Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
The story is told that a young preacher went to see Charles Spurgeon because he was very disappointed in the results of his preaching. Though he was putting effort into preparing and delivering his sermons, no one was responding. After listening to his story Spurgeon asked, “You don’t expect people to be saved every time you preach do you?”
“Why no,” the young pastor replied.
“That’s why you don’t,” Spurgeon said.
There is no reason for us not to expect to see God bless the preaching and teaching of His Word, and our soulwinning efforts to reach others with the gospel because of the promises we find in Scripture. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). While not everyone who hears the gospel will respond, the more confidently we go out and give it to others, the more people will respond to accept God’s gift of salvation.
What Jesus declared to the disciples is still true today. “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). We are not responsible for the results of our presentation of the gospel. When we are faithful to spread the seed, God will give the increase and bring about the harvest.
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Though the ministry of the Apostle Paul was greatly effective, it certainly was not easy. He was constantly being attacked for his preaching, both by the Jewish leaders who opposed the message of Christ as the Messiah, by the pagan leaders who opposed the teaching against idolatry, and by the Roman authorities who viewed this new religion as a threat. Paul was beaten, jailed, stoned, shipwrecked, and had to flee for his life on more than one occasion. Yet throughout all the trials and challenges he faced, Paul rested in his faith.
The church at Philippi started in the face of great persecution. One of the first members was the jailer who had been responsible for keeping Paul in the prison after his arrest until the earthquake freed him from his bonds. The letter we know as the book of Philippians was written by Paul while he was in jail in Rome for his fearless preaching. Despite all that he had endured and the trouble of his current surroundings, Paul said that he was content.
True contentment has nothing to do with our possessions or our location—it has to do with our faith. Our God reminds us that both scarcity and abundance are according to His plan, and when we recognize that truth, we can find contentment in any situation. That contentment in turn allows us to attempt great things for God, knowing that the strength given to us by Christ will be equal to any challenge we face.
“By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Enoch makes only a brief appearance on the pages of Scripture, but his story holds an important lesson for us regarding the role of faith in our lives. The one thing that stood out most in life—the central focus of his testimony—was that Enoch pleased God. There are many good things that could be said about a person, but I can’t think of a better one. From the time that his son was born, Enoch walked with God in a close and special way. “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:22).
The writer of Hebrews, in the context of Enoch’s life, tells us that without faith we cannot please God. There are two parts to this equation. First, without faith, we have no desire for the close fellowship and relationship with God that Enoch had. We will not come to God on a regular basis if we do not have faith. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us primarily through the pages of Scripture. If we are looking for tangible, physical evidence we are looking in the wrong place. Faith sees the invisible.
Second, without faith, we will not pray. Prayer is the means through which God has ordained to meet our needs. Yet if we do not believe that He will hear and answer, why would we pray? Without faith, prayer withers. Without prayer, our spiritual walk and work wither.
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
When Gabriel came to Mary with the news that she would be the mother of the Messiah, he was telling her something that was about to happen that was completely unprecedented. A virgin birth was not just rare—it was impossible. But when God is involved, there is really no such thing as impossible. Dr. Tom Malone would often say, “When God is going to do something wonderful, He starts with the difficult. When God is going to do something miraculous, He starts with the impossible.”
Even in the light of this incredible announcement, Mary’s faith was unshakeable. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). Mary trusted that whatever God said would happen. That is what faith in action looks like. It does not matter whether we have ever seen it happen before. It does not matter if anyone else has heard of it happening. If God says it is going to happen—no matter how unlikely or impossible it seems—it will happen.
Of course there have been cases where people have foolishly tried things God has not said and called it faith, but those failures should not deter us from claiming the full scope of what God has promised in His Word. He never fails to keep a promise, and we can trust Him, even for the impossible.
“And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”
When Paul and Silas reached Philippi, it wasn’t long before their preaching created a stir. After Paul cast a demon out of a girl who was working as a fortune-teller, the two missionaries were beaten severely and then thrown into prison. In pain in the dark, they had every reason humanly speaking to gripe and complain. They had done nothing wrong. In fact as Paul later pointed out, their beating and imprisonment was illegal under Roman law.
At midnight, the other prisoners must have been shocked to hear these two Christians singing praises to God. Cursing would have been understood. Wailing over their unjust treatment would have been par for the course. Blaming God for not protecting them would have been understandable. Instead Paul and Silas were rejoicing. I do not think they knew that the earthquake that would free them was about to happen or that their jailer was about to be saved and become part of a great church. But they trusted God enough to sing in the dark.
All of us go through dark times in our lives. Friends disappoint us, those into whom we have invested our love and efforts turn away, and financial or physical problems we did not expect arise. None of those things take God by surprise. He is still there and still working in our lives even when we cannot immediately see what He is doing. That is where faith comes in—it sings until the lights come back on.
“And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
I read something interesting about African impalas. These large animals have powerful legs—so powerful that they can leap to a height of over ten feet and cover more than thirty feet in a single bound. Because of this amazing leaping ability, you would think that a very large enclosure would be necessary when they are kept in a zoo. Yet in fact a fence only a few feet high will keep them safely contained—as long as they cannot see what is on the other side of the fence. The impala will not jump if he cannot see where he will land.
Sometimes we are like the impala in that we are only willing to exercise our “faith” if we are pretty sure of the outcome. But true faith is not based on what we can see. How many times we are held in captivity by the fears of life when if we would only trust God, we could live in the freedom He provides.
While Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, a distraught father brought his demon possessed son to the disciples. He begged the disciples to cast out the demon, but they were unable to do so. When Jesus returned, the father went to Him for help. Jesus told him that his son could be free “If thou canst believe.” In response the father revealed a very common problem that many of us have faced—he had both faith and doubt. In his desperation he expressed his faith and asked Jesus for help with his doubts. Jesus responded by casting out the demon and restoring his son. When we act on the faith we have, God works.
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, had a great burden to reach those no one else cared about. He preached and promoted an active religion—one that stretched beyond the walls of Sunday morning worship and made a difference throughout the community. Booth said, “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again—until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”
Faith in God does not stay internal. The works that we do from God are entirely apart from our salvation. Nothing we do or do not do gains us merit or favor with God. While many attempt to do “enough” good works to get to Heaven, such attempts always fail because of our sinful natures. We cannot save ourselves or work for God’s grace. However as part of God’s family, we are to be workers. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
We work not to earn salvation or to impress others, but to glorify God. Our gratitude for the gift of salvation should motivate us to a life that is observably Christian, not so much in our words as in our actions. As the old saying goes, we should be able to easily say, “If you want to know if I am a Christian, ask my neighbor.”
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Sometimes we think that it would be pretty easy to do what God says if we could see in advance exactly how all the details would come together and how our course would run...but that is not what living by faith is. Instead faith trusts God enough to obey even without understanding what all the details are. Someone said, “Faith is starting out before you figure out how it’s going to turn out.”
The conversation that Abraham and Sarah had when God told Abraham to leave Ur must have been interesting. I picture it going something like this. “Honey, God has let me know we’re going to move.”
“Okay, I love my home, but we need to do what God says. Where are we going?”
“Uh...I don’t know. God told me He would let me know when we get there.”
Why did Abraham leave behind his homeland without knowing his destination? Because of faith.
Abraham’s faith is a wonderful example and pattern that we need to follow. “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” (Romans 4:11). Faith does not wait until it fully understands how things will work out before it begins to act. Rather faith obeys and believes that God will fulfill all of His promises.
“Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Eugene Clark was a gifted pianist, and he wrote a number of hymns. But his life was far from easy. First crippling arthritis robbed him of his ability to play the piano as he once had done. Then he went almost totally blind. Rather than give up and live in sadness, Clark had a dictating machine brought into his bedroom and slowly, one note at a time, spoke the words and music to more songs. Probably the best known of his work today is the song “Nothing Is Impossible.”
Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God;
Nothing is impossible when you’re trusting in His Word.
Hearken to the voice of God to thee:
“Is there anything too hard for Me?”
Then put your trust in God alone and rest upon His Word—
For ev’rything, O ev’rything, yes, ev’rything is possible with God!
The reality is that all of us face difficulties and challenges. The work to which God has called us in our families and our churches demands more than we are able to accomplish on our own. That fact should encourage us rather than discourage us because we have Divine resources at our disposal. In truth, the appearance of a major challenge in any part of life can rightly be viewed as an opportunity to see God at work in a wonderful way.
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
In June of 1859 a French acrobat and circus performer named Jean-François Gravelet, better known by his stage name of Charles Blondin, astonished a great crowd of people by walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Blondin had begun his performing career when he was just a child, but this daring stunt made him a household name. Thousands gathered to witness this remarkable performance in the following days as Blondin crossed and recrossed the dangerous waters. He performed a number of unusual stunts during his walks, including taking a small oven in a wheelbarrow and cooking an omelet while on the tightrope. Perhaps the single most amazing of Blondin’s feats was carrying his manager, Harry Colcord across the falls on his back.
It is likely that after Blondin had succeeded in crossing the falls several times that anyone in the crowd would have said they believed that he could do it again. But it took an incredible level of trust on the part of his manager to place his life on Blondin’s back and allow himself to be carried across on that dangerous journey. That is real faith. It not only “says” that it believes, but it acts on what it believes.
It is easy to proclaim faith in the light. It is much harder to demonstrate faith in the darkness. Yet in the dark moments when the struggles are very real and the answer is not clear we find out whether our faith is real.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
If you go to downtown Los Angeles, you might meet a man I came across one time when I was there. His delusion was immediately apparent when I spoke to him and he told me that he was Elvis Presley. He wasn’t joking—he sincerely believed it. His belief dictated his behavior and the way he viewed the world. Of course he wasn’t really Elvis, but he was trying to live as if he were. The same thing can happen in the church as well. Jesus warned that not all those who profess to be Christians actually are.
We should not live in doubt and fear regarding our salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that those who are saved can never lose their salvation. At the same time, the reality is that there are some who have declared their faith who have never been saved. Paul admonished the members of the church at Corinth in this matter. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and hearts will produce fruit. We can grieve the Spirit and hinder His work, but if our faith is real—if we have truly been converted—there will be demonstrable evidence to that fact. Simply saying that we have faith is not enough. James issues this clear warning: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).
“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
In 1553 during the tumultuous struggle over succession to the crown of England, a teenage girl named Jane Grey was placed on the throne as part of an unsuccessful effort to keep the Catholic Queen Mary from ruling the country. Jane Grey, the “Nine Days Queen” was quickly deposed and convicted of treason for opposing Mary. “Bloody Mary” as she was known, treated those who opposed Catholicism harshly and refused to commute the sentence of death.
Just days before she was to be executed, Jane wrote to her younger sister these words: “Live to die…and then enjoy the life that Christ has gained for you by His death. Don’t think that just because you are now young your life will be long, because young and old as God wills.” After quoting Psalm 51 and praying a brief prayer, Jane Grey placed her head on the chopping block and died, refusing to recant her faith.
Today Christianity is becoming more unpopular, and there may come a time when we are faced with the persecution and threats that the early church faced. When our faith is challenged, it needs to be strong enough to withstand the test—and that requires it being strengthened before the challenge comes.
“Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee.”
1 Samuel 17:36–37
The giant Goliath was the champion of the Philistine army, and when he issued his challenge for someone to face him in single combat, no one in the Israeli army was willing to accept. Even King Saul, who was much taller than anyone else in Israel would not take up the challenge. But when David, still a young boy keeping his father’s sheep, arrived with food from home for his brothers in the army, he could not stand to hear Goliath’s blasphemy.
Even though he had no military training, David ran to meet the giant with just a slingshot in his hand. His faith in God made him strong enough to face a challenge when no one else would. As a result, God delivered Goliath into David’s hand, and the Israelites won a great victory over their enemies. In this story we see a key principle that helps strengthen our faith. David was confident to face Goliath because he remembered the way God had helped him win battles in the past.
Taking time to reflect on what God has done for us and give thanks to Him for His goodness and deliverance builds our faith. Again and again—more than forty times in Scripture—God reminded the children of Israel of the parting of the Red Sea and their deliverance from Egypt. Later in his life David would write, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Being a Christian does not insulate us from trials. In fact it is not uncommon for the things that we do that are right to be the very things that cause problems. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:1). This epistle was the last one Paul wrote before he was executed because of his fearless preaching of the gospel. The trials that we endure do not take God by surprise—they are filtered through His hands.
George Müller was a man who knew a great deal about faith. His large orphanages provided care to thousands of children, yet he never publicly asked anyone for money. Instead he prayed. Regarding faith and trials Müller wrote: “God delights to increase the faith of His children...I say, and say it deliberately—trials, difficulties and sometimes defeat, are the very food of faith...We should take them out of His hands as evidences of His love and care for us in developing more and more that faith which He is seeking to strengthen in us.”
The devil rejoices when we allow trials to shake our faith and drive us away from God. If we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves because things are not going the way we think they should, we are headed for trouble. Instead faith faces the problem head on and keeps on believing that even when the way ahead is not clear, God knows the purpose for what we are experiencing and it will bring glory to Him.
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
1 Timothy 1:18–20
Trinity University was founded in 1869 in Texas by the Presbyterian church. Though like many institutions originally founded primarily as religious schools, Trinity had become more secular over the years, it still retained the symbols and language of its founding. It was a shock to many in 2009 when a group of students calling themselves the Trinity Diversity Connection petitioned to have the words “in the year of our Lord” removed from the diplomas.
One student complained, “A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes. By having the phrase ‘In the year of Our Lord,’ it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.” Another student noted that he agreed to attend the school because he understood the school had only a “historical bond” to the church. Eventually school leaders refused the request, much to the dismay of those who wanted a more inclusive environment.
How is it possible for an institution, a church, a family or an individual that once was committed to furthering the work of the Lord to stray from the truth? It happens when faith is not intentionally and deliberately held onto. The world, the flesh, and the devil will do everything possible to draw us away from the truth and the faith. If we do not work at maintaining faith through reading and studying and hearing the Word of God, our faith will weaken. And a loss of faith ends in a shipwreck and disaster.
“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.”
Robert Moffat was one of the early pioneer missionaries to Africa. He and his wife went to what is now Botswana and labored faithfully for ten years without seeing a single convert. The mission board questioned whether the work should continue, but the Moffats were confident that God would bless if they remained steadfast. A friend from England wrote and asked what they would like as a gift. Mrs. Moffat replied, “Send us a communion set; I am sure it will soon be needed.” The day after the communion set arrived, the church in Botswana, now with a number of members, celebrated the Lord's Supper for the first time.
God does not intend for us to settle for what we can do in our own strength and wisdom. Instead He offers us the unlimited resources at His disposal which we can claim through faith. A Christian who is living with the limitations of what they can accomplish will never win great victories for God. Only when we act in faith can we overcome the enemy. John wrote, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
“And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.”
When the children of Israel came to the Red Sea as they fled from Egypt, God parted the waters and they crossed on dry land. After Moses died, it fell to Joshua to lead the people, and their entry into the Promised Land was barred by the Jordan River. The Jordan—not normally a wide river—swells tremendously during the flood stage, overflowing its banks. Because of the drop in elevation from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the Jordan also has a swift current.
As the Israelites approached the Jordan, God did not do what He had done before. Rather than parting the water before they crossed, He gave Joshua directions that the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant should walk out into the water. It was only after their feet were in the water that the river was parted for the Israelites to cross. There are times when God clears the way for us before we begin a task for Him, but often it is not until we have begun obeying that we see Him work. Faith is not foolishness, and we should never presume on God to do things according to our schedule or desires. But when He has spoken through His Word, we need no further confirmation before we obey. Instead we should walk forward, even if the flood waters are raging.
“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:”
2 Corinthians 9:6–8
Paul Harvey was a widely popular radio host for many years. He often would include humorous true stories that illustrated human behavior including this one: “The Butterball Turkey Company set up a telephone hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in the bottom of her freezer for twenty-three years. That’s right—twenty-three years. The Butterball representative told her the turkey would probably be safe to eat if the freezer had been kept below zero for the entire twenty-three years. But the Butterball representative warned her that even if the turkey was safe to eat, the flavor would probably have deteriorated to such a degree that she would not recommend eating it. The caller replied, ‘That’s what I thought. We’ll give the turkey to our church.’”
There are few topics that create more discussion and opposition than teaching on giving. Yet even though saying what God says may be unpopular, it is still right. Though there are many reasons that people are reluctant to give, many of them can be traced to a lack of faith. When we do not truly believe God’s promises to provide for our needs, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of hoarding everything we have. Faith gives generously because it believes that the law of sowing and reaping will create a return on what is given that far outweighs what would come from keeping.
“Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
The Egyptian army in Moses’ day was a fearsome military force. Pharaoh had at his command thousands, probably tens of thousands, of trained warriors. His word could send forth hundreds of chariots and men against an enemy—and that is exactly what he did when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt following the death of the firstborn. By contrast Israel had no army. They had lived as slaves for hundreds of years and had no military might at all. Yet when they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, Moses commanded them: “Stand still.”
Ever since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, people have been running and hiding rather than facing difficulties or unpleasant circumstances. Many times by fleeing a troubling problem, we miss the lessons that God is wanting to teach us—and worse, we miss the opportunity to see Him do a miracle of deliverance in our lives. There is a time to take initiative and act, but there is also a time to simply stand firmly in place and wait to see what God is doing. When we lack faith in God, we are likely to take matters into our own hands and provide our own solution, but as Abraham found with Hagar and Ishmael, that leads to even greater trouble.
“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”
Moses, the son of Hebrew slaves, was rescued from the river and brought home by Pharaoh’s daughter. This gave him access to the full privileges of a member of the royal family. Yet Moses made the choice to be a Hebrew. This was long before Moses saw the burning bush or talked to God on Mt. Sinai. At that point in his life, as far as we know, he had no communication with God. There was no Bible for him to read. All Moses had were the stories of his people, passed down for generations. For Moses, that was all he needed.
Today we have far greater resources for our faith. We have the completed Word of God which we can read and study. We have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help us interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. Yet despite those wonderful blessings, there are still times when we struggle to make the kind of choice that Moses did.
That is why the testimonies of God’s people—stories like the life of Moses—that we see in the Bible are so important. They remind us that even when the way forward is not clear, as long as we are following what God said, we can be assured of the result. The challenges of our day require that we have men and women who can see the invisible and do great things for God.
“And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:”
The first two Scottish missionaries sent to the New Hebrides Islands were killed and eaten by cannibals on the day they arrived. After that it proved difficult to find missionary volunteers. But even when John G. Paton agreed to go, well-meaning people in the church tried to dissuade him. One elderly man warned that he would be eaten by cannibals. Paton replied, “I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” After fifteen years of fruitful ministry, almost everyone on the island of Aniwa where Paton ministered was converted.
Serving God is not a guarantee of an easy life. But we are called to a life of service, even if it means giving up everything. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Taking up the cross is not a metaphor for suffering—it is a metaphor for dying. I do not know anyone who is praying hard that he can become a martyr. But I do know men and women of faith and courage who are willing to give their lives for the cause of Christ.
“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Even after the resurrection, the disciples did not truly understand the purpose of Jesus or the role that they were to play in His plan for the world. On the day when He returned to Heaven, they were still focused on a temporal kingdom of which they would be a part. Jesus gave them a two-part answer to correct their mistaken concept of the future.
First, He gave them a rebuke, reminding them that the things God has concealed about the future were not to be their focus.
Second, He gave them a commission for the future—to be witnesses to the entire world. Since this task would be impossible to fulfill in their own strength, they had to rely on the filling of the Holy Spirit. Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman described a man in his church who had no formal education, but a great passion for souls. He was, as the Pharisees said of the disciples, an “ignorant and unlearned” man. Yet he prayed for power to witness. Dr. Chapman said later that despite the drawbacks he faced, that man won more than one hundred adult men to Christ. We should not rely on our wisdom or strength for the effectiveness of our witness, but on the power of the Holy Spirit which is promised to us.
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”
This world is not the end; eternity awaits. Yet many people, even some who are Christians, are living as if this life is all that matters. Rather than doing something great for God that will last into eternity, they focus on gathering possessions, enjoying temporary pleasures, and increasing their status—things that one day will vanish without a trace. The great missionary David Livingstone said, “I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God. If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time or eternity.”
Though we do not know the day or the hour, we do know that the Lord is going to return. Whether our lives end before that moment, or we are still alive when that day comes, in that instant our eternity will begin. The works that we have done will be assessed by Jesus Himself. Paul wrote, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). Our hope of receiving crowns in the day of judgment depends on living with an eye on eternity. Only then will our priorities be such that they will produce lasting works.
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”
1 Corinthians 15:17–20
The truth of the resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. If the resurrection of Christ is not a reality, we have no hope for this life or the next. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have an unshakeable hope for the future. He promised, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Our divine Lord went to the undiscovered country, and He returned. He said that at the third day He would be back again, and He was true to His word. There is no doubt that there is another state for human life, for Jesus has been in it, and has come back from it. We have no doubt as to a future existence, for Jesus existed after death. We have no doubt as to a paradise of future bliss, for Jesus went to it and returned. His return from among the dead is a pledge to us of existence after death, and we rejoice in it.”
One of the great needs people have today is hope. We live in a world groaning under the curse of sin. It is filled with hardship, death, pain, suffering, and evil. Our faith, based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, does not insulate us from the suffering around us; instead it gives us the wonderful and certain hope that God will triumph and that we will enjoy eternity in Heaven with Him.
“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.”
The first Easter morning when the tomb in which Jesus was placed was found empty, there was an angelic messenger there to share the good news of the resurrection. Though Jesus told His followers that He would die and be resurrected, they did not grasp the meaning of what He told them. So the angel emphasized the significance of the empty tomb. Henry Morris said, “The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. If the resurrection did not take place, then Christianity is a false religion. If it did take place, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is absolute truth.”
There are many religions in the world today. As a result we often hear it said that they are just different paths to Heaven. But there is only one true hope of reaching Heaven, and that is salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of the resurrected Saviour. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Notice the commission given by the angels: go and tell the disciples. This is the central part of God's plan for our lives—that we would tell others that Jesus died, was buried and rose again, offering them the hope of eternal life. There is no better or more appropriate way to celebrate the Easter season than by sharing the gospel.
“Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man. By reason of the multitude of oppressions they make the oppressed to cry: they cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty. But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night;”
Just before Easter in 2009, Fred Winters, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, was shot and killed during a Sunday morning service by a disturbed young man. The tragedy shocked the church and the pastor’s family, but it did not destroy their faith. The next week the newly-widowed Cindy Winters was interviewed on a national news broadcast. When asked about her husband’s killer she said, “I do not have any hatred or even hard feelings toward him. We have been praying for him. One of the first things that my daughter said to me after this happened was, ‘You know, I hope that he comes to learn to love Jesus through all of this.’ We are not angry at all, and we really firmly believe that he can find hope and forgiveness and peace through this, by coming to know Jesus. And we hope that that happens for him.”
Though Easter is ultimately a triumphant story, it certainly did not start out that way. It started with what appeared to be the worst possible defeat—the death of Christ on the cross. God’s plans are not our plans, and He uses difficulties and disappointments to accomplish some of His greatest work. In the darkness when we cannot see Him, He is still in control. Paul endured a great deal of hardship and persecution for his faith, yet despite all that he wrote: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,”
Someone said, “The pyramids of Egypt are famous because they contained the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptian kings. Westminster Abbey in London is renowned because in it rests the bodies of English nobles and notables. Mohammed’s tomb is noted for the stone coffin and the bones it contains. Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. is revered for it is the honored resting place of many outstanding Americans. The garden tomb of Jesus is famous because it is empty!”
We are not looking for a source of hope in the same places the world does. We do not need to seek among the dead things that will quickly pass away and be destroyed. Because we have a living Saviour who cannot die again, we have all of the resources of Heaven. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:24–25).
The continual life and intercession of Jesus Christ is the anchor of our hope. In Old Testament days those who fled to the cities of refuge to escape being killed were allowed to stay there as long as the high priest lived. Our High Priest will never die again! Our place of refuge—secured through His blood and guaranteed by His empty tomb—is eternal. There is always hope for the believer.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Moody told the story of a Scottish preacher who before his conversion had been a wicked man. Fighting and gambling made him well known in the community. After he was saved he began preaching the gospel. One night as he prepared to go to the pulpit in another town, someone handed him an envelope. Inside was a list of the awful things he had done in that town. He debated what to do for a moment, then stepped to the pulpit and began to speak.
“Friends, I am accused of crimes and sins committed in this very city. I will read them to you.” One after another he read these charges, and at the conclusion of each he said, “I am guilty.” When he had finished the whole list, he paused for a moment and then said, “You ask how I dare come to you and speak of righteousness and truth, with a list of crimes like that against my name? I will tell you: ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.’”
On the cross all of our sins were laid on Jesus Christ. He completely and forever paid the debt for all those who trust in Him for salvation. The amazing sacrifice of love that Christ made on the cross and the fulfillment of His promise of the resurrection give us the wonderful and certain hope of eternal life. Nothing in our past can take away this great gift.
“Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
The Bible does not tell us why Thomas was not present with the other disciples on the evening of the resurrection when Jesus appeared to His followers. But whatever the reason, when he heard the good news from the disciples, he did not believe it. He declared that unless he could personally evaluate the evidence (see the Lord for himself and touch the wounds of the crucifixion), he would not believe. Yet when Jesus appeared to him the following week, Thomas no longer doubted. Seeing the risen Lord changed his heart from doubt to faith. For Thomas, seeing really was believing. But that is not what faith is; faith believes in what it cannot see. Faith takes the Word of God at face value.
The story of Thomas highlights the connection between faith and hope. Thomas knew that Jesus had died on the cross. And even though Jesus had told the disciples that He would die and be resurrected, they did not believe there was hope following the cross and the borrowed tomb. Their minds were limited to what was possible from the standpoint of human reasoning. They failed to take into account what God was able to do, and, as a result, they lost hope. The loss of hope led to Thomas’ loss of faith, but meeting Jesus immediately restored it. While we do not see Jesus in person as Thomas did, we do have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and that gives us hope no matter what else is happening.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
When the airplanes piloted by terrorists struck the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, hospitals across New York City were quickly mobilized to take care of the many patients they thought would be coming. But sadly, only a comparatively small number of people needed immediate medical care because most of the victims perished in the collapsed towers. One of the few who survived was Genelle Guzman.
Guzman was trying to make her way down the stairs when the building collapsed. Her legs were trapped under a concrete pillar, but she had enough of an air pocket to keep her alive. For the next 27 hours she remained trapped in the rubble of the North Tower. Finally, the next day she heard voices and screamed for help. After twenty minutes she was pulled to safety—the last person to be rescued alive from the World Trade Center.
There was nothing Genelle Guzman could do to save herself, even as there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from our sin. Only Jesus Christ could save us by His substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection three days later. The power that raised Jesus from the dead offers us our only hope.
For those of us who have been saved, there is a great obligation to share the Good News with others. We are surrounded by people who are spiritually dead. Many of them do not even recognize their condition. With love and compassion, let us tell them that there is hope in Jesus Christ.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
1 Peter 1:3–5
When Mary Magdalene came to Peter and John on Easter morning and told them that the grave was empty, they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. Peter went inside the tomb and saw that the grave wrappings and the napkin that had covered Jesus’ head had been left neatly folded. At that point he did not fully understand what had happened, but he had visible proof of the resurrection. I’m sure Peter never forgot that moment.
I imagine that when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write about the resurrection in the beginning of his first epistle, Peter remembered that amazing day—the run to the tomb, the shock at finding it empty, and then the moment when Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in the room where they were huddled in fear and wonder. That moment set the course of the remainder of his life. Not long after, Jesus would tell Peter and the other disciples that they were to be witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
As we celebrate Easter and the resurrection, we should never forget that it is not just for us, but for all those who have not come to faith in Jesus Christ. And God’s plan is for us to take the hope that we have because of the resurrection and share it with the world.
“(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.”
Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most popular authors of the post-World War II era. His books reflect the hardship he endured as a prisoner of war and his lack of religious faith in the dark tone and bleak outlook on the future. In one of his best selling books Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut described the existence of a book called What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years? The answer: nothing.
In truth there is no hope apart from God. All around us people are trying everything to mask the emptiness of life lived according to man’s best wisdom and choices. Drugs, drinking, and immorality offer the promise of temporary pleasure, but they only leave emptiness and pain behind. The best that we can produce through our own efforts is fleeting. God offers something else entirely—hope based not on what we do, but on Who He is. That true hope can never be taken away.
We see this principle illustrated in the life of Abraham. Even though many years passed before he received the promised son, and though it was physically impossible for him to have a son with Sarah, he still believed. Abraham’s hope was based on the nature and character of God. Though his circumstances did not reveal any way in which God’s promises could be fulfilled, Abraham “believed in hope,” and in time his faith was rewarded when Sarah gave birth to a boy named Isaac.
“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;”
Modern U. S. aircraft carriers in many ways are more like small towns than boats. With a crew of more than six thousand on board, they offer a full array of services—food, housing, medical, dental, hair cuts, exercise rooms and more. Yet for all of the amenities, these powerful warships are still naval vessels, and as ships have for centuries, they need anchors. But the anchors for an aircraft carrier are a far cry from the kind of anchors most boaters are familiar with.
The anchor for an aircraft carrier weighs more than 60,000 pounds. In addition, each link in the anchor chain weighs more than 300 pounds. Taken together, the anchor and chain weigh over 700,000 pounds. And each aircraft carrier has two of them. Why? Because it is vitally important to have a source of stability when the storms come.
God’s Word tells us that regardless of our circumstances we can hold fast to our hope for the future. This hope is based on the unchanging nature and integrity of God. Because He cannot lie, we can trust what He tells us. The Bible does not promise the absence of storms. Instead it offers a means of keeping us safe when they come. As the great missionary Adoniram Judson said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” Knowing God’s love and care for us allows us to rejoice in hope no matter what happens.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9–10
We tend to think of the Apostle Paul as a giant of the faith because of all that he accomplished in his work for the Lord. While that is true, it is only part of the story. There are many times when Paul preached with little noticeable results—or when the only result was an attempt to kill him. Some of the churches he started, like the church at Corinth, had major issues. Some of his coworkers abandoned him when things got tough, like John Mark and Demas. Paul’s success in his work for God was not because he never failed. He was a success because he never quit.
Whether he was seeing people come to Christ or fleeing town ahead of the people trying to kill him, Paul had confidence in his hope that God would bless the work. When things looked abysmal he rejoiced, because he knew that God’s power could be better demonstrated then. Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
If we lose the hope of the harvest, we may fail to see it. Our faith in the promises of God enables us to maintain our hope even when things seem to be at their worst. We can rely on His faithfulness to ensure that His Word will always produce a result if we do not faint.
“Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.”
If there is anything that we need as we walk through this world, it is the favor and blessing of God. The strengths and abilities that we have are not enough to meet the challenges that we face. In Grace, God’s Unmerited Favor Charles Spurgeon wrote: “O child of God, be more careful to keep the way of the Lord, more concentrated in heart in seeking His glory, and you will see the loving-kindness and the tender mercy of the Lord in your life.”
David knew the importance of God’s favor. From the time he was a young boy he had lived in situations where God’s blessing and protection were vital to his very survival. Later in his life when he was fleeing from the rebellion led by his son Absalom, David expressed his desire and need once again.
“And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation” (2 Samuel 15:25).
While we do not gain God’s favor by our works, Solomon points out that when we follow the path of wisdom, we place ourselves in a position to be blessed and favored by God. There are natural consequences that follow both doing right and doing wrong, and the outcome of our lives is determined by the course we choose. God’s favor is not reserved for a select few—it is available to all those who will walk according to the principles of His Word.
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”
Though David would grow up to become king of Israel with all of the riches and glory the position brought, the beginning of his life was anything but glorious. David was the youngest of Jesse’s sons, and was not held in honor by either his brothers or his father. In fact, when the prophet Samuel came and announced that he had been directed by God to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king over Israel, they didn’t even bother to invite David in from the field to be considered! But God saw something in David that set him apart.
Samuel described what God was looking for and found in David this way: “The LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Though David was not perfect, his heart was dedicated to following God. As a result, God protected him again and again and provided for his needs. Throughout his life, David benefited from God’s blessing. Though we do not know David’s age when he wrote Psalm 37, the Hebrew word he used for old can also mean “decrepit.” He had reached a late stage in his life, and he was reflecting back on how God had provided.
When we are completely desperate and cannot see how our needs will be met and a way forward can be found, our situation is not hopeless. According to the promises of God we have been given “All things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). When we lose hope, we are impugning the character and integrity of God.
“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Annie Johnson Flint knew a great deal about suffering and hardship. Her mother died when she was just three, and her father died while she was very young. A loving Christian family adopted Annie and her sister, and then that couple died as well. In her twenties, Annie was working as a school teacher when she was stricken by crippling arthritis from which she never recovered. Making ends meet was a constant struggle. Yet, even with all that Annie Flint endured, she never lost her faith and hope in God. One of her best-known poems is “What God Has Promised.”
God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our life through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way;
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
When the disciples were caught in a terrible storm and feared for their lives (remember that several of them had spent their adult lives on the water and knew the difference between a regular storm and a threatening one), they cried out to Jesus in terror. After He calmed the storm, Jesus rebuked them for being afraid. While fear is a natural reaction to trouble and storms, it is the wrong reaction. Instead, our hope should see the presence of God as our security and rest in Him.
“My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.”
Although the promises of God are certain and unfailing, many of them are not fulfilled in a short time frame. Some of them we never see fulfilled. This was true for the Old Testament saints. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Yet despite not seeing these promises in their lifetimes, they still believed. The Bible tells us that their lives are an example for us—a pattern of believing even when we do not immediately see God’s promises met.
When our lives are filled with heartache and tears, God is still there. He never abandons His children. There are times when we cannot see Him at work—cannot identify His purpose in what is happening. Job certainly felt this way. He asked: “Why, seeing times are not hidden from the Almighty, do they that know him not see his days?” (Job 24:1). It is interesting to note that even when God did appear to Job, He did not explain what had happened. Instead, God declared His majesty and power rightly declaring that He cannot be measured by man. When we are in our darkest days, our source of hope comes not from answers, but from the presence of God.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Despite all that God had done for them, the Israelites often complained about His provision for them as they made their way toward the Promised Land. When they complained about the manna that God miraculously provided day after day for them, God sent poisonous snakes as a judgment and many of the people died after they were bitten. “Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7).
Instead of taking away the snakes, God instructed Moses to make a brass serpent and raise it on a pole in the center of the camp. Anyone who was bitten could look on that snake and be healed. They did not need medical attention, they did not need to bring sacrifices—all that was necessary for healing was the faith to look. Every person who looked on that brass serpent recovered from the poisonous bite.
Jesus used this story in talking to Nicodemus about the vital necessity of being born again through faith. Repeatedly, the Scriptures tell us that we cannot save ourselves. Our only hope is in the Saviour, and our only salvation is through faith in His sacrifice. When we look to Him in faith, His sacrifice is applied to our account, and our eternal destiny is settled in Heaven. His great gift of love gives us an unshakable hope for the future.
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15:57–58
In the Second World War a young soldier named David Webster joined the famous Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division. His unit would fight in some of the most fierce battles of the war and suffer heavy casualties. At one point, Webster wrote to his mother: “Stop worrying about me. I joined the parachutists to fight. I intend to fight. If necessary, I shall die fighting, but don’t worry about this because no war can be won without young men dying. Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.”
Webster realized that the cause for which he was fighting was worth sacrificing for. He returned home after the war and became a reporter before writing a memoir of his wartime experiences. He did what he did because he had the hope that it would be worth it. God has called us to do His work, and when we are faithful to Him, He will produce the results. Paul wrote, “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Not every person I share the gospel with accepts Christ as Saviour, but I keep witnessing. Not every person who joins our church continues to grow in grace, but we keep preaching and teaching the Word. Not every family sees their children turn out right, but we keep instructing in parenting. Even when things do not go the way that we think they should, God is in control, and the harvest is His responsibility. Because of His promise, we always have hope that our work for Him will produce results.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”
In his lengthy philosophical poem “An Essay on Man,” Alexander Pope attempted to lay out a system of ethics and comment on the relationship between God and man. A cynical approach to life had taken over much of Europe that downplayed the importance of religion and belief in God. In response, Pope wrote a powerful defense of faith and the power of eternal things. Included were these well known words:
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
The world in which we live is filled with evil forces that attack everything that is good. But just as Alexander Pope realized nearly three hundred years ago, this world is not the end—we have an eternity to come where God will triumph and evil will be completely and finally destroyed. All of us go through dark days. We get bad news from the doctor, we have economic reversals and hard times, or we find that friends we thought were reliable have turned against us.
When things are hard for us, the temptation is to lose hope. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). They were about to face the most difficult challenge of their lives, and Jesus talked to them about preparing a place in Heaven for them and returning for His children. God does not promise that we will avoid hardship, but He does promise that our future is secure.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8–10
Before Adoniram Judson left America for the mission field, he wrote to ask Mr. Hasseltine of Bradford, Massachusetts, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Judson asked: “Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
Adoniram Judson and Ann Hasseltine were married and sailed almost immediately toward Burma. For the next fourteen years they labored under incredible hardship. It was seven years before their first convert was baptized. Ann died on the mission field, but she lived a life that made an eternal difference, and helped bring the gospel to an entire nation. The Judsons’ lives are a powerful illustration of what Paul wrote: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Most of us are not called on to make such extreme sacrifices, but even so, we can have hope in the suffering we do face. We know that today’s suffering will seem as nothing compared to the blessings we will reap through all eternity.
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”
2 Corinthians 4:8–10
In October of 1941, during the dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill went to speak at the Harrow School, where he had attended as a boy. To the assembled students he spoke of the challenges that England faced and the challenges they would face in their lives. He offered them this guidance: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
All of us face challenges and difficulties. The secret of successful people in any field is not the absence of problems but the presence of courage and hope to overcome them. Those who lose hope are already almost defeated. Paul wrote, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). One of the tactics Satan uses very effectively is to tell us the lie that because the harvest has not yet come, it is not coming at all.
God’s Word paints a different picture—the harvest comes “in due season.” Remembering this truth gives us the hope to overcome obstacles in the process leading to the harvest. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “The test of your character is what it takes to stop you.” Difficulty and even temporary defeat are not the end unless we allow them to be. Rather than looking at our problems, we should look to Christ in hope and follow the example He set for us of enduring to win the victory.
“That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
For many years Jeremiah prophesied to the people of Israel, warning them that judgment was coming because they had turned away from following God and were worshiping idols instead. Finally, that judgment came in the form of the mighty armies of Babylon. They surrounded the city of Jerusalem and laid siege against it. When it became obvious that the battle would be lost and the Babylonians would capture Jerusalem, God gave Jeremiah an unusual instruction—to buy a plot of land.
From a human standpoint it doesn’t make much sense to enter a long term real estate transaction when the nation is about to fall, but God was sending a message: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days” (Jeremiah 32:14). When the captivity ended, there would be proof that God had been at work throughout the process.
As we walk through a world filled with doubt and trouble, we do not have to fear for our eternal destiny. At the moment of salvation, we receive the Holy Spirit—the guarantee of God that all of His promises to us will be kept. Just as the people who returned from Babylon after the captivity could see the seals on the land contract guaranteeing Jeremiah’s purchase, we have an unshakeable testimony of God’s faithfulness in His indwelling Spirit.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
In 1901, when President William McKinley became the third president to be assassinated while in office, Congress passed a law directing the Secret Service to provide protection for presidents and other high-ranking government officials. Though there have been attempts made on the lives of a number of other presidents, only John F. Kennedy was killed since the Secret Service took on that responsibility. The protective detail that travels everywhere with the president is given the difficult task of guarding him from attack.
When Jude wrote about God being “able to keep you from falling” he used a word for what we would call a bodyguard—someone who keeps us safe from harm and danger. Of course the most important challenges we face in this life are not physical but spiritual. Peter warned, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil is constantly attempting to destroy us, and if it were not for the protecting hand of God, we would have no hope of victory.
It is such a comfort and encouragement to know that the security of our salvation does not depend on us. Jesus said, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). As long as Jesus holds us, no power of the enemy can even shake our security. We can be confident, not because of what we have done, but because of the promises Christ has made to protect and keep us. We are safe and secure in Him.
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6–8
If you go to Washington D.C. and visit the Library of Congress, you can find a powerful witness to the Christian heritage of our nation that is so quickly being abandoned. In the Main Reading Room above the figure representing History are these words from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam: “One God, One Law, One Element, and One Far-Off Divine Event, to which the Whole Creation Moves.”
It is not hard to find evidence of the fact that we live in a fallen world. Every part of life is affected by the presence of sin. Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). But one day all of that is going to change. When the Lord returns, things will be made right. Sin and death will be banished, and the suffering that resulted from the curse will disappear. Only then will we fully understand how wonderful the world God created was before Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.
There are many reasons for us to look forward to Christ’s return, and that wonderful day should be a focus of our lives and our love. Too often we get caught up in the busyness of life and forget that this world is, at most, a temporary stop. While we do not know when Jesus will come back, we do know that it could happen at any moment. When we live as directed in the Bible, we will be ready for His return.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
The certain promise of the Lord’s return is one of the great sources of hope for the believer. The Apostle Paul, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words about the Rapture, knew what it was like to face persecution and hardship. He was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hated and slandered because he preached the gospel. Yet, through all that, Paul had the hope that the same Lord who changed his life during their meeting on the road to Damascus would return for him. A pastor once asked Dr. John Rice if he thought the Lord would return in his lifetime. Dr. Rice replied, “Paul thought so.”
The statement “we which are alive and remain” is a declaration of faith in the certainty of the Rapture. While the Rapture did not happen while Paul was alive, and centuries have passed since then, the promise is no less certain today. Jesus is coming back, and those believers who are alive on that day will be taken up to meet Him. We do not need to face the future with fear. In fact, the truth of the Rapture is meant to build confidence, not doubt or uncertainty. Paul concluded this teaching with this admonition: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
1 John 3:1–3
Once when the noted preacher Dr. Harry Ironside was speaking in San Francisco, an agnostic businessman challenged him to a debate on the existence of God and the truth of the gospel. He offered to pay all of the expenses and rent a building where they would each present evidence for their position. Ironside agreed to come on the condition that the agnostic would bring one man and one woman who had both fallen into some type of vice that had caused them to experience great loss and cost them favor within society, but who were now restored because of the positive changes and transformation caused by their new-found belief in agnosticism. Ironside said he could bring one hundred Christians who had been so transformed for every one the agnostic could find, and at that point the agnostic conceded.
The transformation that we experience at salvation is amazing, but it is only the beginning. The old nature is replaced with the new nature, and the process of sanctification begins. As we follow God’s plan, we become more like Jesus. Paul wrote, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). That process will not be complete until the day we see Jesus, but it should be continuing day by day as we wait for His return.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
There are thousands of promises in the Word of God. Many of them have already been fulfilled. Every one of them came to pass exactly as God said, no matter how unlikely it seemed when it was made. Think of Abraham and Sarah, both long past being able to have children…and God promised them a son. Think of Noah building a boat because he was told it was going to rain for the first time. Think of Elijah believing that God would provide for him in the house of a widow in a foreign country where the people worshiped Baal. They all received exactly what God promised.
When Isaiah was inspired to give his great prophecy about the coming of the Saviour, he talked about both His first coming and His second coming. The first part of the promise already happened, and the second part will come to pass in God’s timing. All of the promises which have not yet been fulfilled will be. There is no doubt about it. God never lies—it is impossible for Him to do so. And He does not take His promises lightly.
To confirm the certainty of the promises, Isaiah talked about God being zealous. Zealous is a very intense Hebrew word that indicates strong feelings. God cares about His promises so much that He devotes His unlimited power and resources to ensuring that they are fulfilled.
“John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
The Bible gives us more than one hundred different names and titles for Jesus. Each one of them describes a different aspect of His nature or character. But when John the Baptist introduced Him, he chose to use a name that highlights the most crucial aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. John called Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Though there were many facets of His incarnation, the most important reason Jesus came to Earth was to be the Saviour of all those who believe.
In truth, apart from Christ, our situation is totally hopeless. Paul wrote, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The very best that we are capable of doing is still far short of what the perfectly holy God demands.
The measure of the love and grace of God is found in the willingness of Jesus to come as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Throughout the Old Testament, sacrifices were offered according to God’s direction, but those sacrifices could not make atonement. Only Jesus could do that. And so He willingly became the sacrificial Lamb to provide for lost sinners the hope of salvation through His blood.