watch a couple of TV shows that focused on telling stories of people who were sick or injured, and how they were rescued and restored to health.  Sometimes the characters in these accounts seemed almost dead.  One wondered how they would ever be able to survive, yet they were revived.  Our psalm for this week speaks of being revived.  What is the Lord speaking about in this psalm?  Let’s take a look.

The dictionary definition of the word “revive” is to restore to life or consciousness, to regain life or strength, and to give new strength or energy to.   When someone is very sick or injured, perhaps even near death, and then the paramedics and doctors restore their health, we can say that the person has been revived.  Those shows I watched only dealt with the physical condition.  As serious as it may be to need to be revived physically, there is something even more important than that.  That is the need to be revived spiritually, which is what our psalmist prays for in our psalm.

For this discussion here today, let’s say that there are three types of people in the world, three types physically and also three types spiritually.  There are the physically healthy, physically sick and/or injured in various degrees, and the physically dead.  There are also the spiritually healthy who are the ones which are saved and living their lives for Jesus.  There are the spiritually sick or unhealthy, who have strayed and drifted away from the Lord and a close walk with Him in varying degrees.  And there are those who are spiritually dead, who have never accepted Jesus as their Savior, and either follow false religions and teachings, or don’t even believe in God.

When we are healthy and in good physical condition, all is fine.  We’re doing good.  However, sometimes we get sick and we need to see a doctor.  We may have a medical emergency at home or somewhere, or perhaps we get injured, and the paramedics are called.  Depending on how serious the situation is, how sick or injured we are, the doctors may or may not be able to revive us.  If they pull that white sheet over us, revival did not happen.  Then we are physically dead, and there is nothing anyone can do for us then.

There are some Christians who are living very godly lives.  They are walking closely with the Savior.  They read and study their Bibles daily, pray, and follow what the Lord wants them to do.  They are spiritually healthy.  Then we find some Christians who are drifting away from the Lord.  Their Bible reading drops, their church attendance drops.  They start doing things, saying things, watching things, and going places a Christian shouldn’t.  They are backslidden, or spiritually unhealthy and sick.  Then we also have the spiritually dead.  The difference between the physically dead and the spiritually dead is that the spiritually dead can be revived and become spiritually alive as long as they are still physically alive.  After that there is no more hope.

Our psalmist cries out to God, pleading with Him to restore the people, to revive them again (vs. 4, 6).  Many of the people of Israel, perhaps even the majority, had strayed far away from the Lord.  They tossed His Word aside, and many were now worshiping false idols, in addition to pretending to also worship Yahweh.  A lot of them were spiritually dead, and most of them were spiritually sick.  They all needed to be restored and revived.  We see a similarly dire situation today.  There are so many people who make a profession of faith, but have drifted away from the Lord and His Word.  Then there are the multitudes of lost people.  Both need the Lord to revive them.

How can we be revived again?  With physically sick people, they need to get the medical attention they need with a doctor and hospital.  They need to take the medicine required, and follow the doctors orders for treatment.  To be spiritually revived, one first needs to be sure they are saved, by accepting the Lord Jesus as Savior.  Then they need to be in a church that believes in and preaches the Word of God (like the right hospital), and reading their own Bible at home (like the right medicine).  Just as we know that some behavior is risky for our health or safety, there is plenty of behavior that is risky for our spiritual health, and will end us right back in the condition that will require more spiritual revival.  We all could use some spiritual revival to some degree or another, just like we all need to get periodic physical check-ups, exercise, and take vitamins.

In closing, I am reminded of a story I heard of the 19th century hymn writer William MacKay.  He had been brought up in a Christian household, but in his youth and young adulthood had drifted far from the Lord, so far that one day he pawned for spending money the unread Bible his mother had given him.  Eventually MacKay became a doctor, and one day a dying man he was attending cried out for “his book”.  A nurse brought the dying man the book.  Later MacKay asked what book it was, and then to his surprise he found out that it was the very Bible his mother had given to him years earlier, as she had written a note to him on the inside cover.  That night he returned to the Lord he had strayed so far away from, and later wrote the well-known hymn “Revive Us Again”.  Like the psalmist centuries earlier, William MacKay, and all of us today can cry out to the Lord for Him to revive us and rekindle a flame of devotion to Him in our hearts.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Speak Comfort To Jerusalem

Isaiah 40:1-11

Every year during the month of December one can find concerts and choruses playing Handel’s Messiah.  Larger churches often have performances, along with universities, community orchestras, and choruses.  You are also likely to hear it played on your classical music radio station, possibly several times during the month.  Our Old Testament Scripture for this second Sunday in Advent comes from the Prophet Isaiah, and the first five verses are also the opening Scripture words that Handel used in his beloved oratorio.  Let’s take a quick look at these familiar verses.

Though the prophet Isaiah preached many years before the Babylonian captivity, some of his messages looked into the future to give comfort and encouragement to those yet to come, those who would live in those dark days.  Judah was facing years of adversity to come, but God wanted His servant Isaiah to speak comfort to them (vs. 1-2).  Even though the exile was yet in the future, God promised that He would not forget or lose sight of His people when they were in adversity.  The seeds of comfort may take root in the soil of adversity.  We may not escape adversity, but we may find God’s comfort as we face it.

The Hebrew word for comfort in verse one is “naham”, and has both the meaning of comfort or compassion, and also to repent or be sorry.  True repentance must precede divine comfort and consolation.  When God speaks that He will comfort “My people”, He is speaking of those who are in a covenant relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God is the Creator of all and loves everyone, desiring they be saved, but only those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior are His children, His people, as the Apostle John clearly states in His Gospel (John 1:12).

As our Scripture continues, Isaiah prophesies of one whose voice is crying in the wilderness for mankind to prepare the way of the Lord (vs. 3-5).  John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy.  Each of the four Gospels states this (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).  In ancient times, monarchs and other important people would often send heralds before their arrival in other cities, in order for them to get things prepared, and the roadways to be smooth and free of obstacles.  We sometimes see this even today.  If a city knows a foreign head of state is coming, they are quick to fill in the potholes, and clean up the trash and graffiti!  Both Isaiah and John the Baptist preached that we need to do that with our hearts and lives to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

Isaiah proceeds to warn us that our life is transitory (vs. 6-8).  We are here today, but gone tomorrow, just like the grass and flowers in the fields.  We never know when our last moment will be.  Are we prepared to part this life and meet God?  Also, throughout our life, who are we depending on?  Are you sure they will be there tomorrow?  Even material things are not guaranteed to be there.  Ask anyone who was depending upon the stock market, and then their stocks came crashing down in value!

However, there is one thing that we can always be sure of, and that is God’s Word (vs. 8).  God’s Word is eternal, unfailing, and constant.  It is Truth, and it never changes.  When the Bible says something, we can be certain that it will happen.  The Bible enables us in all circumstances, so we have a sure foundation on which to base our lives and decisions.  If we are anchored in God’s Word, we will not drift.  The Bible will stand forever!

Our Scripture continues as Isaiah tells those who bring God’s good news to go up to the high mountains and proclaim it with a loud voice (vs. 9).  If a messenger is on a mountain, and shouts out his message with a loud voice, it will echo out and many can hear him.  We have the good news of Jesus, and salvation through Him.  That is the best news that people can hear, so we need to tell it out, just like someone on the mountain with his voice echoing all throughout the valley.  Like Isaiah said, lift up your voice with strength and don’t be afraid.

Jesus’ first coming was in peace, to bring salvation.  However, at His second coming, He will come in judgment and in power to defeat His enemies (vs. 10).   However, God is as gentle and loving to His children, to His flock, as a shepherd is (vs. 11).  Are you a part of His flock?  If not, do not hesitate to turn to Jesus today and call upon Him as your Savior.  Then you can receive His comfort, and be gathered in His arms like a beloved lamb.

Friday, December 8, 2023

The Second Coming Of Jesus

Mark 13:24-37

Advent is the period in the Church calendar of the four weeks prior to Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, His first coming to earth.  It is a time when we prepare, not only for Christmas celebrations, but also our lives for His Second Coming.  Our Gospel reading that closes out our first week of Advent comes from the Gospel of Mark, and speaks of events that occur at the very end of the Tribulation period, right before when Jesus returns at His Second Coming.  Let’s look at what this Scripture has to say.

Jesus gave this teaching in the city of Jerusalem, during His final week of life, just a day or two before His crucifixion.  Jesus was teaching about the events of the End Times, and what He describes in our verses here will occur right prior to His return at the end of the Tribulation.  As one reads through various portions of Scripture that detail the Tribulation period, it is quite evident that this is not a good or happy period.  There are wars with huge numbers of death, there are diseases, natural disasters, and terrible persecution by the Antichrist and his supporters.  The whole world seems to be out of whack, and not only the world, but the whole universe, as we read (vs. 24-25).  There are astonishing and overwhelming cataclysmic events that will happen in the sky and outer space.  It is a very chaotic time.

Right when these events occur, Jesus said He will return in the clouds, with power and glory (vs. 26).  Jesus left in the clouds, as we read in Acts 1:9-11.  The angels told the disciples then that He would return once again in the clouds, and so we see that the Savior says that is how He will return at His Second Coming to earth.  The first thing that the Lord Jesus said He would do when He returned would be to send His angels to gather together all the believers (vs. 27).  Though right prior to the Tribulation, at the time of the Rapture, the believers on earth at that time are caught up into heaven, many numerous people will come to faith in Christ and be saved during the seven years of Tribulation.  Many will be martyred during that terrible time, but there will be those who survive to the end, and Jesus sends His angels to gather them together.  Angels are God’s gatherers.  They gather believers for glory here, and just a little later in this chapter we read that they gather the unbelievers for judgment (Matthew 13:41, 49-50).

For countless years, Christians have wondered when the return of Jesus will occur, and many false teachers have tried to set dates.  However, as He tells us in this passage, no one knows the date.  But, Jesus does say that we can know when the time is approaching.  We are entering wintertime here where I live in Chicago, and I really dislike winter a lot!  I eagerly look forward to spring’s arrival, and look for the signs of its approach, such as the first robin, signs of some spring flowers, and the buds appearing on the trees.  Jesus told His followers that just as we see signs of coming spring, and then the full leaves on the trees when summer approaches, when we see the events He described in chapter 13, we know that His coming is near (vs. 28-29).

No one, not even the angels know the exact day and time of His return, so certainly none of the false preachers do, who run around setting dates (vs. 32).  Jesus said that at the time of His speaking then, that He didn’t even know the date.  Jesus was, and is, fully God.  When He became a man, He voluntarily restricted the use of certain divine attributes (Philippians 2:6-8), one of them being foreknowledge of things like this while He was here on earth.

We can trust that the words Jesus spoke here are true and will one day happen.  Many people scoff at these prophecies, especially as 2,000 years have passed already since Jesus spoke them, and they still haven’t happened.  However God’s Word is true and reliable, and will never pass (vs. 31).  Heaven and earth will one day both pass away, but not the Bible.  It is impossible for God’s Word to be negated, destroyed, or altered in any way.  Even when the earth passes away, the truth of God’s Word will never be changed or abolished.  God and the Bible provide the only stability in our unstable world.

Jesus closed this Scripture by warning all of us to be watchful and alert for His return (vs. 33-37).  Are we prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus?  Do we place the same importance on preparing for His return as we do on other events in our life?  We prepare for graduations, weddings, birthdays, and other holidays, and that is all fine.  But how about something that is far more important than those, like the return of Jesus?  We should not postpone getting prepared for that, as we do not know when He will return.  Be on guard, watch, stay alert.  Look for the signs of His approach.  Pray.  We have a constant need for God's assistance as the day draws closer.  Will He catch you spiritually ready or asleep?  What would you want the Lord Jesus to catch you doing when He comes?

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Called To Be Saints

I Corinthians 1:1-9

What has God called you to do, to be?  Some feel that the Lord has led them to be doctors, nurses, teachers, or any number of noble professions.  Some Christians, though, might be puzzled and unsure of what they believe the Lord has called them to do with their lives.  We can’t just open up the Bible and look at any specific chapter and verse, and read where God says, “John, I want you to become a …..” or “Mary, I want you to do …..”.   However, in the Scriptures there are several passages where we can read where God has called all of His children to something specific.  We find one such passage in our Scripture for today.

Today’s Scripture is the opening verses of the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Right away in Paul’s greeting, the Apostle says that the Corinthian believers were “called to be saints” (vs. 2).  The word “saints” in the Greek is “agios”, which means “holy one”, “sacred”, “consecrated”, and “saint”.  The word “saint” comes from the Latin word “sanctus” or "sanctum", from which we also get the word “sanctified”.  When something or someone is sanctified it has been set apart from everything else for God’s purpose and use.  So Paul was saying that the members of the church in Corinth were called to be set apart for God.

Who were the people in the church of Corinth?  There were some members of the church there who were involved in some rather serious sins, including sexual sins, fighting among each other, and lawsuits between each other.  That is hardly the behavior we would associate with saints!  However, God’s Word here says that these folks were each “called to be saints”, to be sanctified and set apart for God’s use.

That wasn’t a calling specifically just for the Corinthians.  Paul says in that same sentence that all, that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord Jesus, are called to be saints.  That includes each one of us today.  This is a calling that everyone of us have.  We might not all be called to be pastors, or missionaries, doctors, or lawyers, but we each are called to be saints, to be holy and set apart for God’s use.

How can we be saints?  That seems like a very tall order.  However, as we continue on in this passage, we read that God has equipped us with all that we need to fulfill His calling in our life.  First, He has given us His grace and peace (vs. 3).  Grace is the beginning of all blessings that we have through Him.  They all come to us through His grace.  Peace is the end result of all of the blessings we have through Him.  God the Father is the source of every good gift and every perfect gift through Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross (James 1:17).  Paul told the Corinthian church that they were enriched in everything through the Lord Jesus (vs. 5-7).  They had godly knowledge, and every spiritual gift that was available.  The Corinthian believers were no more blessed or special than any other believers, either then or today.  When we are called by the Lord to do what He wants, He will equip us to fulfill that calling.  And since we all have been called to be saints, to be sanctified and set apart for Him, we are able.

Sometimes some Christians feel ill-equipped to witness or speak up for the Lord.  We read here in this passage that God has blessed or enriched each of us “in all utterance” (vs. 5).  This word refers to speech or speaking, doctrine, or teaching.  We might not all be called to be teachers.  Not all of us have that gift.  However, each of us can depend upon the Lord to give us the right words to say when the need arises for us to give a witness to someone.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say when we need them (Luke 12:11-12).  Believers who trust and rely on the Lord will be able to speak when God wants them to, because of His enablement.  He provides us with all the knowledge we need in order to speak effectively for Him.

As Paul closes this passage, he reminds us that God is faithful (vs. 9).  He is faithful to equip us to be sanctified and set apart for Him.  He is faithful to provide us with all that we need to carry out His purpose in our lives.  God does not lie.  What He says He will do, He always does it.  He keeps every single one of His promises.  The God who leads us is ever faithful.  Turn each fear and worry over to Him, and discover His strength to be sufficient for us.  The Lord is sovereign and unchanging, and we can be assured of all of His graces and promises to us.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Lifeless Idols

Psalm 135

Have you ever been to a wax museum?  In some of the better ones, the statues look quite life-like.  You half expect them to start talking and moving.  Imagine a young man or woman who wants to find a spouse, and so they commission a wax figure artist to make a wax figure to just their specifications, just the right hair color, eye color, size and shape.  And then maybe to go with it, a wax baby to complete their desired family.  Though they may look like the perfect spouse, they just stand in one spot.  You can’t talk to it and get a response.  They can’t sympathize with your difficult day, can’t help with any chores, or go to dinner and a movie together.  Though you wouldn’t have to change the baby’s diaper, neither can you have the joy of hearing their first word, or seeing their first step.  There is no pride in seeing their accomplishments as they grow.  These wax figures just stand there and do nothing.  We would think there is something wrong with the person who would pick that for their family.  And yet as we look into our psalm for today, we see how people who worship pagan gods and their idols are no different.  Let’s look further at this psalm.

As we read through this psalm, the unknown psalmist contrasted  the greatness of God with the powerlessness of idols.  The pagan nations surrounding Israel worshiped idols, while God’s people worship Yahweh, the living God.  These heathen nations would set up their idols throughout their countries, and cry out to them for rain, sunshine, and safety from other natural disasters.  They would plead with the idols for a fruitful harvest.  However, these idols could do nothing.  The gods that these stone and wood statues represented didn’t even exist.  They had no power over creation.  Yahweh, the one true God, is the Creator of heaven and earth, and all that is therein (vs. 6-7).  He alone controls all of creation.

The pagans would also set up their wooden and stone idols and cry out for the false gods to deliver them from their enemies.  Again, this was a futile activity.  The stone and wood could not deliver them.  These false gods could never save or deliver.  Only the Lord God can (vs. 8-12).  The psalmist reminded the people that the Lord is the One who delivered them from Egypt and brought them to the land of Canaan.  Who are we turning to for help in our life, whether in minor problems, or major, life-threatening issues?  Anyone or anything other than the Lord God is as useless as a stone or wooden idol or a wax statue!

The psalmist proceeded to highlight the complete and utter folly of worshiping these pagan idols (vs. 15-18).  These idols were carved out of wood or stone, sometimes even precious metals and gemstones.  They were made by man, and are a created object, not the Creator Himself.  The artisan would carve a mouth, eyes, and ears, but being a rock or piece of wood, they could not see, hear, or speak.  They would sit or stand wherever they were placed.  They could not move around.  They are as helpless and useless as the wax figures mentioned earlier.  Yahweh is infinitely superior to these imaginary gods of the foreign nations, and to the idols that today’s heathen religions worship.

One thing that the psalmist noted is that people become like the idols they worship (vs. 18).  People will take on the characteristics of whatever they worship.  Those who worship idols are as blind and insensitive as the idols themselves.  They don’t see or hear what God has to say.  What has first place in our hearts?  Are we so devoted to that object, activity, or person that we begin to worship it?  Slowly, or even not so slowly, we will become like what we worship.  If the true God is our God, we should be becoming more like Him.

In closing, it pleases the Lord to do good, to show mercy, and to bestow His grace on those who worship Him.  Nothing can stop Him.  He treasures those who are His children, and gives His love and mercy to all those who have accepted His Son as their Savior.  Praising God reminds us who He is, so that we do not fall into the trap of idol worship.  Do you want a relationship with the one true God, or do you want to rely on wood and stone, something as worthless and lifeless as the material they are made from?  Come to the Lord Jesus Christ today, the One and only true God!