1 Thessalonians 4

Read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. Because I am a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die, so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven.

Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for writing these words was to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13).

Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14). That verse reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity.

The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now.

In verses 15-17, Paul described how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection.

Once that resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.”

That is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth, we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus.

Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.”

Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus.

Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!

Acts 13

Read Acts 13.

When Paul described the core of the gospel, he wrote: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

“The Scriptures” Paul talked about in those verses are, of course, what we call the Old Testament. It isn’t hard to show how the scriptures prophesied that Christ would die for our sins. But where exactly does the Old Testament predict the burial and resurrection of Jesus?

Verses 32-37 answer that question. In verse 32, Paul said that “God promised our ancestors” that Christ would rise from the dead. He quoted from several Psalms in the following verses. The most relevant to the promise of Christ’s resurrection was Psalm 16:10 which Paul quoted here in Acts 13:35: “So it is also stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’”

David wrote those words and people naturally interpreted those words as referring to him, that is, to David. But, as Paul pointed out in verse 36, David died, “was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” So, Paul reasoned, David must not have been writing about himself (v. 36).

Instead, David was writing prophetically about Jesus. Verse 37 says, “But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus were not an unexpected detour or change in the plan of God. Old Testament prophesies show that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus were the plan of God all along. They are essential to everything we have through faith in Christ and to every promise God has made to us in eternity.

So, rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and don’t ever look at it as optional to our faith or a secondary point of doctrine. Instead, hold fast to the resurrection of Jesus; it means everything to us as his followers and children.

Matthew 28

Read Matthew 28.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the hardest things in the Bible to believe. You may have seen someone resuscitated but you’ve never seen someone who has been dead for days and embalmed for burial get up out of his or her casket. I think about this sometimes when I attend a funeral or a visitation. It would be a distressing thing to witness a bona fide resurrection.

God knew it would be difficult to believe and he knew that it would be easy to fabricate a believable story to explain the disappearance of Jesus’s dead body. What is more likely? What is easier to believe–that someone actually rose from the dead or that someone stole a dead man’s body, buried it out in the desert where it would never be found, and then claimed that he rose from the dead? The question answers itself.

So, here in Matthew 28, Matthew recorded the cover up that the enemies of Jesus concocted to explain away his disappearance (vv. 11-15). But he also recorded the appearance of Jesus to the women (vv. 1-9). Then he recorded the promise Christ made to meet with his disciples in Galilee (v. 10) and then his meeting (v. 16) and his final words to them (vv. 17-20).

All of these appearances were designed to provide evidence that that the resurrection is true. The followers of Jesus didn’t just say, “Trust us; he rose from the dead even though only one or two of us saw him. Instead, he made several appearances, some of which are not even recorded here in Matthew, so that there would be an abundance of witnesses who would see him alive and well on planet earth.

But it takes an act of faith to believe in the resurrection. There is an alternative explanation (vv. 11-15) and it is easier to believe that than it is to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But he did rise from the dead because his resurrection was necessary for our salvation, for our spiritual power, and to prove that Christ is, in fact, the Son of God.

Don’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus and don’t shy away from talking about it to others. It is true and essential to everything we hold dear as Christians. Our hope for eternal life rests in the truth of the resurrection and Christ, by rising from the dead first, shows that God can and will raise the dead.

Deuteronomy 19, Jeremiah 11, 1 Corinthians 15

Read Deuteronomy 19, Jeremiah 11, and 1 Corinthians 15. This devotional is about 1 Corinthians 15.

As this letter to the Corinthians continued, Paul continued addressing issues he knew of in the church. Here in chapter 15, he addressed the resurrection of Jesus which was denied by some of the believers in Corinth (v. 12). Paul began by reminded the Corinthians that they were saved by the gospel he brought to them (vv. 1-2) and that gospel was the death (v. 3), burial (v. 4a), and resurrection of Christ (v. 4b) along with the eyewitness proof of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 5-7). After a brief digression about his apostleship (vv. 8-11), Paul began taking apart the false doctrine that there is no resurrection (vv. 12-49).

If there is no resurrection than Christ wasn’t raised from the dead and the entire gospel message is a fraud (vv. 12-19). But Christ did rise from the dead and his resurrection is a promissory note of a future hope for us (vv. 20-49). Finally, in verses 50-58, Paul spelled out the future hope we have in Christ because of his resurrection. Death is not a permanent state (v. 51); instead, everyone who died in Christ will be raised again with a glorified body (vv. 52-57). This is our hope. Death is a fearful thing for people but in Christ we are promised deliverance from death through the final resurrection. Christ’s resurrection foreshadows (“the firstfruits,” vv. 20-23) our resurrection.

What good is it to us today to believe in the resurrection? The answer is that it gives us motivation to stand firm in Christ and to invest in his work. Verse 58 says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The promise of the resurrection is both the promise of eternal life with God and the prospect of future rewards in his kingdom.

Do you ever wonder if it is worth it to follow Christ? Do you ever consider quitting your area of ministry because you feel the results are not there? Most of us have felt that from time to time but this passage urges us to hold fast and keep serving because eternity will be worth it. So don’t quit! Keep following Christ and living for him and you will be glad you did when you reach the final resurrection.

Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, Acts 11

Read Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, and Acts 11 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “… we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant. In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise–let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50

Read Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50. This devotional is about Psalm 49.

Psalm 49 is not usually on the list people have of favorite Psalms, but it one that offers great wisdom to those who meditate on its truths. The passage opens in verses 1-4 with a call for everyone, despite their station in life, to listen to the voice of wisdom. And what is this wisdom that the Psalmist offers? Don’t be afraid of though times and wicked people (v. 5) because everyone is going to die (v. 10a, 12). It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one can buy more time. God does not traffic in human marketplaces, so no matter what you try to offer him, it won’t matter (v. 7).

Apple founder Steve Jobs was worth over $10 billion on the day he died. Although he lavishly funded cancer research seeking a cure for his illness, his vast wealth was not enough to save him. He could have offered everything he owned but nobody could give him even one extra moment on earth. “This,” the Psalmist wrote in verses 13-14 “is the fate of those who trust in themselves… their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.” Jobs led the design of a spectacular headquarters for Apple—one that is was built after his death–but he is buried in the dust just like everyone else who dies.

So, don’t be so easily impressed by wealth, the Psalmist wrote in verse 16 because, according to verses 17-19, “They will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.”

What is the alternative to this depressing truth? Verse 15: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” Although the details of the afterlife were fuzzy in the Old Testament, there are passages like this one that express confidence, certainty, in the salvation of those who hope in the Lord. You’ll never have enough money to live forever on this earth, but trusting in God gives us hope for today and tomorrow because those who trust in him by faith WILL live.

Leviticus 16, Isaiah 11-12, Acts 4

Read Leviticus 16, Isaiah 11-12, and Acts 4 today. This devotional is about Leviticus 16.

The Most Holy Place is the inner most room of the tabernacle (later, the temple). You may have heard it called the “Holy of Holies.” It is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Verse 2 described “the cloud over the atonement cover” which represented God’s holy presence, Therefore, when it came to entering the Most Holy Place:

  • only the high priest could enter there.
  • only once a year could he enter there (vv. 2, 34).
  • only after doing these things could he enter:
    • washed his body with water (v. 4b)
    • put on the sacred garments (v. 4a).
    • made atonement for himself (vv. 6, 11).

The one day a year that the high priest could enter was Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement (vv. 29-34)). What the high priest offered to the Lord on that day consisted of two goats. One goat was sacrificed for a sin offering (v. 9) and the other was “presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat” (v. 10).

The goat that was offered as a sin offering was a substitute for the people. God’s holy command was that the wages of sin is death, so goat number 1 died for the sins of the people. The high priest entered the Most Holy Place with an incense offering (v. 13) and some of the blood from goat number 1 to “sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.” (vv. 15-16).

The imagery of the atonement offering is very familiar to us Christians. The Bible teaches that Jesus died as a sin offering (Rom 8:3). Like goat number 1 here in Leviticus 16, Jesus was our substitute (1 Pet 3:18), taking the penalty of death and God’s wrath for us.

But remember that there were two goats here in Leviticus 16. One died as a sacrifice for sinners; the other goat was sent into the wilderness alive (v. 22). But before the live goat was sent away, the high priest was commanded “to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.” Then the scapegoat was led away into the wilderness which symbolized the removal of those sins that have been confessed and atoned for. Verse 22 says, “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place….”

Jesus fulfilled this image, too. One goat could not both make atonement for sins and carry those sins away because the payment for those sins was the death of the goat as a sacrifice. Jesus, however, could both die as a substitute for sin (like goat #1) but also take those sins away like goat #2. How? By rising from the dead. Romans 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” First Corinthians 15:17, 20 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead….”

Two goats were needed to symbolize the death of Christ for us and how he took away our sins through his resurrection. Actually, more than two were needed because this ceremony had to be performed every year. Now that Christ has died for our sins and has risen again for our justification, we have no need to fear God’s wrath. Our sins are paid for and they are gone by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the one true sin offering and scapegoat and he performed his work perfectly for our salvation.