Revelation 20

Read Revelation 20.

This chapter is where we get the doctrine of the Millennium. The word “millennium” is Latin for “one thousand years,” the exact period of time that verse 2b says Satan will be bound. During this one thousand year period, those who were martyred during the Great Tribulation were resurrected (v. 4) and “reigned with Christ a thousand years” (vv. 4, 6).

No Christian likes the idea of being persecuted for Christ; being “beheaded” for him is a gruesome and terrifying concept. Yet, verse 6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (which is the one described in verses 4-5). The reason they are blessed is that “the second death has no power over them.” Their faith in Christ stood the test of persecution and even martyrdom which demonstrated that it was genuine. Therefore, they are safe forever from the “second death” and, in fact, “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

In contrast to this resurrection, verses 11-15 describe the general resurrection of the rest of mankind (v. 13). These people did not reign with Christ; they were judged by him for how they lived during their time on this earth. (v. 13: “each person was judged according to what they had done”). But notice that the result of this judgment was not based on what they had done; rather, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). God will judge every sinner at the judgment of the dead and he will describe the reasons why they deserve to be in the lake of fire based on their works. But those who escape that judgment do not escape it because they had good works. Instead, those who escape the lake of fire did so because they were found in the book of life.

This is the gospel; this is the central truth of our faith. An impartial judgment of our works by a just God would ensure that every one of us would be a goner. But God, in his grace, chose some of us–not because of our works but simply because he is gracious. He wrote our names in his book of life so that we would escape this judgment. But, so that he would not be unjust for forgiving us, he sent Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

If you’ve been reading these devotionals over the last year, it seems very likely to me that you’ve trusted Christ and are following him. But it is possible that you haven’t done that or that you found this page on our website through some other means. Do you understand that, on your own, you have no basis on which God should allow you into his presence after this life is over? You may be a very good person relative to many other people but compared to God, all of us are wicked, fallen, and completely deserving of eternity in a lake that burns with fire.

Do you understand that Christ came into the world to save sinners from this lake of fire? Have you come to God at some time in your life and put your faith fully and only in Jesus Christ? If not, please cry out to God for mercy and ask him to save you because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you.

If you have trusted Christ, remember that God has an incredible, eternal future waiting for you. Whatever problem you face in life today, whatever price you pay for following him will be forgotten when you serve him and reign with him forever. Take hope in that!

Revelation 14

Read 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.

Revelation 3

Read Revelation 3.

Years ago, when I was in seminary, I was in the driveway of my house, scraping the old grass off the bottom of my mower. A couple that lived a few doors down the street walked by on the sidewalk. They asked me if I was a minister; I said I was in seminary preparing to become a pastor. The wife said, “You need to come to our church and become our pastor!” I was startled by that and said, “What church do you go to?” “St. Matt’s” she said, referring to a church in our neighborhood, just around the corner from my house on the next block. They were walking home from a church members meeting at the time.

“Don’t you have a pastor?” I asked. “Yes, but all he does is tell stories about going to the grocery store and doing this and that. We need someone who will come and preach the gospel!” I was surprised by this conversation because the church she mentioned was part of a denomination that left orthodox Christianity a long time ago. I knew the church she was referring to had dwindled to only a few members and attenders, just like most of the churches in the denomination had. So, my surprise wasn’t that the preaching was unbiblical and weak; it was that there were members still there who knew the Lord!

That’s kind of what was going on at the church in Sardis that we read about in verses 1-6. The church was “dead” (v. 1b) and what little life remained was “about to die” (v. 2b). Yet verse 4 described a “few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.” Christ commanded the entire church to repent and hold fast to his doctrine (v. 3) but the promise in verses 4-6 was that those who truly did trust Christ would be saved, even if the church died around them. Verse 5 promises, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”

In New Testament times, there was one church at the most in every town. So, if your church was dying, you couldn’t leave it for a living, growing one. That’s what most Christians would do today but there is something to be said for those who don’t give up the faith or the fight for a faithful church.

This passage also underscores the importance of walking with God personally even if others around you are not. At the last judgment, you will stand alone before God and so will I. We will be accountable to him for what we believe and how we lived, regardless of whether anyone else led us properly or walked with us in a way that pleases God. It must be strange to be one of the few (or only) true believers in a church, but that is no excuse to stop seeking the Lord yourself. I hope none of us is ever in that position, but regardless this passage should encourage us and challenge us to be diligent about our discipleship. If there are people who keep seeking the Lord in a dead and dying church, how much more should we be faithful to walk with him when we have so many others to encourage us, lead us and teach us to follow God!

1 John 1

Read 1 John 1.

Our faith is primarily about God. He is our Creator; we belong to him and are accountable to him for how we live this life. Due to Adam’s choice to sin, none of us is capable of pleasing God by living up to his perfect righteous standard for how to live and worshipping him wholeheartedly. As a result, we are under his wrath and hopelessly lost for eternity. But, because of his love and mercy, God the Son came into the world to live a perfect life and die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Once we trust in him by faith, God credits his perfect righteousness to us–we call this justification. At the same time, he credits us with the death of Christ and, on that basis, forgives us for our sins based on the death and resurrection of Jesus for us.

More could be said, but that’s a basic outline of our faith. The major goal of it is to glorify God by reconciling us sinners to him through Christ. That reconciliation is the major benefit to us of God’s grace in the Christian faith and the end result of that reconciliation is eternal life.

But there are other benefits to being a Christian and John led off with one of them here in 1 John 1:3 when he wrote, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us….” To put this verse in other words, John wrote about the gospel so that (among other things) the readers might have fellowship with John and all other Christians.

The word “fellowship” is a much-used, little-understood word in Christianity. Its basic meaning is “sharing.” When we talk about it as a core result of being a Christian, it means that we share a new kind of relationship with other Christians. It is a kind of relationship that non-Christians are not capable of having because it is a spiritual relationship, a deep bond that genuine believers in Christ share.

And why do we share this deep bond? It is because we are all connected in a “fellowship” relationship with God. As John wrote in the latter half of verse 3, “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” It is God’s grace to us in Christ that connects us to the Triune God, giving us a new fellowship–a family relationship with God that we never had before Christ and could not have without him. Because we all share that, we now have a basis for sharing a deep connection to one another in Christ.

The result of Christian fellowship is joy; according to verse 4, “We write this to make our joy complete.” The rest of this letter is going to spell out the marks of genuine faith in Christ, starting with truth (“…walk[ing] in the light,” v. 7a). But before describing what a genuine Christian looks like, John began with one of the motives Christians have for sharing the gospel–“so that you also may have fellowship with us” (v. 3b).

Do you want a deeper friendship, a stronger, more spiritual connection to other people? Then share the gospel with others! The salvation we share by God’s grace is the only true common ground that can unite humanity. It–and only it–can bridge cultures, languages, ethnic backgrounds, and anything else that divides humanity. This is not the only reason to give the gospel, or even the main reason, but it is an important one. Faith in Christ unites those who belong to Christ and gives us a basis for true fellowship. The more we reach others with Christ, the greater and broader and deeper our connection to other people will become.

John 8

Read John 8.

This chapter presents to us an extended argument between Jesus and the Pharisees (v. 13a). The argument began with a promise of Christ in verse 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about the implications of that promise. Without Christ, very little in this world makes sense. Why are we here? What happens after we die? Is this life all that there is? If so, why should I do anything other than what I want to do? Why should I do anything for others if it does not benefit me? Why should I respect their rights and avoid hurting others? But, if I just do what I want, then do I feel unfulfilled, even guilty? If this life is not all that there is, how can I know that?

Life is maddeningly strange without Christ and nothing really matters but your own pleasure, but living for pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. Jesus came along and said, “Whoever follows me… will have the light of life.” Why? Because he is “the light of the world.” Knowing him, believing him, receiving his teaching and obeying it give you hope for the future and purpose for this life.

But how can you know if Jesus’s promise is true before you commit to it? There are several ways but the main one in this passage is the witness of the Father (vv. 14-30). Those who knew God (like Abraham) looked forward to the coming of Christ and prophesied about it (vv. 33-41, 54-59). Those who know God now recognize the authentic word of God in Jesus the Son (vv. 42-47). This is why the gospel brings conviction of sin and stirs the heart of those who hear it, even if they don’t receive it. It is the witness of the Father to the light-giving person of the Son.

If you’re reading this and, for some reason, have never received Jesus, this is God’s offer to you. Trust in Jesus, follow him, and he will give you the light that brings life (v. 12c). Only he can do this because only he is “the light of the world” (v. 12b).

For those of us who have received Jesus, this is why we must continually remind ourselves to trust God’s word in obedience instead of believing the lies of the devil and the world around us. They are not legitimate sources of light; following them means “walking in darkness.” Jesus rescued us from that, but we must continue to follow him to have his light illumine our path through this world.

Mark 4

Read Mark 4.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not hard to understand.

  • God is holy and hates sin.
  • Humanity–as a group and individually–has rebelled against God and chosen to sin.
  • Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us spiritual life.

That is the Good News in a few basic bullet points. There is depth behind those bullet points to be learned and explored, but the message is not difficult.

So why don’t more people become Christians?

Mark 4:1-25 gives the answer. The answer, in a brief statement, is that most people aren’t prepared spiritually to receive the gospel. Either their hearts are hard and Satan can steal the message from them (v. 15) or their hearts are shallow so, even though they like the message, it never transforms them (vv. 16-17) or they are distracted by common human struggles (vv. 18-19).

More people don’t become Christians because their hearts need to be prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the message of Christ.

This parable of Christ is emphatic that the problem of unbelief is not a problem with God’s word. God’s word is widely distributed (vv. 3-4, 21-23). It is powerfully productive as well (v. 20).

Yet, too often, Christians want to change the message instead of asking God to change the hearts of those who hear it.

Christians want to de-emphasize the doctrine of God’s eternal justice (aka hell) to make the message easier to hear. Or God’s love is given more emphasis than God’s holiness. Or God’s law–his righteous standards–are denied or re-defined.

Unbelief is not the result of a defective gospel; it is the natural product of sinful, unprepared hearts. The answer, then, is to ask God to prepare and open the hearts of people to receive the Word. That’s what makes some soil “good soil” (vv. 8, 20). It is also what Jesus is getting at when he said, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you” (v. 11). God opened the minds and hearts of the disciples to receive the gospel. That’s why they were saved.

As Christians, who are commanded by God to spread the gospel message, two points are crucial to take from this chapter:

  1. Don’t mess with the message! It produces great results on its own (v. 20) because it is God’s word (v. 14).
  2. Do pray for those you want to reach for Christ. Ask God to prepare their hearts to receive the good message of God’s word.

Mark 2

Read Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God.

But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners.

But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.”

The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along.

When it comes to who we intentionally try to reach, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that is out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the many Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

Acts 28

Today, read Acts 28.

This is the end of the New Testament’s record of Paul’s ministry. Although it is the end of the record, it seems clear that it was not the end of Paul’s ministry. According to tradition, Paul won his trial in Rome (the first time) and was released. He continued traveling for the gospel until he was later captured again and executed.

We read yesterday of his shipwreck; in the early verses of this chapter, we see how God used that to demonstrate His power to the pagan people of Malta (vv. 1-10). Eventually Paul did reach Rome where he received the welcome he had hoped from the Roman believers (vv. 14-15). He was also able to live privately under house arrest (v. 16) instead of in an actual prison. This gave him the opportunities he wanted to share the gospel, starting as he always did, with the Jewish people (vv. 17-23).

Notice the results of teaching the gospel in verse 24: “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” This is what will happen whenever any of us shares the gospel. Not everyone will respond to the gospel in faith. That’s one reason why we are hesitant to tell others about Christ–because we know many will reject it.

Here’s the thing about witnessing for Christ: many will reject the gospel message but some will believe. This was Paul’s confidence expressed in verse 28: “God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Don’t let rejection by some in the past to the truth of Christ shut you down from telling others about Jesus. Rejection of the gospel is part of sharing the gospel but if you faithfully deliver it to others, some of them “will listen!” (v. 28b).

Romans 10

Read Romans 10 today.

In this chapter, Paul continued discussing the unbelief of his people Israel. He spoke directly about his desire and prayer for the salvation of his countrymen (v. 1). Then he reflected on his own experience and concluded, “Yes, we Jews are very enthusiastic about God, but not according to knowledge” (v. 2).

And what was the knowledge they lacked?

That righteousness comes from God (v. 3) to “everyone who believes” (v. 4b). Since they did not know this, they “sought to establish their own” righteousness (v. 3b).

Verses 4-13 contrasts the “righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 4) with the “righteousness that is by the law” (v. 5). The righteousness that comes by the law is given to those who obey the law; as verse 5b put it, “The person who does these things will live by them.” That’s the promise of righteousness by the law–do what the law says and you will live.

Israel’s history–and yours and mine, too–shows that we can’t keep the law. Because we are sinners, as we saw in Romans 7, we can’t keep God’s law even when we want to–and most of the time, we don’t want to.

That’s why Christ came. He is, according to verse 4, “the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” He kept the law we could not keep in order to give us the righteousness we could not earn. The way to righteousness (that is, “to be right with God”) is by faith in Christ (vv. 9-13). This has always been the case as we see from Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament here in Romans 10:

  • v. 8 quotes from Deuteronomy 30:14
  • v. 11 quotes from Isaiah 28:16
  • v. 13 quotes form Joel 2:32

This is why God sends his servants into the world–to spread the message, the good news, of righteousness before God in Jesus Christ (v. 15). As we share the good news, we must remember that people are saved not through our slick presentation or clever arguments; rather, “faith comes from hearing the message,(Y) and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (v. 17). The message itself carries the ability to create faith in those God has chosen.

So, let’s be faithful about carrying the message!

Romans 5

Read Romans 5

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

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation.

It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15–2x, 16–2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15–2x, 17, 20, 21), of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21).

The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ–and that his grace which saved us is available to save others.

Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ–not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.