Our Covenant-Keeping God.

1 For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord‘s land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them. – Isaiah 14:1-2 ESV

These two short verses may be short, but they are overflowing with significance. And yet, it is easy for us to read them and gloss over what they say – not so much about Israel, but about the God of Israel. They speak volumes about the character of God. In the midst of all the warnings concerning Judah’s coming judgment and the future fall of Babylon, God recommits Himself to keep the covenant promise He made to Abraham.

When God called Abraham out of Ur, He had told him:

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And God led Abraham from his homeland to a new land, the land of Canaan. And when Abraham arrived in this new land, God made another promise to him:

“To your offspring I will give this land.” – Genesis 12:7 ESV

God would later reiterate and expand on that promise.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

Years later, when Abraham had been living in the land for some time, God told Him:

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” – Genesis 15:1 ESV

But Abraham had responded with doubt and a bit of confusion. He knew the promises God had made to him, but he also knew that they were going to be impossible to fulfill, because he and his wife Sarah remained childless.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’”And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir. – Genesis 15:2-3 ESV

As far as Abraham could see, God’s promise remained unfulfilled and, based on their circumstances, would most likely remain so. nd Abraham’s doubt was from unfounded.

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. – Genesis 18:11 ESV

There were both very old and, on top of that, Sarah was barren. Not exactly the most conducive circumstances in which to watch God work. But God was undeterred and stood by His original commitment. In fact, He reiterated it again.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God was going to do the impossible. The advanced years of Abraham and Sarah would be no obstacle for Him. Her barrenness would prove to be anything but a problem. God would do what He had promised to do and He would do it in a great way.

But then, along with the good news, God revealed to Abraham some bad news.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

God broke the news to Abraham that his many descendants would end up slaves in a foreign land for a period of 400 years. How do you think that set with Abraham’s understanding of the promise of God? How was he supposed to digest this bit of sober news and reconcile it with God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to his offspring as a possession? But notice that God told Abraham that, after 400 years, they would return to the land. And we know from the book of Exodus, that God kept that promise.

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:5-7 ESV

Yes, they ended up in Egypt. And there were only 70 of them when they arrived. But it didn’t take long before they had increased their numbers significantly. So much so, that the Pharaoh became fearful of them and devised a plan to deal with them.

“Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” – Exodus 1:9-10 ESV

Even under the oppressive actions of the Pharaoh, the people of God continued to multiply. And God, after the 400-year time period had passed, sent His servant, Moses, to set His people free. God had chosen to fulfill His promise to give Abraham as many descendants as the stars in the sky by sending them to Egypt. It was there that their numbers increased dramatically, under the provision and protection of the Pharaoh. It was only when their numbers grew to such a degree that they caught Pharaoh’s attention, that the persecution began. But God had a plan for that as well. He would set them free and return them to their land. And, long after they had escaped from their slavery in Egypt, God would remind the people of Israel:

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 NLT

This story of God’s unfailing commitment to His covenant promise to Abraham flows all throughout the Old Testament. The people of Israel eventually made it back to the land, where God gave them victories over their enemies and allowed them to possess the land He had promised to Abraham. He had increased their numbers while they were in Egypt, so that they would prove to be a formidable force when they arrived in the land. There was a method to God’s seeming madness. His ways are not our ways. He does things according to His divine will and in ways that sometimes make no sense to us. But God had told Abraham:

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

Now, years later, God was speaking through Isaiah to the people of Judah. He was addressing the southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They were in the midst of turmoil. They had enemies aligned against them. They were making allliances with pagan nations in the hope they would protect them. And God was warning them of His coming judgment against them. But here in chapter 14, He reminds them of His covenant faithfulness.

“For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land.” – Isaiah 14:1 ESV

In all the darkness of their circumstances, God sheds the light of His mercy and the hope of His covenant faithfulness. The people of Judah would eventually fall to the Babylonians and end up living as slaves in a foreign land. But like He had done with the people of Israel in Egypt, God would return the people of Judah to the land. Unlike the group that left Egypt, the number of those who would return to the land from Babylon would be small. They would be a remnant. But they would return. And they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, reconstruct the temple of God, and reinstitute the sacrificial system.

God paints a picture that depicts the tables as turned. Rather than being slaves, the nations will serve the people of Judah. In fact, God speaks of a restored nation of Israel, a recombined and reinvigorated nation where there will no longer be a northern and southern kingdom

…the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord‘s land as male and female slaves. – Isaiah 14:2 ESV

This is extremely important, because it reveals an as-yet-to-be-fulfilled aspect to this promise from God. While a remnant of the people did eventually return from captivity in Babylon, they never regained the former glory they had enjoyed under the reigns of David and Solomon. They would prove to be an insignificant player on the global stage and would find themselves constantly at the mercy of their enemies. Eventually, they would fall to the Romans and find themselves living under the heavy hand of the Caesar.

But the point in all of this is that God will keep His covenant promise to Israel. He will regather them to the land. He will reestablish them as His covenant people. He will one day restore their fortunes and redeem them from their slavery to sin. Because He is the covenant-keeping God. And the apostle Paul speaks of that coming day.

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Our God Reigns.

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,

“Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation 19:1-10 ESV

At the close of chapter 18, the angel of God extended an invitation to all those in heaven to rejoice over the fall of Babylon.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” – Revelation 18:20 ESV

But this was not a call to gloat over the demise of an earthly kingdom or over the destruction of those who lived in it. This was to be a celebration of God’s vindication of His people. Notice what the angel said: “God has given judgment for you against her.” They were to rejoice because their God had stepped in and stood against the forces of evil – all on their behalf. And as we begin chapter 19, we see that the angel’s invitation to celebrate and rejoice was eagerly taken up by those in heaven. John says that he immediately heard the sound of many voices, a great multitude, coming out of heaven, and they were singing the praises of God.

There are five songs contained in the first 10 verses of this chapter. The first four look back on the destruction of Babylon, recounting the city’s downfall, but celebrating God’s display of salvation, glory and power. The main emphasis of these songs is God’s vindication of all those who had suffered martyrdom as a result of Antichrist’s reign. And his rule and power are symbolized by his governmental headquarters in Babylon, which God brought to a devastating end. If you recall, all the way back in chapter six, John had seen, under the altar in heaven, the souls of all “those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Revelation 6:9 ESV), and they had been crying out:

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – Revelation 6:10 ESV

Well, their prayers have been answered. God has avenged them, and all those in heaven rejoice at the faithfulness of God. They call on all those who fear Him to praise Him. Four separate times, we hear the phrase, “Hallelujah!” coming out of heaven. In the Greek it is hallēlouïa, and it literally means “Praise the Lord.” It is only found in this chapter and nowhere else in the New Testament. It is frequently used in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and is usually associated with God’s punishment of the ungodly.

Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
    and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord! (Hallelujah) – Psalm 104:35 ESV

What a contrast we see between the songs of rejoicing emanating from heaven and the mourning of those who had placed all their hope in the false religion of the Antichrist and the immoral commercial and political system he established on earth. Back in chapter 18, John was told that the kings of the earth would weep and wail over Babylon’s fall. The merchants of the earth would weep and mourn over her demise. And even the sailors, who benefiteds from shipping the vast amounts of commercial goods that flowed from her gates, would mourn the loss of this great city, calling out, “What city was like the great city?” (Revelation 18:18 ESV). But in heaven, there would be nothing but singing and celebration over the fall of Babylon the Great.

The second song sung by the heavenly host celebrates the finality of Babylon’s fall. “The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 19:3 ESV). In other words, the city’s destruction at the hands of God is complete, eliminating any possibility that she should ever rise to power and prominence again. Babylon’s long and less-than-illustrious history of rebellion against God will be brought to an ignominious end.

While the people on earth had showered their praises on Antichrist and on his capital, the praises in heaven are reserved for God alone.

“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    small and great.” – Revelation 19:5 ESV

And isn’t this the whole point of the book of Revelation? It paints the vivid and disturbing picture of God’s judgment against a world that has refused to praise and honor Him for millenniums. The apostle Paul outlines the problem in the opening chapter of his letter to the Romans, clearly indicting the world for its refusal to honor God as God and choosing instead to offer their praise to anything and everything but God.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:18-23 ESV

The book of Revelation chronicles what happens when the world finally turns its back on God completely and finally. We have seen the visions of God’s judgments falling on rebellious humanity and, even under the fierce nature of His wrath, they stubbornly refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as God. The city of Babylon becomes the icon of man’s rebellion against God and, with its destruction, God signals the coming end to all sin and rebellion against Him. In short order His Son will return, to put the finishing touches on the divine plan to eliminate sin from the earth once and for all.

And the final song John hears echoing from the realm of heaven has to do with the coming marriage supper of the Lamb. With the fall of Babylon, one of the most long-awaited and eagerly anticipated events in human history can take place. On the night that Jesus was to be betrayed, as He celebrated His final Passover meal with the disciples, He told them, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29 ESV). Jesus was letting His disciples know that there was going to be a delay, a period of time before He would celebrate over a meal with them again. He was referencing the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. After His resurrection, when He appeared to them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He ate fish with them. But there is yet another meal, still to come, and it will be shared in His Kingdom – His Kingdom on earth.

In a traditional Hebrew wedding, there are three major parts. First, the marriage is consummated by means of a contract. This is pictured in God calling unto Himself all those who He chooses as His own. Next, the day comes when the bridegroom, accompanied by friends, goes to the bride’s house and escorts her to his own home. This is reflected in the rapture, when Christ returns for His bride, the church, to take her to be with Him in heaven, His home (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). Then, the final phase of the wedding celebration takes place: The wedding feast. And this is what the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is all about. Christ will return to earth and set up His Kingdom and, when He does, He will celebrate with His bride, the church.

It is important to notice the words of this final song.

“Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready.” – Revelation 19:7 ESV

The voices are referring to the bride of Christ. This is a clear reference to the church and not Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel was often referred to as the wife of Christ, but as a nation, they had proved unfaithful and adulterous. That is a big reason for much of what happens in the book of Revelation. God is bringing judgment on the sinful world, but also on rebellious Israel. But He will restore them. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is a reference to the church and the final phase of the marriage ceremony. The bride is described as being ready, being dressed in “fine linen, bright and pure.” And John lets us know that these garments symbolize the righteous deeds of the saints. This is not a reference to their sinlessness while on earth, but to their glorification as a result of His return for them at the rapture. When Christ returns for His church, believers will experience immediate glorification, their final transformation into the likeness of Christ. In his first letter, John explains that the day is coming when we will be like Christ.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2 ESV

And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that our transformation into His likeness is His doing. It is He who sanctifies us and it will be He who presents us to Himself as spotless and sinless, dressed in garments of righteousness.

25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. – Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV

John is told by the angel, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). There will be countless guests at this wedding feast. This will include the Old Testament saints as well as all those who will have been martyred for their faith during the days of the tribulation. These guests will be blessed because they will witness the faithfulness of God as His Son consummates His marriage covenant with His bride. Everything God has promised for the church and for the people of Israel will be fulfilled. And that is great cause for rejoicing.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Genesis 5-6, Matthew 3

Judgment and Mercy.

Genesis 5-6, Matthew 3

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. – Genesis 6:5-6 NLT

We have been introduced to Satan, who helped bring sin into the world. But we have also been made aware of the “seed” who will prove to be more than a match for Satan, someday defeating him, and bringing an end to his reign and rule on earth. The purpose behind the genealogy of chapter 5 of Genesis was to link the one to come, who would fulfill the curse on Satan, all the way back to Adam. The coming “seed” or offspring of Adam would be a man, a descendant of Adam and He would bring judgment on Satan for his role in the fall of man. So as chapter six opens up, we see that man has multiplied and, at the same time, so has sin. But there is a glimmer of hope in the story. Redemption is coming. All is not lost.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The creator of the universe is faced with a creation that has been marred by sin. He is not caught off guard or surprised by this situation, but He is grieved at what He has to witness. All that He had made and deemed “good” has been damaged by sin. Man’s decision to reject God’s authority and doubt God’s Word has led to a world that is quickly losing its original glory and a human race that is quickly losing any semblance of having been made in the image of God. “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT). Time has passed, and generations of men and women have been born. Sin has increased and so has the extent of wickedness among men. God, as holy and righteous, must deal with the sin of mankind. He cannot stand idly by and do nothing. His sense of justice demands that He punish the guilty for their rebellion against Him. “So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, ‘I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them'” (Genesis 6:6-7 NLT).

But there is a glimmer of light in this dark scene. We are told that “Noah found favor with the Lord” (Genesis 6:8 NLT). At first blush, it would appear that Noah was somehow deserving of God’s favor. Among all the other men who lived at that time, he was the only one who lived up to God’s standards. But this would be inconsistent with what we know about God and man. The Psalmist wrote, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 14:1-3 NLT). This would have been true of Noah as well. Was he better than the rest? More than likely. But he was no more deserving of God’s favor than anyone else living at the time. The point of the story is that God, in His grace and mercy, determined to show His favor on Noah. In the midst of His fully justified judgment, God chose to extend mercy to a few.

All of mankind was deserving of God’s judgment, and yet God chose to redeem a few. Chapter six tells the story of God’s judgment in the form of a worldwide flood. But it also tells the story of a miraculous deliverance. God commands Noah to do the impossible: build an ark or large boat, in a land where there are no lakes or seas. God required Noah to step out in faith, taking Him at His word, and place his trust in something he had never seen before. The ark would prove to be Noah’s source of salvation. It would shelter he and his family, providing protection from the judgment to come. God, the judge, would prove to be the Savior as well. In Noah, God would preserve an offspring of Adam, so that ultimately, the “seed” would be born who would eventually bring spiritual salvation to mankind. The flood did not remove sin from the earth. It punished the sinners, but sin remained in Noah and his children. They would quickly end up perpetuating the problem.

But this story was meant to be a precursor to an even greater event to come. The book of Matthew records the coming of the “seed” of Adam. Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a man, a descendant of Adam through the lineage of Mary. The gospel of Luke records in painstaking detail Jesus’ family tree all the way back to Adam, the first son of God. And Matthew gives us the record of the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The place was the river Jordan. Jesus has been baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist, and “after his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him” (Matthew 3:16 NLT). God Himself announces Jesus as “my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 NLT). Noah would survive the flood, but so would sin. The flood did not eliminate the problem, it just postponed the inevitable. The ark could only forestall the future punishment to come. God was still going to have to deal with the problem of sin, and Jesus was to be the solution. The story of the flood is a story of God’s redemptive nature. He wants to preserve. He desires to show mercy and extend grace. But He must also punish sin. To not do so would be inconsistent with His character as God. But the good news is that God had a plan that would satisfy His justice and illustrate His love at the same time. The story contained in Matthew and the other gospels is the unveiling of that remarkable plan.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is sin-saturated. In spite of all that God had done for them, the descendants of Adam had continued to rebel against God, listening to the lies of the enemy and seeking their own selfish agendas. In just a few short generations, things had degenerated to such a degree that God was forced to conclude “that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT). Not a pretty picture. While Noah was somewhat of a bright spot in the darkness of the day, even he was undeserving of God’s mercy and grace. He too would prove to be a sinner just like the rest. Given enough time, he would show his true stripes and reveal that sin was part of his nature. And yet God showed grace. God redeemed the irredeemable. He gave hope to the hopeless. He extended mercy to the undeserving and grace to the unworthy. Apart from God, all men are without hope. Sin has so infected us that we are damaged beyond any hope of restoration – if left to ourselves. But the good news is that God has not left mankind without hope. He provided a Savior, a better ark, who will rescue mankind from the judgment to come. But like Noah, man must place his faith in the unknown and do the impossible – take God at His word and trust His plan for salvation. Jesus proved to be an unlikely source of salvation. He was not what the people were expecting. But He would prove more than sufficient to save any who would place their faith in Him. The ark saved Noah from physical annihilation. Jesus saves mankind from spiritual extermination. No matter how bad things may appear to be, there is always hope in Jesus.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God is not one-dimensional. His judgment and justice is balanced by His love and mercy. I can find it so easy to view Him from my limited perspective and lose sight of the fact that God is far what I can see. Ultimately, God is a god of redemption and restoration. It is far too easy to focus on His judgment and miss the real story of the Bible. Yes, judgment is coming. It is inevitable and will be fully deserved. But there is also salvation coming, and the amazing thing is – it is totally undeserved. It is the product of grace, not merit. Man’s coming judgment is well-deserved and completely justified. But his salvation is a gift, provided for by God, and an illustration of His incredible love, mercy and grace. The story of the flood and the coming of Jesus both remind me that I have a God who is far more complex than I can comprehend. I have no business judging His actions or questioning His motives. I need to learn to spend more time trusting Him rather than questioning Him. He has proved Himself faithful over and over again. The Bible is a record of His unfailing faithfulness and unwavering love for mankind – in spite of our ongoing unfaithfulness and lack of love for Him.

Father, forgive me for the many times I have judged You and questioned Your goodness. I have no justifiable reason to doubt You. Yours is a story of constant faithfulness and love. Your relationship with mankind has been marked by incredible patience and mercy. We have been repeatedly unfaithful and ungrateful. And yet You have provided a way for us to escape our well-deserved punishment and enjoy a restored relationship with You. Your redemption of mankind is an amazing aspect of who You are. Never let me forget just how guilty I was before You showered me with Your grace. Amen.

Ken Miller Grow Pastor
& Minister to Men kenm@christchapelbc.org

Romans 11:25-36

Our Unfathomable, Yet Reliable God.

Romans 11:25-36

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

Who are we to question the ways of God? I find it fascinating how often we, as mere men, want to take on God, putting Him on trial – trying to determine whether we agree with or approve of His ways. We debate whether God could or would do something. We argue over whether God has the right to act in a certain way, because it offends our sensibilities or our understanding of right and wrong. But when we doubt God or try to judge Him based on our limited human understanding, we reveal just how little we really know Him. It shows how we have tried to put God in a box in an effort to make Him more comprehensible and believable. But Paul would argue that His God is greater than our capacity to understand. “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33b NLT). Paul knew enough about God to know better than to try and explain away His actions or question His logic. God does not have to answer to us or even explain Himself to us.

As Paul wraps up his discussion regarding God’s plans for the people of Israel, he wants his readers to understand that God is not obligated to do things in a way that we can understand. He does not have to appeal to our sense of fairness. God is holy, righteous, and completely sovereign. He can and will do what He wants to do, and whatever He does is always right. His treatment of the people of Israel, while it may appear harsh in our eyes, is completely just and wholly necessary. God had a plan in place that included their rejection of His own Son as their Messiah. He was not caught off guard or surprised by their actions. He knew they would refuse to accept Him as the Anointed One. God was prepared for their actions and had planned for them in advance. It was all part of His divine will. Their rejection opened up the door for the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles. But God is not done with the people of Israel. There is a day coming when “the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25b NLT). In other words, there is an apparent limit on the number of people who will accept Christ as their personal Savior. Not ALL will be saved. And only God knows that number. That may sound unfair and capricious to us, but again, who are we to question the justice of God? When that full number is reached, then God will turn His attention back to the people of Israel. He will once again show His favor on them, sending His Son a second time, to restore a large number of the nation of Israel back to a right relationship with Him. “The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27 NLT). At the second coming of Jesus, God will do what the Israelites could have never have done for themselves – He will change their hardened hearts and give them the capacity to believe in His Son as their Messiah and Savior. Why? Because God is a covenant keeping God. “Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:28-29 NLT).

We may not understand it or even agree with it, but God’s plan is just, righteous, and completely perfect. God does not need or want our advice. He does not require our approval. He does not owe us an explanation. We can’t even fully understand why He chose to save us. But we are grateful that He did. Paul would encourage us to rest in the knowledge of God’s unchanging, holy and righteous character. He can be trusted. He always does what is right. “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever!” (Romans 11:36 NLT).

Father, I don’t understand Your ways, but I am learning to trust them more and more with each passing day. I can’t fully explain how and why You do things the way You do, but I am trying to rest more and more in Your faithfulness. There are things that happen in my life every day that cause me to doubt and question Your ways, but I am learning to rest in Your sovereign, loving, all-knowing plan for me. You know what is best, whether it looks like it or feels like it at the time. I can trust You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Romans 11:1-24

The Faithful God of Israel.

Romans 11:1-24

You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:24 NLT

When reading the book of Romans, especially chapters nine through 11, it is easy to make it all about Jew and Gentile. God, it appears, has rejected one and received the other. But while Paul talks a great deal about these two specific people groups, the real hero of the story is God Himself. Paul has emphasized over and over again the sovereignty and grace of God. He has highlighted God’s undeserved grace and mercy, and made clear the fact that no one, either Jew or Gentile, can earn a right relationship with God. Whether speaking of the nation of Israel or the Gentile nations, it is God who calls, chooses, redeems, restores, and even rejects. But Paul makes it clear that God has NOT rejected the people of Israel. “I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1 NLT). Paul himself was a Jew and he most certainly had not been rejected by God. He had been chosen by God and had had a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. He was a living example of the fact that God had not completely rejected the people of Israel. Paul reminds his readers that God has been carefully and faithfully sparing a remnant of His chosen people for generations. “…a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace — his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is — free and undeserved” (Romans 11:5-6 NLT). As it was with the Gentiles, so it would be with the Jews. A right relationship with God was to be solely based on grace, not works or effort. No one was going to earn their way into good favor with God, not even the people of God, the Jews.

As a result, a majority of the Jews had failed to be restored to God. Unwilling to believe that salvation was available through the death of a single man, they continued to pursue a right relationship with God through attempting to keep the law – a pursuit that Paul considered foolish and impossible. But Paul explains that the rebellion of the people of Israel and their rejection of God had a divine purpose. “Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have — the ones God has chosen — but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say, ‘God has put them into a deep sleep. To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see, and closed their ears so they do not hear'” (Romans 11:7-8 NLT). According to Paul, this was all God’s doing. But why? What was His purpose in hardening their hearts, shutting their eyes, and closing their ears? “God made salvation available to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11 NLT). That was the purpose. Their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and Savior opened the doors to the Gentiles. This had always been part of God’s plan. Even long before the moment God made His promise to Abraham to bless all the nations of the earth through him, He had planned make His grace and the gift of His Son available to all nations. And He would use the rejection of Jesus by the Jews as a springboard to for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the nations. Jesus, a Jew, would be the Savior of all the nations, not just His own people. And yet, God did not completely abandon the people of Israel. As Paul writes, they had not fallen beyond recovery. Their disobedience made salvation available to the Gentiles. But the day is coming when many of Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters will turn to Christ. “For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead!” (Romans 11:15 NLT). Why? Because of the faithfulness and mercy of God. He is not done with the people of Israel. He will spare and restore a remnant of the Jewish people, using the Gentiles as a means to create jealousy among them. In all of this, Paul can see the divine hand of God, working behind the scenes in ways we can’t understand. God chose to make the Israelites a special people in His eyes. He raised up the Savior from among them, but they ended up rejecting Him. But their rejection of the Messiah made possible the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles. And the blessings of God upon the Gentiles who received Christ as their Savior would be the impetus behind the future salvation of many Jews. And the day is coming when the salvation of the Jews will lead to even more Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. This whole section is really about the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. It is about His divine plan for mankind and how He intends to fulfill that plan and keep His promises to both the Jews and the Gentiles.

We cannot fully understand the ways of God. But it is dangerous for us to question His methods or means. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have no right to doubt His plan or purposes. He knows what He is doing. We can trust that He will do what He has promised and complete what He has begun. We have a limited, short-term perspective. He is eternal and has a long-term view that knows how all this works out in the end. There is a method to God’s seeming madness. He is purposeful and faithful. He is righteous and just. His ways are not our ways. His wisdom is beyond our understanding. But we can rest in the fact that God has everything under control and nothing can prevent His sovereign plan from one day coming to complete and perfect fruition.

Father, You are in control. You are sovereign and have all things held firmly in Your hands. That includes my future and the future of the people of Israel. You are faithful and always keep Your promises. You never go back on Your word or fail to do what You have said You will do. Thank You for allowing me to be a part of Your plan. Not because I deserved it, but because of Your grace and mercy. Thank You that You are going to one day restore the people of Israel. You are not done yet. Your work is not complete. But one day it will be. And I rest in the assurance that You are in complete control, whether I can see it or sense it. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 52 – Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9

Bad News and Good News.

Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9

“As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.” – Matthew 14:13 NLT

Over the centuries, the spread of the Good News has not been without its share of difficulties, setbacks and even tragic losses. From the very beginning there have been costs involved in following Christ and spreading His message of salvation through faith in Him alone. Once Christ rose again and returned to heaven, even the disciples suffered greatly as they took over the responsibility of disseminating the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. In fact, Jesus had just warned them of this reality right before He had sent them out on their first official missionary journey. “But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues” (Matthew 10:17 NLT). He had told them that they would be arrested and tried for being His followers. There would be those who would want to kill them. And many of the disciples would end up dying as martyrs at the hands of those who stood opposed to Jesus. The Gospel is costly. Living for Christ in the midst of a world that despised and hates us is dangerous. And it has been that way from the beginning.

John the Baptist was the first martyr for the cause when he was beheaded by Herod. John had had the audacity to stand up to this powerful leader and call him to account regarding his immoral relationship with Herodias. She was actually his brother’s wife and Herod had stolen her from him. John had warned him against marrying her because it was in violation of God’s law. John’s message was not received well, and it ended up costing him his life. This faithful servant of God was brutally murdered by a corrupt political figure whose life provided a vivid and stark contrast to that of John. It seems so unfair. It doesn’t make sense. Why should someone so gifted and obviously called by God, be snuffed out in the prime of his life. Yet Herod would continue to live a life of luxury and moral license. But this pattern has been painfully repeated over the centuries with the deaths of men like Steven recorded in the early chapters of the book of Acts. And there have been countless others who have suffered and died as a result of their faithfulness to the call of Christ – men like David Brainerd, William Tyndale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jim Elliot. Even the apostle Paul would eventually die a martyrs death, having spent most of his ministry life imprisoned and persecuted for his faith. And it was a reality he willingly, if not eagerly, embraced. “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (1 Timothy 4:6-7 NLT).

When Jesus received word that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod, He had to get away by Himself, so He went by boat to a remote area. We’re not told what He did there, but I have to believe that Jesus spent time in mourning over the death of His cousin and ministry partner, but also in prayer, asking His Father for wisdom, strength, and perseverance to finish the race strong, just as Paul had desired. It is interesting to note that Jesus would have been without the disciples at this point, having just sent them all out on mission. So He would have been entirely alone when the news of John’s death arrived. Jesus would not have taken the news lightly. I am sure His heart was saddened, but He also would have been fully at peace with His Father’s plan and the timing of it all. I am sure when the disciples returned and heard the news, they were probably just as upset, but also confused by the events surrounding John’s death. They would have had questions and concerns, and raised issues regarding the fairness of it all – just as we would do today. They would have had no idea that a similar fate was awaiting many of them in the not-too-distant future. This was just the opening salvo of a deadly and dangerous spiritual war that is still going on today. Around the world, there are those who are still dying for their faith in Christ. The enemy is still attempting to stop the cause of Christ by attacking the followers of Christ. As Jesus Himself told us, his objective is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT). He is vicious and relentless. He is obsessed with the thwarting of God’s purposes and the destruction of God’s people. But we have a Savior, and He has a plan. His redemptive work is not yet complete. His victory is assured, but the battle still wages on. We must remain steadfast and faithful. We must trust in His purposes and rest in His plan for us. It will not always make sense. It will not always appear fair. But God is faithful. He knows what He is doing. We can trust Him. And we can rest in this timeless truth given to us by John: “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT).

Father, keep our eyes focused on You. Don’t let us lose hope in the midst of the seeming victories of the enemy. When we see a brother suffer or fall, keep us trusting in Your perfect plan. You never take Your eyes off of us. Your never stop loving us. You are faithful, true, and completely trustworthy. There will be bad news as we continue to spread the Good News. There will be martyr. There will be sufferers. But the battle is won. The victory is assured. The end is already determined. Help me to rest in that reality. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org