2 Chronicles 10 and Revelation 7

Today read 2 Chronicles 10 and Revelation 7. This devotional is about Revelation 7.

This chapter continued describing the chaos of the Great Tribulation that was happening on earth. God, however had not forgotten his children on earth and, in this chapter between the opening of the 6th and 7th seal (8:1), we are given a glimpse of what is happening in heaven.

The chapter opens with God sealing 144,000 of his children, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes. They were sealed in the sense that they were marked as belonging to God so that they would be protected from the supernatural outpouring of God’s wrath which will come in Revelation 8 when the 7th seal is opened.

Meanwhile, John saw an innumerable multitude of people who died during the Great Tribulation but were in Christ when they died (v. 14). Despite whatever horrors they experienced on earth, they were filled with praise for God (vv. 8-12). Because they were saved during their time on earth, eternity holds for them the joy of worshiping and serving God (v. 15) and his care for them forevermore (vv. 16-17).

There is plenty to be discouraged about and fearful of in this life but God has been good to us and we have not experienced the kind of persecution and pain that many of our brothers and sisters throughout history have experienced. Even if we do experience painful persecution and even martyrdom, the things God has promised us in Christ for eternity far outweigh the problems and pains of this life.

So, be encouraged. Cling to Christ and to God’s promises when life is hard and hope in the eternity we have been promised in Jesus. It will be more than worth it when we reach eternity.

1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, John 16

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, and John 16.

This devotional is about John 16.

This section in John continues the teaching of Jesus on his final day of freedom. John recorded the teachings Christ gave as he and his disciples walked from the upper room (where they ate the Passover & Christ’s began the Lord’s Supper, John 14:31) to the Garden of Gethsemane (where Judas would betray him, John 18:1).

According to our passage today, John 16:1, these teachings were designed to fortify the disciples against rejecting him. Hard times would come to them for their faith in Jesus, including excommunication from their local synagogues (v. 2a). Christ gave the reason that people would persecute his disciples in 16:2b: “…anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”

How foolish for anyone to think that the disciples were a threat to their lives or political power. Jesus’ students did not wish to overthrow the government and they weren’t trying to take over Judaism either. Yet governments would imprison them and religious people would persecute them, even taking their lives, in God’s name.

Verse 3: “…because they have not known the Father or me.” Unbelief exacts a high price; not only does it damn one’s soul for eternity, it skew’s one’s moral compass in this life as well. This is why morality is constantly being re-defined (downward) and why the ungodly are celebrated and followed while the loving, righteous people of God are shunned and persecuted. It is true that God created each of us with the voice of conscience. Conscience points the right way toward morality but that voice can be rationalized away, miseducated, dumbed-down, and even suppressed completely. The further we come toward the return of Christ, the farther our world moves away from what is right and good.

Yet Christ told us about these things ahead of time for our good: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). The peace Jesus promised in this verse is not the outer peace of an undisturbed, unpersecuted life. It is the inner peace that reassures us when things get rough on the outside that Christ is in control and will ultimately end this turmoil forever when his time comes. Lean on this promise as you encounter hostility and trouble in life due to your faith in Jesus. 

1 Kings 21, Amos 7, 2 Peter 2

Read 1 Kings 21, Amos 7, and 2 Peter 2.

This devotional is about Amos 7.

Amos was an unsophisticated man, a redneck from the Southern Kingdom who tended sheep and cared for sycamore trees (v. 14) but the Lord sent him to prophesy to both Israel and Judah about his coming judgment. Those yankees in the Northern Kingdom objected to the message of that hillbilly from the south.

One of Israel’s religious leaders, Amaziah, a priest of the false religion that Jeroboam I established in Judah misconstrued, his message in order to try to silence Amos. Amos had been prophesying exile to the Assyrians, but Amaziah told Jeroboam II that his message was “raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel” (v. 10b). Amaziah then ordered Amos to deport himself back to the south (v. 12). His reason? “…because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” In other words, this is a safe space for king Jeroboam. He shouldn’t have to hear a troubling prophecy like this in his own backyard. 

Those who hate the Lord will eventually seek to silence his word. If they can threaten and intimidate us his messengers, as Amaziah tried to do, then we make it easy on them to avoid accountability and live the way they want.

Faithfulness to the Lord, however, requires us to speak truth–lovingly, yes, calling people to repentance, but also firmly, directly, consistently (vv. 15-16). In our country, those who seek to silence God’s word will use the strong arm of government, when they can. They will use executive power when they have it, lawmaking power when they have it, and judicial power when they can.

Failing all those things, God’s enemies have public pressure, threats, and intimidation. Amos was a brave man; what he may have lacked in urban sophistication was more than offset by his faith in God and determination to keep speaking God’s truth.

Let’s follow his example and be clear and consistent in speaking for the Lord until he comes.

Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah’s fears in chapter 18 finally materialized here in chapter 20. Despite the fact that he is doing the will of God, God wills for him to suffer persecution. As a direct result of his prophesies (v. 1b-2a), one of the priests had Jeremiah beaten and confined to the stocks (vv. 1-2). When Jeremiah was released the next day, he had a few choice prophesies for this “man of God,” namely that he would personally experience the Babylonian exile and die there in that foreign land (vv. 3-6). 

Jeremiah has a few choice words for the Lord, too, following (or perhaps during) this episode. He complained first about the social cost of serving the Lord (vv. 7-8). Imagine being a prophet of God in a culture that was supposed to belong to God but where nobody but you cared anything about following God’s word. Imagine that even the priests were out to get you and, when they persecuted you, they did it in public so everyone entering the temple could make fun of you while you were bound in the stocks. That’s the tough job God had called Jeremiah to do.

It was so tough, in fact, that he decided to shut up and stop doing it. But according to verses 8-9 God’s word refused to be contained within his heart and mind, so he resumed his prophesies against his better judgment. As a result, even those he considered to be friends wanted him to pay for what he was saying (v. 10). Here, then was a man who was caught in an absolute quandary. Speaking up was too costly. Being silent was impossible.

What to do?

The only thing Jeremiah could do was appeal to God. In verses 11-12 he committed his persecutors to God’s justice. In verse 13, he resolved to praise the Lord for the deliverance he received, but that did not keep him from experiencing deep anguish over what his life had become (vv. 13-18). It would be nice to see this chapter end in a more tidy way, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow of worship and thanksgiving. However, Jeremiah’s prayer in this chapter ended with painful words wishing he had never been born. Spoiler alert: Jeremiah 21 just moved on to the next situation Jeremiah faced. There was no happy resolution to the trauma of his heart.

What do we make of all of this? First, that we should not expect a pain free life just because we are serving God. In fact, serving God may make life more painful and troublesome than it is for those who only pretend to serve God (like Pashhur the priest at the beginning of chapter 20). God’s will for your life may involve suffering. That suffering may be the direct result of the fact that you are serving him–not because of any defect in Godbut as the result of living in a sinful world which hates God, seeks to suppress his truth, and persecute his people.

Second, we should understand that God is not angered when we speak to him out of our emotions—even when those emotions are negatively directed toward him. While it is certainly sinful to blaspheme the Lord, God compassionately understands how painful this life and doing his will can be. No one felt the pain of doing God’s will more than Christ himself did. So there is no inherent sin in questioning God’s will or wondering about God’s ways.

At the end of our anxious cries, however, we need to look to the Lord in faith even if we never understand in this life. What we should not do is look away from him in unbelief; eventually God’s justice will be done and there will be rewards and comfort for those who serve him, even when it is hard. Let Jeremiah’s prayer in this passage, then, encourage you to be straight with God in your praying. He knows what your thoughts and feelings are anyway, so why not pour them out before him rather than bottling them up?

Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, 2 Corinthians 4

Read Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, and 2 Corinthians 4.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 18.

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel invincible.

In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse the phrase, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” suggests that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” That explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understood, for the first time in his life, how God feels every time you or I or anyone else in humanity sins. He knew personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and then be personally rejected despite that gracious offer.

Jeremiah knew, after the plot described in this chapter, what it was like to be righteous but have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness. God was so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross.

What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. Only by his grace through our Lord Jesus Christ is that wrath turned away from me and everyone else who is in Christ.

But the anger Jeremiah felt at the plot against him and how it resembled God’s anger against all sinners is something we should keep in mind when we struggle with temptation. If we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 3.

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. Back in chapter 1:6 Paul mentioned that the Thessalonian believers suffered persecution for their faith in Christ from the very beginning. We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home.

Here in chapter 3:3-4, Paul reminded the believers that he had predicted persecution would come to them (v. 4a-c) and that his prediction had come true (v. 4d). Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we are not with the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer.

These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8.

This devotional is about Acts 8.

When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, two distinct–but related–things happened next. First, a man named Saul became part of the story of the New Testament church (v. 1). Second, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.” The result of this persecution was that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

Now think about that phrase–“all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Then compare that verse to this verse from Acts 1:8b: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Keeping those two verses in mind, remember how people who lived in other areas of Israel and even other countries stayed in Jerusalem because they were enjoying so much worship and teaching and fellowship and evangelism together. The incredible joy they had as the church was growing was keeping them from doing the mission Jesus sent them to do.

So God allowed persecution to disperse the first church to “Judea and Samaria.”

And it worked because, according to verse 4 here in Acts 8, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is the hostile response of unbelief toward the gospel. Sometimes God in his grace restrains unbelievers from persecuting His people and we enjoy seasons of peace. But, at other times, God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news to other places where it is needed.

On a smaller level, God works this way in our lives, too. When we get too comfortable, complacent even, in our faith, God allows trials into our lives to purify us and to re-focus our attention on him and his work. Don’t fear trials or persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later. Instead, use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, Luke 9

Read Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, and Luke 9.

This devotional is about Luke 9.

At the beginning of this lengthy chapter, Jesus told the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet” (v. 5).

Toward the end of this chapter, Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village “to get things ready for him” (v. 52). I take that phrase to mean that Jesus was sending some of the people mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 to prepare for Jesus’s arrival because he was going to stay and teach in that village for a while on his way to Jerusalem.

According to verse 53 here in Luke 9, “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” Angry, apparently, that Jesus would only stay the night rather than for an extended time of ministry, the Samaritans decided they’d rather not have Jesus there at all.

James and John were incensed by this rejection. Claiming the supernatural power that Jesus had conferred on them in verse 1, these two brothers “asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”

Their question demonstrated the wrong spirit toward those who had rejected Jesus.

When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet in verse 5, the reason he gave was “as a testimony against them.” It was for their warning and rebuke that Jesus commanded the disciples to do this, not because the disciples were angry or ready to send judgment on the towns that rejected them.

So, instead of saying, “Great idea! Let’s torch ’em!”, according to verse 55 “Jesus turned and rebuked” James and John instead of praising them or encouraging them in their anger.

The reason Jesus rebuked them was that James and John were not concerned about the lost souls of these Samaritans; they were ticked off at being rejected and wanted to show them some power!

Jesus surely will bring judgment on anyone who rejects him in this life. That is one of his promises and one of his roles when he returns.

But, until the day of judgment begins, Jesus calls us to show grace and mercy to his enemies, not to call for their destruction. We should keep this in mind when unbelievers mock our faith, or belittle us personally, or even persecute us. We should definitely testify to them about the judgment that Jesus will bring for these actions; that’s what he told the disciples to do in verse 5–testify against them.

But we should be merciful and plead with them as we talk to them about God’s judgment because we know that their eternal souls are at stake.

So consider your heart and attitude toward those who are hostile to righteousness, to Christianity, Christians, or Christ. Don’t hope for and call for God’s judgment; tell them of God’s judgment but in a way that shows them how much we want to see God’s mercy in their lives.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalms 27-29

Today., read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalms 27-29. This devotional is about Exodus 14.

Humanly speaking, Israel was in deep trouble. Though God had delivered them using the plauges, Pharaoh quickly realized how much productivity would be lost when the Israelites left Egypt (v. 5). With “horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (v. 9), the Egyptian army pursued Israel. Despite all that God had done—inflicting horrible plagues on the Egyptians while simultaneously protecting the Israelites—Israel was terrified when the Egyptian army approached. And who wouldn’t be? Israel had no army, no weapons; they had the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them. It was a hopeless situation, humanly speaking. All they had was this promise: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14)

That promise was all they needed: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore “ (v. 30). When Israel trusted God’s promises and obeyed God’s command, God saved them from certain destruction.

When we read a passage like this, there is a strong tendency for Christians to generalize the Lord’s work here and apply to any difficult situation. “The Lord will fight for us,” we think, when we are in a financial crunch or a personal dispute or some other unpleasant problem.

But that cheapens the miracle that God literally did for Israel; it treats God’s work like a myth or a fable, a story told to teach a lesson rather than a historical account of God’s work. So, instead, we should understand that God protected Israel because God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and those promises were both unfulfilled and necessary to God’s larger plan to bring redemption through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.

But there is still truth here for us which is that God keeps his promises and preserves his people. While God may allow some of his people to be persecuted and martyred, he will protect his church—collectively—against the attacks of Satan (cf. Matt 16:18). He will even fight miraculously for them in the future (cf. Rev 19:11-21).

God’s promise to us is not that he will never allow us to be attacked or defeated but that he is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). No matter what God allows in your life or to the church in general, we have the promise of his presence with us, whether in victory or in suffering. The truth to take away from this passage is the same one that Israel took from this incident:  “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (v. 31).” We should fear God and trust him, no matter what happens, because God always keeps his promises and works his will through the circumstances we face in life.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalms 27-29

Read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalms 27-29.

This devotional is about Exodus 14.

Humanly speaking, Israel was in deep trouble. Though God had delivered them using the plauges, Pharaoh quickly realized how much productivity would be lost when the Israelites left Egypt (v. 5). With “horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (v. 9), the Egyptian army pursued Israel. Despite all that God had done—inflicting horrible plagues on the Egyptians while simultaneously protecting the Israelites—Israel was terrified when the Egyptian army approached. And who wouldn’t be? Israel had no army, no weapons; they had the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them. It was a hopeless situation, humanly speaking. All they had was this promise: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14)

That promise was all they needed: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore “ (v. 30). When Israel trusted God’s promises and obeyed God’s command, God saved them from certain destruction.

When we read a passage like this, there is a strong tendency for Christians to generalize the Lord’s work here and apply to any difficult situation. “The Lord will fight for us,” we think, when we are in a financial crunch or a personal dispute or some other unpleasant problem.

But that cheapens the miracle that God literally did for Israel; it treats God’s work like a myth or a fable, a story told to teach a lesson rather than a historical account of God’s work. So, instead, we should understand that God protected Israel because God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and those promises were both unfulfilled and necessary to God’s larger plan to bring redemption through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.

But there is still truth here for us which is that God keeps his promises and preserves his people. While God may allow some of his people to be persecuted and martyred, he will protect his church—collectively—against the attacks of Satan (cf. Matt 16:18). He will even fight miraculously for them in the future (cf. Rev 19:11-21).

God’s promise to us is not that he will never allow us to be attacked or defeated but that he is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). No matter what God allows in your life or to the church in general, we have the promise of his presence with us, whether in victory or in suffering. The truth to take away from this passage is the same one that Israel took from this incident:  “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (v. 31).” We should fear God and trust him, no matter what happens, because God always keeps his promises and works his will through the circumstances we face in life.