Revelation 9

Read Revelation 9.

In chapter 8, Jesus opened the seventh seal. Then John told us, “I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (v. 2) and “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them” (v. 6). Four of those angels sounded their trumpets in Revelation 8; today we read about what happened when angels five and six sounded their trumpets.

What happened was painful torture to those not protected by God’s seal (vv. 4-12) and death for 33% of the world’s population (vv. 13-19).

One would expect that this kind of devastation would cause people to cry out to God for mercy. Instead, those who lived through these horrific events “still did not repent” of their false worship and disobedience to God. Their stubbornness demonstrates that sin nature is deeply planted in us all as are the sinful habits that we cultivate. Neither God’s judgment on others nor the threat of it can cause a person’s mind and heart to change. It is only God’s gracious working within any of us that changes our minds and causes us to turn to God in faith.

Thank God, though, that he does this gracious work in the hearts of many, including in our hearts when we came to believe in Jesus.

And this is one reason why we are here to give the gospel to others. Through the gospel message God works in hearts to open them to his gracious gift of salvation. Through that salvation, God delivers them from the coming days of his wrath like those described here in Revelation.

So keep looking for opportunities to share Christ with others. It is the only means of hope for humanity.

Revelation 8

Read Revelation 8.

The seventh and final seal was broken by Christ at the beginning of our chapter today. Recall that the seven seals were holding the scroll of God’s wrath closed. Jesus was the only person capable of opening them and, as he opened each one, devastation happened on earth.

The horrible things that happened on earth during the opening of seals one through six were the result of man-made aggression or natural disasters. When Christ opened the seventh seal here in Revelation 8:1, the angels got involved making the outpouring of God’s wrath an overtly supernatural thing. The results were even more severe than during the first six seals (vv. 7-12).

Within this description of destruction, however, we read in verse three that “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Twice in these verses “the prayers of all God’s people” are described in terms of aromatic incense offered in worship to God.

This is how God experiences our talk to him. While we may be suffering, crying out for help or for justice and pouring out our fears and anxieties, God receives our prayers as beautiful acts of worship. This is because our prayers are expressions of pure dependence on him. They honor him as the only one who can do the impossible and provide for us when we have no where else to go.

Prayer is an extraordinary gift to us but it is also a beautiful act of worship to God. I hope this passage helps you understand how much God enjoys hearing us pray.

Take some time today and offer this act of worship to him; the fact that you look to him honors him, regardless of what you talk to him about.

Revelation 6

Read Revelation 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 18

Read John 18.

In today’s chapter, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane and tried by Pontius Pilate. Simon Peter moved like a pendulum from defending Jesus violently (v. 10) to denying him three times (v. 17, 25-27). Peter’s denial is famous because Jesus foretold it and because it was seemingly out of character for such an outspoken person. It seems to me that Peter’s attack on Malchus is less well known than Peter’s denial but his attack is important to the story in a few ways.

First, when he rebuked Peter in verse 11 for the attack Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This language of the “cup” you may recognize from the other Gospel accounts which recorded Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane. In that prayer he asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He then repeated that prayer twice more according to Matthew 26:42, 44. So three times Jesus asked for release from drinking the “cup” which is a reference to the OT description of God’s wrath. Each time, however, he indicated his submission to the Father’s will.

Here in John 18:11 when Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” we see that he was reconciled and even resolved to do the Father’s will. Although he expressed his desire to avoid it in his prayer, he would not tolerate the use of force as a means of avoiding the Father’s will.

Later, when asked about his kingdom by Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36b). This testimony to Pilate, then, explains even further why he rebuked Peter. The kingdom of God is not a political entity. We do not send armies to conquer foreign nations and forcibly coerce them into becoming “Christians.” Christianity is about listening to Jesus (v. 37: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”) and waiting for him to supernaturally establish his kingdom on earth, as verse 36e says, “But now my kingdom is from another place.”

America was founded on many Christian principles, but it is not a “Christian nation” in the sense of being the kingdom of God politically. So we should never be so proud to be Americans that we fail to identify as Christians–citizens of Christ’s coming kingdom–first. We also shouldn’t spend so much energy and time in American politics. This republic will not last for eternity. It will be superseded by Christ and his kingdom. As citizens of that kingdom, we should spend more time and money on evangelism, church planting, and missions than we spend on elections and politics. Don’t look to engineer God’s will on earth through military and political action. Instead, offer the gift of eternal life in the kingdom of God to others. That will give them eternal life, a far better result than winning an election.

Romans 2

Today let’s read Romans 2.

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

Here in chapter 2, Paul turned from those who approve of sin and those who practice it to those who condemn and judge sinners (v. 1). Since those who approve of sin and sinners are condemned in chapter 1:32, we might expect that those who condemn sin and sinners would be approved by God.

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

As I discussed yesterday, Paul seemed to be laying out his doctrine of the gospel to these Roman believers so that they would receive him and support his ministry when he came to them. This chapter, then, was designed to show how Jewish people are under God’s judgment, too, just like their Gentile counterparts in chapter 1. This passage applies to Jews who reject Jesus in order to live self-righteous lives, but it also applies to anyone who thinks himself to be righteous by comparison to others yet who still sins.

Agreeing with God’s word about what is sinful is not impressive to God; what matters to God is obedience (v. 13) and we all fall short there. Tomorrow we will see the remedy to this in Christ. But even if we’ve received that remedy, we should take to heart the things said about the self-righteous in this passage. If you have any moral character at all, you will be able to find lots of examples of people who fall short of your moral virtue. But, if you have any honesty at all, you will have to admit that you fall short daily of your own standards, not to mention God’s moral standards. Instead of judging others in order to feel good about ourselves, God wants us to acknowledge our own failures to be perfect. Then, just as God showed compassion to us in Christ we should reach out to other fallen people around us with compassion and the hope that is found in the gospel.

Have you ever thought about the people around you not as your spiritual inferiors but as people who need God’s rescue to save them?

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

2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14 today. This devotional is about Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone.

Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5. They were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c).

As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

Judges 4, Jeremiah 50, Psalms 87-89

Read Judges 4, Jeremiah 50, Psalms 87-89 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 50.

This chapter continues Jeremiah’s prophecies against the Gentile nations around the Promised Land. This time the prophecy is about Judah’s oppressors, the Babylonians.

God had used the Babylonians to bring the covenant curse on Judah for their idolatry and unfaithfulness. But they didn’t invade and capture Jerusalem because they wanted to do the Lord’s will; they did it for their own sinful, selfish reasons.

God used them, yes, but providentially.

That is, he allowed them to follow the course of their evil hearts. He did not protect Judah from their attacks because Judah had been unfaithful to him. Consequently, the attacks of the Babylonians became God’s method for bringing curses on his people.

Even though God used the aggression of the Babylonians for his purpose, they were still guilty of wickedness. They still attacked a city, killed people, and stole their stuff. This chapter, then, prophesies judgment for them as a result of their sins. And, because God still loved his people, he decreed in this chapter that he would use other nations to avenge the crimes of the Babylonians against his people. Verse 34 says, “Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon.” Because God is just, he promised to punish the Babylonians for their atrocities. Because God loves his chosen ones, he would be “their Redeemer” who would “vigorously defend their cause” (v. 34a, c).

God still has plans for Israel but in this age he is calling people from every nation to be his holy people. When the world persecutes us, when it speaks evil of us because of our goodness and walk with God, we need a redeemer to defend our cause and punish those who afflict us. This is what Christ will do when he returns to earth. He redeemed us from the penalty of our sins when he died on the cross for us. He will redeem believers from the oppression of Satan and his followers by rapturing those in Christ and by avenging those who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation.

We emphasize God’s mercy, love, and grace. We should do that; those are aspects of God’s personality and character. But we should also praise and thank God for his justice and, yes, even his wrath for those aspects of his personality and character guarantee that justice will be done and that those who oppress his people will be punished for doing so.

Have you ever thanked God for his wrath?

Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, 2 Corinthians 4

Read Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, and 2 Corinthians 4 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 18.

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible.

In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse the phrase, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” suggests that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” That explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understood, for the first time in his life, how God feels every time you or I or anyone else in humanity sins. He knows personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and then be personally rejected despite that gracious offer.

Jeremiah knew, after the plot described in this chapter, what it was like to be righteous but have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness. God was so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross.

What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. Only by his grace through our Lord Jesus Christ is that wrath turned away from me and everyone else who is in Christ.

But the anger Jeremiah felt at the plot against him and how it resembled God’s anger against all sinners is something we should keep in mind when we struggle with temptation. If we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Matthew 26

Read Genesis 38, Job 4, and Matthew 26. This devotional is about Matthew 26.

Matthew continued to chronicle the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and, in verses 1-2, Jesus warned the disciples that the crucifixion was coming. While the religious leaders conspired together to execute him (vv. 3-5) and Judas came forward to betray him (vv. 14-16), Jesus was anointed by one of his followers (vv. 6-13), observed the Passover with his disciples (vv. 17-30), predicted Peter’s betrayal (vv. 31-35), and moved to the place where it would all begin–Gethsemane (v. 36).

It seems amazing to me that Jesus told the disciples multiple times that he would be betrayed and crucified. One of them is here in verses 1-2 and that prediction told them when to start looking for it to happen.

Despite all these predictions, the disciples were completely unprepared. Why? Did they think Jesus was just being paranoid or dramatic?

Who knows?

What we do know is that Jesus was in deep anguish (v. 38) and the disciples he asked to pray for him were too tired to do what Jesus asked them to do (vv. 40-41, 43-45).

In verse 39, Jesus spoke to the only one who could truly understand and truly care. He prayed, “may this cup be taken from me.” The “cup” in biblical prophecy was the cup of God’s wrath. Jesus was not afraid of the pain of crucifixion; he was dreading the fact that he was about to become cursed by God the Father. The eternal fellowship that the three persons of God had enjoyed for eternity would be broken–temporarily–as Christ became the object of God’s wrath against us.

When the Bible tells us that God loves us, that he demonstrated true love by dying for us, it is impossible for us to understand how difficult and costly that love was. It was unfathomably offensive for the holy one of God to become a sin offering for us. It was unbelievable that one of the three persons of God would be disfellowshipped for a time from the Father and Spirit.

Yet it was absolutely necessary if any one of us were to be saved. Christ’s love is the only reason he went through with the cross. His love for us caused the triune God to will for the death of the son. It was a bitter cup, for sure, the most vile thing that any person has ever experienced. But Jesus did that for us.

1 Kings 11, Ezekiel 41

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 11 and Ezekiel 41

This devotional is about 1 Kings 11.

Non-Christians who read the Bible sometimes complain about how large a role the wrath of God plays in the story of Scripture. They are not wrong; God is frequently described as being angry in the pages of scripture.

The truth is, God has a lot to be angry about. He gives us life, has created a planet and a solar system that reliably and predictably provides our basic human needs of water to drink, air to breathe, and food to eat. He gave us each other so that we could know the joys of family and friendship. He called us to worship him alone and promised blessings and joy to us if we worship him.

Despite all of this, mankind as a group has rejected him and his word in order to live selfishly. Instead of thanking him for food, water, and air, we consume these things without giving them a second thought and we idolize material things instead of enjoying and giving thanks for what we have. Instead of loving one another, we resent others for not loving us enough or meeting our expectations; we use and abuse other people instead of serving them and giving thanks for them.

What I just described is only the beginning of the ways in which we’ve dishonored and disobeyed God. No wonder God is angry.

Here in 1 Kings 11, the scripture describes for us the kind of selfish life that Solomon began to live. In disobedience to God’s commands (v. 2), Solomon married women from other nations (v. 1). His marriages to them may have had political, diplomatic value but they were more personal than that because verse 2 ends by saying, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Just as God predicted (v. 2), Solomon’s heart turned away from God and he “did evil in the eyes of the Lord….” This is why God was angry with him; verse 9 says, “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel….” This is the heart of sin, of disobedience to God. When we love God, we keep his commands. When we become enamored with other things (or other people), our hearts grow cold to God and we look to sinful things for pleasure.

Because of Christ’s love for us and his death for us, we no longer live under the wrath of God. Christ bore every bit of God’s wrath for us so that we would not fear him but could love and live for him, just as he created us to do. We have the Spirit of God within us which makes us thankful for God and his works and stimulates the desire to love and please him. Nevertheless, each of us still has a sinful nature within that causes us to stumble. It is important to remember that breaking God’s laws results in personal consequences for our relationship to God. If you break the laws of our state or nation, nobody in the government gets mad at you; they seek justice but it doesn’t make anyone angry. When we break God’s laws, however, we bring grief to the heart of God who has done so much for us.

Try to keep this in mind today when you are tempted to sin. Not only is sin a bad idea because it creates human problems for us; it is a bad idea because it represents a personal rejection of God. Honor your Father in the choices you make today because you love him and are thankful for all he has done for us.