Revelation 4

Read Revelation 4.

After addressing the churches on earth in Revelation 2 and 3, John’s vision of the Lord causes him to be transported to heaven to see what is happening there (v. 1). The purpose of this vision was to convey to John and to us the greatness and holiness of God. Despite all the problems his churches on earth were dealing with, God was not worried. He was sitting on a magnificent throne (v. 3) surrounded by worship (vv. 4-8). And what was the content of that worship? It was to proclaim the holiness of God (vv. 8) and his worthiness for worship (v. 11).

cThe word “holy” means “set apart.” It is used elsewhere in the Bible of God’s moral purity, his freedom from sin, in the sense that he is set apart from ungodliness. But the word “holiness” is also used just to describe how different God is from us and everything else that exists. The creatures worshipped God for his holiness, for his uniqueness in all things (v. 8). And why was God so different, so distinct? Because he “created all things” (v. 11). God is the only one who understands reality as the Creator–the one who planned and caused it. Even if we could understand everything God knows (we can’t, but go with me here), we still wouldn’t know AS God’s knows because he knows all things as the Creator. We only ever know anything as created beings. This means that:

  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is independent; we are dependent on him.
  • God knows everything because he planned and made everything; we know anything only because he gave us the ability to observe and learn as well as create tools and instruments to help us.

God’s greatness–his holiness–is an inexhaustible truth. This is why living creatures (v. 8) glorify him and why spiritual leaders fall down before him in worship (vv. 9-11).

Before Jesus revealed anything to John about the last days, he reveled to John the power and majesty of himself. This is so that he and we would develop an awe for him that causes us to worship him as the twenty-four elders did.

Did this passage strike you, giving you a new vision of God’s power, greatness and holiness? The spend some time worshiping the Lord for his holiness just as the elders did here in 4:9-11.

John 19

Read John 19.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman. He was assigned a powerful position in the Roman Empire over the area of Judea so he had to keep tabs on potential threats and problems in his region. But there was really no reason for him to fear anyone in Israel. With Roman soldiers at his disposal, any uprising by the Jewish people could be easily squelched. Any political would-be leaders could be dispensed with easily.

It is surprising, then, to read in verse 8 that “Pilate… was even more afraid” when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I would expect a man as Roman and as powerful as he was to laugh at such a claim.

Pilate, however, did not laugh.

He seems to have taken the charge very seriously. In verse 9b he asked Jesus where he was from and in verse 10 he scolded Jesus for not answering him. When Jesus finally did answer Pilate, stating that all the power he had was allowed him by God (v. 11), Pilate did not react as one who was insulted. Instead, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12). It took some political bullying by the Jewish leaders (v. 12bff) to get Pilate to send Jesus off for crucifixion (vv. 13ff).

What caused Pilate to be so fearful of Jesus? Remember that anything Jesus said was God’s word by definition. Since it was God’s word, it had the power of God behind it. That power, plus the witness of the Spirit, gave Jesus’ words self-authenticating power. Pilate knew that he was hearing the word of God and, on some level, knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Do you understand the self-authenticating power of God’s word? Unbelievers like Pilate may resist God’s word and evade accountability to it. But, because it is God’s word, they feel the conviction of sin within when they heard God’s word. They know through the convicting work of the Spirit that Jesus is truly God.

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.

John 17

Read John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth–the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth–the word of God–to find our unity there.

2 Timothy 2

Read 2 Timothy 2.

Paul’s life was coming to an end.

Timothy, apparently a much younger man, would not live forever either. If the church in Ephesus was going to survive and thrive beyond the short term, the false teaching in it needed to be rooted out (vv. 16-17). While Timothy was doing that, however, he needed to be instilling good doctrine in the Ephesian church. Verse 2 commanded him to take “…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Verse 14 commanded him to “keep reminding God’s people of these things.” Truth is the antidote for false doctrine but it is also the mother’s milk of spiritual growth.

Have you ever discipled another person, passing on what you’ve learned of our faith to someone else?

That is one of the best ways to grow strong in the faith yourself. It is also important for the growth and development of the gospel. The process Paul described in verse 2 of taking “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses” and entrusting them “to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” must not break down or the church will suffer for it in the future.

Look around and find someone who could use a good model of Christian growth or a faithful instructor of God’s word. Then, invite that person to grow with you by learning God’s word through personal discipleship.

Luke 14

Read Luke 14.

“Ok, these guys won’t like it if I heal you now. So come back tomorrow, if you still want me to heal you and I’ll do it then. Mkay?”

Jesus could have said that in verse 4.

Instead, after asking the Pharisees and scribes if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus went ahead and healed him after “they remained silent” (v. 4). Jesus knew they wouldn’t like it; that’s why he asked them about it in verse 3. Instead of changing his actions to suit the expectations of the religious, so that they would like him, Jesus challenged their false assumptions and healed the man anyway.

Then he explained to them why it was NOT wrong to heal on the Sabbath day (v. 5).

How often do we act like this?

How often do we do the right thing or say the righteous thing even when we know it will anger the people around us?

How often do we have the courage to do what God wants us to do even if it is offensive to others.

For me, not often enough. If I think someone might not like what I have to say or what I’m going to do, I’ll avoid the topic, change the subject, try to soften the statement or do what I’m going to do privately or another time.

Jesus didn’t run away from controversy. He looked for it. He took every opportunity to do good, even if others didn’t like it. He knew God would be glorified and God’s people would be blessed and that’s all that mattered.

There’s no reason to be unkind or act like a jerk. That’s not godliness.

But it is also ungodly to be a chameleon. Jesus could have acted like the Pharisees when he was around the Pharisees. He could have sneaked over to the home of the puffy man in verse 2 and healed him privately after he left the dinner party.

Shoot, he could have just said nothing at all and healed the guy remotely as the man walked out the door and nobody was watching. Instead, he took the opportunity to heal the man and shine a light on the hypocrisy (v. 5) of the religious crowd.

We care too much about what others think and not nearly enough about what is right. Let’s look for ways to be more like Jesus and less like a chameleon.

Matthew 12

Read Matthew 12.

Does it really matter what you say?

How often do we say things that are mean, unkind, and hurtful and then follow those words with, “I didn’t really mean it”?

How often do people use words that are crass, crude, rude, condescending, demeaning, and/or untruthful? But we give them (or ourselves) a pass by saying, “I/He was just letting off steam” or “S/he’s really a nice person but just has a temper.”

I think that many Christians today think sins of speech are less of a problem than other kinds of sin.

Jesus said otherwise. Words were very important to him because they reveal what is in a person’s heart.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (vv. 34c-35).

In context, Jesus is addressing the sin of the Pharisees in saying that Jesus “drives out demons… by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 24). In our culture, someone who heard that might say, “They’re just jealous” or give some other excuse for what the Pharisees said.

To Jesus, however, the way the Pharisees tried to explain away Jesus’s miracles was a statement of faith, an expression of their beliefs about Jesus. Or, rather, their unbelief about who Jesus is.

Words are not empty in God’s sight at all. They are the basis on which either you will be acquitted or condemned when you stand before God in judgment (vv. 36-37). Evil words, untruthful words, harsh words, unkind or unbelieving words all reveal what you really think, the ideas that you mull over in your heart. Your words and mine let us see inside the mind; they reveal what conclusions you’ve come to in your heart. They show what is important and valuable to you. They demonstrate how little (or much) you value God and other people.

Each human being with will be judged by his or her words. Yet Jesus’s prescription for an evil mouth was not to watch what you say.

Instead, Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (v. 33a). Since what you say comes from your heart, the only way to clean up your speech is to cleanse your heart.

Jesus came not only to atone for and forgive our sins of speech; he also came to change our hearts so that the words we speak are true, kind, loving, gentle, and good. As you grow in your faith in Christ, your words should reflect it.

How are your speech patterns? Do your words fit with your profession of faith as a Christian or do they reveal a heart that is filled with–or still struggling with sin?

Ask God for the grace to speak words that are pleasing to him. Ask him to help you grow and to cleanse your heart so that whether a believer or an unbeliever speaks with you, he will see the life-transforming work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in your life.

And, fill your heart with good things, with godly truth and the word of God itself. As your heart is purified, your words will be better for, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (v. 34).

One more thing: Some of the most powerful words in the English language are, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me for what I said to you and/or about you?” Is there someone you need to say those words to today?

2 Chronicles 18 and Revelation 11

Read 2 Chronicles 18 and Revelation 11 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 18.

“Counseling should be encouraging” a man said to me years ago. It was his justification for ending weekly sessions of marriage counseling I’d arranged for him and his wife with a Christian counselor I trust. 

I had talked with this couple enough myself to know that there were serious sin problems that needed to be addressed–mostly, but not completely–on his side. The Christian counselor I sent them to work with was kind but candid about how he was treating his wife sinfully. A straight dose of truth was exactly what he needed but it was not what he wanted. So, they quit going.

Do I even need to tell you that they are now divorced? 

Ahab, the king of Israel, had similar feelings toward Micaiah, the truth-telling prophet. When Jehoshaphat king of Judah wanted a true prophet of YHWH to speak God’s mind about his joint venture of war (v. 6), Ahab replied, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah” (v. 7).

Why did Micaiah always prophecy bad things for Ahab? Because Ahab was an ungodly man who did ungodly things. Rather than repent when confronted with he truth, Ahab preferred to change the channel and find prophets who were more encouraging.

We all have a tendency to avoid facing the truth about ourselves or our ways. It is easier to change the channel than to change yourself.

But God is in the “changing you” business. He wants us to grow in our walk with him and that begins by honestly confronting your sins.

Do you find yourself looking for a positive message to drown out the truth of God’s word? Please realize how foolish it is to ignore God’s loving correction in your life.  Instead, seek out his correcting word and do what it says.

1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, John 16

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, and John 16 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 1.

When Zechariah wrote these words (v. 1) there were still 18 years or so to go in Judah’s 70 year exile. The end was not yet in sight but it was much closer than it was at the beginning. God’s message to the people in the first 6 verses of this chapter can be described as follows:

  • Your parents and grandparents refused to repent when the prophets preached to them that the exile that we’re in was coming. Don’t be like them (v. 4).
  • What happened to those ancestors off yours, anyway? Oh, yeah, they died in exile just like the prophets said. The prophets themselves died too, by the way (v. 5).
  • What survives from those days? God’s word; that’s what (v. 6). Everything God said would happen, did happen.

The point of these first 6 verses is that God’s word through the predictions of the prophets had proved to be true. His word was so clearly true that even the rebellious ancestors were forced to admit, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do” (v. 6d). God’s punishment for their sins was clear proof of the truthfulness of his word.

So, “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Don’t wait for the punishment of sin to prove the truth of God’s word. Believe that God’s word is true now and turn to him accordingly.

People in every generation have rejected and tried to discredit God’s word. They argue that there is no proof that the Bible is God’s word; it is just a human book, they think.

Leaving aside the prophecies that have already been fulfilled, God’s word is fulfilled day after day in the consequences that people experience for their sins. “The wages of sin is death” according to Romans 6:23; the fact that every sinner dies proves this word of the Lord to be true. The Bible also promises blessings for faith in and obedience to his word as well as judgment for unbelief and disobedience to his word.

You and I have the benefit of history. We can see how others who lived before us have disregarded God’s commands and sinned because the wanted to sin. What became of their lives? In every case I can think of, they proved that faithlessness and disobedience bring heartbreak and sorrow. 

Receive the grace of God in the warning of these words and choose to believe that obeying God’s commands will be far better for you than disobeying them. That’s the lesson God wanted the people of Zechariah’s generation to learn from the exile. Likewise, it is the same lesson he wants us to learn, too.

2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, Proverbs 26:1-16

Read 2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, and Proverbs 26:1-16 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 22.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king.

When he was a mere twenty-six years old, however (v. 3: “in the eighteenth year”), he supervised the renovation of Solomon’s temple (vv. 3-7). During that renovation, the “Book of the Law” was discovered. This is a reference to Moses’ law; whether it meant all five books of Moses or just one book (such as Exodus or Deuteronomy) is unclear. What is clear is that God’s word had been neglected. Whatever Josiah and any other observant person in Judah knew about God was known by oral tradition, not direct instruction from God’s written word.

Having re-discovered God’s word, however, the secretary (v. 8)  and the king (v. 10) read it. The king immediately accepted the words he heard as God’s word (v. 11) and realized that God had promised judgment for disobedience to this covenant—disobedience that was common throughout his kingdom.

His response to the message in verse 13 was, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me….” This inquiry was to find out what the Lord’s will was for the king and his people. Had the Lord already determined to bring judgement to them or would he accept the king’s repentance?

Having consulted the prophet Huldah (v. 14), they learned that God had indeed willed judgment for Judah (vv. 16-17).

However, verses 18-19 tell us that Josiah’s responsiveness to God’s word would mean mercy for him and the people during his life. Verse 19 put it this way, “Because your heart was responsive….” He, therefore, modeled for Judah and for anyone who follows God what walking with God looks like.

We must read God’s word—not someone else’s description or summary of God’s word —but the word itself. We must believe that it is true and applies to us and we must turn to God in repentance when we are convicted of disobedience to it.

I’m glad you’re reading these devotionals but are you reading the Bible passages first? Are you finding truth for yourself in these daily chapters from scripture in addition to the truth I email you every morning?

Most importantly, are you doing anything about the truths that God is bringing to your attention from the word?