2 Thessalonians 1

Read 2 Thessalonians 1.

In yesterday’s reading we read about the end of humanity as we know it. We learned there in 1 Thessalonians 5 that most of the human race will be caught utterly unprepared when the “day of the Lord” comes in judgment. Here in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul continued that theme.

The passage began with Paul’s usual greeting to the church (vv. 1-4) and a transitional statement saying that all the ways in which the faith of the Thessalonians was growing (vv. 3-4) was evidence that they would be included in God’s kingdom (v. 5).

At the end of verse 5 Paul noted that it is this kingdom, the kingdom of God, “for which you are suffering.” That phrase both indicates the circumstances the Thessalonians were facing and prepares us for the next few verses which tell us what God will do about it.

According to verse 6, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Although all of us were once enemies of God and opponents to his kingdom, God in grace saved from the penalty that we deserved for our sins. That salvation made us “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5b) but also put us on the other side of the rest of humanity which is still at war with God and resisting Christ’s kingdom. That is why believers are persecuted–both back then in Thessalonica and around the world today.

Here, though, God promised that suffering would not be the fate of believers forever. Instead, God will execute justice someday in the future. That justice will give relief to his children who are suffering but deliver judgment to those who reject him and oppose him. And when will this judgment happen? Verse 7 says it will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” In other words, the “day of the Lord” which we read about yesterday in 1 Thessalonians 5 will begin when Christ returns as described here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10.

Christians debate about the timing of these events and this is not the place to address that debate. What we should take away from 2 Thessalonians 1 is the promise that God’s judgment is coming when Jesus returns. On that day there will be justice–eternal punishment for those who are not in Christ (v. 9) but salvation for those of us who are in Christ. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but based on the fact that Christ died in our place, taking God’s punishment for sin for us.

But what do we do while we wait for that day of the Lord? Verses 11-12 tell us. Paul prayed for these believers that “God may make you worthy of his calling.” This prayer was for God to form real righteousness in these believers to match the status of righteousness that he declared them to be in Christ. That “real righteousness” was described in verse 11b as God bringing “to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.”

Like all believers, the Thessalonians wanted to grow in grace. They wanted to serve God and become like him. Paul prayed for them that, until Jesus comes, they would be growing in God’s grace to become godly men and women. The result of that growth was described in verse 12: “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What Paul described in this passage is what God is doing and wants to do in the lives of every believer. It is why I teach God’s word, shepherd his people, and write these devotionals. May God continue to change us and grow us until Christ returns to finally save us.

BTW: this is how we should pray for each other, too. Not that we would have health, happiness, and prosperity but that God would keep working in us to make us “worthy of his calling.”

1 Thessalonians 1

Today let’s read 1 Thessalonians 1.

We paused our reading in Acts at Acts 18 yesterday because it seems clear that Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians while he was in Corinth during the time period covered by Acts 18 (see Acts 18:11). So we’re going to read that letter and 2 Thessalonians for the next few days before we return to Acts.

This passage overflows with thanksgiving for the Thessalonian believers because the evidence of their faith in God was so abundantly clear to Paul. Because he was thankful for them, Paul prayed for these believers.

And what was it that Paul prayed about when he prayed for them? Verse 3 says it was “…your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, it was their walk with God that he prayed for. He thanked God for how their faith showed itself in real life ways and he prayed that God would continue to nurture and strengthen that faith.

I think that one reason why we find it hard to pray for other Christians is that we are not in tune with their spiritual lives. We pray for health and happiness when we do pray, but do we thank God for ways in which we see each other growing and ask God to keep that growth going?

As your devotional time comes to a close this morning, take some time to think of another believer, maybe someone you brought to Christ or whose faith you’ve contributed to as a discipler, teacher, or friend. Take a few minutes to think about what evidences of growth you’ve seen in that person’s life and what areas he or she may be challenged in now. Then pray–thanking God for what he’s done in his / her life and asking Him to keep doing that work.

Acts 12

Read Acts 12 today.

Persecution by the religious leadership in Jerusalem started back in Acts 7 with the stoning of Stephen. It continued in Acts 8 through Saul, but God saved him in Acts 9.

Here in Acts 12 we were told that Herod, a Jewish political leader, joined in the persecution of the church. Herod began this persecution in a brutal way with the execution of James (vv. 1-2). There are a few guys in the New Testament named James; another one of them is actually mentioned in verse 17. The James that Herod killed in verse 2 was “the brother of John,” which identifies him as one of the Twelve apostles and the son of Zebedee (see Matt 4:21 & 10:2).

The religious leaders of Israel were happy that Herod had joined them in persecuting the church (v. 3a), so he arrested Simon Peter and intended to try him publicly (v. 4). Because it was Passover season, Herod waited for Peter’s trial and execution and that time of waiting bought the church some time to pray for him.

Verse 5 told us, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” And God answered their prayers in a miraculous way by sending an angel to rescue Simon Peter (vv. 7-11).

Yet, when Peter showed up to the prayer meeting, people had a hard time believing that he had really been freed (vv. 12-17). When I was taught this passage as a child in Sunday school, the teacher suggested that the church didn’t really believe that God would answer their prayers, that why they were so startled to see Peter.

I’m not sure that’s right; in fact, I’m pretty sure it is wrong.

The fact that the church was “earnestly praying for Peter” (v. 5) suggests that God’s people were doing the right thing–prayer–from sincere hearts. They wanted God to free Peter and believed that God would, if it was his will.

That last part, “…if it was his will…” is important. Verse 2 didn’t tell us that anyone was praying for James to be freed but it is hard to believe that they weren’t praying for that. Yet God did not will to rescue James from death as he did for Peter.

I think the church was startled when Peter was released because of how God rescued him, not that God rescued him. I think the church was expecting a more providential release, meaning that God would change Herod’s heart and Peter would be acquitted at his trial (v. 4d) or just outright released.

Instead of that, though, God performed a miracle to release Peter. It was so startling–and unexpected–that even Peter himself was unprepared for it (vv. 6-11).

The lesson here, then, is not that we should have more faith when we pray. That’s always true; as fallen people, our faith could always be stronger and purer.

The lesson instead is that we shouldn’t set our hopes on the method by which God answers prayer. Part of praying in faith is submitting our prayers to God’s will–both for the outcome and for the way in which God makes that outcome happen.

Have you ever been surprised by how God answered your prayers? Maybe he made your faith stronger through a trial in your life. Maybe he helped you get rid of a sin in your life by causing that sin to be exposed instead of making your desire for it go away suddenly.

What have you been praying for? Is it possible that God is answering–but you just don’t see it yet because you’re looking for a different answer?

Luke 18

Luke 18

Verses 1-8 start Luke 18 with a parable about prayer. The point of this story according to Luke was, “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” The woman in this story badgered the unjust judge and eventually won her case because of her badgering (vv. 4-5). Then Jesus said that God will listen to those who “cry out to him day and night” (v. 7).

So, if this is the case, why don’t we persist in prayer?

One answer is weak faith or a lack of faith. Another answer is just that we’re human and humans struggle with various kinds of weaknesses.

But I think pride is a reason why we don’t pray persistently. Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot control something. It is a response to the knowledge among the faithful that we cannot make something happen on our own so, if it is to happen, God will have to do it.

That takes humility!

Our default assumption is that we can handle things. We can:

  • put up with stuff we don’t like or
  • persuade someone to do what we want, or
  • reason with someone who we have a dispute with, or
  • change ourselves if we try hard enough for long enough.

But prayer makes us admit that these things may not be able to handle everything ourselves and that, in reality, only God can make something happen.

We might pray once or twice asking God for something but after that, we give up to look for “more productive” ways to attack the problem we’re praying about. Also, God is sovereign and will do his will, so he may refuse to answer our prayer requests with yes because they are outside of his will.

All of these are blows to our pride.

So, what do you wish God would do for you? If it is within his moral will, will cause him to be glorified, and is truly righteous and just, don’t let your pride keep you from asking God–continually–for it in prayer.

That’s the message of Luke 18:1-7.

Luke 17

Read Luke 17 today.

Leprosy was a horrible disease to contract in the days Jesus lived on this earth. In order to keep from infecting other people, lepers had to live alone, away from society. If they came near anyone else, they had to warn them by calling out, “Unclean!” If you contracted leprosy, your family would never touch you again and the only human companionship you’d ever know again was from other lepers.

It was social-distancing long before it became cool here in 2020.

Lepers would watch parts of their bodies rot away and fall off until, eventually, they died. So you can understand why lepers were so eager to meet Jesus and when they saw him, according to verse 13, they “called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’”

Instead of making new skin out of mud or laying his hands on them or even waving his hands toward them, Jesus just told them to find a priest and have him check their skin. This was required by the Old Testament law for someone who wanted to be re-admitted to society after having a skin problem that cleared up. Between verses 14-15, they were healed. In verse 14b they expressed faith in his word by obediently turning to find a priest. But, according to verse 15, it took a few moments before they actually realized they had been healed.

Of the ten men who were healed of leprosy, only one of them returned to thank Jesus (v. 16a). And he was less than subtle about it; according to verses 15b-16a, “when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him….”

This is what you’d expect from someone who not only just saved and extended your life, but made it possible to return to your family and friends. But, of all the men Jesus healed, he alone gave glory to God and thanks to Jesus and, to top it all off, “…he was a Samaritan.” That continued a pattern in Jesus’ life of being received best by outsiders.

Jesus made a point of highlighting that only 10% of the cleansed lepers gave thanks to him and glory to God for their cleansing. His point is one that we should consider as well. People frequently ask others to pray for them but, in my experience at least, rarely give glory to God when the prayer is answered.

Furthermore, genuine thankfulness is in scarce supply in our world. We should serve God by serving others in love without expecting to be thanked but thankfulness is a trait of godliness (see Colossians 2:7, 3:15 and 17 for just a few examples).

Do you live a thankful life? Do we notice when God answers our prayers and give him praise and glory for it? Do we thank his servants, his children, when they are good to us? These are habits of a godly life.

While we’re stuck in this weird, COVID-19 world, we have the opportunity and the time to reach out to others. Is there someone you should thank? Make a phone call to that person today and let them know how much you appreciate what they’ve done in your life.

And don’t forget to thank God in prayer for his goodness to you. Life is weird right now for us all, but we don’t have leprosy, we do have what we need, and this crisis will pass. Let’s be thankful for how God is providing for us and for his promise to keep providing for us in post-coronavirus world.

Luke 11

Read Luke 11.

Does God really answer prayer? Going by what Jesus said here in Luke 11:1-13, not only does God answer prayer, he is waiting to bless us by answering our prayers.

So, why don’t we get more answers to prayer?

One reason is that we pray very differently than Jesus told us to pray.

Verses 1-4 record what is called “The Lord’s Prayer” but should be called “The Lord’s Guide to Prayer.” Jesus was not telling us to pray this prayer in these words but rather to let the themes he touched on be the things that we talk to God about. Namely:

  • That more and more people would come to worship him and stand in awe of his holiness and greatness (“hallowed by thy name”).
  • That his kingdom would finally arrive finishing the redemption of his elect and giving us a place to finally be the society he created us to be (“your kingdom come”).
  • That he would provide for our daily needs, not make all our dreams come true (“give us each day our daily bread”).
  • That he would make us holy just as he has declared us to be (“forgive us our sins… and lead us not into temptation”).
  • That he would give us the grace to resolve the relationships we have broken by our sins (“for we also forgive everyone who sins against us”).

Jesus’ healing ministry shows us that God does care about our physical problems, but how often is our praying dominated by praying for ourselves and others to have physical healing? Do we ever pray for each other to avoid sin? Do we take time to worship God for who he is and ask him to save more people so that they can worship him?

These are the things Jesus told us to pray for, so let’s let his instructions mold our own talks with God each day.

Luke 1

Read Luke 1.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were quite a couple. Verse 6 told us that they “were righteous in the sight of God.” In other words, they were both people who did right, who loved what was right. The next phrase in verse 6 modified the description of their righteousness when it said, “observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Their religion was not for show; it came from careful, diligent hearts.

If you were the Lord, these are the kinds of people you’d want to be parents in Israel. Since they were righteous themselves and kept the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly, they would certainly instruct their children in God’s word and show them what it looked like to live a righteous life.

Yet verse 7 says, “But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.” They never had the opportunity to be parents and their advanced age meant they’d given up on the dream of having children long before (see 18). I wonder how often each of them prayed, asking God for a child and wondering why he would give children to all their neighbors and extended family members, but not to them.

The answer is that God DID want them to have a child–one very important, unique child: John the Baptist.

His conception and birth were precious gifts of God to this couple. But God’s purpose was not just for them to have the joy of becoming parents. In addition to that, Elizabeth’s conception was a precious gift to all of God’s people for the work that he would do for the Lord (vv. 16-17).

Zechariah and Elizabeth may have wanted many children but the one and only son they did get was exactly the kind of child they would have wanted. Their faith and their patience was ultimately rewarded by God.

How often do we give up praying and asking God for good, righteous things because we don’t believe God will give them to us?

Even if what we want and pray for is not God’s will for us ultimately, isn’t it glorifying to him that we want and pray for the salvation of someone we love?

Isn’t it honoring to God when we pray for any request from godly motives, even if God does not seem to want to grant it?

God’s ways often make very little sense to us but they make perfect sense to him, especially when viewed from his eternal and perfect perspective.

So trust him, even when you pray for years with no change. God is doing something so trust him to use you and your life in the appropriate place at his appropriate time.