Revelation 12

Read Revelation 12.

Here in Revelation 12, John appears to be summarizing the history of redemption. A woman who stands for Israel (note the “twelve stars on her head,” v. 1) gives birth to a baby–Jesus–who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5a). He is “snatched up to God and to his throne” (v. 5b) and Satan is hurled down the earth after an angelic battle (vv. 7-9). The end of the chapter said that Satan “went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (v. 17b). But, even while he was going off to wage this war, heaven is rejoicing in verses 10-12: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah…. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!” So there is rejoicing in heaven that Jesus is victorious even though his victory has not yet been realized on earth.

When you’re watching a sporting event where the score is close and the game can turn on one play, there is incredible tension. It is hard to stay seated or sit still. People celebrate when their team makes a big play but, until the game is over, you can’t really gloat. But there is gloating here, even though the war was not done. Why? Because Christ won the victory in reality even though it had not played out in real time yet. Heaven could rejoice because there was no possibility of losing.

This should comfort us when things are dark and depressing on earth in the spiritual realm. When there are doctrinal defections, persecutions, rejection of the gospel, and complacent Christians, we should not lose heart or worry about the outcome. Christ has already won the war; his kingdom will prevail. There may be time left on the clock and Satan may gain some yardage, but he will not win. This is something to remember, to hold on to dearly, and to be encouraged by during dark days spiritually. Jesus has won; there is no need to worry.

Revelation 5

Today’s reading is Revelation 5.

Yesterday, in Revelation 4, John described to us his vision of God, in heaven, on his throne, being worshipped. Here in Revelation 5, John saw that God is holding a scroll (v. 1). However, the scroll was sealed with no one worthy to open it (vv. 2-4). No one, that is, except Jesus who appeared in verse 5.

It is interesting to contrast the description of Christ in verse 5 and John’s description of his appearance in verse 6. In verse 5, one of the 24 elders we read about in Revelation 4:4 described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” This description, plus the statement that he “has triumphed” leads us to expect someone whose appearance is fierce, majestic, and powerful. Instead when John looked at him in verse 6 he saw, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” As if lambs aren’t weak and defenseless enough, this one looks like a dead lamb–one that died violently–hardly someone you would expect to be worthy to open the scroll of God’s revelation.

And yet, that’s what he began to do when he took the scroll from God the Father’s hand in verse 7. Why was he able to do this? The elders and living creatures told us in their “new song” in verses 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain.” The appearance of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb did not disqualify him from opening the scroll; it qualified him TO open the scroll. Why? Verse 9b: “…with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The triumph (v. 5b) that qualified Jesus was not that he defeated all enemies in battle but that he gave himself to rescue us from God’s wrath for our sins.

The result of his sacrifice was stated in verse 10: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This is why Jesus came. To create a new kingdom, composed of people everywhere that Christ redeemed, to enjoy ruling with him in his kingdom on this earth.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you understand that forgiveness of sins is just the first of many blessings that Christ secured for you by his death on the cross? Are you waiting expectantly for his kingdom to come and preparing for it by storing up treasure there?

Revelation 1

Read Revelation 1.

Hardly anyone on earth knew Jesus like John knew him. John was called by the Lord to be part of the inner circle of disciples along with Peter and James. They heard and saw things that others who followed Jesus didn’t see and hear–including the other apostles.

So if anyone who was looking at the end of his life (v. 9) would be overjoyed to see Jesus again, it would be John. When he saw Christ, however, he did not run to embrace the Lord like a friend greets a friend. Instead, when he saw Jesus, John “fell at his feet as though dead.” Why?

Well, just read the description of Jesus’s appearance in verses 12-16. Note the word “like” in these verses. That word tells us that John’s descriptions of Christ were not literal–he didn’t literally have “blazing fire” in his eyes. Instead, John is trying to visually describe for us how utterly brilliant, authoritative, and terrifying Jesus looked. This is why John collapsed before him; because he saw Jesus glorified with even greater glory in his appearance than he had after the resurrection. John collapsed in fear, in all-consuming awe of the glory of Jesus. It was the most fearful and yet majestic and beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Yet Jesus, powerful and glorified as he was, still retained his gentleness and grace toward the disciple that he loved. In verse 17b he said, “Do not be afraid” before identifying himself as Christ in verse 17c-18. The message that John would receive in this letter and the visions he would share were all about Jesus (v. 1a) to glorify him and to edify his church (vv. 11, 20). And the vision that Jesus wanted us to retain in our minds of him was the Jesus that John described in this passage–powerful, fierce, glorious, and yet gracious.

For this devotional today, I hope for nothing more than to stir up your heart and mind in worship for our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one we love. He is the one we are waiting for. It is his kingdom that we long for and work for so that we can see him and worship him. Let the vision of him described in this chapter humble you in worship before him. But let it also encourage you to speak up for him and point others to him. The one John described in this chapter is the one who said, All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples….” (Matt 28:18-19). Let’s keep doing that knowing that we are serving this One, the person so majestically described here in Revelation 1.

John 13

Read John 13.

Of the four gospels, the Gospel of John gives us the most extensive description of Jesus’ final hours before his arrest. Here in chapter 13, that description begins. The Passover meal is set to begin and Christ is distinctly aware that his betrayal, trials, torture, and execution will follow. John stressed to his readers that Jesus knew what was about to happen. Verse 13 says “…Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father…” and verse 3 says “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;” Meditate on this for a moment. If you knew that your death was coming, that it would be extraordinarily violent and painful and that it would culminate with the rejection of God the Father, what would you be thinking about? What would you want to do with that time? How would you handle interactions with other people?

Personally, I’m pretty sure I would be preoccupied with what was coming and that I would be a nervous wreck. It would be natural to turn to those closest to you for comfort but when your friends are completely oblivious to what is coming (vv. 22, 36-38), they are in no position to comfort you. So, in addition to being preoccupied with myself and my fears, I think it might be irritating to be around friends who don’t get what is about to happen and are, in fact, in high spirits due to the Passover. It would be easy to be angry with them for not understanding and to run from them to be alone with your fears.

But that’s me; then there is Christ. He knew that he “was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet… “(vv. 3b-5a). Instead of being preoccupied with himself, he was intent on loving and serving his disciples; in the words of verse 1: “he loved them to the end” which I interpret to mean “to the fullest extent.” This was a genuine act of love but it also set an example to us who follow Jesus of service (vv. 12-17) and of love for others (vv. 34-35). Christ’s example and his command to us, then, is not to allow our anxiety and fear to take over our lives; rather, despite the real emotions we feel about our lives, put others first and serve them lovingly. What is the result of this kind of selfless service? Verse 17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed [happy, benefitted] if you do them.” Serving others is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when we think of how to be happy. Often being happy to us means having someone else serve us. Serving others rubs our sin nature raw; it tempts us to resent the ones we’re serving or the fact that we’re put in a place where we have to serve. But Christ promises the blessing of joy to those who take the lower place and choose to serve others because we love Him.

So not only does our faith in Christ call us to have a servant’s heart toward others, it calls us to serve others in love even at the very moments where we could be expected to forget other’s problems because we have so many of our own. If you are lacking joy due to problems and difficulties in your life, find someone to serve. Not only will you be obedient to our master and Lord but you will also be blessed if you do it (v. 17).

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.

John 7

Read John 7.

People often become skeptical when what they “know” (actually, what they believe or assume) to be true is challenged. You and I have assumptions that seem true to us and seem to have served us well throughout our lives. Those assumptions seem “true” to us and they affect how we process anything that we hear and see.

When someone challenges those assumptions, we respond defensively with skepticism. Skepticism rises because it seems to conflict with something we think has already been proven true. The more important the principles are to you, the more skeptical and defensive you get when they are challenged.

John 7 shows us this over and over again. Jesus’ brothers are skeptical about him (vv. 1-9), the common people tended to be more open to Jesus (v. 12a, 40-41a) but many of them had suspicions about him (v. 12b, 15, vv. 25-27, 42b-44). The religious leaders were very threatened by Jesus and his teaching, so they were looking for him (v. 11) and were desperately trying to discredit him (vv. 20, and silence him (vv. 19-20, 30-32).

What was Jesus’ answer to all of this skepticism? “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (v. 17). In other words, the skepticism of the people indicated an unbelief in God. Those who were seeking God genuinely, eagerly trying to know him and serve him would instantly recognize Jesus and believe in him. But to eagerly seek after God requires his grace. He must lift the blindness of unbelief from one’s eyes in order to see the light of God’s glory in Christ.

This is why we must pray for those we want to see saved, in addition to giving them the gospel. The gospel is an immediate, direct challenge to anyone’s belief about God, about the world, about their own right and ability to choose. So, we must pray.

It also reminds us of our absolute need to submit to Christ always in all things. Many things the Word commands us to do are a direct challenge what we want, what we believe, and what we think we need. Our skepticism about believing, obeying, and living by faith in God is an expression of unbelief. So put aside your unbelief and just trust God–then you will find out that Jesus is the truth, not the other way around.

John 1

Read John 1.

I have often puzzled over and even lamented John’s use of “Word” in John 1:1. It is clear to me that John 1:1 and 14 indicate that Jesus is the “Word” and therefore “was God” (v. 1). But some people do not see that connection clearly. I have talked with enough of those people that, at times, I wish John has written something else. I wish he’d written something like, “In the beginning was the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son and Spirit were with God and each of them is God.” That phrasing would help us with the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

But, that’s not what John wrote. Instead he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why did John use the title, “the Word” to refer to Jesus?

First of all, “Jesus” refers to the man–the human named Jesus. The Son of God was not called “Jesus” until he was born, so it would be incorrect and improper for John to say, “In the beginning was Jesus….”

Although John did want to establish the deity of Christ, that purpose–in this passage, at least–was secondary to describing the function Jesus performs in the Trinity. By calling him “the Word,” John taught us that Jesus’ role was communication. This is why he was the one who created (v. 3) and why he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14a). He did these things because his “job” in the Trinity is to communicate, to reveal God.

That’s a very important role because verse 18a says, “No one has ever seen God….” We know the Moses saw God and that Isaiah saw a vision of God. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). So what did John mean in verse 18 when he wrote, “No one has ever seen God…?”

The answer is that no one has ever seen God in his essence, as he truly is, in his unobscured self. God is invisible (Col 1:15), so anyone who “sees” him has seen only a manifestation of God, a presentation that God has chosen to make, not the true essence of God. Nobody has seen that.

Except Jesus, for verse 18 goes on to say, “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

It would be impossible for us to know God or understand a thing about him on our own. Unless God choses to reveal himself, all we can do is see the result of his existence–creation and his power–not God himself.

But God has chosen to reveal himself “at many times and in various ways” (Heb 1:1) and Jesus is the ultimate expression of that.

Want to know what God would say about anything? See what Jesus said about it.

Want to know what God would do in any situation? See what Jesus did in that situation.

Anything that is true about God is true about Jesus because Jesus is God and he came to reveal God to us. So, give thanks for God’s personal, powerful revelation of himself in our Lord Jesus. And, watch as we read through the Gospel of John to see what God reveals about himself through Christ.

1 Timothy 2

Read 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions? Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus.

Why?

Because he “gave himself as a ransom.”

Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “…for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is unjustly exclusive.

Our faith is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way–Jesus. He is the exclusive way to God.

But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth–Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives….” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray today, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man–our Lord–Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Pray also for our government here in the U.S.–not that Team A or Team B will will win the next election but that whoever wins will leave us alone to spread the gospel message. That is the message of 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

Acts 3

Read Acts 3

God’s power was at work in the world and in the disciples like never before in the days after Pentecost, which we read about yesterday.

Here in chapter 3, Peter was headed with John to the temple to pray, healed a man who had never walked by the power of Jesus (vv. 1-11), then explained the good news to the audience around him (vv. 12-26).

In the middle of Peter’s gospel message, he said these words, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (v. 15). I find the phrase, “you killed the author of life” fascinating. The word “author” describes God as a story-teller. He has a plan and it is unfolding through the lives of everyone in scripture and in your life and mine.

As the author “of life,” God is the creator of all things, including life. The Bible tells us repeatedly that Jesus, the Second Person of God, was the active agent of the Trinity who created. It was his voice that said, “Let there be light” and it was he who formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and and breathed into him the breath of life. It was he who took a rib from Adam’s side to create Eve. There is no life apart from Jesus.

Ironic, then, that men killed Jesus. Apart from the creating power of Jesus, humanity would never have existed. Apart from his sustaining grace, humanity would cease to exist. He is the author of life, not only making us alive but writing for each of us a story–a personality, a background, a cast of other characters, and all the other elements of story. Yet when he entered into the world, he was not honored by the characters in the story he wrote as the author. Instead, he was killed even though all living depends on him.

Fortunately, this was all part of his story and it did not end with his death; instead, “God raised him from the dead” (v. 15b). We celebrated that truth on Sunday. But as important as remembering the event of the resurrection is, it is even more important to understand the point of the resurrection.

And the point of the resurrection is: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus” (vv. 19-20).

I write these devotionals for Christians to strengthen us with God’s word. But it is possible that someone is reading this who is not a Christian–either you found this page on our website or you subscribed to my devotional.

Do you understand that your story, your life, is one thread in a thick fabric of interwoven stories of all people?

Do you see that all of us depend on Jesus for existence, need him to rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion against God, and are designed to bring glory and worship to Jesus when he returns to be our Lord? If so, turn to him! In the words of verse 19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord….” The author of life invites you to experience eternal life through his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. Ask him to save you and give you eternal life, and he will!

For those of us who are Christians, remember that your life really isn’t about you. You are a character in the life of Jesus–he’s the one on the hero’s journey. As the author of life, he devised the plot and set this story into motion. So let’s focus on him in our lives and point others to him so that he will come and conclude this story well.

Luke 4

Read Luke 4.

Before Jesus began his public ministry in verse 14, it was appropriate for him to win a private victory. Specifically, in order to preach righteousness to others, Jesus, as a man, had to practice righteousness first himself. That is one reason for his temptation in the wilderness in verses 1-13.

Although Jesus was fully human, his virgin conception kept him from receiving a fallen nature like the rest of us humans have. He did not have any inward pull toward sin like you and I have.

Therefore, Satan had to get creative in tempting him. First, Satan tempted him with food when he had been fasting (vv. 2-3). There is nothing sinful about eating food, so the temptation focused on Jesus using his divine power to create food. Again, there is nothing wrong with that; he used his divine power to create food when he fed the 5000. So this first temptation is hard to figure out; what exactly was the sin that Satan was trying to get Jesus to commit?

The answer is revealed in Jesus’ response to Satan in verse 4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 and the context for that passage was how God provided manna for his people in the desert. In Deuteronomy 8:1 Moses instructed the people to “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.” In other words, receiving God’s promises was tied to obeying his commands. In Deuteronomy 8:2-3 Moses said, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This was all a reminder to Israel that the most important thing they needed to do was obey God. If people obey God’s word, they do so because they are trusting God–trusting him to keep his promises and to provide what they need. Moses was reminding the people in Deuteronomy 8:1-3 that God provided for them in the desert so they should obey his word and trust him to care for and provide for them in the future.

Back to Jesus, then, and Luke 4.

Luke 4:1 told us that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and that he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” It was God’s will, then, for him to be there. He was sent there by divine appointment without any preparation. The desert is not a place where food grows naturally so if Jesus were to survive his time out there, God would have to provide for him.

The devil’s temptation, then, subtly suggests that God the Father and the Holy Spirit had abandoned him. So, Satan suggested, Jesus should use his powers as the Son of God to provide for himself. Jesus’ reply was that obedience was more necessary for human flourishing than food and that if he obeyed and waited, God would provide for him.

The temptation to sin, then, was a temptation to operate outside of submission to God the father and act independently of his own will.

This is what we do, really, every time we sin. When we sin, we believe the lie spoken by our sin natures, the devil, and the world around us. That lie is that obedience to God’s way is stupid because we can’t trust God to keep his promises, so we need to seek our own gain, our own pleasure, our own solutions to the problems in our lives, or whatever else.

So, where are you facing this kind of temptation today? Has God left you waiting somewhere, longing for something that you think he should have provided by now?

Don’t turn away from obedience for the false promise of sin. Just as Jesus resisted abusing his divine power by exercising it out of God’s will, live within God’s moral will yourself through obedience and wait for him to deliver and provide for you.