Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

18 January 2020

James 1:19-27

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, mercifully hear the prayers of Your people, and grant us Your peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

17 January 2020

This is the last week of the 2019 blog series. The new 2020 blog series will start on Monday 20 January.

Revelation 22

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

John and the angel

The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.’

‘Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.’

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!’

10 Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. 11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.’

Epilogue: invitation and warning

12 ‘Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.

16 ‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’

17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

‘Amen’ is a good ending. It’s the last word at the end of our printed Bibles.

We’ve had three endings this week in the blog. Jonah ended at Nineveh with God’s question to the angry prophet. Malachi in Jerusalem ended with a hanging threat. Revelation ends at Patmos island with the hope of seeing the triumph of Jesus. That’s much better. Except that we’re still waiting.

Strange isn’t it that you can read a vision? Or open Google Earth and fly to Nineveh (Mosul, Iraq) and scope the ruin mound, fly to Jerusalem and notice how it’s grown, fly to Patmos and drop down at the Cave of the Apocalypse, or book a holiday. They still write and speak Greek there!

You’ve probably also noticed that Isis planted their black flag at Mosul, but lost that battle. That Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70AD, and is now a place of tense conflict with no end in sight, and that the Roman empire, that evil ‘Babylon’ of  Revelation, has vanished too. Pope Francis from South America lives in Rome now and has written a book called The Joy of the Gospel.

Malachi didn’t foresee ‘Elijah’, aka John the Baptist, standing in the Jordan river with the Son of God. Nor did John the Baptiser foresee the ending of the dance at Herod’s party that included his freshly severed head carried in on a platter. We can’t foresee the end of January, or the new decade, and whether we’ll be there. 

Like the prophets Jonah, Malachi and John the visionary, we can’t see around the corners in our own lives. 

There’s something else we can’t see in advance. I’m not talking about a solution to Eskom, racism, corruption and unemployment in South Africa. This ‘not seen’ that sums up the Apocalypse of John and much more, is a good one and goes like this:

 No eye has seen, no ear has heard

and no mind has imagined

what God has prepared

for those who love him!

(1 Corinthians 2:9)

Let’s say an “Amen!” to that, and give thanks.

 

16 January 2020

This is the last week of the 2019 blog series. The new 2020 blog series will start on Monday 20 January.

Revelation 21

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’

The new Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

When we live in the southern suburbs and TCC is home base, it’s rather easy to forget that following Jesus is a matter of life and death right here and now for some believers. It’s been this way from Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem, to the horrendous public burnings and deaths in the spectacle games in Rome instigated by emperor Nero, and under the persecution in the 90s by Domitian.  Militant Islam in our times has attacked churches and villages in Africa. Followers of Jesus have been killed and imprisoned elsewhere. The apocalypse of John is specially for them, not for drawing up prophetic charts.

That’s why we read that God himself ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes’ because this suffering will be over. No more ‘mourning and crying and pain’(21:3f.). Brother John shared with his readers in Jesus ‘the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance’(1:9) as he sat in exile. He saw ‘the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God’ and heard their appeal of ‘How long…?’ before the Sovereign Lord would step in (Revelation 6:9f. with 1:9). Note the link between “I am the Alpha and the Omega” of 1:8 with 21:6. “It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

All the horrible stuff is over. The Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are together with their people in the new Jerusalem that needs no Eskom—‘God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb’.

Meanwhile, without suffering martyrdom, and knowing the outcome of our faith as Revelation paints it, we will still need Grief Share to help us with our tears and the realities of bereavement. Our prayers rise for those nearby, and for those living life under threat.

 

15 January 2020

This is the last week of the 2019 blog series. The new 2020 blog series will start on Monday 20 January.

Malachi 3-4

 ‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Breaking covenant by withholding tithes

‘I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.

‘But you ask, “How are we to return?”

‘Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

‘But you ask, “How are we robbing you?”

‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – your whole nation – because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty. 12 ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Israel speaks arrogantly against God

13 ‘You have spoken arrogantly against me,’ says the Lord.

‘Yet you ask, “What have we said against you?”

14 ‘You have said, “It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.”’

The faithful remnant

16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name.

17 ‘On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

Judgment and covenant renewal

‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty.

‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.’

We’re in the last two chapters of the last scroll in the Hebrew collection called ‘the Prophets’. In our printed Bibles, it’s the last word before the birth narrative of Christmas in Matthew. Together, Malachi 3–4 and Matthew 1–3 demonstrate so clearly that the Lord does not give up on us easily. In fact, He takes initiative after initiative to speak to us. We wobble, He still wants us for Himself with a steadfast love.

Why? Because ‘I am the LORD, and I do not change’. Change what? Change His desire to draw us to Himself in a committed relationship. The phrase ‘my special treasure’ of 4:17 deliberately links back to the Exodus rescue operation and Israel entering into the covenant at Sinai (Exodus 19:4–6). From Moses to Malachi, there were messengers and responders. There were all too many give-uppers on walking with the Lord.

It took Peter quite a time and lots of personal experiences—such as rescue from drowning, having his feet washed, and being restored after denying Jesus—to understand more fully who Jesus was and the power of His love.  He added his updated perspective on belonging to the Lord. See 1 Peter 3:9f. alongside Exodus 19:4–6 and Malachi 4:17. Yes, we’re included!

John the Baptist was the messenger-prophet who took up Malachi’s mantle with an authority like Elijah’s to turn Jewish hearts back to the Lord and point to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It was worth waiting the 400 years from Malachi’s announcement for Jesus to wade into the river Jordan and begin His ministry with the backing of His Father and the Spirit.

Prayer: Thank You Lord for claiming us for Yourself. It takes away the dread of judgment, condemnation and exclusion, and leaves us free to belong to You and find security in your love.

14 January 2020

This is the last week of the 2019 blog series. The new 2020 blog series will start on Monday 20 January.

Malachi 1-2

A prophecy: the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

Israel doubts God’s love

‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.

‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?”

‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.’

Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, “Great is the Lord – even beyond the borders of Israel!”

Breaking covenant through blemished sacrifices

‘A son honours his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due to me? If I am a master, where is the respect due to me?’ says the Lord Almighty.

‘It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

‘But you ask, “How have we shown contempt for your name?”

‘By offering defiled food on my altar.

‘But you ask, “How have we defiled you?”

‘By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?’ says the Lord Almighty.

‘Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?’– says the Lord Almighty.

10 ‘Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,’ says the Lord Almighty.

12 ‘But you profane it by saying, “The Lord’s table is defiled,” and, “Its food is contemptible.” 13 And you say, “What a burden!” and you sniff at it contemptuously,’ says the Lord Almighty.

‘When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?’ says the Lord. 14 ‘Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and my name is to be feared among the nations.

Additional warning to the priests

‘And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honour my name,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honour me.

‘Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

‘For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.’

Breaking covenant through divorce

10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?

11 Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob – even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.

13 Another thing you do: you flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favour on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

16 ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

Breaking covenant through injustice

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words.

‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask.

By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’

Judean exiles in Babylon are back in Jerusalem. The temple that King Nebuchadnezzar had looted and burnt down (2 Kings 18) was rebuilt, albeit without its former splendour. The sacrificial system was up and running again. What could possibly go wrong? 

Unfortunately, lots. Men were behaving badly. Including the ‘holy men’, the priests. They were turning a blind eye to blind sheep. That was deeply disrespectful to the Lord of celestial armies.

We may wonder what’s changed when so-called ‘priests’ in our day appear in court and in newspaper headlines on charges of the sexual abuse of children, and their bishops are accused of cover-ups. A building with organised religion is not what a faith community is all about. Not back then, or now. South Africa should know that, given our history and our court cases.

It’s the men, again, who are going for easy divorces and marrying women who worship idols, while others weary God with their cynical shrugs: ‘Where is the God of justice?’ (2:17).

This is so-called male headship upside down. What would Malachi have to say to South Africa about men behaving badly in 2020?

Women of God, pray for the men in your faith community and your extended family. They need it.

 

13 January 2020

This is the last week of the 2019 blog series. The new 2020 blog series will start on Monday 20 January.

Jonah 3-4

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

‘By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah’s anger at the Lord’s compassion

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’

‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

10 But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?’

 

Does God really change his mind? Does God give everyone ‘a second chance’, even beyond death? Those are lively talking points, but they’re not the point of today’s reading. The point we need to grab hold of is not theoretical. It’s all about repentance, that necessary deep shift in our psyche, our behaviour, values and lifestyle. 

It’s about repentance. And the grace of God. As Peter remarks: the Lord ‘… does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent’ (2 Peter 3:9).

It’s about mercy and grace as big as Nineveh. Yes, even for Assyria, that cruel and militarised state that skinned enemy leaders alive, impaled them on stakes outside Lachish in Judah, and deported populations into exile. You’ll see this displayed in the palace wall carvings if you visit the Lachish galleries in the British Museum.

Yes, each generation is on their own when it comes to repentance. We can’t repent for our children, only for ourselves. So right now, let’s pause to pray once again for those near and dear to us who have not turned around to the Lord and discovered His amazing love in Jesus.

Whether Jonah is being altogether honest in saying that he ran off to Tarshish because he knew that God would be outrageously gracious to Nineveh, we can only guess. After all, we like to present ourselves in the best light possible, even when we talk to God. We come up with motivations that seem excusable if we can.

God is unperturbed at Jonah’s vented emotion, and calmly asks him an open question to ponder: ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’ ‘I’m angry enough to die!’ Jonah retorts. Hmm… a bit extreme. 

The story ends with another of God’s pastoral questions. It points us to God’s merciful heart, animals included. 

Will Jonah let go of his bitterness? God will not force him to. The Lord asks us questions too about what we harbour and whether it’s doing us any good. Thankfully, when He asks us questions, it is with our interests at heart and our freedom to be more like Him.

 

11 January 2020

Psalm 122

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
Our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built like a city
    that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up –
    the tribes of the Lord –
to praise the name of the Lord
    according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    ‘May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
    and security within your citadels.’
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your prosperity.

Prayer: O God, who by the leading of a star showed Your beloved Son to the gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know You by faith, may after this life rejoice in the supreme splendour of Your glorious being; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

10 January 2020

Revelation 20

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient snake, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

The judgment of Satan

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth – Gog and Magog – and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

The judgment of the dead

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

 

Are you truly saved from God’s terrible judgement?

What would you do or give to escape the terror of the eternal ‘second death’ (verse 14) and the horror of the ‘lake of fire’? (verse 15) that is a place of ‘torment day and night forever’ (verse 10) Does this devastating truth from God’s word scare you? It should if you have any sense of self preservation.

God’s only way of escape and salvation for us is in Christ (Acts 4:12).

God expects you to give your complete faith and allegiance to His Son, Jesus Christ, so that your name may be written in the Lamb’s ‘book of Life’ (verse 12).

CS Lewis wrote, ‘God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.’

Prayer: Sovereign God, I praise You for Your word which is the truth. Father God, help me to be ready and full of zeal for Jesus until the Judgment Day.  Merciful Father, thank You for Your everlasting love and that I am safe from condemnation in Jesus. Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your atonement for my sins. I love You Jesus and am longing for Your return. 

Amen.

 

9 January 2020

Revelation 19

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:

‘Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’

And again they shouted:

‘Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.’

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:

‘Amen, Hallelujah!’

Then a voice came from the throne, saying:

‘Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    both great and small!’

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

‘Hallelujah!
    For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.’

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’

10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.’

The heavenly warrior defeats the beast

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in mid-air, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.’

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

 

The triumph of the King

The message of the Book of Revelation is simple: ‘Jesus wins’… because He truly is the ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ (verse 16)!

King Jesus is unstoppable.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, our words are so feeble to try to give You sufficient honour and glory for the victory and majesty of the One who is called ‘king of Kings’ and ‘Faithful and True’.  Please help to be pure and ready for the Second Coming of Christ the King and the revelation of His victory and salvation. Grant us to be assured of our security in Christ on the Judgement Day and the Great Divide of eternal life. Father, we praise You for making a way of escape through the Blood of the slaughtered Lamb so that we don’t have to experience the wrath of eternal punishment away from Your presence.   

Amen [so be it]

8 January 2020

Jonah 1-2

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.’

Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’

He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’

10 This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’ (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’

12 ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’ 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

Jonah’s prayer

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

‘In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
    swept over me.
I said, “I have been banished
    from your sight;
yet I will look again
    towards your holy temple.”
The engulfing waters threatened me,
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in for ever.
But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit.

‘When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple.

‘Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”’

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The Sign of Jonah

God sent Jonah to Israel’s enemies in Nineveh with a message of warning and repentance. Although the prophet’s short message to Nineveh was one of judgment, nonetheless Jonah was aware of the fact that Jehovah is a ‘gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness’ (Jonah 4:2). Hence, it was certain that if the inhabitants of that great city were responsive to his message, Heaven would certainly spare them. Jonah did not want God’s mercy to come to Israel’s enemies, that is why he travelled far in the opposite direction from where God had sent him. Did he really think that he could get away from God? God is sovereign and brought Jonah back to humble obedience through a storm and a huge fish. 

In the end God was very merciful to the people of Nineveh and spared them when they humbled themselves before Him. This also gives us a picture of how we should humble ourselves before Jesus, the Son of God. He is the second Jonah.

Jesus said, ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.’ Matthew 12:40-41

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your precious warnings to us and the way that Your Spirit convicts us of sin and draws us towards faith in Christ, who is the second Jonah. Thank You for Your mercy and grace which we never deserve. Please help us to live for your honour every day.

Amen.

7 January 2020

Joel 3

‘In those days and at that time,
    when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all nations
    and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
    for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
    and divided up my land.
They cast lots for my people
    and traded boys for prostitutes;
    they sold girls for wine to drink.

‘Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.

‘See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.’ The Lord has spoken.

Proclaim this among the nations:
    Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
    Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your ploughshares into swords
    and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
    ‘I am strong!’
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
    and assemble there.

Bring down your warriors, Lord!

12 ‘Let the nations be roused;
    let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
    to judge all the nations on every side.
13 Swing the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
    for the winepress is full
    and the vats overflow –
so great is their wickedness!’

14 Multitudes, multitudes
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will be darkened,
    and the stars no longer shine.
16 The Lord will roar from Zion
    and thunder from Jerusalem;
    the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
    a stronghold for the people of Israel.

Blessings for God’s people

17 ‘Then you will know that I, the Lord your God,
    dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
    never again will foreigners invade her.

18 ‘In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
    and the hills will flow with milk;
    all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house
    and will water the valley of acacias.
19 But Egypt will be desolate,
    Edom a desert waste,
because of violence done to the people of Judah,
    in whose land they shed innocent blood.
20 Judah will be inhabited for ever
    and Jerusalem through all generations.
21 Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged?
    No, I will not.’

The Lord dwells in Zion!

 

Are you ready for God’s judgement?

God’s final judgment on all peoples and nations is certainly coming and there will be an apocalypse as the Holiness of God is revealed with justice, retribution and violence against His enemies for their evil and lawless ways. And yet there is a note of grace as ‘the Lord will be a refuge for His people…’ (verse 16)

14 Multitudes, multitudes
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will be darkened,
    and the stars no longer shine.
16 The Lord will roar from Zion
    and thunder from Jerusalem;
    the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
    a stronghold for the people of Israel.

Prayer: Holy Father, please would You remove the veil covering our minds so that we can see the terrifying reality of Your sovereign rule as King. Your judgment of all mankind is inevitable and unescapable. Righteous Father, would you please bring revival in Cape Town and cause multitudes to turn to Your Son, Jesus. He is the only refuge and stronghold for all who believe and obey Him. Merciful Father, we praise You for making a way of escape and eternal joy for sinners like us.

Amen

6 January 2020

Joel 2

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand –
    a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
    a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
    nor ever will be in ages to come.

Before them fire devours,
    behind them a flame blazes.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
    behind them, a desert waste –
    nothing escapes them.
They have the appearance of horses;
    they gallop along like cavalry.
With a noise like that of chariots
    they leap over the mountaintops,
like a crackling fire consuming stubble,
    like a mighty army drawn up for battle.

At the sight of them, nations are in anguish;
    every face turns pale.
They charge like warriors;
    they scale walls like soldiers.
They all march in line,
    not swerving from their course.
They do not jostle each other;
    each marches straight ahead.
They plunge through defences
    without breaking ranks.
They rush upon the city;
    they run along the wall.
They climb into the houses;
    like thieves they enter through the windows.

10 Before them the earth shakes,
    the heavens tremble,
the sun and moon are darkened,
    and the stars no longer shine.
11 The Lord thunders
    at the head of his army;
his forces are beyond number,
    and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
    it is dreadful.
    Who can endure it?

Rend your heart

12 ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.’

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing –
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
    declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
    consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
    gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
    and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
    weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘‘Where is their God?”’

The Lord’s answer

18 Then the Lord was jealous for his land
    and took pity on his people.

19 The Lord replied to them:

‘I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
    enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
    an object of scorn to the nations.

20 ‘I will drive the northern horde far from you,
    pushing it into a parched and barren land;
its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
    and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
    its smell will rise.’

Surely he has done great things!
21     Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
    be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22     Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
    for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
    the fig-tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing-floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

25 ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten –
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm –
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

The day of the Lord

28 ‘And afterwards,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.

 

Blow a trumpet to announce the Day of the Lord is coming.

Actually, the Day of the Lord has already come into history with the first coming of King Jesus to the earth He created. This was the arrival and guarantee of God’s future salvation and judgement. The final Day of the Lord will arrive with the second coming of Jesus, the Son of God and the establishment of His eternal Kingdom. All other kingdoms will end.

And so the gracious and living God gives to us an invitation:

12 ‘Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “Return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing….’ Joel 2:12-14

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the favour that Uou freely give us in Christ. Please help us to obey Your Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our sin, and to mourn and turn from our self-centredness. Father, draw us to return to Jesus with all our hearts and help us to worship You in spirit and in truth.

Father, would You please revive our hearts and fill them with holy fear to work out the precious salvation that Jesus purchased with His own blood. Father we desperately need Your help to believe, obey and rejoice in Jesus as your day of salvation and vengeance approaches. 

Amen.

4 January 2020

Prayer: Almighty God, whose blessed Son was circumcised and for man’s sake became obedient to the Law: purify our hearts and all our members, so that we may die to all sinful desires and in all things obey Your holy will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

3 January 2019

Revelation 18

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendour. With a mighty voice he shouted:

‘“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!”
    She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
For all the nations have drunk
    the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
    and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.’

Warning to escape Babylon’s judgment

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

‘“Come out of her, my people,”
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.
Give back to her as she has given;
    pay her back double for what she has done.
    Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
Give her as much torment and grief
    as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
    “I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
    I will never mourn.”
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
    death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

Threefold woe over Babylon’s fall

‘When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!”

11 ‘The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 ‘They will say, “The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendour have vanished, never to be recovered.” 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!”

‘Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, “Was there ever a city like this great city?” 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    where all who had ships on the sea
    became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!”

20 ‘Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.’

The finality of Babylon’s doom

21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

‘With such violence
    the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
    never to be found again.
22 The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters,
    will never be heard in you again.
No worker of any trade
    will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone
    will never be heard in you again.
23 The light of a lamp
    will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
    will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
    By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
    of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.’

‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues: for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.’ (verse 4-5)

‘Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.’ (verse 20)

God will judge all the evil, arrogant and oppressive nations, and will bring about the destruction of the world at His appointed time.

We, Christians are challenged to abandon sinful and deadly associations (verse 4) and repent of our idolatrous ways and our enjoyment of excessive luxuries.

And ultimately, God will reverse the unjust persecutions of His people (see Revelation 6:9-10), and there will be heavenly rejoicing (verse 20). 

We should not fret when it seems that evil flourishes and people get away with their sins, because God will bring judgement when He returns. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult (1 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:38-42)

‘Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord”.’ (Romans 12:19)

Puritan Prayer:

‘Destroy in me every lofty thought,

Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds,

Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness

Open in me a fount of penitential tears,

Break me, then bind me up.’

My God and Father, please cleanse me of any pride, entitlement, arrogance, and incline my heart to You, and I know that You will heal and restore me to You. Amen.

2 January 2019

Revelation 17

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.’

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:

babylon the great

the mother of prostitutes

and of the abominations of the earth.

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: ‘Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

‘This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

12 ‘The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.’

15 Then the angel said to me, ‘The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.’

The vision here given to the apostle John is of the punishment and destruction of Babylon and the beast, which reflect a godless city and godless ruler, the antichristian political powers of the world. But they are no match against the Lamb! And we, His followers, are under His protection, and hence need not fear the evil rulers of this world, as they will be overcome one day!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You have overcome the world, the flesh and the devil on our behalf. Thank You for saving us from the penalty of sin, and that by Your grace and strength, we can overcome the power of sin. May we not fear man! What can man do to us, if God is for us? Thank You for giving us peace, that passes all understanding in this turbulent world. 

Amen.

1 January 2019

Joel 1

The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

An invasion of locusts

Hear this, you elders;
    listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
    or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell it to your children,
    and let your children tell it to their children,
    and their children to the next generation.
What the locust swarm has left
    the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
    the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
    other locusts have eaten.

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!
    Wail, all you drinkers of wine;
wail because of the new wine,
    for it has been snatched from your lips.
A nation has invaded my land,
    a mighty army without number;
it has the teeth of a lion,
    the fangs of a lioness.
It has laid waste my vines
    and ruined my fig-trees.
It has stripped off their bark
    and thrown it away,
    leaving their branches white.

Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth
    grieving for the betrothed of her youth.
Grain offerings and drink offerings
    are cut off from the house of the Lord.
The priests are in mourning,
    those who minister before the Lord.
10 The fields are ruined,
    the ground is dried up;
the grain is destroyed,
    the new wine is dried up,
    the olive oil fails.

11 Despair, you farmers,
    wail, you vine growers;
grieve for the wheat and the barley,
    because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
12 The vine is dried up
    and the fig-tree is withered;
the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree –
    all the trees of the field – are dried up.
Surely the people’s joy
    is withered away.

A call to lamentation

13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn;
    wail, you who minister before the altar.
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
    you who minister before my God;
for the grain offerings and drink offerings
    are withheld from the house of your God.
14 Declare a holy fast;
    call a sacred assembly.
Summon the elders
    and all who live in the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord.

15 Alas for that day!
    For the day of the Lord is near;
    it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

16 Has not the food been cut off
    before our very eyes –
joy and gladness
    from the house of our God?
17 The seeds are shrivelled
    beneath the clods.
The storehouses are in ruins,
    the granaries have been broken down,
    for the grain has dried up.
18 How the cattle moan!
    The herds mill about
because they have no pasture;
    even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

19 To you, Lord, I call,
    for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness
    and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.
20 Even the wild animals pant for you;
    the streams of water have dried up
    and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

31 December 2019

Daniel 6

It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three chief ministers over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the chief ministers and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the chief ministers and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’

So these chief ministers and satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘May King Darius live for ever! The royal ministers, prefects, satraps, advisors and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing.

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: ‘Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?’

The king answered, ‘The decree stands – in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’

13 Then they said to the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.’ 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sunset to save him.

15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, ‘Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.’

16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!’

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?’

21 Daniel answered, ‘May the king live for ever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.’

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:

‘May you prosper greatly!

26 ‘I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

‘For he is the living God
    and he endures for ever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
    he performs signs and wonders
    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.’

28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Prayer: Our gracious heavenly Father and Lord, we worship You! Thank You for revealing Yourself in Your creation, in Your signs and wonders when You walked on this earth, in Your Word and in answered prayers. We praise You for rescuing us from eternal death by the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. And thank You for sending us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, guide us and counsel us, as we wait for your Second Coming. Thank You for giving us every spiritual blessing in Christ. We also thank You for the church and the fellowship of believers. We are indeed a greatly blessed people of God.

And thank You for showing us in Your Word, that You are indeed a God who rescues; and for revealing to us Your power and that Your kingdom is everlasting. Amen.

30 December 2019

Daniel 3

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: as soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.’

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshipped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘May the king live for ever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.’

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude towards them changed. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisors, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’

They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’

25 He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisors crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

This blazing furnace was not a small fire or oven, but a huge industrial furnace, hot enough to make sure that no one could survive (verse 22). In the face of severe persecution, will we make rationalisations or excuses, or trust in an all-powerful God? These men chose to be faithful, no matter what happened. They trusted God to deliver them, but they were determined to be faithful regardless of the consequences. God may not remove the ‘furnaces’ in our lives, but He will be present with us in the tribulations! (verse 25) Indeed, if God always kept us from trials, we would never experience His deliverance. We need to be faithful to serve and obey God whether He intervenes on our behalf or not. Our eternal reward is worth any suffering we may have to endure in our earthly life. God will comfort us by His presence in trials, and we glorify God by trusting in Him.

Prayer:  (by John Wesley)

I am no longer my own, but Thine

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

To Thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O Glorious and Blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thou art mine and I am Thine.

So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth,

Let it be ratified in heaven.

Prayer: Lord God, may You give me strength in suffering, and grace always, so that I may never dishonour Your name, and remain faithful to You. In good times, and bad times, may I praise you. Amen.

28 December 2019

Revelation 22:1-15

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Prayer: Almighty God, You have given us Your only Son to take our nature upon Him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, being born again and made Your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by Your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

27 December 2019

Revelation 15-16

I saw in heaven another great and marvellous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues – last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

‘Great and marvellous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.’

After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple – that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law – and it was opened. Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes round their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.

The seven bowls of God’s wrath

16 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.’

The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

‘You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
    you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.’

And I heard the altar respond:

‘Yes, Lord God Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments.’

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

15 ‘Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.’

16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about forty kilograms fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

Prayer: Dear Lord,

In these chapters we see the importance of having a biblical view of Your attributes. Yes, LORD, You are kind and loving and merciful, but You are also holy and just, a God who judges all mankind. And these ‘seven bowl’ judgments depict a comprehensive judgment that reveals not only your righteousness, but also that You are justified in these judgments. We heartily sing along with the song of praise in this chapter:

‘Great and marvellous are your deeds,

Lord God Almighty.

Just and true are your ways,

King of the nations.

Who will not fear you, Lord,

and bring glory to your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship before you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.’ 

O Lord, give us grace and patience to wait upon You when injustice and sinful rebellion prevail on the earth. Please teach us to fear You aright, mindful that You are holy and will one day make all things right and will vindicate Your people.

In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

 

 

26 December 2019

Revelation 14

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.

The three angels

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’

A second angel followed and said, ‘“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,” which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’ 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’

‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’

Harvesting the earth and trampling the winepress

14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

Perhaps you have heard it said that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love? This view becomes impossible to sustain once you read a book like Revelation. Many Christian readers neglect this book of the Bible because of the difficulty of understanding its symbolism and imagery. To be sure, there are difficulties and disagreements, but the same can be said for other books of the Bible as well, books that we happily read. In any event, the reader should take note of the fact that the book is intended to bring blessing to those who hear its teaching and take its message to heart (cf. Revelation 1:3).

The book is written to 7 churches in first-century Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) facing problems of persecution, compromise and complacency (cf. Revelation 2-3). The visions that follow – the 7 seals (Revelation 6), trumpets (Revelation 8-9) and bowls or plagues (Revelation 15-16) – are designed to grab the attention of these churches to encourage them to persevere and overcome their circumstances. While there is debate about how best to characterise and sequence these visions on a time-line, there is broad agreement that they generally portray a series of judgments from the hand of God (cf. Revelation 4-5).

Revelation 14, our text, is part of a so-called ‘interlude’ that focuses, amongst other things, on the recurring theme of judgment in the book. Let me briefly identify some of the features of divine judgment described in this chapter:

  1. All unbelievers will one day experience God’s judgment: ‘(T)hey…will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath’ (Revelation 14:10a). Whereas Jesus drained the cup of God’s wrath on behalf of God’s people (cf. Mark 14:36), and declared on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ (cf. John 19:30), all unbelievers will experience the ‘full strength’ of God’s wrath on Judgement Day!
  2. This will be a ‘forever’ judgment: ‘And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever….’ (Revelation 14:11). There will be no second-chances, no reversals and no negotiations!
  3. God has appointed the hour of this judgment. No one knows the day or hour. But it is inescapable, therefore, we are to be ready for this day. It will bring blessing to God’s people and grief to those who have rejected Him in this life. The language and imagery of judgment in this vision indicates that it is something to be avoided at all costs (Revelation 14:14-20).

The good news of the Gospel, described here as ‘the eternal Gospel’ (cf. Revelation 14:6), is that we are living in that period of redemptive history between Jesus’ first and second coming, a time during which salvation from God’s wrath is promised to all who sincerely repent (ie. turn from their sin), and put their trust in Jesus’ sacrificial death for sinners. The truth of the matter is that while the God of the Bible is indeed a God of wrath, He is also a merciful God who warns us to flee from the wrath to come by depicting its horrors for all to see in passages like Revelation 14. May we all heed this warning!

Prayer: Dear Lord; we confess that there is much in this book of the Bible that is difficult to grasp at first glance. However, we do thank You that the book is intended to be a blessing to Your people. As we reflect on the imagery and teaching of this chapter, we are struck not only by the terrifying portrayal of judgment, but also by Your great mercy that warns the unbeliever to flee from the wrath to come!

We are so grateful to You, Lord, that because of Your saving mercy towards us in Christ Jesus, our heavenly destiny is now secure; we have been totally spared from Your great wrath on Judgment Day.

Thank You for the reminder in this chapter that, as believers, we all belong to you: Your Name is written on our foreheads; You have purchased us from sin and death. Please help us to remain faithful to You in thought, word and deed, and to exercise patient endurance in the midst of the struggles and challenges of this earthly life.

And, Lord, please help us to warn unbelievers to flee from the wrath to come.

I pray all these things in the Name of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

25 December 2019

Daniel 2

In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, ‘I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.’

Then the astrologers answered the king, ‘May the king live for ever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.’

The king replied to the astrologers, ‘This is what I have firmly decided: if you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.’

Once more they replied, ‘Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.’

Then the king answered, ‘I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realise that this is what I have firmly decided: if you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.’

10 The astrologers answered the king, ‘There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.’

12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, ‘Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?’ Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    you have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.’

Daniel interprets the dream

24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, ‘Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.’

25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, ‘I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.’

26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), ‘Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’

27 Daniel replied, ‘No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 ‘As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

31 ‘Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue – an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing-floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 ‘This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. 37 Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.

39 ‘After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. 40 Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron – for iron breaks and smashes everything – and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. 41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. 42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

44 ‘In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands – a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

‘The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.’

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honour and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’

48 Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. 49 Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chief ministers over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

Prayer: Dear Lord, this account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream provides a dramatic reminder that You alone are God, and that there is no one else like You! We learn that nothing is hidden from You, that You alone know all things, even the things that are hidden and the things that are yet to come.

It is most encouraging to see that no one can withstand Your power and eternal good purposes. We are so grateful that You are our God! We can do no better than echo Daniel’s prayer of praise in the context:

‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;

wisdom and power are his.

He changes times and seasons;

he deposes kings and raises up others.

He gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to the discerning.

He reveals deep and hidden things;

he knows what lies in darkness,

and light dwells with him…’

Give us as Your people, we pray, the wisdom and knowledge we need to honour and trust You in all things. Give us grace and strength to resist the things of this world that are passing away. Enable us to live for Your Kingdom that will endure forever, a Kingdom made ‘not by human hands’ that will one day triumph over all the kingdoms of this world.

We pray all these things in Jesus’ Name and for His sake. Amen.

24 December 2019

Daniel 1

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure-house of his god.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way. Now God had caused the official to show favour and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men of your age? The king would then have my head because of you.’

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 ‘Please test your servants for ten days: give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.’ 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Daniel and his friends found themselves in a difficult situation. They were exiles in a foreign land, at the mercy of their Babylonian captors. However, the author is quick to point out to his readers that it is the Lord, Israel’s God, who had delivered Judah’s king along with articles from the temple into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (cf. Daniel 1:1-2). The unstated reason? Their long history of disobedience towards their covenant-keeping God! Contrary to appearances then, it was not the victorious Nebuchadnezzar who ‘called the shots’, but Israel’s God! God’s people in exile needed to be reminded of this important truth if they were to lead lives that honoured Him. Daniel, as we will see, understood this truth.

 Daniel and his three exiled friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are chosen to enter the kings’ service after three years of training (cf. Daniel 1:3-6). But Daniel is determined to honour the Lord, and His God intervenes: ‘But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel…Daniel then said to the guard…“Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead’ (Daniel 1:8-16).

The pressure on Daniel and his friends to conform to their foreign culture must have been enormous. As captives in a foreign land, they were essentially powerless to resist the wishes of their captors. But Daniel recognised the presence and power of Israel’s God even in this foreign land and resolved to honour Him, but he did so with humility, wisdom and tact. And the Lord graciously honoured His servants and equipped them for service in that challenging context (cf. Daniel 1:17-20). What an example and encouragement to us as God’s people to honour Him even in the most challenging and hostile circumstances!

Prayer: Dear Lord: Thank You for the example of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They are an inspiration to Your people to trust You and honour You even in the most difficult and hostile of circumstances, mindful that You are still in control, despite appearances to the contrary. Their example inspires faithful obedience to You at all times.

Lord, please give us the faith, courage and wisdom we need to honour and obey You like Daniel and his friends. Teach us to fear You rather than those who may stand opposed to us. Deliver us from evil, and grant us favour with those who have the power and authority to harm us. Bless our obedience so that it might be evident to all that Your righteous paths are the way to life.

We pray all these things for the honour and glory of Your Name. Amen.

23 December 2019

Ezekiel 37

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’

I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”’

One nation under one king

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 ‘Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.” Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, “Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.” 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 ‘When your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?” 19 say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph – which is in Ephraim’s hand – and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.” 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offences, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

24 ‘“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there for ever, and David my servant will be their prince for ever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them for ever. 27 My dwelling-place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them for ever.”’

Prayer: Dear Lord, Thank You for this chapter which provides the reader with a ‘dramatic vision for the restoration [from exile] of Israel’s life as a community’, according to one commentator. What seemed hopeless from a human perspective is made possible because of Your life-giving presence and power.

Thank you, Lord, that You are not just a God who restores, giving life where there is death, bringing hope where there is hopelessness, but You also bring unity where there is division, and cleansing from sin! What a joy and privilege it is to belong to Your people! How amazing it is that You will be our God forever, thanks to your everlasting covenant of peace with Your people! Indeed, thank You, Lord, for all the ‘forevers’ of this passage. As Your chosen people, these truths give us all great encouragement!

Help us to declare Your praises far and wide to those who are living without our ‘forever’ hope, and without Your ‘forever’ life-giving presence and power. May they thereby turn to You for eternal life and peace.

And help us, Lord, we pray, to lead the kind of lives that reflect our relationship with You. We acknowledge that we can only do this with Your help. We worship and praise You alone, in Jesus’ Name! Amen.