Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”
2 Samuel 7:12–13
When Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, was just five years old he was crowned the king of France. For the next seventy-two years, though he did not exercise power on his own until he came of age, he was the ruler of the people. For decades, no one in France knew any other ruler. It must have seemed to some like Louis XIV would reign forever. But like all men, he did eventually die and the crown passed to his son.
Jesus is the literal fulfillment of the promise God made to David that one of his descendants would rule forever. Many of David’s descendants ruled in Jerusalem, some poorly and some well. But none of them had a lasting reign. Eventually the kingdom itself was destroyed, but God’s promise remained. He does not work on our time frame or according to our understanding, but He always does exactly what He says He will do.
Jesus will never grow old or feeble and need to be replaced. He will never be overthrown in a revolution. He is the king forever, and we know how the story ends. “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
“Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
The first celebration of the birth of Christ did not involve angels or shepherds or wise men or any of the other characters that we associate with the Christmas story. In fact it happened hundreds of years earlier. God had revealed to Abraham what His plan for the redemption of the world was, and Jesus tells us that Abraham rejoiced over His coming long before it occurred. This passage tells us Abraham celebrated the knowledge of the coming of Christ.
The reason Abraham was so thrilled with the news that Jesus was coming is that, like us, he needed a Saviour for his sins. When he understood what God was going to do, he understood what it meant for his eternity. There is so much to celebrate about Christmas, but the greatest source of joy is the salvation that the birth of Christ made possible for all who believe.
There is a reason that we speak of the gospel as “good news.” It is the best news. Yet as wonderful as it is, not everyone is willing to receive it. In fact when Jesus told the religious leaders of His day the truth that Abraham celebrated His coming before it happened, they tried to kill Him. “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59). We must not let the rejection of Christ by others rob our joy in His birth.
“And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
Jesus was just a baby when Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple to dedicate Him according to the law. They went with the offering as Moses had instructed the people so long before. While they were there, they met a very old man named Simeon, who had received a special message from the Lord that he would live until the Messiah appeared. When he saw the baby Jesus, Simeon saw far more than just another young Jewish baby—he saw the Saviour.
There is a great temptation for us to look at Jesus as our society often portrays Him at Christmas, as just a baby. But He was never just a baby. Though He was fully and completely human, Jesus was also God from birth. Simeon recognized that He had come to bring salvation, not just to Israel, but to the rest of the world as well.
Even as a tiny baby, Jesus was the Light of God to a darkened world filled with sin. The condition of Israel at the time was not good. The wicked Herod ruled brutally over the people. The Pharisees and Sadducees had replaced the truth of God with their traditions. Roman soldiers were stationed across the land to enforce foreign authority. But none of those things hindered God’s plan. When we see a trouble-filled world around us, we should remember what Simeon saw.
“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.”
In Babylon where he had been taken as a young man, the elderly Daniel received an angelic visitation with news about the future. Daniel was given a great deal of information regarding the world empires that would later arise, especially the Greeks and the Romans. He was also given a timetable as to when the arrival of the Messiah could be expected. It is very likely that it was this information, recorded by Daniel, that sparked the interest of the wise men from the east to follow the star that announced the birth of the King of the Jews.
But Daniel received information about more than just the timing of Christ’s coming. He was also given a very clear description of the purpose—to die, not for His own sins because He had none, but for ours. He would be a ruler, a “prince” but more than that Jesus would be a sacrifice. This was all part of God’s plan even before the world was created. There could be no salvation apart from His substitionary death. As Jesus hung on the cross, those who hated Him attempted to mock Him, but in so doing they expressed a profound truth. “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Mark 15:31). Jesus could have saved Himself, but chose instead to save us.
“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Before Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to the Messiah, he had told the aged priest Zacharias that he and his equally aged wife Elisabeth would have a son—John the Baptist. Because Zacharias would not believe the promise without a sign, he was rendered unable to speak until after John was born. When his tongue was loosed, Zacharias worshiped God in gratitude, and spoke of the role his son would play in introducing Jesus to the world.
Zacharias also highlighted the motivation behind the soon coming Messiah’s birth—the mercy of God. There is no salvation apart from mercy. It was once said that while grace is getting what we do not deserve, mercy is not getting what we do deserve. And what every person deserves is eternal separation from God in Hell because of our sin. God does not desire that outcome, but His perfect justice would not permit Him to overlook our sin.
That is where mercy came in. In the person of Jesus Christ, both completely God and also completely human, who lived a sinless life, the sacrifice that would satisfy God’s justice was found. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10). It is only because of God’s mercy that we have hope of salvation and eternity in Heaven. It is only because of God’s mercy that we have the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to celebrate.
“Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of him.”
Many Jewish people in the time of Christ were looking for the coming of the Messiah. Their Roman conquerors ruled with a harsh hand, and many of the people dreamed of a leader who would free them and restore Israel as an independent nation. This was true of the disciples, even after the crucifixion and resurrection. The last recorded question they asked Jesus before He returned to Heaven was not about His kingdom, but Israel’s. “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
When news of what Jesus was doing began to spread, many people wondered if He was the promised Messiah. But while the people were looking for a political leader, His focus was not on overthrowing Roman rule. The deliverance Jesus came to bring was not from earthly leaders, but from Satan. Jesus simply did not fit the image of a Messiah that the people wanted—despite the promises of salvation Jesus fulfilled.
There were even some who actually used the Old Testament Scriptures and prophecies to back up their refusal to believe in Jesus. Not knowing that Jesus had indeed been born in Bethlehem before being reared in Nazareth, they rejected Him. They used a true prophecy to deny the very Truth Himself and would not believe in Him. Because Jesus did not conform to what they wanted and thought they needed, they missed out on what only He could do.
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:”
Though we know that Joseph was not Jesus’ actual father, he was assumed to be so by many. When Jesus grew up, the people of His hometown knew Him as the carpenter’s son. There is a beautiful illustration in this part of the story of the care God takes to ensure that all of His promises are fulfilled.
Many years earlier, at the very end of the spiritual decline of the nation of Judah as they went into the Babylonian captivity, Jeconiah came to the throne following the murder of his father. He ruled for only three months, continuing the evil ways of those who had come before him.
The prophet Jeremiah pronounced this curse from God on Jeconiah: “Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30). The ancestral line of Joseph given in Matthew one traces his lineage back to David through Jeconiah—a disqualifying link.
Of course we know that Jesus was not Joseph’s son. In Luke 3, the lineage of Mary is given, which traces back to David through another son, Nathan. Thus Jesus is of the family of David, but not from the cursed branch. God knows everything before it happens, and He is in control of events. Nothing takes Him by surprise, and He never fails to keep His promises.
“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
1 Timothy 3:14–16
When we hear the word “mystery” most people think of detectives and crime stories. But the Bible uses the word in a different way, meaning something that has been hidden and not previously revealed. The events surrounding the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are even deeper and more significant than most—it is a great mystery. There are many Old Testament promises regarding the coming of the Messiah, from Genesis all the way through Malachi. But while every one of those was true and was fulfilled, they only began to paint the picture of all that Jesus would do.
Much of the focus of Jesus’ life was on revealing truth that had previously been hidden, especially truth about the nature of God and our relationship with Him. In the upper room when Jesus told the disciples He was the only way to the Father, Philip asked to be shown the Father. “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9).
A lifetime of study by a finite human cannot begin to comprehend the greatness and glory of an infinite God. But we should devote ourselves to learning all that we possibly can because Jesus came in part to show us these great truths.
“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.”
One of the first Christmas songs most of us learned was “Away in a Manger.” It is routinely cited as one of the most popular carols. The origins of the song are unclear. In its earliest published versions from the 1880s it is attributed to Martin Luther, but it does not appear that he actually wrote the words so many of us love to sing. Wherever they came from, they are a reminder of the humility of Jesus Christ.
He is the Lord of glory, and the only one worthy of all praise and worship. Yet He took on a human body, and was placed into a feeding trough for animals. Paul wrote that Jesus refused to cling to His rights and privileges: “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7–8).
A manger is a fitting place for the Lamb of God, no matter how out of place it seems to be for the King of Kings. Jesus is both, and to provide a way of salvation for us, He chose the manger over a throne. There is no more touching symbol of the love of God for us than Jesus lying in a rough feeding trough meant for animals because there was no room in the inn.
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:”
The coming of Jesus was prophesied long before it happened. Through the centuries, those who believed God’s promises looked eagerly for the Messiah to appear. A. W. Tozer said, “Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him, the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.” There were many people who were truly serious in seeking the Messiah.
Yet when Jesus did come, many rejected Him. This was because Jesus did not conform to their expectations. He did not overthrow the Romans. He refused the traditions that had directed people’s focus from God to self-righteousness, and instead preached repentance and what God actually said in His Word. Many of the people wanted a Messiah on their terms rather than accepting Him as God sent Him. Jesus came with love, compassion, and humility, but He also came with a blazing light of truth that demanded a response.
God is so perfectly holy that sin cannot remain in His presence. It will either be confessed and forsaken, or it will drive the person away from the truth. Jesus said, “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).
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
From the moment that Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the plan that God already had in place before the creation of the world went into effect. It did not take Him by surprise, and He did not have to come up with a backup plan to account for sin and address man’s need of salvation. There is nothing we can do to atone for our sins, so God took it on Himself to provide a solution. That was and is our only hope of avoiding the eternal separation from God and punishment that is Hell.
John, who was particularly close to Jesus, perhaps more than any of the other disciples wrote, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). Jesus healed the sick, but that is not why He came. He fed the hungry and calmed storms, but that is not why He came. He commanded demons to leave those they possessed, but that is not why He came. Jesus came to save us from our sin.
There is a lot that goes on this time of year. It is easy for us to get swept up in the busyness of the season—often with good things—and lose sight of what is most important. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Saviour. Dr. John Rice wrote that Jesus was, “Born to die for sinners, born for crucifixion day.”
“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. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”
Mary’s life was turned upside down when Gabriel appeared to her with the news that she would be the mother of the Messiah. She went from planning a wedding to planning to be a mother—realizing what everyone would think about her and Joseph, and the danger the news posed to her dreams for the future. Yet despite all the implications, Mary willingly accepted what God had planned for her life. She viewed herself as His servant, and was willing to do whatever He wanted her to do.
Many times we struggle, not with knowing what the right thing to do is, but with being willing to do what we know is right. There is no promise given to us that God’s way will be easy. George Muller said, “Nine–tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.”
Obedience may and often does require a significant sacrifice on our part. But that should not deter us from doing what God has commanded. The response of our hearts should be the same as Mary’s, that we are willing to do whatever God has called us to do, regardless of the cost.
“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, Counsellor, 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.”
When sin came into the world, the perfection that God had created was broken. Among the things that was lost in the fall was the perfect peace that had previously existed. Now both man and nature live in strife and conflict. The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the future in which that peace will be fully restored. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25).
The foundation for that future was laid when Jesus came into the world. It was not by accident that the angel announced to the shepherds, “Peace on earth” when He was born in Bethlehem. Jesus is the only source of real and lasting peace in a broken and sinful world. And He did not merely offer the possibility of peace, but instead the promise of lasting peace to those who believe in Him. The night before the crucifixion Jesus told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). He is our peace, and the peace that He gives can never be taken away.
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
1 Peter 2:6–8
When ancient buildings were constructed from stone, it was critical that the foundation layer, and especially the cornerstone, be perfectly straight and square. All of the walls of the building would be put together based on that one stone. If it was not exactly right, the builders would reject it in favor of one that was. They would keep looking until they found the prefect stone, because they recognized the importance of that foundation.
Peter uses this metaphor to illustrate the way the world responded to Jesus. He was not rejected because of any error or flaw or imperfection. Indeed after his examination, Pilate proclaimed the innocence of Jesus to the people when he said, “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him” (Luke 23:14).
Jesus was rejected because the people were not willing to accept what He had come to offer on His terms. It is much the same today. People find the message of the gospel offensive in our culture where acceptance of everything and everyone just as they are seems to be the cardinal virtue. The message of Jesus is that we are not ok as we are, and have no hope apart from Him.
“And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
We tend to think of Christmas in terms of joy, and it is truly a joyful occasion. But it was not easy or simple. Mary went through the same physical pain in childbirth that other mothers have experienced through the years. She was not miraculously shielded from the suffering just because the child to whom she was giving birth was the Messiah. And the pain of childbirth was only the beginning—the greatest pain Mary would experience was yet to come when Jesus was crucified.
The prophecy Simeon had given Mary when Jesus was a baby came true as she watched Him die. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!” (John 19:26). Even in His final moments, Jesus made sure that Mary would be cared for after His death. He knew that her heart was broken, and she would need the physical and emotional comfort John would be able to provide.
There is no salvation possible apart from sacrifice. And there is no way to follow God’s Son without carrying our own crosses just as He did. Mary willingly accepted her part in God’s plan, but it came at a very high price. There is great joy and glory and reward in faithfully obeying and serving God, but it is not an easy road we have been called to walk.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Surveys show that for many people Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year. Yet it is meant to be a time of joyful celebration. When the angel announced the birth of Jesus Christ he called it news of “great joy.” Too often we allow the pressures of the event to overshadow that joy. Finances, strained relationships, time pressure, and stress can turn Christmas into a difficult day rather than a celebration. But that should not be true of God’s children.
Dr. John Rice wrote, “Christmas joy does not depend on the outward trappings of Christmas. You may be lonely, poor, and cold, neglected by the children, forgotten by your friends, yet may have the glad Christmas joy in your heart as Paul had, shut up in prison cells at Rome! Be sure to open your heart and let the dear Lord Jesus make it a happy Christmas time for you.”
This is a day of good news as we celebrate the birth of the Saviour. Even though those around us may not understand the real meaning of this special day, we who know the truth should not lose sight of it. Let it be said of us as it was said of the wise men: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). May your Christmas truly be merry and blessed.
“He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.”
The Bible tells us that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. We don’t know how long he had been following John before Jesus came to be baptized, but the next day Andrew began following Jesus instead. The first thing Andrew did when they reached their destination was to go and find his brother Peter and bring him to Jesus. That was the most important thing he could do, so Andrew did not allow anything to take precedence over that task.
All of have friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances who need to know Jesus. And it is our responsibility to introduce them to Him. Not all of them will respond to the gospel, just as not everyone Jesus Himself talked to accepted Him as their Messiah and Saviour. But if we do not tell them the truth, where will they hear it? “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
We need a renewed sense of urgency and priority when it comes to reaching people with the gospel. It is right for us to send and support missionaries to other places. But we have a responsibility to those around us to be a witness.
“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. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”
Because Jesus was perfect and the Son of God, it would be reasonable to assume that people would gladly obey what He said to do. While there were some who did respond to Him in that way, many others did not. Instead they critiqued His words, refusing to accept that Jesus could be the Saviour for whom they had been waiting. When Jesus healed a man crippled by palsy, and told him he was forgiven, they should have rejoiced, but their reaction was very different. “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).
Though we should gladly and willingly follow what Jesus says to us in His Word, there are times when all of us struggle with doing what God said. Even saved sinners are prone to contradict the teaching of Jesus. We must be on our guard not to allow our thoughts and feelings, or those of others, to influence us to disobey God. Jesus may be contradicted by the world, but He should never be contradicted by His children.
Jesus explicitly connected the state of our relationship with Him to our obedience of Him. “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). Our salvation is not conditional, but our closeness to Him certainly is. There is never a time when what we think or feel should be given precedence over what He said. We must not contradict God.
“Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.”
2 Samuel 12:9–10
One of the tools that Satan has used successfully for thousands of years to lure people into sin is the lie that they will somehow be exempt from the consequences of that sin, or at least be able to control those consequences. That has been a lie every time he has used it, and it is still a lie today. There is no one who is exempt from the impact sin makes on their own lives and on others. No amount of talent, no amount of service, no amount of spiritual gifting allows us to sin and get by with it. Our sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ, but the earthly consequences remain.
James was not writing to the lost when he said, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). Sin is destructive to the Christian. Not only does it hinder our fellowship with God, but it produces negative effects that can last for generations.
David was a faithful leader of Israel and a man after God’s heart, but his great victories and his years of service did not lead God to overlook his great sin. Instead the prophet Nathan came to openly confront David and remind him that God had seen what he tried to hide. God did not sweep David’s sin under the rug, and while He forgave David, there were gravely negative consequences that lasted for the rest of his life.
“Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
2 Timothy 1:11–13
Paul would have had a much easier life if he had simply kept quiet about his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. If he had never told anyone what happened, he would not have suffered so much—running for his life, being imprisoned, being beaten, being whipped, and stoned. He would not have been jailed in Rome before being executed. But despite all that he endured, Paul was not silent as long as he lived. He would not stop talking about Jesus. Even before he made his trip to Rome in chains, Paul wrote, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (Romans 1:15).
There are things for which people should be ashamed. In our day many of those things are now being praised by the society around us. We should never take part in anything of which we legitimately would be ashamed. But we should never be ashamed when we are judged or condemned or criticized or even persecuted for doing and saying what is right. The world may not accept the truth. They may mock and scorn us. And they may exact economic hardship or even worse. But we should never be ashamed of the truth or of the Lord who saved us. And we should do all we can to share the message of the gospel with a world desperately in need of it.
“And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
1 Samuel 15:22–23
As a year ends, people often look ahead to the coming year. Many make plans and resolutions. Some of those are more lasting and important than others. As Christians this is a good time for us to assess our relationship with God and determine how we can more effectively serve and glorify Him. It is fine for us to set goals for our health, finances, and other activities. But our plan for the new year is not complete without considering the spiritual.
And one of the realms in which the spiritual condition of our world, our nation, our communities, our churches, and our own lives needs the most attention is the arena of obedience. There are many things that we try to substitute for obeying God’s Word. King Saul attempted to justify his disobedience by offering lavish sacrifices. It did not stand with God. He is more concerned with our obedience than with anything we offer as an alternative. We must do whatever He tells us to do.
A. W. Tozer wrote, “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late— and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain precept laid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.”
“For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, be not now negligent: for the LORD hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense.”
2 Chronicles 29:9–11
When King Hezekiah decided to seek God’s help after a period of national judgment, one of the things he did was call for those who served God not to be negligent in fulfilling their duties. He recognized that God would not honor halfhearted or indifferent service. God is looking for dedicated, faithful, diligent servants for His work.
Every day we face a choice of how we will spend the twenty-four hours we have been given. Our answer to that question determines what we will accomplish. Adoniram Judson said, “A life once spent is irrevocable. It will remain to be contemplated through eternity. The same may be said of each day. When it is once past, it is gone forever. All the marks which we put upon it, it will exhibit forever. How shall we then wish to see each day marked with usefulness! It is too late to mend the days that are past. The future is in our power. Let us, then, each morning, resolve to send the day into eternity in such a garb as we shall wish it to wear forever. And at night let us reflect that one more day is irrevocably gone, indelibly marked.”
The reality is that 366 days from now, unless the Lord returns or we meet Him in Heaven, we will be looking ahead to the start of another year. Whether we do that with gladness or regret will be determined by how we use those days.
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
Over the years I’ve read a lot of New Year’s Resolutions made by different people. Many people use the start of a new year as a time to try to reach a specific goal, perhaps related to their health, their finances, their time management, or their spiritual lives. I have never yet seen anyone announce their resolution to have a complete failure of a year—to be fruitless and unrooted, to wither away and not have anything they do succeed.
Yet God’s Word draws a clear distinction for us between those who walk in His way and those who do not. All of the positives that are promised to those who love God’s Word and meditate in it and obey it are denied to those who do not. “The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (Psalm 1:4). While we would not make a resolution to fail, if we do not develop roots in God’s Word, we will fail in the ways that matter most.
Obediently following God and reaping the blessings and rewards that follow requires a conscious and dedicated effort. We are surrounded by the counsel of the ungodly, the work of sinners, and the negative attitudes of the scornful. Yet, God offers us the refreshing, life-giving, Word of God. When we find our delight within its truths, we will think on it and obey it…and we will experience the good fruit of it in our lives.
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.”
It’s popular in our day for people to say that if you love God everything will go just great for you. While it’s easy to understand why that message is attractive, it is false. We live in a world that hates what we believe, and if we hold fast to the truth, there will be trouble. Difficulty doesn’t always come because we are doing wrong; sometimes it comes because we are doing right. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
The key for us is not in avoiding trouble, but in how we respond when it comes. Amy Carmichael spent fifty-five years as a missionary in India without ever taking a furlough. She constantly suffered health issues, and faced threats against her life because of her commitment to rescuing children from prostitution and slavery. Her life was anything but easy. Yet Amy wrote, “There is nothing dreary and doubtful about [life]. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord whose joy is our strength.”
The Lord did not promise us easy lives or a quick end to troubles. What He did promise is that if we are patient and faithful in those hard times, we will reap a great harvest of blessing. Rather than complaining, we should patiently wait for God to work.
“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
After finishing his education for the ministry, John Wesley was ordained by the Anglican Church. He went to the young colony of Georgia in response to a request from the founder, James Oglethorpe, to preach to the people and do missionary work among the Indians. His brief ministry there ended in failure, and he returned to England. After ten years of doing Christian work without much success, Wesley recognized the problem as he attended a service at Aldersgate. He realized that though he had the outward form of Christianity, he had never been truly converted himself. Later Wesley would write, “Having plenty of things and in the midst of amiable friends, still I was not happy. The reason certainly was, I did not know God, the source of present as well as eternal happiness.”
Knowing the truth does not take us to Heaven. Being able to recite Scripture and regularly attending church does not take us to Heaven. Doing good things for others and serving in a church does not take us to Heaven. The only way of salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone. Some people, like the rich young man who came to Jesus seeking the way to eternal life, understand what is required for salvation, but are not willing to do it. Instead they cling to what they have, unwilling to give it up in exchange for a gift of salvation freely offered from Jesus, and as a result, remain unsaved.
“I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
When Ira Stanphill was pastoring a church in Fort Worth, Texas he drove home one day and on the radio heard an ad for “happy hour” at a local bar. Contrasting the pleasures offered by the world with those offered by Christ, Stanphill began composing music and lyrics for a new song even before he got home. We know the song today as “Happiness Is the Lord.”
Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within His favor,
Having a change in my behavior
Happiness is the Lord.
Real joy is mine,
No matter if the teardrops start,
I’ve found the secret,
It’s Jesus in my heart.
Happiness is to be forgiven,
Living a life that’s worth the livin’,
Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,
Happiness is the Lord.
The pleasures offered by the world are at best temporary, and they come at a heavy price. Yet too often God’s people yield to the temptation to seek those pleasures rather than turning to Him for what only He can provide. It is in His presence that we find true joy. It is in the working of the Holy Spirit that we experience the blessing of joy. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Galatians 5:22). The joy that Christ brings can reach our hearts even during times of great sorrow. This is why Paul could say he was “as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Rather than seeking illicit pleasures, we simply need to take advantage of the close relationship with God He offers to us as His children.
“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
A study published by the American Journal of Medical Genetics revealed a group of people who do not seem to be subject to the same worries and frustrations that most people in our society experience. The remarkable study revealed the following: “Among those surveyed, nearly 99 percent…indicated that they were happy with their lives, 97 percent liked who they are, and 96 percent liked how they look. Nearly 99 percent…expressed love for their families, and 97 percent liked their brothers and sisters.” This extraordinary level of happiness and satisfaction with life was not found among those of a certain race or gender, nor among those who were wealthier or more intelligent than average. It was found among people with Down Syndrome.
Contentment, happiness, and peace in life are not the product of what we have or what we can do. They are the product of having the right attitude. Desiring what we do not have and refusing to be content with what we do have is covetousness, and it is a deadly evil that destroys happiness and leads to folly and sin. Jesus followed this warning against basing our lives on our possessions with the parable of the rich fool who thought having barns filled with produce guaranteed his future. That story ends with this warning: “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:20). Our attitude toward life and toward God determines our attitude toward things and possessions.
“And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.”
As we go through the various challenges, temptations, and battles of our lives, we must never forget that what we are doing is not just about us and our day. The actions we take and the victories we win today have a powerful impact on the future. We cannot win the battle for future generations. Each new age demands new battles and new victories. But we can furnish those who will come after us reminders of the great way God has worked in the past.
Charles Spurgeon said, “There is nothing that more tends to strengthen the faith of the young believer than to hear the veteran Christian, covered with scars from the battle, testifying that the service of his Master is a happy service, and that, if he could have served any other master, he would not have done so, for His service is pleasant, and His reward everlasting joy.”
As we give credit and glory to God for what He has done in and through our lives, we build faith for the future. We give our children and grandchildren, as well as other believers, a powerful example of reliance on God and see Him bring about victory. God does not bless us with victory for our sake alone, but so that we can raise monuments to His faithfulness and power that will encourage those who come after us.
“And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. 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 arrived in Philippi, they were the first people to present the gospel there. Among those they met was a young slave girl whose owners used her demonic possession to gain profit from fortune telling. After Paul cast the demon out of the girl, her owners were furious at the loss of their easy money and demanded the preachers be arrested. Despite the fact that it was contrary to Roman law, they were beaten and thrown into jail.
This was completely unjust, both on a moral level where they had done something that was good, and on the legal level, where they had not violated any laws. That reality did not make their wounds any less painful, or release them from the shackles that kept them from even relaxing within their cells. And the reality of that injustice also did not stop them from singing and praising God. Even though everything seemed to be going wrong, their faith remained.
All of us have good days and bad days. God is just as close and faithful in the bad days as He is in the good days. And the song in our heart and the praise on our lips does not depend on how things are going, but in whom we trust. When we realize that God never makes any mistakes, we can be joyful regardless of where we are or what we are experiencing.
“And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”
After more than two decades of faithful ministry and service to God, Thomas Brooks faced a crisis. The Church of England in 1662 persuaded Parliament to pass a law called the Act of Uniformity. This required all preachers to give an oath to follow the Book of Common Prayer or lose their positions. More than 2,500 ministers, including Brooks, refused and were ousted in what came to be called the Great Ejection. Thomas Brooks said, “Hope can see Heaven through the thickest clouds.”
While all of us would prefer to experience calm and peace, the reality is that being faithful to God may place us in difficult situations and cost us a great deal. Many through the years have had friends turn against them because of a stand for the truth. But even if taking a stand costs us everything we have in earthly terms, we are not left alone and hopeless.
God is the God of hope, and He can and does work through any circumstances to accomplish His purposes. If we look to ourselves for strength, we will surely be discouraged and disappointed. But when we look to the God of hope and walk in His Holy Spirit, nothing can take that hope away. God’s plan for our lives is not merely a little hope, but a hope that abounds and overcomes fear and doubt so that we will be faithful to Him in every situation.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”
The famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby was not born blind. She contracted a cold at just six weeks of age, and the treatment left her unable to see. She went on to become one of the most prolific and effective poets in the history of the church, writing words that we are still singing more than 100 years later. Among her early poems were these eight lines, written when she was just eight years old:
Oh, what a happy soul I am,
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot and I won’t.
There are lots of bad things that happen to good people. But God is always faithful, and if we rely on Him, we can find a song in the darkest time of our life. We don’t have to come up with a song of our own—He gives it to us. It is no accident that being filled with the Holy Spirit is so closely connected to singing. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
The fact that so many Christians seem to have no song is not a testimony to their trials, but to their lack of connection with God. God gives a song to those who trust in Him and patiently endure what He sends into their lives.
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
Everything around us in the natural world was created out of nothing by God. His words brought into being all that we can see and even the things that we cannot see. But God’s power and control go beyond that. Not only did He make everything that is, but He is responsible for their continued existence. He literally holds everything together. This is such a great comfort to us as His children, because we can trust Him regardless of what is going on around us. Someone said, “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” If we fix our attention and focus on Him, we will not be distracted or discouraged by what is going on around us.
We live in a rapidly changing world. Things that were once widely believed to be true are retracted. Things that were once widely condemned as evil are now accepted. But God never changes. And the things that happen in our world do not take Him by surprise, nor are they beyond His control. God is fully in charge. “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9–10).
"But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."
In a momentary panic of not finding anything to write on, most of us have written down a name or a number on our hands, or at least seen someone else do it. Invariably those numbers are hard to read. By their nature they are temporary and sweat or water or food or something else may erase them even before they are used. As a result, what we had hoped to remember has been lost.
When it comes to God, things are different. At a time when the Jewish people were suffering from the consequences of their sins and thinking that God had abandoned them, God gave the prophet Isaiah a message the people needed to hear. God promised His people He would never forget them, using the metaphor of writing on hands—not with a temporary ink, but an engraving that would be lasting and permanent.
All of us have days of trials and troubles. And in those days we are tempted to think that God has turned away from us and does not remember our plight. That false belief frequently leads to sin as we take matters into our own hands rather than trusting in God. Saul did this when Samuel was delayed in arriving at Gilgal. “Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12). God often does not work in the time frame we would prefer, but that never means He has forgotten our needs.
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
1 Peter 2:21–24
Ken Blanchard has sold millions of copies of his books on management and leadership, most famously the “One Minute Manager” series. Many of these titles were co-written with other experts, and Blanchard spent a great deal of time interviewing and working with some of the most noted leaders in the field. The story goes that Blanchard once interviewed Peter Drucker and asked him why he was a Christian. Drucker replied, “Because Jesus paid it all.”
There is a tendency among those of us who have been saved for many years to loose sight of the enormous cost of our salvation. We know the truths and we have read the gospel accounts of the crucifixion over and over. We’ve heard numerous sermons on the cross and on salvation. Yet too often we fail to grasp what it means that Jesus took our sins onto Himself.
The way we know that this truth is being missed is that many Christians are not following Peter’s instruction to “live unto righteousness.” We are happy for Christ to have borne the penalty for our sins, but we still cling to them. Jesus took the penalty He did not owe for our sins, not merely to save us from Hell, but to give us a new life in Him. Those sins—our sins—that were laid on Him at the cross should be repulsive to us as we are filled with gratitude to Him.
“And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were utterly devoted to the outward observance of forms and traditions which they had added on to the commandments God had given to His people. Their outward and ostentatious righteousness was not matched with inward holiness. Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
It was their very dependence on their own works and their self-satisfied, though unearned, sense of righteousness that prompted them to ignore Jesus and His calls to repentance. They did not view themselves as being in need of anything, and viewed the work Jesus did to reach out to those whose sins were obvious on the outside rather than hidden within as a disqualifying mark on His character. In truth, they needed salvation and grace as much as those they condemned. God was not impressed by their hypocritical works. But they ignored their need for Him, believing that they had all they needed.
Many times we ignore a warning from God either in the Bible, in preaching, or in conversation with friends because we have convinced ourselves that we are fine just like we are. Yet God who sees our hearts knows how desperately we need His cleansing.
“Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.”
Though Jesus often asked questions of people, either to start a conversation or to reveal what was in their hearts, there is not a single time in the Gospels where He asked anyone to do anything. Jesus is Lord, and as such has the right and authority to command people. Jesus told the disciples to follow Him. He told the demons to leave those they possessed. He told the storm to be silent. Jesus did not ask for favors or obedience—He commanded it.
We see this principle of authority in the story of the Roman centurion who came to beg Jesus to heal his servant. He said, “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9). Jesus did exactly what the man asked, commanding the healing of the servant without ever seeing him in person, and he was healed. Jesus is Lord of all.
Our view of God is most revealed not in what we say, but in what we do. If we see Him as the rightful Lord of our lives, obedience is the only possible correct response. Many Christians struggle with both service to God and with overcoming sin because they do accept the authority of Jesus to rule their lives.
“And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.”
It was obvious to the people of His day that Jesus was not an ordinary man. He performed miracles that were beyond human or natural explanation. He healed sick people who had no medical hope. He demonstrated power over the natural world. He even cast demons out of people who were possessed. And when He cast a demon out of one man, he was suddenly able to speak. In the face of this amazing display of miraculous power, the doubters asked for “a sign from heaven.” They could not possibly have received a more clear sign, yet they rejected the truth that was right in front of them and asked for something more.
While there are honest doubts and questions that people have from time to time, many of those who are seeking a sign are not doing so honestly. Their problem is not that they do not know the truth, but that they refuse to believe. So while they may say that they are looking for God to work, they are not, and even if a miracle occurred, they would not believe. Jesus described this in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. “And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Faith is not based on what we see, but on what God has said. And those who do not believe cannot be convinced by anything, even a miracle. We have all the “signs” we need in the pages of the Bible.
“He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”
It is very possible for a person to outwardly conform to a set of rules and appear to be doing what is right while their heart is distant and cold toward God. And while our outward conduct and conversation matter, they are far less important than the condition of our hearts. For if the heart is not right, it will not be long before it is revealed. When Mary anointed Jesus with a very costly perfume, Judas complained in a manner that revealed his hypocritical motivation. “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:5–6).
Everything we do is motivated by what we truly love. We are not supposed to love God somewhat or partly or incompletely. Jesus said, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). God knows what is in our hearts no matter how we may try to conceal it from others. If we are not right with Him on the inside, He will never be deceived no matter how loudly we proclaim our allegiance to Him. God is searching for people who will dedicate their hearts to Him, for He knows that their lives will follow.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
Over the years I’ve heard a few people say that while they tried doing what the Bible said, they found it didn’t work so they stopped trying to follow the Word of God. But the Bible is not a magic pill that we take once and have all of our problems resolved. It is truth, but the “cure” must be constantly applied. We have to do what the Bible says and keep on doing it to receive the blessings promised for obedience.
James used the illustration of a man looking in a mirror to communicate this truth. You can take a quick glance at a mirror as you walk by and see if anything major is out of place. But in order to fully inspect yourself, it takes more than a glance. James said that not only must we take the time to look deeply and seriously into the Word of God, but that we must continue to do so throughout our lives.
The Christian who takes the Bible casually will never be a victorious Christian. It is not enough just to glance in the mirror on Sunday mornings. In addition to the public teaching and preaching of the Word, each of us needs a regular infusion of truth from God in our lives. We need to read God’s Word with an open heart and mind, willing to do whatever God says.
“God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God. He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
David knew a lot about trouble. Though we often think of him either as a shepherd boy fighting Goliath or as a victorious king triumphing over Israel’s enemies, David endured a great deal of hardship and suffering in the period in between. This trouble was not because of anything David did wrong, but because of the actions of others. In that time, David could have concluded that God had abandoned him and broken His promises. Instead, he became more determined than ever to trust God in every situation.
Charles Spurgeon said, “God can as easily change your condition, dear child of God, as He can turn His hand. He can make your harsh and ungodly husband to become gentle and gracious. He can bring your children to bow at the family altar, and to rejoice with you in Christ. He can cause your business to prosper; or, if He does not do that, He can strengthen your back to bear the burden of your daily cross. Oh, it is wonderful how different a thing becomes when it is taken to God.”
Of course there are times when we must act, but in every case we must trust God first rather than taking matters into our own hands. God may not resolve our problems as we desire, but He will do what is best as we trust it to Him.
“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.”
Though it has been almost two thousand years since Jesus told the story, the parable of the Prodigal Son reads like a picture of modern society. All around us the drive of materialism, the endless quest to accumulate more and more money and more and more things, is easy to see. There is a widespread feeling that people are owed whatever they desire, and have a right to get it without first earning it.
This “give me” mindset destroys joy because no matter how much someone gets, there is never enough. Someone said, “A spirit of entitlement robs us of happiness and God of glory.” We are not entitled to anything. Everything that is good in our lives and our eternity is the direct result of the grace of God. The more that we insist on having our own way or getting what we “deserve,” the more we undermine our spiritual growth and development.
When the Children of Israel complained in the wilderness because all they had to eat was manna, God sent them quail to eat, but they did not find pleasure in that provision. “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:15). Instead of spending our lives insisting on getting more and more so that we have what we think we deserve, we must develop a spirit of contentment and gratitude.
“And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.”
Jericho, the first city that Israel had to fight when they entered the Promised Land, was a large and wealthy city. In those days, gathering the goods found in a conquered city was a major economic consideration. Many armies received much of their pay from the plunder gained in battle. But God reserved that first city for Himself, decreeing that no one was to take anything from Jericho. Achan disobeyed that decree, and after the defeat at Ai his sin was revealed. When he made his confession to Joshua, Achan described the progression of his sin. First he saw something attractive, then he wanted it, and then he took it and hid it.
Sometimes we focus on the end of the process—the actual sin. But the problem begins earlier, in our thoughts before it is seen in our actions. When we allow ourselves to desire things that God has forbidden, we are already on the path to defeat and destruction. James wrote, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). Sin always begins internally before it is seen externally. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “Behind every tragedy of human character lies a long process of wicked thinking.” Achan did not sin because the treasure was so attractive. Thousands of other Israeli soldiers passed by equal treasures. Achan sinned because he allowed the temptation to linger until it produced the bitter fruit of sin in his life.
“But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?”
The Children of Israel saw the ten plagues that devastated Egypt. They saw the Red Sea part so they could cross, before returning to drown the Egyptian army. They saw God miraculously provide for them as they made their way to the Promised Land. Yet when ten of the twelve spies Moses sent into the land came back with a report that highlighted how strong the people already in the land were, they refused to even try to enter. When Moses insisted that they could triumph with God’s help, they started talking about stoning him, along with Joshua and Caleb. None of the adults in that generation, except for the two faithful spies, were allowed to go into the land, because none of them had the faith to take God at His promises.
God’s frustration with those people is often echoed in our day, as those who call themselves His children refuse to believe what He has said and act on it. In truth, every one of us has seen God do great and amazing things in our lives, giving us far more than we deserve. His power is on display each time someone comes to Him for salvation—the greatest miracle of all. Yet despite all we have read and heard from the Bible and from the lives of others, and despite all we have personally experienced, too often our actions are determined by our perception of the obstacles we face rather than by our faith in God to overcome them.
“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.”
Many people live as if God did not exist. When they make their plans for the future, they are only concerned with what they desire and how they intend to achieve their goals. The truth is that none of us knows the future. We can and should make wise plans to the best of our ability, but we do not control our lives. Even the moment at which they end could come unexpectedly. None of us is promised tomorrow. James gives us this reminder, not to make us dread the future, but to urge us to trust and submit to God’s will rather than rejoicing in our own plans and presumptions.
Submitting to God’s will is not passive—it still requires us to do what He says. But it is freeing, because it replaces our opinions with His. Hudson Taylor said, “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.” The warning of James was not to the world, but to believers. We are just as prone to self-reliance, and we must resist it.
“I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?”
When we allow ourselves to be filled with worry and fear, we are not living as the God who offers comfort and encouragement wants us to live. We are constantly under attack in this world, but we do not have to be defeated. After many years on a difficult mission field, Amy Carmichael wrote, “I have noticed that when God has purposes of blessing some person, the devil of Discouragement, who is one of Satan’s most useful servants, is sure to come and whisper all sorts of miserable, depressing thoughts. Do not forget that discouragement is always from beneath, while encouragement is always from above.”
Even in the worst moments of our lives, if those who are closest to us fail us or turn against us, God is there. David wrote, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). We do not have to live without comfort, which God freely offers to us. When we go to Him, He does not have to be talked into comforting and encouraging us. He loves us beyond our ability to comprehend, and He is always ready to respond to those who cry out to Him. We can allow our circumstances or the actions of others to drive us down, or we can cling to God and not fear anyone else. That is an unfailing source of encouragement that is available to Christians.
“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”
When Paul met with the elders of the church at Ephesus for the last time, he recapped his ministry in their town as part of his final charge to them. He was able to tell them that his work in Ephesus had been characterized by a passionate intensity. Paul was not casual in trying to reach people—he went around the clock, weeping from his burden as he went.
There is no substitute for a deep, passionate, intense burden for others as we do the work of God. D. L. Moody was one of the most used and effective evangelists in history. Though he had little formal education, people responded to his preaching in a great way, and tens of thousands were saved in his meetings. One thing that was obvious when Moody preached was his passion for reaching the lost. The English pastor Robert Dale said of Moody, “I have never heard him refer to Hell without tears in his voice.”
If we are going to make an impact on those around us and be effective witnesses of the gospel, we must truly care about the people to whom we speak. If we are going through the motions or checking an item off our to-do list, we should not be surprised if there is little result. The Lord we are commanded to follow cared deeply about the needs of the people around Him. “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
In the early 1900s, Radio Corporation of America was one of the largest companies in the world. Their electronics business was booming, especially after World War I and the start of the “Roaring Twenties.” In October of 1929, RCA was trading for $58.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. But the Great Depression came, and by 1932 the company had lost more than 95 percent of its value with the stock trading at just $2.50 per share. There were many who thought they had wealth and security because of their RCA stock, but it proved to be fleeting.
No matter how secure any earthly investment may seem to be, it is temporal. While it is important for us to be good stewards of the resources God entrusts to us, and we should make wise plans for the future, nothing should outweigh eternity in our hearts and minds. The things that we put into God’s work are treasures that are prepared for us to receive. Paul wrote, “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 4:8).
The things into which we pour our time, money, and energy are the things that matter most to us. If we only have earthly investments, it speaks loudly that we do not have Heaven in our hearts. Knowing that we will spend eternity there, we should be far more interested in treasure that lasts than in worldly possessions.
“Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation. I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.”
England in the late 1700s was in turmoil. The loss of the American colonies had greatly impacted the empire, not just in the new world, but in the old as well. In addition to the political and military upheaval, economic woes roiled society. From his pulpit in London, John Newton saw the great need of spiritual renewal above all else. He wrote to a friend, “A revival is wanted here with us as it is with you, and some of us are praying and also singing for a revival. The song we are singing will be found on the reverse side of my letter.”
Saviour, visit Thy plantation,
Send, oh send, a gracious rain;
All will come to desolation
Unless Thou dost bless again.
Break the tempter’s fatal power,
Turn the stony hearts to flesh,
And begin this very hour
To revive Thy work afresh.
Lord, Thy help is greatly needed:
Help can only come from Thee.
Everywhere we look, there are signs of the spiritual decay and decline of our society. This evil is not limited to the world, but has infected much of the church as well. There is a need for revival, but it cannot be produced by any human means or effort. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s children that we should be earnestly praying to see become a reality.
“For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.”
Much of our society treats sin as a joke. Even gross immorality and outrageous conduct are merely fodder for a laugh. Popular entertainment is filled with these depictions of sin as being fun and exciting. They are wrong. And we must not adopt their attitude. When Jonah preached his message of warning, the entire city of Nineveh responded. They did not ignore his words. They did not downplay the seriousness of the matter. They did not attempt to bargain with God. Instead they acknowledged their sin and repented.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved.” There are no small sins, and we must not be deceived into thinking that God will overlook our wrongdoing. He hates sin, and if we are to follow Him as we should, we must hate sin also. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). Any sin that we allow to linger in our lives, unconfessed and unrepented, is a deadly danger.
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
What God told Abraham to do was beyond human logic and reason. It made no sense to leave a comfortable home and live in a tent. It made no sense that an elderly couple could still have a child. It made no sense to offer that promised child as a sacrifice. Yet in every case, when Abraham did what God said, he found God’s promises to be faithful. We do not please, honor, and obey God by doing what seems right to us, but by obeying what He has spoken.
Alexander MacLaren said, “Disobedience is the root of unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of further disobedience. Faith is voluntary submission within a person’s own power. If faith is not exercised, the true cause lies deeper than all intellectual reasons. It lies in the moral aversion of human will and in the pride of independence. With dreadful reciprocity of influence, the less one trusts, the more he disobeys; the more he disobeys, the less he trusts.”
The goal of pleasing God should be our motivation. To accomplish that, we must walk in faith. “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” (Hebrews 11:6). The world may say that believing the Bible is old fashioned. Even Christians may say walking in faith leads us to extremes. But we can and should always believe what God has spoken and act upon it in obedience.