Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”
Though the Bible does not tell us a great deal about Heaven where we will spend eternity, the glimpses we are given reveal a place filled with praise and worship. The fact that we will be in the very presence of God, in a place of perfection, is almost impossible for us to imagine; for it is so different from all that we have known. In Heaven, we will not be spectators, but active participants in the worship of our worthy and beautiful Lord.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Another holy offering is adoration—the adoring of Jesus. Do we not too often forget this adoration in our assemblies, or thrust it into a corner? The best part of all our public engagements is the worship—the direct worship; and in this the first place should be given to the worship of the Lord Jesus.”
There is no reason we should wait for Heaven to begin this worship—in fact, we are commanded to praise and glorify God here on Earth. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23). The Christian who does not have both a heart and a mouth filled with praise and gratitude for God is a disobedient and ungrateful child of the King.
“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. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.”
There are many beautiful pictures and types of salvation in the Old Testament that illustrate the love and grace of God in action. But there may not be any clearer picture than the cities of refuge. Under the Law of Moses, vengeance for many crimes was to be carried out by the family of the victim. In the case of an accidental death, what we would today call manslaughter, God knew that there might be rage and a demand for vengeance even though there had been no intention of wrongdoing. So He commanded Moses to establish six cities scattered throughout the land to which people could flee for safety.
As long as the hunted party remained inside the city of refuge, the family of the victim was not allowed to take action against them. They were completely safe. They were allowed to remain in the city of refuge as long as the high priest lived, which would give time for anger and rage to abate. “And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil” (Numbers 35:25). Our high priest, Jesus Christ, is alive forever, and we remain safe in His care for eternity.
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
In our society, religion is often looked on as an optional choice for life. Some people choose to follow a religion while others do not, and it all comes down to a matter of preference. But while that may be a common concept, it is false. All roads do not lead to Heaven. There is a God, and we will one day stand before Him to give an account of our lives. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
When the disciples, who followed Jesus most closely and knew the most about His teaching, began to talk to others after His death and resurrection, they did not present the truth for debate. Instead, they echoed what Jesus had taught them—that He is the only hope of Heaven. Thus Peter stood, in the face of opposition and persecution and even the threat of death, and fearlessly declared that all people “must be saved.”
There are many divisions and categories into which the world places different people, but in God’s eyes there are only two kinds: those who have accepted His free offer of salvation by grace through faith alone, and those who have not. Those who have trusted Jesus have their sins covered by His blood. Those who do not will pay the price for their own sins. We must be saved.
“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
I read a story from the early days of train travel in America. There was only one traveler on the train, and he was very upset to be going so slowly. Then the train came to a complete stop. The man asked the conductor what the problem was only to be told, “Nothing to be concerned about, sir. There's a cow on the tracks.” After a few minutes the train started once again slowly down the track. But after a few minutes it stopped again. “This is just a brief delay,” said the conductor. “We'll get going again soon.” The frustrated passenger asked, “What is it this time? Did we catch up to the cow?”
It seems like the faster things move in our world, the more impatient people become. We do not want to wait for anything and quickly get upset if we get held up even for a moment. The fast lanes aren't fast enough. Express shipping needs to be upgraded. We want what we want, and we want it right away. Yet despite the increasing pace of the world, things still get delayed—held up when we want them to be moving forward.
Patience matters in our spiritual lives even more than in our physical lives. God is not working on our timetable, and if we insist on getting our own way, we will regret it. “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:15). We must be willing to trust God's knowledge and love.
“Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
Though Benjamin Franklin believed there was a God, he was far from being a Christian. Rather than placing his faith in Jesus, he planned to accomplish moral improvement on his own. In his Autobiography Franklin wrote, “It was about this time that I conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any Fault at any time; I would conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a Task of more Difficulty than I had imagined. While my Attention was taken up in guarding against one Fault, I was often surpris’d by another.”
No amount of willpower, moral determination, or self reliance can change our innate sinful nature. Though of course this is true for the lost, it is just as true for Christians. It is not our strength that wins victories over sin and temptation and produces fruit from our efforts. It is God’s power alone that flows from our connection to Him that allows us to become what He intends for us to be. David said, “God is my strength and power: and he maketh my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33). We must be living in His strength if we are to fulfill His plan and purpose for our lives.
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”
2 Corinthians 11:2–4
In the final years of his life, after decades of highly praised work in the scientific field, Isaac Newton was appointed Master of the Royal Mint in London. Though the post had largely been symbolic in the past, Newton took the responsibilities of the post seriously, especially with the rise in counterfeiting coins that was undermining people’s confidence in the government and the economy. Newton instituted new guidelines, including placing ridges around the edge of coins to make them hard to copy. He gave people confidence that the money in circulation was good.
Just as many people have made fake copies of money over the years, Satan offers many false counterfeits of Christ to deceive people. He does not care what people believe or how sincerely they believe it as long as they are believing a lie. In fact, the more sincerely people believe something that is false, the better the devil likes it. Since the Garden of Eden, his main tactic has been to undermine people’s faith and confidence in what God has spoken.
Just as with counterfeit money, the best tool to detect false doctrine is a close familiarity with the truth. The more we know about what is real, the easier it is for us to detect what is false. It should not be any surprise to us when we encounter false doctrine.
“All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Stéphane Breitwieser has spent more time visiting art museums than almost anyone else in the world. Though under the terms of his release from prison he is not supposed to enter any museum, the man known as the most prolific art thief in history continues to don disguises and pay visit to view priceless works of art—including many that he once stole. Most of his thefts were carried out in the middle of the day when the guards were distracted. Breitwieser’s stealing became almost a compulsion. Once in Belgium he saw an empty museum display case with a card inside that read “Objects removed for study” and he stole the card! Breitwieser confessed to nearly two hundred robberies across Europe, and in February of 2019 was arrested yet again on suspicion of a museum robbery in France.
Jesus described Satan as a thief who delights in taking what is precious to others and claiming it for himself, leaving destruction and death behind. The devil may be portrayed as a comical figure by the world, but he is a real, serious, and deadly foe to every child of God. Yet like a museum without adequate security to protect the treasures inside, many Christians leave the doors of their lives open and unguarded. If we do that, we should not be surprised when Satan takes advantage of our inattention to bring destruction and steal what is most precious to us. There are no “off days” when we can let down our guard.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
We don’t know exactly how many Hebrew young men were taken to Babylon during the captivity and enrolled in the training program designed to change their beliefs and practices. What we do know is that when three of them were presented with a choice between bowing down to a golden idol set up by Nebuchadnezzar or being thrown into a fiery furnace, they did not hesitate. Others might choose to make small compromises to avoid conflict, but they would not. Even the threat of a painful death could not deter them from standing for what was right.
Charles Spurgeon described an early churchman of England who had no backbone this way: “The gross example of the Vicar of Bray comes at once to one’s mind, who had been a papist under Henry VIII, then a protestant under a Protestant reign, then a papist under Mary, then again a Protestant under Elizabeth; and he declared he had always been consistent with his principle, for his principle was to continue as the Vicar of Bray.”
There will always be promises of pleasure and threats of punishment to induce people to bow down rather than stand for the truth. The key to overcoming those temptations is found in our own hearts rather than the circumstances. If we love God supremely as we should and care most for His approval, nothing others may do will cause us to abandon the truth.
“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
2 Timothy 3:10–12
Most of us have had the experience of being disappointed by people we thought were one thing, but who turned out to be something very different. Paul was able to say to Timothy, knowing that the younger man had traveled with him, heard him preach, seen him persecuted, and been with him in private as well as public, that his life had been marked by consistent godly characteristics and conduct. He was not bragging, but rather telling Timothy that what he had seen in Paul’s life needed to be in his life as well.
While none of us are perfect, we should strive to live in such a way that we would not be ashamed if our deeds were brought to light. If we must put on a front to keep people from seeing what we really are, what we are is in desperate need of a change. It is possible for someone to play a role, even over an extended period of time, without anyone else suspecting what is really inside. For instance, Judas was trusted by the disciples to the extent that they placed him in charge of their money, not realizing he was a thief.
We are called to consistent holy living, not just in public but in private. There should be no distinction between the way we act in church and the way we live at home. We should not be ashamed or afraid to be truly transparent. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
“And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.”
1 Kings 22:7–8
As a godly king, Jehoshaphat should not have made a military alliance with the wicked king Ahab, but he did. He did retain enough wisdom, however, to recognize that the prophets Ahab had gathered around him were not speaking for God. They were delivering the message Ahab wanted to hear, but they were not telling the truth. When Micaiah was called to stand before the kings, he was warned to say only good things so that his words would match the other prophets and please Ahab. Instead, he boldly proclaimed God’s judgment, willing to be hated and pay the price for the sake of the truth.
Charles Spurgeon said, “God gave me this great book to preach from, and if He has put anything in it you think is not fit, go and complain to Him, not to me. I am simply his servant, and if His errand that I am to tell is objectionable, I cannot help it. Let me tell you, the reason why many of our churches are declining is just because this doctrine has not been preached.”
In our day, faithfully proclaiming what God has said is becoming less and less popular. But while we should certainly be kind to others, our purpose is not for them to like us, but to be warned. Jesus said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Do not allow a desire to be well thought of keep you from speaking the truth.
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”
The most famous sermon in American history is no doubt Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” With its vivid description of the peril and the horrors of the judgment awaiting those who were lost, the sermon is a masterful use of Scripture to call men and women to salvation. Certainly very few other sermons from 1741 are still widely available to be read and studied today. Although Edwards first preached it in his own pulpit in Northampton, Massachusetts, it is not that event that people remember.
Edwards was invited to speak at a church in Enfield, Connecticut, which had not been touched by the revival known as the Great Awakening. When Edwards preached there, people began to cry out even before the sermon was finished, asking, “What shall I do to be saved?” The sermon was basically the same message. Edwards had not become a more skilled orator. In fact, he read the entire sermon in what was described as a monotone voice. The difference was in the hearers.
While there are some churches where the Bible is not faithfully preached and taught, there are also cases where the problem is not with the speaker but with the hearer. Each time we approach the Word of God, whether in public or private, we need to be sure our hearts are willing to hear what it says.
“On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
From ancient times, the palm tree was a symbol of victory. In Greek mythology, Nike, the goddess of victory, was often pictured with a palm tree. In Rome, returning generals who had won a great victory were given a parade known as a triumph. According to the Roman poet Martial, whose writings give us much of what we know about life there, those conquering heroes who had already received this honor once were given a special distinction for a second triumph. The toga palmata was a robe decorated with palm branches. Combining the symbols for victory and peace indicated that the victor was ready to lay down his weapons and enjoy the fruits of his triumph.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He was greeted with palm branches and hailed as a king. Though He had not yet gone to the cross and risen from the grave as evidence of His complete victory over Satan, it was only fitting for Jesus to be honored and recognized in this way. He is our eternal Saviour, and He alone deserves our praise and honor. This was just as true before the crucifixion as it was after it. And for eternity in Heaven, we will be praising our triumphant Lord. “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). But this praise is not meant to be for the future—our lives today should be filled with praise for Jesus. His victory gives us our assurance of a peaceful eternity with Him.
“For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”
Early in his presidency, Ronald Reagan was facing a key issue in the Senate, and was having trouble getting the votes he needed for passage of a bill. He called one Republican senator who had spoken against the bill to the White House for a conversation. The senator laid out his opposition and then said to the president, “Sir, I’d jump out of an airplane without a parachute if you said to, but...” Reagan interrupted with one word: “Jump!” The senator changed his position and the measure passed.
The test of our loyalty to Christ is not found in what we say, but in what we do. There are many more people who are willing to say that Jesus is Lord than there are who are willing to live like it. The Lord who saved us has every right to expect obedience from us. God’s commands are unchanging and apply to everyone. Satan tries to get us to substitute right words for right actions.
Jesus told a parable about a man with two sons who commanded them to go work in the vineyard. One said he would not, but then repented and went. The other said he would, but didn’t. Then Jesus asked the pointed question: “Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:31). No matter our excuse or rationale, we are not doing what God wants unless we are doing what He says.
“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
1 Corinthians 9:25–27
At the IAAF World Indoor Championship held in England in 2018, the third qualifying race in the 400-meter event had five entrants. The top two finishers were to advance to the next round of competition. After one runner was disqualified for a false start, the remaining four began their dash around the track. Because the track is oval, the runners start at staggered distances, each in a separate lane in which they must stay until they reach a certain distance. All four of the competitors were disqualified for running out of their lanes too early, leaving no one to go on to the next race.
There are guidelines and markers laid down for us in the Bible that are meant to be followed. They are not suggestions, but requirements. Because the “lanes” are clearly established for us, we have no excuse for wavering uncertainly through life. We are not left to grope through the darkness. God lights the way for those who are committed to following Him. “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).
Paul recognized the danger that even after years of ministry, if he did not keep to a certain course, he would fall. There are no exceptions to the commands of God. He does not give permission to sin because of past service to Him. We must stay on the certain course all the days of our lives.
“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. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined.”
In 1856, Charles Spurgeon was one of the best-known and popular preachers in England with his church filled to overflowing week after week. When the church needed to build a larger building, they temporarily moved to the Surrey Gardens Music Hall during construction. On the first Sunday at Surrey Gardens, the crowd that gathered was estimated at 14,000 which far exceeded the building’s capacity. Early in the service, someone shouted “Fire!” and the panicked crowd rushed for the exits. Eight people were trampled to death in the chaos. Spurgeon, who was just twenty-five years old, carried that grief with him for the rest of his life. He later confided to friends that he sometimes burst into tears for no apparent reason. On the wall of Spurgeon’s bedroom was a plaque with Isaiah 48:10 on it: “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
Things do not always go the way we want them to. There is pain, suffering, sickness, betrayal, tears, and heartache in every life. Many times these trials are outside of our control, and sometimes, they are even caused by other people. But faith looks at those events through the lens of trust in God’s overall plan for our lives. Such trials can be part of the purifying process by which God makes us more like His Son. But if we become bitter or lose our faith in Him, the benefit of the trial will be lost.
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4–6
Many of us either have personally done the job or know someone who has been asked to serve as a trustee, whether for a business or an individual. It is a position of responsibility, requiring the person who holds it to exercise judgment and show integrity as they manage the duties of the task. The key concept of being a trustee is this—what you are doing is not for your own sake, but for someone else. The things trusted to you are not your own to do with as you see fit, but rather belong to someone else, and must be handled for their benefit.
The gospel is life changing for us. It takes us from Satan’s family and places us in God’s family. It changes our eternal destiny from Hell to Heaven. But while it greatly benefits us, it is not given to us just for our own sake. When Jesus cast the demons out of the man living in the cemetery near Gadera his life changed. He wanted to go with the other disciples wherever Jesus went, but God had other plans. “Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19). If we take the trust of the gospel seriously, we will not fail to share the good news with those around us.
“Ye shall not fear them: for the LORD your God he shall fight for you. And I besought the LORD at that time, saying, O Lord GOD, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might?”
There was a beautiful story D. L. Moody liked to tell about a wealthy man in England who wanted to help one of his fellow church members who was very poor. He did not want what he was doing to become public knowledge, so he entrusted a large sum of money to an officer of the church to give to the man. Knowing the situation, the officer sent the poor man five pounds along with a note: “More to follow.” Every few weeks, he would send another five pounds with the same note. The recipient of the gift could be confident that the resources were there to help supply his needs.
When Moses looked back near the end of his life as Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, he made the amazing statement that God had “begun to shew...thy greatness.” Thinking about all that Moses had seen—the burning bush, the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna from Heaven and so much more—we would normally think that was a lot. But compared to the infinite power of God, Moses realized that all those miracles didn’t even scratch the surface of what God could do.
Many Christians live like they are afraid God is going to run out of resources. They would never say that, but they do not tap into the promises He has given us. We tend to limit God in our thinking to what we can figure out, but He is beyond our conception. Nothing is impossible for Him. And we can fully trust Him to meet our needs.
“This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
2 Peter 3:1–4
Recent surveys of religious life and belief in America have shown a dramatic increase in “nones”—people with no religious affiliation at all. That there would be an increase in cynicism and skepticism regarding the truth would come as no surprise to the Apostle Peter. In fact, he wrote to warn Christians of the scoffers in the “last days.” The Apostle Paul sounded a similar warning in his final letter to Timothy: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1).
Those outside the church can make our lives more difficult, but they cannot impact our faith unless we allow them to do so. Before issuing his warning about the scoffers, Peter reminded the Christians to whom he was writing to be focused on the Bible—to “be mindful of the words” of the Old Testament. Though they did not yet have much of the New Testament, they had the words which God inspired to be written, and it was critical that they not forget them.
Our faith does not rely on public approval or majority opinion. It is not a reaction to what those around us say or do. Faith is a reliance on the promises of God and is rooted in a constant, ongoing remembering of what He has spoken.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”
1 Corinthians 15:1–4
The message of the gospel is not just the cross—it is also the empty tomb. As we celebrate the resurrection on Easter, we are commemorating the ultimate triumph of God’s plan over all the powers of evil that Satan could muster. It was not for lack of effort on the part of the enemy that Jesus arose. The empty tomb proves that there is no force—human or demonic—which could bind Jesus Christ. They could place a huge stone in front of the door and post guards outside, but they could not stop Life from bursting forth. They could spread false stories to obscure the truth, but this fact remains at the core of our faith: He is risen indeed.
R. A. Torrey said, “This was the glad tidings, first, that Christ died for our sins and made atonement; and second, that He rose again. The crucifixion loses its meaning without the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the death of Christ was only the heroic death of a noble martyr. With the resurrection, it is the atoning death of the Son of God. It shows that death to be of sufficient value to cover all our sins, for it was the sacrifice of the Son of God. In it we have an all-sufficient ground for knowing that the blackest sin is atoned for. Disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christian faith is vain.”
“And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.”
2 Kings 4:8–10
There is an old story about a pastor at a small country church in England who along with several of his children came down with the mumps. At church on Sunday they announced a prayer meeting would be held outside the pastor’s house. At the appointed time, several members gathered around the parsonage, and were getting ready to pray when a teenage boy drove up with a loaded wagon. He started unloading food—potatoes, bacon, flour and other staples. One man asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “Pa said I should bring our prayers.”
There are times when the only possible solution is a direct miracle from God. But there are other times when there are things we could do to help with the problem. In those situations, we need to “bring our prayers” in a practical way. Moses experienced this when he met God at the burning bush. He was delighted to hear that God was going to deliver the Israelites. But he had a different reaction when God said, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses wanted God to deliver, but he was reluctant to play his part.
“Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return? Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.”
I read a funny story about an antique dealer who was shopping in a hardware store. He noticed the owner’s cat eating out of a bowl, and recognized the bowl as a very valuable antique worth thousands of dollars. Wanting to get a bargain without mentioning the value of the bowl, he told the owner, “I’d like to buy your cat. I’ll give you $20 for him.” The owner refused to sell until the antique dealer raised the price to $100, which he accepted. The dealer then casually asked, “I assume I’ll get the bowl to go with the cat?” The owner replied, “No. That’s my lucky bowl. I’ve sold thirty-four cats with it this week!”
The Israelites in the time of Jeremiah were idolatrous, having turned their backs on God. This led to many other evils and sins—and the people were just fine with that. They had seared consciences, and when they were confronted by prophets they just held on to their sins more tightly than ever. Though sin always exacts a deadly price, there is usually a period of temporary and fleeting enjoyment. And if our hearts are hardened to the things of God, we cling to our deceit, our pride, our dishonesty, and our desires. Moses made the right decision because he recognized what really mattered: “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25).
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;”
The idea that people are basically good and will usually do the right thing once they know what is right is quite widespread in our day. It’s easy to understand why people want to think that, because it is flattering to us to think of ourselves that way. But the Bible paints a different picture of the state of the lost. “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12).
Despite the teaching of Scripture that we receive a new nature upon salvation, some people seem to want to stay as close to the old nature as they can rather than walking daily as a new creation of God. Because He is holy, He requires holy living from us. And because of His power we are no longer in bondage to sin, without the ability to do what is right. Charles Spurgeon said, “The liberty of the man of the world is liberty to commit evil without restraint; the liberty of a child of God is to walk in holiness without hindrance.”
We do not work to earn our salvation or merit with God. But we are His children, and He has the right to demand that we live up to the new name He has given us. There is freedom in Christ, but it is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.
“And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”
Jacob’s life had been turned completely upside down. He was literally running for his life, because he had deceived his father into giving him the blessing that his brother Esau expected to receive. His problems were the result of his own actions, yet in mercy God reached out to give Jacob a promise of security and hope for the future. No matter where Jacob went, God would be with him and protect him until he returned to the land promised to his grandfather Abraham.
Someone defined insecurity as: “Showing up for your first day of work and finding your name written on your door in chalk—and a wet sponge hanging next to it.” We live in a world where things change rapidly and new threats and dangers appear with frequency. Our peace does not come from the fact that nothing will ever go wrong, but from the certain promise of God to guide and guard us. “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14). The same God who saved us will carry us safely all the way into His eternal presence.
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
During World War II while working with a team of scientists to develop new materials for gun sights, Harry Coover, Jr. discovered a substance they named cyanoacrylate. It was unsuitable for their purpose so it was set aside. But a few years later when Coover was working for Eastman Kodak, he came up with a use for cyanoacrylate in a product that almost all of us have used. In 1958, the company began selling an adhesive called Eastman 910, the first commercially available version of what we today commonly call super glue. It stuck to almost any surface, and created a bond that was almost impossible to break.
God’s love for us is an even more powerful adhesive. There is nothing in Heaven or on Earth that can dissolve the bond of that love. The devil comes and tells us that God cannot or will not love us because of what we have done or failed to do. This is a lie. God’s love for us is not dependent on us, but is an unchanging part of His nature. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Most of us have been disappointed or let down by people we trusted and counted on. Most of us have had people turn against us for one reason or another. God never fails. His love for us is eternal and unchanging—a bond that cannot be broken. We can rely on it because love is who God is.
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”
During World War II, the ten Boom family in Holland sheltered more than 800 Jews in their home before they were betrayed to the Gestapo. Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were sent to the dreaded Ravensbruck concentration camp. More than 130,000 women were sent there during the war, and more than 90,000 of them died there. In her book The Hiding Place Corrie wrote about the horror of being forced to stand naked before the guards for what they called a medical examination each week.
“One of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me. He hung naked on the cross. The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh—at the time itself…—there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now.”
As she thought on this, Corrie then said to her sister in front of her, “Betsie, they took His clothes too.” She continued, “Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. ‘Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him.’”
The love of Jesus is so great that He was willing to endure the most shameful treatment that men could devise. He had already laid aside His glory to come to be our Saviour, and on the cross He laid aside His dignity in a glorious sacrifice for our salvation. There was no price Jesus was not willing to pay for us and we must never forget it.
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”
In December of 2018 a pastor in China, Wang Yi, was arrested by the government as part of their crackdown on the spread of Christianity in the Communist country. He was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” which carries a sentence of up to fifteen years in jail. Having learned that he was likely to be arrested, Wang Yi took the time to write a powerful letter to the members of his church.
“This does not mean that my personal and church disobedience is a political act in any sense of activism or civil disobedience. Because I have no intention of changing any of China’s systems and laws. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disobedience of faith, the shock of sinful humanity, and the testimony of the cross of Christ. As a pastor, my disobedience is part of the Gospel mission. The great mission of Christ requires our great resistance to the world. The purpose of resisting is not to change the world, but to witness another world.”
At a time when some Christians in America are trying to become more and more like the world, there are Christians in other countries who are willing to go to jail rather than conform. The witness of Christ living in us should be so precious that we will never give it up.
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
Paul met Jesus when he was on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians there. Paul was fully aware that Jesus had been crucified, and that day he became fully aware that Jesus was alive again. Paul never lost sight of the truth of the resurrection. He recognized what having the power over death meant—that there was literally nothing that could stand against it. Paul devoted his life to telling others about the risen Lord, working in the power of the resurrection.
But in writing to the church at Philippi, the place where he had been beaten and cast into prison before the earthquake loosed his chains, Paul described the path to that power. And it is not an easy road. We cannot know resurrection power without first knowing the pain of suffering and death to self. Lester Roloff said, “Nobody ever got resurrected who wasn’t dead first.” The reason many Christians do not have God’s power is that they are not willing to do what it takes to get it.
The power of God has not changed or lessened with the passage of years. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). The question is not whether there is power available to meet our needs, but whether we are willing to lay aside whatever is necessary to have it.
“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. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”
Everything in our universe was created by Jesus Christ. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). It was spoken into existence, the power of His voice being enough to bring something out of nothing, and give it shape and order and purpose. Jesus still had that same power when He was here on Earth. He could have summoned angelic armies to deliver Him. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).
He could have commanded those who arrested and tortured Him to release Him, or even to drop dead on the spot. Instead He remained silent. Jesus came to die for our sins, and He willingly laid down His life so He could be the Saviour of all who trust Him. When Jesus did speak on the cross, it was not to free Himself from the pain and agony. Nor was it to judge or condemn those who put Him there. Instead He prayed for them. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots” (Luke 23:34). What Jesus said, and more importantly what He did not say, reveals the depth of His love for us.
“Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
I read about an evangelist who was preaching in Aberdeen, Scotland. His hosts took him around the city, showing him the ancient buildings and the fine architecture. They entered a poorer part of town, and his guide pointed out to him a room where an elderly widow lived in poverty, but who was known throughout the town for her love for Jesus. He went in to talk to her and said, “They tell me the Lord Jesus Christ visits this place.” “No, you’re wrong,” she replied. Thinking she had not heard him correctly, he repeated the statement, but again she said, “You’re wrong.” Deciding that she might be hard of hearing, he asked much louder, “Doesn’t the Lord visit your home?” Shaking her head she said, “You’re wrong. He bides here.”
The devil doesn’t greatly mind if we go to church on Sunday as long as that is the extent of our focus on the things of God. It is when we live with the awareness of the presence of God and allow His Spirit to control our lives that the devil gets upset. It takes much more than a couple of hours per week to be a godly Christian who makes an impact on the world. It takes sustained time in His presence. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
One of the most effective lies of Satan is that people are basically good and just need to know what is right in order to do it. Though it only takes a glance at either today’s news headlines or history to refute this falsehood, it is easy to understand why this lie is so appealing to many. It flatters our pride to hear that we are really not that bad. Because it makes us feel good about ourselves, we want it to be true. But as Paul pointed out to the Ephesians, by nature we are nothing of the sort. We are not okay—we are dead in sin because that is our nature. We are not born good and later corrupted by bad influences around us. We are born as sinners. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3).
The only hope that we have is to believe in the salvation offered to us through God’s grace. Only His power can change a spiritually dead sinner into a person who is spiritually alive in Christ. All of us started out in the wrong family, and that is the only nature we have unless we come to God in faith. The new nature that makes us alive and gives us the promise of Heaven can only come from Him. Without His salvation we have no hope.
“Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.”
When Belshazzar held his drunken banquet in Babylon, he decided to use the cups looted from the Temple in Jerusalem to serve the wine. In the midst of this tribute to his idols, God pronounced a judgment, writing it on the wall without human instrument. Belshazzar’s problem was not that he did not have access to the truth, for the same Daniel who would come to interpret the message had faithfully served the rulers of Babylon while remaining true to the God of Israel. Belshazzar’s problem, like that of many people today, was that he thought he got to decide for himself what was right and wrong, and that there was no Judge to whom he would give account.
The words MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN that appeared on the wall of the palace destroyed that false belief. They revealed that there was a God and that He was seeing and judging all that happened on earth—and that He would mete out punishment according to His standards as He saw fit. We see this philosophy of Belshazzar all around us today, but it is just as false now as it was thousands of years ago. God is still in charge, and He sees everything. He has not changed His attitude toward sin. He still demands obedience. And every nation that turns away from following Him faces sure and certain judgment.
“Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
The greatest resistance Jesus faced during His ministry was not from the Romans who ruled Israel or from the common people who gladly received His teaching. Instead it was from those who considered themselves the guardians of the truth. The Pharisees prided themselves on strict adherence to the law of Moses. But in fact they had elevated their own tradition above what God had said, and as a result were walking in darkness rather than light. They did not realize their lack of understanding and were offended when Jesus pointed it out to them. This blind spot had a tragic impact on those they were leading.
Charles Spurgeon said, “We must first obtain for ourselves an understanding of the way of the Lord’s precepts before we can make it plain to others. He who tries to teach, but has never been taught himself, will make a sorry mess of it. He who has no understanding, and yet wants to make others understand, must assuredly fail.”
All of us are teachers in some capacity, whether or not we hold a formal instructional position. We teach our children and grandchildren, our friends and coworkers, our neighbors and fellow church members. Every day we are setting a good example or a bad one. The important thing for us to remember is that we are responsible for our impact on others. If we guide them rightly, there will be blessing, but if we guide them astray, there will be judgment. James warned, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
2 Timothy 3:12–15
As the Allies prepared to invade Sicily in 1943, they wanted a way to divert Italian and German attention away from their intended target. British intelligence set up Operation Mincemeat, and Captain William Martin was “born.” Agents took the body of an unidentified man who had recently died and dressed it in full military uniform of the Royal Marines. Correspondence between two British generals was placed in his clothing, indicating that while a diversionary attack would be aimed at Sicily, the real targets were Greece and Sardinia.
The body was released from a British submarine near the coast of Spain. Though Spain was officially neutral, when fisherman brought the body to shore, Spanish authorities passed the military intelligence along to German officials, leading them to believe Sicily was safe. Because the information came from what appeared to be a reliable source, it was trusted, even though it was completely counterfeit.
There are many popular preachers and teachers in our day who are peddling doctrine that often sounds good, but upon close examination is not in line with the Word of God. Paul told Timothy that he could trust what he had been taught because he knew who his teachers were, and that what they said lined up with the Scriptures. The Bible is the only reliable standard to assess the validity of the information imparted to us, and we must trust what it says rather than how the message is presented to us.
“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
When we were preparing for the start of West Coast Baptist College, we did a great deal of research into other Christian educational institutions. One statement, now almost four hundred years old, struck me as especially strong (with the original spelling): “Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him (Prov. 2:3).”
The original motto of the school with that statement was, “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae” which is Latin for ”Truth for Christ and the Church.” You would think that any school which tried to do that would stay on track. But the school is Harvard. Today the shield only says “Veritas”—which means “Truth.” But they have abandoned the truth that was once the bedrock of the school. Simply having the truth and believing the right things is not enough. We must make a commitment to maintaining those things, no matter what it takes. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Though he was born in Ireland, George Croley trained for the ministry and preached in England, primarily in London. Known for his commitment to the truth, Croley was asked in 1835 to go into a slum and reopen a church that had been closed for more than one hundred years. His powerful preaching began to draw larger and larger crowds. Wanting a new hymnal for his congregation, Croley gathered a number of hymns then in use as well as new ones. One of the hymns he had written himself: “Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.”
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
The Christian life is utterly dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples not to begin their ministry until the Spirit came upon them. “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me” (Acts 1:4). His presence in our lives and our churches is essential to accomplish God’s purpose for us.
“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”
It’s easy to see the problems in the world around us. It seems like every news report brings a new reminder that we live in a fallen world. As Christians, we are commanded to love those around us, but many churches are confused about the best way to make a positive impact on society. Ultimately, it is not through programs or politics that the world will be changed, but through bringing men and women to Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon said, “We have only to preach the living gospel, and the whole of it, to meet the whole of the evils of the times. The gospel, if it were fully received through the whole earth, would purge away all slavery and all war, and put down all drunkenness and all social evils; in fact, you cannot conceive a moral curse which it would not remove; and even physical evils, since many of them arise incidentally from sin, would be greatly mitigated, and some of them for ever abolished.”
We must never lose sight of the main thing. Eternity is the destination of every person living on earth. Whether they are passed in wealth or poverty, sickness or health, freedom or repression, the few years spent here are not the focus of life. We must reach people with the gospel before it is too late.
“John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
For several years, John the Baptist was the most popular and influential preacher in the nation of Israel. People flocked from the cities out into the wilderness to see and hear him. Many believed his message that the Messiah was coming and they needed to repent. But after John baptized Jesus and the Lord began His public ministry, John’s following withered away. John did not regard this diminishing of his crowds as a failure or a lack of God’s favor, but as a necessary part of God’s plan.
F. B. Meyer wrote, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other; and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other; and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower; and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”
Our society pushes self-promotion and pride as not just acceptable but necessary for advancement in the world and achieving great things. But God views humility as one of the most important characteristics of greatness. Jesus said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12). We do not advance ourselves in God’s eyes by putting ourselves forward, but by humbling ourselves and serving others.
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
In his biography of Lee Roberson, Always About His Father’s Business James Wigton wrote: “Lee Roberson never lost his burden for souls. In 2004, when he was 95 years of age, he was asked to give the closing prayer at a meeting with the International Board of Jewish Missions in Chattanooga. He walked to the pulpit and declared, ‘I want to say one word—Hell. Men are dying and going to Hell. We must reach them.’ And then with tears streaming down the cheeks of his face, he offered the closing prayer.”
Hell is not the joke that our society makes it out to be. It is not metaphorical, but literal. It is not temporary, but eternal. It is not comfort, but pain. It is not hope, but despair. And Hell is the eternal destination for every person who does not accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. The fact that as Christians we need have no fear of going to that place of torment should not make us complacent. Even people in Hell want to keep others from going there, like the rich man Jesus described. “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27–28). Yet too often Christians are casual when it comes to warning others about eternity.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.”
Most of Charles Wesley’s poems were quickly set to music and many became popular hymns that we sing to this day. But one, which he called “In Temptation,” while published not long after Wesley’s conversion, was not set to music as a hymn until almost fifty years later, nine years after Wesley had died. There are various stories about the inspiration for the poem. Some say Wesley saw a small bird fly into his open window for refuge while being chased by a hawk. Others trace the poem to Wesley’s experience hiding behind a hedge from those chasing him and his brother, John, after they objected to the preaching. In either case, it is a beautiful depiction of God’s offer of refuge for His children.
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
’Til the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
Every human refuge fails at some point. People we rely on may disappoint us. Churches we looked to as examples may stray from the faith. Financial resources we counted on may waste away. Businesses that offered employment may close. Houses we lived in may be destroyed in natural disasters. The only certain refuge is found in the Lord. If we have no place else to turn and no other source of hope, we can run to Him. David said, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).
“And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.”
1 Samuel 3:19–21
In one sense it is remarkable that Samuel grew to be a powerful and effective prophet. After Samuel was born, in answer to Hannah’s fervent prayers, and as soon as he was old enough to go to Shiloh, Hannah took him to the temple and left him with Eli to serve the Lord as she had promised before Samuel's birth. As a result, Samuel actually grew up surrounded by negative influences. Eli was negligent in his duties, both as a father and as a priest. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were greedy and immoral, disobeying God's commands. Their conduct was so evil that some people stopped coming to the tabernacle to worship.
Yet in this environment, Samuel grew to become a mighty prophet, wholly devoted to God. It is easy to look around at our society and be discouraged for the future of our children and grandchildren. But evil in the world does not mean that they cannot live holy lives which are dedicated to God's service. There is a powerful resource available to us as believers which can overcome the influence and attraction of the world—prayer. Hannah said, “For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there” (1 Samuel 1:27–28). When our children and grandchildren grow and go out into the world, they should do so surrounded by the prayers of those who love them.
“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.”
In her biography of her husband, Goforth of China, Rosalind Goforth recounted how in the final years of his ministry, Jonathan lost his sight. No longer able to preach to crowds as he had once done, Goforth devoted his time to personal evangelism with those who visited. They hired a Chinese companion to assist Goforth. Rosalind wrote: “One of Mr. Kao’s chief duties was to read the Chinese Bible aloud to Dr. Goforth. Sometimes, as he read very quickly, a character would be overlooked or miscalled. To his amazement, Dr. Goforth never failed to detect the error and quietly check him up, so familiar had the Chinese text become.”
God has given us everything we need to obey and please Him in the pages of the Bible. Yet rather than loving it and allowing it to truly live in our hearts, too often it simply takes its place among other things that compete for our time and devotion. Reading God’s Word for ourselves and hearing it preached and taught should be a delight. The fact that we find stock reports or sports scores or political news or the latest gossip more interesting reveals a hardness in our hearts toward the Bible. We need to be able to say with Jeremiah, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16).
“And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer up what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood. All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The LORD thy God accept thee. And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.”
2 Samuel 24:22–24
When the Canadian Presbyterian Mission was working to buy land to build a church in Tungliao, China, in the late 1800s, they asked church members to give what they could. One of the poorest men in the church made his living as a swineherd. He had almost nothing, but wanted to help. He asked the pastor what he should give, and the pastor encouraged him to seek God’s direction. He took his fattest pig to market and sold it for the equivalent of $13.35. On his way home he thought, “I can’t give the Lord a broken dollar.” From his poverty he scrapped together another 65 cents to make his gift an even $14.00. Within one year, the church had not only been able to buy the land, but build a building, completely debt free.
Too often when it comes to giving we “round down” instead of “rounding up.” We give God as little as we think we can get by with giving. Yet in truth all that we have already belongs to Him. When we are generous with the resources God has entrusted to us to support His work, He blesses greatly. When we are stingy, we rob ourselves of His best for us.
“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.”
James Chalmers was a young boy in Sunday school in Scotland in the 1840s when his teacher read a letter from a missionary. He challenged the boys to consider serving God by taking the gospel to foreign lands. Chalmers determined he would answer that call. After training, he set out for New Guinea, which at the time was largely populated by cannibals. Fearlessly and faithfully he preached the gospel. A rainmaker name Kone heard the message and asked Chalmers to tell him how to be saved, which he did. Chalmers went on to the next village, and when he returned a few months later, found that Kone was dead. A rival tribe had attacked, and Kone had deliberately stepped in front of a spear thrown at a man who was not yet a Christian. With his dying breath Kone prayed, “Great Spirit of Love, I come to Thee; save me for Jesus’ sake.”
The missionary call is often thought of as requiring a trip to a foreign country and perhaps learning a new language. But the need for the gospel is not restricted to other lands. Even here in America there is a great and growing number of people who are completely oblivious to eternity and their need of a Saviour. They need us to reach out to them, even if they don’t know it. God is calling every one of us to be a witness to those around us. We are all “called” to be missionaries, some in foreign lands, but most right where we live. There is no shortage of people who need to hear the gospel.
“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:”
Long before Israel ever had a king, God gave Moses instructions for how the kings should live. There were things they were forbidden from doing, and things they were required to do. One of those requirements was for the king to write out a copy of the law, which he would keep and read day after day. That would have been a laborious and time-intensive process, requiring commitment and diligence. This devotion to Scripture was the key to obedience to God’s commands. They needed to be known and read repeatedly and emphasized so that they would be followed.
I remember the first Bible I was ever given. Inside the front cover were written these words: “Sin will keep you from this book, or this book will keep you from sin.” That was true thousands of years ago when Moses taught it. It was true when I was told it as a young boy. And it is true today. The Bible is the only source of power given to us through which we can triumph over temptation and sin.
John tells us, “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). Paul gives us the source of faith, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We must be diligent in our relationship with the Bible if we want to be what God calls us to be.
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
On January 15, 1919, an unprecedented disaster struck Boston, Massachusetts. The massive storage tank at the Purity Distilling Company, which held more than 2 million gallons of molasses, collapsed. The surging wave of molasses rushed out, destroying buildings and sweeping people away. When the rubble was cleared, 21 people had been killed, and another 150 injured. It was one of the worst industrial disasters in American history. The molasses that flowed from the destroyed tank was what had been contained within it.
In much the same way, what we say reveals what is within our hearts. Many times people say something unkind or demeaning, or perhaps something that is cruel or critical. Those words do not arise in a vacuum. They are the overflow of what is in the heart. While we may be able to hold our tongues for a time, eventually what is on the inside is revealed by what comes out of our mouths.
The key to controlling the tongue is not found in the mouth, but in the heart. And this is a task which depends on our control of our thought lives. The focus of our thinking flows out in our speech. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
“For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
After Mary received the life-changing news that she would give birth to the Messiah, she went to see her cousin Elisabeth who was expectant with John the Baptist. As the two rejoiced in God’s goodness, Mary offered a song of praise and gratitude to God. One of the things she focused on was the great things God had done for her and her people. It was vital for her to remember, knowing the hardships that lay ahead, that God would always be faithful.
Hudson Taylor, who founded the China Inland Mission and did so much to spread the gospel, kept a plaque in his home with two Hebrew words on it: Ebenezer and Jehovhah Jireh. The first comes from the life of Samuel, where the prophet set up a memorial honoring God’s deliverance from the Philistines. He said, “Hitherto hath the LORD helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). The second comes from Abraham when God provided a ram to offer in place of Isaac on Mt. Moriah as he said, “In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:14).
It is important for us to look both backward in gratitude to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, and look forward in faith to be reminded of God’s promises. No matter what challenges we may face, God has promised to meet all of our needs. Just as we have trusted Him in the past and proved Him faithful, we can confidently trust Him for the future.
“Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
After twenty-five years in India as a missionary, Alexander Duff returned home to Scotland in broken health. As he was addressing a church gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the need for more missionaries, he fainted. The doctors told him he might die if he tried to finish his message, but Duff insisted. In a wavering voice, he looked out over the crowd and said, “Fathers and mothers of Scotland, is it true that you have no more sons to send to India to work for the Lord Jesus Christ? The call for help is growing louder and louder, but there are few coming forward to answer it. You have the money put away in the bank, but where are the laborers who shall go into the field? When the sovereign wants men to volunteer for his army in India, you freely give your sons. You do not talk about their losing their health, and about the trying climate. But when the Lord Jesus is calling for laborers, Scotland is saying, ‘We have no more sons to give.’”
God’s plan to reach the world today is the same as it has been since Jesus sent His disciples out to preach. “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7). Those of us who have the truth are obligated to share it with those who have not yet heard it.
“And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”
For hundreds of years the Israelites cried out for deliverance from their bondage in Egypt. They longed for freedom from their cruel taskmasters. Yet when God answered their prayers and Moses led them out of Egypt, they were anything but happy. Over and over they complained and murmured and criticized Moses—and, by implication, criticized God—for not providing everything the way they wanted it. The freedom they had sought for so long was not enough when they got it.
The reason people complain is not that they have less, but that they appreciate less. When we evaluate the role God’s grace plays in every good thing we have which is all a gift from Him, we begin to understand why He hates complaining so much. It is a slap in the face to God to tell Him that what He has chosen for us in His perfect wisdom does not match what we think should happen.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Shall a living man complain? There are some who do little else but complain. They complain of the times, of the weather, of the government, of their families, of their trade; if, for once, they would complain of themselves, they might have a more deserving subject for fault-finding. Praising and blessing God in life, practically by obedience, and heartily with gratitude,—this is the rent which is due for the house in which we dwell.”
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
The beginning of a book can often tell you a great deal about what you can expect when you read it. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens opens with this sentence: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” For those who prefer a shorter introduction, the first sentence of Moby Dick by Herman Melville is just three words: “Call me Ishmael.”
The Bible starts with the declaration that God preceded everything. The reason that statement comes first is because it is the foundation for everything that follows. God did not get anyone’s permission to create the world. He did it because it was part of His plan and purpose. God did not have to act in response to anyone or anything else. He acted for His glory. “Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7). The role of God as the sole mover in creation makes Him the ultimate authority. And the reason so many people try to deny creation is that they do not want to answer to Him. But one day, everyone will.
“Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger; And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!”
Solomon spent a great deal of time, it is the focus of much of the book of Proverbs, instructing his son on how to avoid temptation. He described some of the different forms it takes, and how it works. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to lay out the consequences of sin—past the immediate pleasure to the pain that inevitably follows.
Someone said, “Mice die in mouse traps because they do not understand why the cheese is free.” Every Christian has a consistent and dedicated foe who is working day after day to destroy our lives. We know this is true. Many of us who grew up in church remember singing about resisting Satan so he will flee. In the Bible we see time and again what happens when someone believes the devil’s lie and yields to temptation. And yet despite that knowledge, we still too often fall for the very same schemes that we know lead to destruction.
The lure of temptation is that it offers us something we want. It does not take a great deal of persuading to interest young children in ice cream. They typically have a very different response to broccoli. Our own desires are the hook on which the lure of temptation is dangled before us. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14).