Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reading and Listening

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
-- Rev 1:3 NIV
The first of seven blessings in Revelation is directed to two sets of people. First, the blessing is for the person who reads the words of this prophecy aloud to others. Reading in ancient times was almost always done aloud. Manuscripts were rare, and there were almost always those who would like to hear what was written. Today, Bibles are common, but still many don’t know what is written between the covers. It would still be good today if those who read the Scriptures always did so with the intent of sharing what they read with others. The one who reads and shares the message of Revelation is blessed in his deed.

Second, the blessing is for those who hear and “take to heart” what is written. While certainly taking the message to heart is important, this translation does not capture fully the response required for blessing. The ones who are fully blessed hold on to what they hear; that is, they remember it. They do even more. They are also moved to obey its exhortations, commands, and warnings. The blessed one who hears Revelation says with the Psalmist,
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
-- Psalm 119:11 NIV
Do you read Revelation with intent to share? Do you listen to its words intending to remember and obey them? If so, you will be blessed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Purpose of an Apocalypse

John's book is called an "apocalypse," which is the Greek word for "revelation." One characteristic of an apocalypse is that it addresses God's people who are living in cultures where people do not worship God (Daniel and Ezekiel are good examples). In those living conditions, God's people face a dilemma: compromise or persecution. On the one hand, the surrounding cultures attempt to seduce God's people by promising prosperity and happiness if they will compromise their faith and accept God-denying or God-ignoring practices. On the other hand, the surrounding cultures attempt to marginalize or eliminate God's people by withholding material needs or killing them. Revelation, like other apocalyptic books, warns God's people of the dangers of compromise, assures them of God's sovereignty and ultimate victory over godless nations, promises them that faithfulness will be rewarded, and exhorts them to remain faithful in the face of hardships. If we miss the warnings, assurances, promises, and exhortations, we miss the primary purpose of Revelation.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Jesus Reveals

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.
-- Revelation 1:1 NIV
Today, we will look at the second, and I think the preferred, way to understand the words "the revelation of Jesus Christ" in Revelation 1:1. The revelation can be understood as that which Jesus Christ reveals. Jesus reveals what God gave him in order to show his servants "what must soon take place."

Many of us think of Jesus revealing the events surrounding his return and judgment of the world, but Jesus is a lot more concerned about how we will face the things that will happen in the near future - today, tomorrow, this week, and this month. Will we resist the seductions of our culture to compromise our faith or to pollute our holy lives? Will we be faithful in our witness to Jesus Christ in the face of opposition, ridicule, and persecution? We must be overcome today's seductions and be victorious over tomorrow's persecution if we are to be ready for that last day and final judgment. That is the reason Jesus shows his servants "what must soon take place."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The words "the revelation of Jesus Christ" can be understood in two ways: 1) that which reveals Jesus Christ, or 2) that which Jesus Christ reveals. Perhaps we should understand it both ways. Today, I will look at the first way.

The last book of the Bible tells us a great deal about Jesus. It tells of his birth, of the attempt to kill him at birth, of his sacrificial death, of his ascension to the Father, of his authority over the churches, of the glory he shares with the Father, of his dominion over spiritual and human forces, of his second coming, of his victory over all that is evil, and of his reward for the saints. He is Lord of lords and King of kings yet he is intimately concerned about those who serve him. He rebukes, warns, exhorts, encourages, protects, blesses, and makes promises to them.

Revelation is more concerned that we know Jesus than the time of his coming. Do you know him today?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More Than New Clothes

Sydney Carton gave Charles Darnay new clothes which enabled him to escape prison, but Jesus does so much more than give us new clothes. He gives us a new birth if indeed we have been born again from above, that is, born of water and Spirit (John 3:3, 5). New birth gives us new life (Romans 6:4).

We are not fugitives from justice merely hiding our identity under false clothing, but we are truly new people who have been set free. We are free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2 14-15), so we are no longer on death row. We are also free from the tyrannical control of sin (John 8:34-36), which means we are no longer prisoners of sin and can now pursue righteousness. Now we are free to approach God with confidence (Ephesians 3:12). Praise God, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1 NIV).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Giving Up Our Sin for His Righteousness

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Darnay did not believe Sydney Carton could help him escape from prison; nevertheless, he reluctantly removed his own clothes so he could dress in the clothes Sydney Carton was wearing. Indeed, both acts were necessary. He had to remove his own clothes so Carton could become a prisoner. He also had to dress in Carton's clothes so he could leave prison and become a free man.

Likewise Jesus has offered to accept the guilt and penalty of our sin, but we must be willing to let go of our sins. We cannot cling to our sins if he is to accept them. Jesus said we must repent of our sin: "I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:3). He said this not because he wishes to spoil our fun, but he wants to save us from sin's penalty which he is willing to take upon himself.

Then, when our sin is removed, we can be dressed in his righteousness. Paul tells us how this happens: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). We allow Jesus to clothe us in his righteousness at baptism because we believe that only through his righteousness can we escape our penalty and become free persons.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Darnay refused to believe that Carton could exchange places with him. He was sure that Carton would merely add his name to the list of those to be executed. Consequently, in order to make his planned exchange succeed, Carton had to drug the reluctant Darnay.

Like Carton, Jesus came to exchange places with us. The free and sinless came to exchange places with the imprisoned and condemned. However, unlike Carton, Jesus requires that we put our trust in him. He requires that we believe that he is the one the Father sent to set us free and that he is capable of doing so. Jesus said it this way,

"I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."
-- John 8:24

If we don't believe, he will not force us to exchange places with him. If we would scoff at his naivety or cower silently in the back of our cell, he does not impose himself on us. He wants us to believe with enough confidence to call upon him, to confess him as savior.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
-- Romans 10:10

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Guilt and Penalty of our Sin

In the previous post, we made reference to Charles Dickens' book A Tale of Two Cities. In it, Sydney Carton went to Charles Darnay's prison cell with the intention of exchanging places with him. In so doing, he, Sydney Carton, a free and uncondemned man, was accepting the guilt of Darnay's family and the sentence of death that had been given Darnay. Indeed, Carton was guillotined so that Darnay might be restored to his life and wife.

When Jesus came to this earth, he came with the intention of exchanging places with we who were sinners and lawbreakers on death row. In doing so, he, a sinless and uncondemned man, also accepted the guilt of our sin. The Scripture says,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-- 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV

Not only did he accept our guilt, he also accepted the penalty for our sin. Again, the Scriptures say,

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
-- 1 Peter 3:18

Jesus accepted our guilty and the penalty of our sin so that he might bring us to God and restore us to life.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hope for the Hopeless

In Charles Dickens' book, A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton saves the life of Charles Darnay by exchanging places with him in prison. The strategy works because Carton is a free man and Darnay looks like Carton. But consider for a moment what would have happened had they both been prisoners. They could have done little more than exchange cells. And if they had both been condemned to die on the guillotine, they would have done no more than exchange times of execution. Carton had to be free and uncondemned for the plot to free Darnay to succeed.

As we have seen, we are all prisoners of sin (Galatians 3:22), and we are all on death row (Romans 6:23). No friend can set us free by exchanging places with us because every friend we have is also a prisoner. No friend can save us from the death penalty because every friend we have is also condemned to die.

Although our condition seems hopeless, it is not. Jesus, God's son, has "appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5 NIV). Jesus is sinless, so he is free and uncondemned. He is not a prisoner, and he is not on death row. God sent his sinless son to this world to set us free and give us life.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
-- John 3:16-17 NIV

Monday, February 13, 2012

Denial on Death Row

One of the amazing things about visiting death row is seeing such a large number of people who don't deserve to be there. One prisoner will tell you that he didn't do it, and another that he got framed. The next one will say no one understood him, and the next will tell you that many others have done the same thing and have not paid with their lives. Despite their insistence that they don't deserve to be there, we can be quite certain that most are indeed lawbreakers.

Likewise, all of us who break God's laws are lawbreakers. Indeed, we are prisoners of sin who are on death row. We may not think we deserve it, but that is where we are. The Scripture says,

Those who do such things deserve death.
-- Rom 1:32 NIV

We protest, "Surely not me! Tell me, what kind of person deserves death?" The answer is those "filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity," those "full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice," those who "are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful," those who "invent ways of doing evil" and "disobey their parents," and those who "are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Rom 1:29-31 NIV).

Even one of these sins means we fall short of the glory of God. There is absolutely no sin that does not separate us from God. God is the giver of life and every good gift, and when we separate ourselves from the Giver by our sin, we will eventually die.
"The wages of sin is death."
-- Rom 6:23 NIV
We cannot deny our condition. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we will discover the gift of God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-- Rom 6:23 NIV

Saturday, February 11, 2012


When I have visited prisoners in recent years, I have seldom actually entered the area where the prisoners are kept. Usually, I sit down at a microphone and talk to the prisoner either over video or through a thick, glass window. Once long ago, I visited an acquaintance at the penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. I was escorted by a guard who led me through two heavy, grated, steel gates. Each time, the gate closed with a solid, metallic clunk. An eerie feeling swept over me as I realized there was no way out without the help of a prison guard. Had I been taken in as a prisoner, the eerie feeling would probably have become despair. The reality would have been that I had no hope of escape.

The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin….
-- Galatians 3:22 NIV

The whole world is a prisoner of sin because all have sinned, and all who sin are lawbreakers. Lawbreakers belong in prison. There is no reasonable hope of escape from our imprisonment. We cannot change the fact that we are sinners and have broken God's law. Even if we could resist every future temptation to sin, that would not change the fact that we have sinned and are lawbreakers. As lawbreakers, we are prisoners of sin. It is a reality we must accept.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I don't normally think of myself as a lawbreaker, but I am. On several occasions, I have unintentionally run a red light or stop sign. On other occasions, I have actually broken the law intentionally. When I was in high school, I had to drive across town for my piano lesson. We had had a wet snow, and the streets were very messy. When I stopped at the light at one end of a bridge, my windshield wipers finally got the slop off the windshield so I could see. Since the old car had no windshield washer, I told myself that no one was going to pass me on the bridge and mess up my windshield again. I accelerated quickly to 35 mph, which was the speed limit. The car on my left began inching past me. I sped up to 40 mph. It started to pass me again. I accelerated to 45 mph and was thinking of going a bit faster when we came to the stop light on the other end of the bridge. I looked over to see who dared to break the speed limit and mess up my windshield. It was a policeman! He was looking straight ahead. I quickly did the same. I turned right at the next light and breathed a sigh of relief.

I had not made a habit of breaking the law, but I had broken the law. I was a lawbreaker. I had obeyed the law more often than I had broken the law, but I had broken the law. I was a lawbreaker. I may have broken the law less often than many others, but I had broken the law. I was a lawbreaker. James says,
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
-- James 2:10 NIV

Sin is breaking God's law. John writes,

Everyone who sins breaks the law.
1 John 3:4 NIV

I have sinned (we all have). That means I have broken God's law and become a lawbreaker. I have sinned unintentionally, but I have sinned. I have also sinned intentionally. I may console myself by saying that the good I have done is greater than the sin I have committed, but the fact remains that I sinned. I may even argue that I am better than others because I have and sinned less often than them, but I have still sinned. I am a lawbreaker. Before God, I am guilty. I may not "feel" guilty, but feeling does not determine guilt. Before God, I am guilty for one reason and one reason only. I am guilty because I have broken God's law. I am a lawbreaker.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mismatched Mates

Reflections on 1 Sam. 25:36-44

Just as the boy wearing mismatched socks remarked that he had another pair just like them in his dresser at home, so also David had mismatched mates at home. David’s marriage to Abigail stands in contrast to his marriage to Michal. Although Michal was the daughter of a king and Abigail was the wife of a rich man who feasted like a king, the similarities end there.

Michal loved David, but Abigail respected him. David won Michal by killing 200 men, but he won Abigail by sparing the lives of many men. Michal preserved David’s life by lying while Abigail preserved David’s integrity by keeping him from taking revenge. Michal brought an idol into his house (1 Sam. 19:13), but Abigail brought five handmaids. Michal would later resent David praising God with female servants (2 Sam. 6:20), but Abigail was willing to wash the feet of David’s servants. Michal would call David a vulgar fellow (2 Sam. 6:20), but Abigail called him “lord” fourteen times (Bergen, 1996, p. 251).

Actually, the mismatched wives did not live together in the same home. When Saul was seeking David’s life, Michal had helped him escape. Saul then gave her to another man, Palti, who was less of a threat to his throne. Abigail was not, however, the only wife in David’s home. David had previously married a woman from Jezreel by the name of Ahinoam (NASB and NIV have “had also taken/married” for the Hebrew perfect tense). Jezreel was a settlement in the same area of Judah as Carmel (Josh. 15:55-56). It was not the village with the same name in Issachar (Josh. 19:18). Having two wives probably indicated that David had become a man of great importance though not yet recognized as king.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Falling Short

When I was a child, I used to enjoy riding roller coasters at amusement parks. At the entrance to many of the rides, there were signs that told me how big I had to be to ride. Perhaps there was a wooden clown holding out his hand and a sign that said I had to be as tall as the clown's hand. If I stood under his hand and my head did not touch it, if my head fell short of his outstretched hand, I could not enter and ride the roller coaster. In the same way, God has a standard for entering into his glorious presence. God's standard is perfection. Unfortunately, we all have fallen short of his standard; we all have sinned. Hence, we all are separated from God and cannot enter his glorious presence.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
-- Romans 3:23 NIV

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Fool's Mate

Reflections on 1 Sam. 25:14-35

Someone has said that opposites attract. Nabal and Abigail were certainly opposites. Nabal was “harsh and badly behaved,” but Abigail was “discerning and beautiful” (1 Sam. 25:3). Nabal was a fool. Abigail, the fool’s mate, was quite different.

ATTENTIVE. Unlike Nabal, who did not listen to his servants, Abigail listened to the servant who reported that David’s men had been good to them and protected them. She listened when the servant warned that Nabal’s insults might bring harm to Nabal and his family.

APPRECIATIVE. Unlike Nabal, Abigail appreciated the protection David had provided. David wasn’t in a protection racket. He was “fighting the battles of the Lord” (1 Sam. 25:28 ESV) against the marauding bands that harassed the Lord’s people. Accordingly, she prepared a generous gift for David and his men.

RESPONSIBLE AND RESPECTFUL. Abigail took responsibility for the insults David’s men had received from her family saying, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt” (1 Sam. 25:24 ESV). Furthermore, she constantly addressed David as “my lord” and spoke of herself as “your servant.”

DISCERNING. While respectful, Abigail also saw that David was in danger of putting the blot of bloodguilt on his character by seeking revenge with his own hand (v. 26). She discerned that David was not conspiring against Saul, but waiting patiently on the Lord’s time. She discerned that David was protecting Judah from the enemies of the Lord’s people even more than Saul was. She discerned that God would make David “a sure house” (1 Sam. 25:28; cf. 2 Sam. 7:11), that God had appointed him “prince over Israel” (1 Sam. 25:30). She discerned that David had no need to act out of character by “shedding blood without cause” or “working salvation” for himself (1 Sam. 25:31). If he started destroying God’s people when they did not appreciate the protection he had given them, his “services” would have become a protection racket. Her gift was the Lord’s restraining hand on his actions (1 Sam. 25:26).

Abigail obtained a pardon for her husband and safety for her household (v. 35). Abigail was the exact opposite of her husband. While Nabal died for his lack of sense, she nourished many with her righteous words (Prov. 10:21).

Friday, February 3, 2012

From Tragedy to Redemption

Reflections on 1 Kings 2:10-11; 1 Chronicles 29:26-30

At first, David's story might seem to be a tragedy. He was a man of great talent, courage, and faith, but his adultery with Bathsheba led to shame and heartache. Nevertheless, the shame and heartache were not the end of his story. God saw something in David that was worth salvaging. God saw that he could still work in David's life to bring praise, honor, and glory to himself, so he forgave David's sin. Although David was not permitted to build God's temple, God used his psalms of repentance and gratitude for forgiveness to turn Israel to God. Furthermore, God gave his plans for the temple to David knowing he would motivate the priests, Levites, and all Israel to dedicate their wealth and energies to building a place where they could unite in giving praise to God. The story of David's life is not a tragedy; instead, the story of his life is the story of redemption. Because God redeemed and rehabilitated him, the prophet could summarize his life with these words:
He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor.
-- 1 Chronicles 29:28
Similarly, our lives do not need to end as a tragedy. Whatever evil we have done, whatever terrible consequences have followed, and whatever heartache we bear, God sees something worth salvaging. He can still work in us to accomplish great things which will cause those who see us to glorify God for the redemption he has worked in our lives.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
-- Psalm 32:1

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Father and Son

Reflections on 1 Kings 2:1-9

When David was about to die, he had a personal talk with his son Solomon. The future of Israel was now in the hands of his son, and David had a few parting words.

KEEP GOD'S COMMANDS. David began by instructing his son Solomon to observe all that the Lord required of him. If David had not previously taught the Lord's laws and requirements, this last instruction would have been meaningless. Although David had failed to discipline Adonijah (1 Kings 1:6) and perhaps other sons, he began instructing Solomon at a young age because he knew Solomon would be king after him. Later, Solomon wrote,
When I was a boy in my father's house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, "Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them." -- Proverbs 4:3-5
At the beginning of Solomon's reign, he sought the Lord and completed the task of building the temple, which God had given him through David.

RULE JUSTLY. Next, David asked Solomon to finish some business that he had left unfinished. David felt keenly about these matters because they were matters of justice. First, he had not properly punished Joab for ignoring his own wishes and killing Abner and Amasa. Such an insubordinate man would be a threat to Solomon's throne, so David told Solomon to deal with him according to his wisdom. Second, David felt he had not yet shown sufficient kindness to the sons of Barzillai for the loyalty Barzillai had shown him during Absalom's rebellion. Finally, David warned Solomon that Shimei, who had cursed David when he fled Jerusalem, was still a dangerous man though David had not punished him for insulting the Lord's anointed. Again, he instructed David to deal with Shimei wisely.

After David died, Solomon did not immediately have Joab and Shimei executed, but he waited until they displayed disloyalty or disobedience to the king. Then the kingdom was firmly established in Solomon's hands.