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

7 December 2018

Revelation 20

It is easy to get sucked into the detail of the book of Revelation and miss the big picture. For instance, in this passage you can focus on the ‘key to the bottomless pit’ (verse 1) and the ‘great chain’ (verse 1) or you can focus on the thousand years. People speculate and have significant arguments on these issues. However, in my view, that is focusing on the wrong thing here and means you miss the big picture.

The big picture presented is here is one of Victory. It is a picture of the total and ultimate defeat and destruction of Satan. The chapter starts with Satan being bound and imprisoned – a picture of Satan’s influence on the Church being curbed (verse 1-3). Satan is able have some limited influence and is able to gather together an army (verse 7-8), but only for a short while. He is then totally defeated and thrown into the ‘lake of fire’ along with the beast and false prophets. Their torment will be for eternity (verse 11). We have a picture of all of Christ’s enemies being defeated!

The victory is secured and then we see Christ descending on His throne. He comes down to judge. All mankind is standing in front of the throne and we are all judged by what is written in the books, which have recorded everything we have done (verse 12). But there is an exception made for those whose names appear in the ‘book of life’. If your name is in that book you are spared but everyone else is thrown into the ‘lake of fire’.

That means that whatever is written in those books – whether good or bad – cannot save you. Your deeds are useless if your name is not written in the ‘book of life’. Your church attendance, how much money you’ve given to the church, how many times per day you prayed … none of that matters if your name isn’t in the ‘Book of Life’. Your name is in the ‘Book of Life’ if you are one of God’s children. If you’re His son or daughter then the victory is secured. Not by our deeds but simply by the work of Christ – the same Christ who is coming back to judge all mankind.

Prayer: Thank You that my name is written in the Book of Life and therefore I know the victory is secured. Thank You that I can rest in that certainty because it is based on what Christ has done, and not on what I have done, or could do in the future. When my Christian walk is hard, remind me that the victory is sure. Amen.

 

6 December 2018

Revelation 19

“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.”

Revelation 19:6b-9

Some people have a love/hate relationship with weddings – I am one of those. I love them because they celebrate relationships and point us to the future wedding of Christ and His bride, the Church. I hate them because of the stress of what I’m going to wear. It’s stressful because I don’t like dressing up and when I do, the time lapse since the last wedding means my clothes have shrunk.

But there is a wedding which I am looking forward to with no conflict of emotions.

This is the wedding of the Lamb described for us in Revelation 19.

It’s a joyous occasion to look forward to because it marks the final destruction of Satan, the rebellious world and death. It will be held in the midst of a multitude who sing a victory song: ‘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.’ (verse 1&2)

It will be a joyous occasion as we, His Bride (the Church), will rejoice in Him who reigns and deserves all the glory. We will rejoice with no stress about what we will wear, because we will be given wedding clothes – fine linen, bright and clean. Our joy will flow, not from having an outfit that fits, but from having an outfit that makes us fitting for a King. It’s the clothes of righteousness given by our groom, bought by Him and fitted by Him. It’s the most expensive wedding outfit in history – bought by the blood of the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

This wedding day will go on without a hitch and the celebration will go on into eternity.

As we wait for this wedding, we are to do three things. One, rejoice and be thankful to God, because nothing will hinder the wedding day going through – Jesus will return for His bride. Two, stay prepared and dressed, by living righteous and godly lives now; and three, keep pointing people to the Lamb of God who is the only one to prepare them for the coming wedding.

Heavenly father, Give us grace to rejoice in You daily. Spur us on by Your Spirit to live for You and tell of Your great work of salvation through Christ. Amen.

 

5 December 2018

Revelation 18
Psalm 132

The Lord swore an oath to David,
    a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
    I will place on your throne.

Psalm 132:11

Can you think of a promise you made to someone recently? Did you keep it? Do you intend keeping it? Has someone made a promise to you? Did they keep it?

Here in our reading today, there are promises made – first by David (verse 2), then by the LORD (verse 11) to David. It’s the latter that I want us to meditate upon as we read the Bible slowly today. Because the effect or outworking of that promise is ultimately to us!

We know, with the benefit of the whole Bible (Old and New Testament), that the One of your descendants’ of David who will be on the throne is none other than the Messiah, the Christ, the LORD Jesus Christ. In Peter’s sermon recorded for us in Acts 2:30-33, this Christ who was crucified and died was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. He was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God. So, the fulfilment of the promise by the LORD to king David here in Psalm 132 is Jesus!

And with that come other great and wonderful promises for us:

God’s presence with us (verse 13);

God’s gracious salvation for us (verse16);

God’s glorious reign over us … in heaven forever (verse 14).

This, is our God. This, all through our Jesus!

Our response should echo the repeated phrase (verse 9 and 16) – sing for joy! See God’s faithfulness and sing!

If anyone has made a promise to you, and failed to keep it – don’t lose heart. Be encouraged that God, your God, is not just a promise-making God but indeed, a promise-keeping God. Rejoice and praise Him – every one of His promises is ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ in Jesus!

Our Father in heaven, thank You that the Bible is indeed one book, and not two separate old and new books. Thank You that as we read the Old Testament, it points us to the New Testament and vice versa. Thank You that all of Scripture is useful in helping us know what to believe, and how to live. Please enable us to be very intentional today to live a life that expresses great joy in You and and great joy in Your promise to Your servant king David – the promise of Your ever presence with Your people, the promise of salvation to all who believe, and the promise that Your King will be on Your throne for ever and ever. Help us to share this joy with our family, our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. To the King who is seated on the throne – to Him be glory. Amen

4 December 2018

Revelation 17
Psalm 131

Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131:1-3 (ESV)

My wife and I are thankful to the Lord for the time we had when our children were still babies. Those precious moments at birth meeting a new life for the first time, bringing them home and settling them into their cot and watching them in those moments they fall asleep after feeding. As they slept we marvelled at God’s handiwork and the love we had been given by Him. In those peaceful moments our children had no worry in the world, with two loving parents looking after them and a loving God upholding and protecting us all.

Oh how I long to be like a sleeping child calm and content, in the midst of this life. To be able to say with the psalmist in verse 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.’

How is it that King David (Psalmist) could speak these words? Well, the answer is very simple. He doesn’t concern his heart and mind with things that are beyond him, things that he has no understanding of and no control over. Verse 1: ‘He does not occupy himself with things too great and marvellous’. His attitude is one of humility and self-understanding, as the NIV translation puts it, verse 1: ’My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty.’ Basically, he grasps the reality of life, he is not God and he is not in control of all things, even as a king.

As I’ve taught the attributes of God this last term there are two phrases that I’ve repeated each week, ‘God is God and we are not’ and ‘There are some things, many things, outside of our understanding that God has not explained to us.’ The study of God has left us humbled, as it should! Like David, we should find rest for our soul in knowing that we are not in control, but God is. It’s why he tells us in verse 3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore’. We can find true rest for our soul when we humbly admit that there are things beyond us, many things; and when we put our hope in God, trusting that He is in control of all things.

Today, tomorrow and in the days to come grasp hold of God and remind yourself that He is in control. No matter what life brings, He is God and we are not!

Heavenly Father, grant rest to my soul. Give me by Your Spirit a humbly heart and a deep trust in You today.

 

3 December 2018

Revelation 16
Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Psalm 130:1-8

‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!’ (verse 1). This is no casual prayer to God, but a desperate one for mercy. God really listens to the cry of the humble heart. (James 4:6). If God does not listen and forgive us, then we are lost. Verse 3 says, ‘If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?’

Let us cry out to God for mercy, He will hear and forgive our sins (verse 4 and 8). God wants to forgive us. What a wonderful mystery! And He has made a way of forgiveness – in Jesus. Our response should be to ‘fear him’ (verse 4).

‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…’ (verse 6). Let us wait expectantly on the Presence of the Living God, that we receive His steadfast love for our souls (verse 5 and 7). God will respond, for even in this Psalm, God seems to have the nature of a good Father – approachable, forgiving and kind.

‘And in his Word I hope…’ (verse 5). We can have true hope through God’s word and the integrity of His promises. Aren’t you so glad that you can trust what God says and come to Him? He is the One who gives ‘steadfast love’ and ‘redeems Israel from ALL his iniquities.’ (verse 7) What a comfort one word spoken by the Holy Spirit through the prophet can be: ‘All’.

Absolute forgiveness.

Heavenly Father, we cry out to You for mercy and forgiveness. We wait on You for you to keep Your word and help us. We praise You for Your redemption and love.

30 November 2018

Revelation 15

and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous 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.

Revelation 15:3-4

As verse 1 says, this is an amazing image of God’s wrath about to be poured out from heaven. After the fearsome images of the dragon and beasts, something even more fearsome is about to unleash wrath on the world and entire universe – seven plague-carrying angels! No one could enter the sanctuary (verse 8) until God’s wrath had been completely unleashed and run its course.

What hope is there in the face of such a powerful force? On the face of it, none!

But while the whole of mankind is going to be judged, believers have the assurance that we have been saved from God’s wrath by our Saviour Jesus (Romans 5:9). He took our judgement and bore the wrath that was intended for us. The Apostle Paul gives us this assurance in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, ‘For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ’. So, all the nations, i.e. all people past, present and future, will come to worship Him because of His awesome power.  

Of course, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that believers will not face hardship. When God’s final wrath is poured it will be a terrible time for believers and non-believers living in the world. But as believers we look forward to heaven and earth being re-united and the relationship between mankind and God being fully restored.

As I am sitting in front of my laptop wrestling with this passage, I’m thinking what a privilege we have that our God has told us the whole history of the created order in scripture. He told us how He created the universe out of nothing, just by speaking. We see how we fell when we tried to usurp God; but how He keeps giving us chance after chance to repent. And we see how He took our judgement on Himself, how He is going to judge the world, and finally how He is going to restore us back into a perfect and eternal relationship with our Father, His Son and His Holy Spirit. In the end, despite the difficult times, we –  believers and adopted children – win!

After grappling with the dragon and beasts this week, I’ve got a spring in my step (because I know the future) and I can look forward to closing out the week and enjoying the weekend!

Prayer: Lord, thank you that Jesus has borne the wrath that I deserve.  Thank you that I don’t have to fear the consequences of Your wrath and that I have an amazing eternity to look forward to; being in Your company, praising You with fellow believers and enjoying the restored earth and universe.  Amen

29 November 2018

Revelation 14

After trying to get to grips with the frightening images that the apostle John has written down thus far in this book, what jumped out at me was verse 12: ‘Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus’.

As we approach Christmas, and I look at the consumerism and materialism that is intermeshed in the world, and at how the secular world has slowly changed this joyous occasion in the Christian calendar to another “happy holiday”, I can see the “beasts” that John so vividly describes.

As we continue reading the book of Revelation, we will see that our Lord triumphs. As Christians, we have the amazing privilege of knowing how the story ends – God’s children, in glory with Him forever, in a restored creation. But we need to endure in the face of the gods of this world, live our lives according to God’s commandments and patiently keep our faith in Jesus as we wait for Him to come again.

In our westernised society, it is easy to say that we must endure when we don’t face the direct hardships of the persecuted church. The persecution that we face is primarily, made up of very subtle concessions that the media and the world ask us to make to God’s commandments that are very clearly and unambiguously spelt out in scripture. These concessions can so easily lead us off the narrow path of the Way. In the process Satan accomplishes his purpose of condemning us to an eternity without God. The frightening thing for us is that the persecuted church, which faces direct physical, economic and mental persecution, is more resilient than we are! Best we follow their example and heed the call to endure … even today!

Prayer: Lord, in the face of pressure through the media and sarcastic comments from friends, colleagues and family, give me the strength, through Your Holy Spirit, to make a stand and live my life with the freedom granted by Your Word and not shackled to the world. Amen

28 November 2018

Revelation 13
Psalm 129

Reading this morning’s two passages my first thoughts were how do I write something that is not all doom and gloom? I guess that this is one of the dangers of reading passages of scripture in isolation from the entire bible. The full scriptures tell us that God has triumphed and in fact He triumphed over evil before it even existed.

Snippets from both passages allude to God’s victory – Revelation 13 verse 10: ‘If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints’. Why would we be called to be patient if there was no hope? Our hope is in Jesus and the fact that our Heavenly Father has promised to save us. Our God is immutable – He has made His children (believers) a promise and it is not in His character to change His mind.

I become despondent some days when I look at how some of my relationships have broken down because of my own inadequacies, and how the world is worshipping the gods of power, money and fame. However, Psalm 129 verse 4, ‘But the LORD is righteous; He has cut me free from the cords of the wicked”, gives me hope. That is the hope that Jesus has already cut me free from the cords of the world, and by His death and resurrection Satan and his forces have been condemned to the pit.

How I long for the day when there will be no more strife, pain, suffering and broken relationships. Come Jesus, restore Your creation and all believers into a perfect relationship with our God.

Prayer: Lord the whole universe groans as we await the return of Jesus. Help us to wait patiently and with endurance. Help us to overcome evil with good. Amen.

 

27 November 2018

Revelation 12
Psalm 128

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head…

…Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”

Revelation 12:1, 10-12

I must admit that I was very apprehensive when I realised my blog posts for this week would be drawn from the Book of Revelation!  But as I read these scriptures carefully and meditate on them, I am so encouraged by the images that I see through the words of this passage in particular.  

Revelation 12 dovetails into our current morning series on the Attributes of God. I can clearly see God’s sovereignty/omnipotence (total rule and control over everything), His omnipresence (He is everywhere) and His omniscience (He knows everything past, present and future) in this chapter.

In verse 7 we have this fearsome image of Satan and his demons that are defeated in the heavens and flung to earth. Here on earth he leads us astray, but he knows that his time is short (verse 12b).

Through the blood of Christ, and what He did for us on the cross, we don’t have to fear this terrifying red dragon who symbolises the distractions of this world, which ultimately lead to separation from God.

Our God knows that He will triumph over Satan and through the sacrifice of Jesus, already has. I guess that this is why Satan is so furious (verse 12b) and is working so hard at causing us to stumble and fall away from God before he is flung into the eternal pit.

Verse 17 is a very sober warning to all Christians – until Jesus returns, Satan will always be at war with us. He is constantly chipping away at our spiritual armour and wanting us to place our reliance on ourselves, and not on God. In our relatively comfortable society, Satan’s distractions are very subtle and we fall into the trap of thinking that we are ‘good’ people and ‘alright’ in God’s eyes. Beware of that dangerous dragon! As we learnt a few weeks ago in Graham’s sermon on God’s holiness: God is so infinitely superior and so perfect, that without His help, we can never come into His presence unless He makes us perfect. Thanks be to God, He did, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  

So, as we learnt in Ecclesiastes, we can enjoy this earth and what God has given us, no matter how big or small. But we must guard against making the here and now into a false god, and must constantly remind ourselves to turn our eyes to Jesus and to focus on eternity.  

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on You and what You have done for us in Jesus rather than be distracted by Satan and the things of this world. Amen

 

26 November 2018

Revelation 11
Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:1-2

The first stanza of this Psalm really resonated with me as we approach the end of the year with the busyness of getting up to date at work, functions (both work and social) and the general tiredness of a full year.

I think back to numerous restless nights this past year, and even this last week, and how I have fretted over challenges at work, deadlines that are looming, relationship challenges and so the list goes on.  Why have I not learnt, and why has the message not sunk into my slow mind that my God and heavenly Father knows everything and is in control?

Our sermon series from earlier this year on Ecclesiastes made me more aware of the futility of worrying about my short life in a fallen and broken world, and that I should not worry excessively about earthly achievements, failures, challenges and even earthly happiness. I need to focus on God and give myself over to Him in the knowledge that He is in control. And that if I love Him, He will ensure that when this physical life passes away, I will be with Him and Jesus in a new and perfect body on a new earth in a restored and perfect universe.

When that’s our perspective, it’s much easier to enjoy a good night’s sleep trusting God to keep us safe and fulfil all His plans.

Prayer: Lord I acknowledge that You are my Lord and Saviour.  Help me to remember this and to lean on You when I worry excessively about things of this earth.  Help me to focus on You in good times and challenging times. Amen

 

23 November 2018

Revelation 10

I want to refer you back to yesterday’s blog post when reading today’s Scripture passage. Remember Deuteronomy 29:29 ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God’ and if you don’t own a commentary on Revelation then now is a good time to get one.

John has a vision of an angel coming down from heaven. While we cannot be sure who the angel is, there is a hint that it could be Jesus Himself.  He refers to a ‘mighty angel’ and ‘wrapped in a cloud’ (verse 1) which seems to indicated that His glory is being shielded. It talks about a ‘rainbow over his head’ (verse 1), which might be symbolic of the covenant that God has made with His people. It refers to Him speaking ‘like a lion roaring’ and Revelation 5:5 refers to Jesus as the Lion of Judah. He swears an oath in God’s name (verse 6) and God does that throughout Scripture as there is no higher name by which God can swear than by His own name.

Then from verse 8 onwards, John is instructed to eat the little scroll and that while at first it will taste sweet in his mouth, once he digests it, it will become bitter. This probably refers to the vision of the future that John is seeing and writing about here in Revelation. At first it must have been amazing for John to see these things.  He gets a foretaste of the future. As I read some of the descriptions in Revelation, a chill runs down my spine as I picture all the people gathering and worshipping around the throne. John must have felt that in a much more magnified way as he watched these visions unfold before him. However, when he stopped and reflected on them, he would have remembered not only the glorious worship but also the great judgment and wrath that would be pored out. That wrath and judgment would have felt bitter to John just as the angel said it would.

John might have been tempted not to write them down and not to talk about his vision but the angel tells him in verse 11 ‘You must prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings’. The angel must have known that John might be tempted not to write down these prophesies and he is reminding him not to succumb to that temptation. We have the book of Revelation because of that instruction to John by the angel.

Prayer: Thank You for Scripture and for faithful men who You used and inspired to give us Your Word. Please help us to be diligent in studying Your Word even when it seems difficult to understand. Open our eyes to see the truths it contains. AMEN.

 

 

22 November 2018

Revelation 9

Clearly, I have done something to offend the staff to be allocated Revelation 9 and 10 to write blogs on.  When you read them you will see what I mean!

There are angels, trumpets, fallen stars, bottomless pits, fire and smoke, locusts and scorpions. It is a dramatic scene of battles and plagues. What does it all mean? I’m not sure but here two thoughts anyway!

Firstly, one of my favourite verses in Scripture is Deuteronomy 29:29 which says ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever’.  Some things are beyond finding out and I suspect that even people who are convinced they know exactly what these passages mean will one day find out that they didn’t understand them properly. Some things are beyond finding out this side of eternity.

That said, God has given us Bible scholars who have spent significant time and effort in the Scripture. They have then written down their work in commentaries so those of us who don’t understand a particular portion of Scripture can read a commentary on it.  Why not consider getting one on Revelation to help you in your understanding of this section of the Bible? I’m sure the staff could recommend one!

Secondly, I was reminded that mankind does not change its behavior. Revelation 9 is a picture of the destruction caused by sin and sinful beings living in rebellion against God. It is a horrific picture! Yet, despite all the suffering, all the destruction and even the meting out of punishment that we read about, the chapter closes with these words: ‘The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immortality or their thefts’ (verse 20).  Despite seeing and experiencing the consequences of sin, mankind did not repent and does not change its ways! Mankind at its heart is sinful and rebellious, and continues in it, despite the horrific consequences.

Without a Saviour, without a Lamb, without the Lion of Judah, without the only One who is able to open the scroll and break its seals (Revelation 5:3), we would all be heading to an eternity without God. We might even see the consequences of our sin and yet still not change our ways. We chose to rather worship things that ‘cannot see or hear’ rather than the true and living God. Praise God, that because of Jesus, our story will not end with Revelation 9 and the inevitable and hopeless consequence of sin!

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for our constant wandering from You and Your Word. We do choose to worship money, possessions, work, relationships, family and many other things rather than worshipping You, the true and living God. Please forgive us, not because of what we have done, but because of the completed work of the Lamb of God. AMEN.

21 November 2018

Revelation 8
Psalm 126

Psalm 126. It is believed that Psalm 126 was written when the Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity. Some biblical scholars even speculate that Ezra could have written the Psalm. You will notice that the heading of the Psalm is ‘A Song of Ascent’. It is one of fifteen ‘Songs of Ascent’ (Psalm 120-134). It is believed that these Psalms were sung by the people as they ascended toward Jerusalem for one of the celebrations commanded in Deuteronomy 16:16.

While interesting, does this have any relevance to us today? I think it does, in that the people of God came to corporately worship Him and they did so with singing. We too are exhorted in Colossians 3:18 to ‘sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God’. The people of Israel as they approached Jerusalem would have been singing these ‘Songs of Ascent’ together. Joyfully celebrating that they were coming together to remember what God had done for them. So too, we should come joyfully each week to corporate worship and sing praises to God for what He has done for us.

This Psalm also is a reminder that God will bring His people home. He had made that promise to Israel and He did bring them back to Jerusalem. So they could say ‘The Lord has done great things for us’ (verse 3). He makes the promise to us too, that He will bring us home to Him. We will one day gather around the throne of God and will sing out that the Lord has done great things for us too.

Our tears will be turned to shouts of joy (verse 5). Our weeping will reap a harvest of unexpected joy. Our temporary struggles, illness, suffering and pain will be replaced with the joy of being with God forever. Surely that should cause us to want to burst into song to sing about God’s faithfulness.

Heavenly Father, make our hearts overflow with joy because of Your goodness and faithfulness in bringing us home; and put a song of praise for You on our lips as we experience Your goodness and anticipate our homecoming. Amen.

20 November 2018

Revelation 7
Psalm 125

Revelation 7. Jehovah’s Witnesses use these and other verses in Revelation to prove that only 144 000 will end up in heaven. They take the passages literally. However, much of Revelation is allegorical. An allegory is a picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning’. The 144 000 mentioned here are meant to represent the full number of God’s elect. Mounce says ‘the number is obviously symbolic. 12 (the number of the tribes) is both squared and multiplied by 1,000 — a twofold way of emphasizing completeness.’ We know it is symbolic because the passage goes on to say in verse 9 ‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number’. It is not just 144 000 that are saved – it is a great multitude that no one can number.

Not only are God’s elect a great multitude that cannot be numbered but they are also ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’ (verse 9). We are meant to get a picture that completeness doesn’t just come in number, but also in the diversity of His people. It should also be a motivator for us for missions. Christ’s second coming will only take place once every tribe, people and language group has heard the gospel, because only then will the complete number of God’s people be gathered together.

What will we do once all God’s people are gathered together? We will worship God and the Lamb by crying out together ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’ (verse 10). And the angelic hosts will also join in worship with us (verse 11-12). What a great picture of true worship! What a great day to be looking forward to!

But wait there’s more … We also are reminded that there will be no more hunger or thirst (verse 16) and no more tears (verse 17). Those words should be familiar to you if you’ve attended the Sunday evening service recently. Jesus says of himself in John 6:35 ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ The Lamb; the bread of life; Jesus, He achieves all this for us!

Prayer: Father we thank you for this great picture of a day to come in the future when we will be able to worship around throne. Help us keep this picture in mind as we struggle through life’s difficulties. Come Lord Jesus, Come. AMEN!

 

19 November 2018

Revelation 6
Psalm 124

If the Lord had not been on our side—
    let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side
    when people attacked us…

Psalm 124:1-2

The people of Israel experienced God’s hand of protection and many times forgot to acknowledge it. But David here reminds himself, the people of Israel and us, that it is God’s hands that protects us. He protected Israel (and David specifically) against their enemies – ‘when the people rose up against us’ (verse 2).

He uses the metaphor of natural disasters to show how easily the enemies could have destroyed them. ‘Flood’, ‘torrent’, ‘raging waters’ (verse 5 and 6). These natural events happen very quickly and wash away everything in their path.

It is a picture of God’s hand of protection upon us. Whether it is natural disasters or enemies trying to destroy us, God is on our side if we are one of His children. Why does that matter? Because He is the one ‘who made heaven and earth’ (verse 8). He is the Creator God. He is the one (as we have heard in the sermon series on the Attributes of God) who is sovereign and in control. He is all-powerful (omnipotent) and no one can stop Him. As Romans 8:31 and 32 says, ‘If God is for is, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’

When I read these words of Psalm 124 it causes me to reflect on how many times I probably should have said, “If it was not for the Lord”. How many stupid mistakes would I have made, if it was not for the Lord restraining me? How many accidents would have I been in, if it was not for the Lord’s timing and protection? How many enemies would have destroyed me, if it was not for the Lord’s hand of protection?

Prayer: Thank you Lord for Your hand of protection. Please forgive me because I often take it for granted. Please help me to remember You are the almighty, all-powerful One who is watching over me everyday in everything I do. Help me to take comfort in that knowledge. AMEN.

16 November 2018

Revelation 5

With a right vision of God Almighty clear in our minds from Revelation 4, we can and should feel some of the depth of anguish John describes himself feeling in verse 4. Verses 2-4 raise the question of who is worthy before our God, this mighty God on His throne, whom all beings cannot help but worship? Who is there in heaven and earth who is worthy to open the scroll in God’s hand? John weeps. Yet, John is told to ‘weep no more’  for behold there is one who is worthy (verse 5).

John then sees the vision of the Lamb. And we know who this Lamb is. We are to recall John’s words in his gospel as he quotes John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus walking towards him: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). Jesus Christ is this Lamb.

The descriptions of the Lamb that we see in the following verses pull together so many of God’s wonderful promises made to His people over history, proving His faithfulness to His people, and the worthiness of His Lamb:

You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.
‘ 
(verse 9-10)

The creatures and elders who were worshipping God Almighty on His Throne in Revelation 4, now burst into praise and song to the Lamb, who is worthy to take the scroll from God’s right hand. He is as worthy of praise and worship as God the Father.

This Lamb is worthy, our Lord Jesus is worthy, because of what He did on the cross. The description in these verses of the salvation that Jesus has bought, for all people, should blow us away. With the promises here, as well as the promises we saw in chapters 2 and 3 for those in His churches who faithfully overcome, all now available to us because of what Jesus has done, we can’t help but fall on our knees and worship our Lord and Saviour.

May we be reminded of the awesome thing it is know our Lord Jesus, this Lord Jesus, and to be saved by Him and be called people of God.

‘”To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.’ (verse 13b-14)

 

15 November 2018

Revelation 4
Ecclesiastes 12

Revelation 4. Revelation 4 and 5 describe how John, and us his readers, gets a glimpse of how Jesus’ victory works out in the future. John, here in Revelation 4 sees a vision of God the Father Almighty on His throne. We as modern western readers often get a bit thrown with the imagery and language that John uses here, but even in plain reading, we can grasp something of the magnitude of the person who is sitting on the throne. Every being present is bowed down in worship to God on His throne. And all respond in songs of worship.

The creatures see God and are caused to say ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’ (verse 8) And ‘whenever’  the creatures praise God, the elders ‘fall down before him’ in worship (verse 9-10). The God who was, and is, and is to come, elicits perpetual praise from the creatures around Him. They cannot but praise the mighty one who is seated on the throne.

This picture of God always fills me with slight dread and shame as I realise that this view of God is often a far cry from my own view of God. Yes, as I grow in my knowledge of Him, I love Him more, and seek Him more. But often I’m guilty of making Him smaller in my life than He truly is, as He’s shown Himself here in Revelation 4. I think for most of us, the healthy reverent fear that we should have for our God and Father, maker of heaven and earth, is often waning. As a result, I find myself a bit slow at times to willingly throw my crown before His Throne in humble worship, as we see the elders do here. Often I fool myself into thinking there are still parts of my life where I can behave as King.

May we be challenged by Revelation 4 to have a far greater view of God and a far smaller view of ourselves, so that we can think rightly, and therefore live our lives better in service to our awesome and mighty God.   

14 November 2018

Revelation 3
Psalm 123

Revelation 3. This chapter deals with what John must write to 3 of the 7 churches (Revelation 1:11). It is easy reading and also fairly easy to understand. The churches in Sardis and in Laodicea receive a rebuke, but the church in Philadelphia does not.

These letters present to us a reality of church life – each and every church is different, with their own set of ‘good’ and their own set of ‘bad’. Each church is not necessarily painted with the same brush! But, the LORD of the Church is always the same. He is the JUDGE of the church and His judgment is always right, and He will always judge the bad! However, the individual believer need not lose heart because in every church, even one as bad as Laodicea, there is always a promise to ‘the one who overcomes’ (verses 5, 12 and 21)!

It’s worth noting what Christ holds against the churches, what He requires, what He commends, and what He promises those who overcome. Because, if He is the same ‘yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8), then we can trust that these are still true for us, and will remain true as part of God’s character.

The church in Sardis have a ‘reputation for being alive, but actually being dead’ (verse 1) and therefore not able to complete God’s purpose for them (verse 2). The church in Laodicea is ‘lukewarm’ (verse 15) and seems to find purpose in material gain rather than in a life honouring to Christ (verse 17). God requires these churches to get back in line as followers of Christ by obeying His commands (verses 2-3) as well as discovering the true fulfilment of living a holy life in Christ (verse 18).

The church in Philadelphia is not rebuked – she is commended!

– ‘you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name’ (verse 8)

– ‘you have kept my command to endure patiently’ (verse10)

– ‘hold on to what you have’ (verse 11)

It’s in reading these letters today, listening carefully to God’s Word as we read the Bible slowly, that we begin to see and hear what Christ finds pleasing and what He finds repulsive in His church. Therein lies the challenge for us – to examine our church and to change our ways where they fall into the realm of the things that Christ holds against the churches! If there are things that are held against the church, then it might be wise for us to avoid walking in the wrong direction and landing ourselves in a minefield.

And yet, at the same time, we can come away encouraged because we can be a church that pleases Him; encouraged because there is the hope of overcoming; encouraged by the promises God has at the end of each letter! And so let us walk together as the church in Tokai in a manner that pleases our Lord and have the hope of being declared overcomers!

Our Father in heaven, thank You for enabling us, despite our weakness, to keep Your word and not deny You. Please help us to continue to endure patiently as we battle with the world, our own flesh, and the devil. Help us to hold on to Christ and to keep trusting Him to bring us through these tests that come our way. Amen.

13 November 2018

Revelation 2
Psalm 122

Revelation 2. Revelation 1:5-8 reminded us that our Lord is on His throne:

‘and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”’

Chapter 2 and 3 of Revelation raises a question for us. How, in light of this knowledge, are we, His Church supposed to live?

These chapters contain Christ’s letters to His seven churches. Each of these letters contains both encouragements and/or rebukes, and warnings. In light of what we see in Revelation 1, the fearsome picture of our often “meek and mild” Jesus, means we should not take the contents of these letters lightly, even as His church today. We need to solemnly assess ourselves rightly. Are we doing what Jesus is commending in each of these letters? Are we failing in certain areas like these churches, and are we ignoring the serious consequences for our disobedience? However, it is also such an encouragement to see in these letters, Christ graciously giving us solutions to our failures and the beautiful promises for those who prove faithful.

As we read chapter 2, may we be challenged to not lose our first love, but remember Him, what He has done for us, and do what He calls us to. May we not tolerate false teaching or be guilty of lack of discernment, but hold fast to Him, His teaching and works till the end. So that at the end we will have the promises of eating from the tree of life in paradise, a crown of life and spared from judgement.  

 

12 November 2018

Revelation 1
Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

When the Psalmist looked to those hills and saw the altars and shrines to the man-made gods of his time, evidence of people’s frantic search for help and security, he knew his God was the only true and faithful source of help. A Helper who never sleeps, who knows your every movement, keeping us from evil, keeping our life. These well-known words of verse 1 have often reminded me of the peace and surety we have in our God, especially in times of trial and struggle.

There are many things that people seek to find their security and help in, which never seem to adequately look after us. We seek help and security in our ability to make money which we can by our means of security. Or we seek our help in relationships and people who inevitably let us down. What an awesome thing it is to know that our Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, has revealed Himself to us, and shown Himself to be the most faithful helper and keeper.

He doesn’t take away the suffering and struggle that life often brings, but promises to be our sure help and strength, to get us through. When we look at the world and people around us, and see their desperate search for security, peace and comfort, let us be like the psalmist who through it all can say that ‘My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’, and may we daily comprehend to privilege and blessing it is to know Him as our Helper and God.   

9 November 2018

Jude

 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Jude 24-25

I must admit there is a lot in this short letter that I do not understand! So I’m not going to try to pretend I know everything that’s going on and attempt to explain it to you. If the details of this book interest you, I’d suggest asking Luke for a recommendation of a good commentary or inviting one of our resident Bible college lecturers over for tea and lemon creams! However, all of God’s Word is given to us for our learning, and if we don’t get distracted by the almost bizarre points that Jude raises, I think there is a simple yet profound lesson for us to grasp.

Similarly to John in the two letters before this, Jude wanted to write a letter of encouragement, but instead felt it was necessary to address the issue of false teachers who have slipped into the church unnoticed and have ‘pervert[ed] the grace of our God into a license for immorality and den[ied] Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord’. Obviously, this is a big deal and so Jude wants them to fight for the true Gospel (verses 3–4).

In verses 5–16, Jude describes these false teachers and compares them to a whole range of examples who have rejected God and His way. He also announces the judgement that they are bound to face one day. Then, from verse 17 onwards, Jude transitions away from the condemnation of false teachers to an encouragement of believers.

‘But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ (verses 20–21)

At that brings us to the verses quoted at the top of this devotion, the well-known doxology which is used by many churches (including ours) often at the close of the worship service. Perhaps the last time you heard them read at church you zoned out and mumbled an “amen” at the end because you’ve lost (or never fully got) the meaning of these words.

Let’s let the context of this letter shape our understanding of this doxology.

When Satan tries to sneak false teachers into the Church who pervert the grace of God, trying to lead us astray, let us cry out to God and trust in Him to keep us from stumbling. When the temptation to sin and the desire for the ungodly tugs at us, let us rejoice in Him who will present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. When the world and even some churches preach a different message that says there are many ways to be saved, let us hold onto the truth that there is only one God our Saviour, and only one way to Him is through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pray the words of this doxology to God in praise of His glorious grace!

’To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.’

8 November 2018

3 John
Ecclesiastes 11

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

3 John 5-8

At the end of both his 2nd and 3rd letters, John says that there was much he had to write to them, but instead of writing whatever it was he intended, he addresses a more pressing issue his recipients face. John wrote 2 John to warn a local church about false teachers who were coming to deceive them. He instructs them not to welcome these deceivers, not even to let them into their homes (2 John 10–11). He writes 3 John to instruct Gaius (presumably someone senior within another local church) to do exactly the opposite for true gospel workers. Unlike Diotrephes, who refuses to welcome them (3 John 9–10), Gaius ought to welcome and support true brothers and sisters in Christ (3 John 6, 8).

Specifically, John tells Gaius to show hospitality to ‘such people’ (verse 8) referring to those who ‘have gone out for the sake of the Name’ (verse 7, ESV). John’s talking about missionaries. He wants Gaius—and likewise, us, who should imitate what is good (verse 11)—to partner with missionaries by caring for them while they are with us (verse 8) and sending them on their way with the support they need as they continue on their missionary journey (verse 6). In so doing, we are joining with them in the work that they are doing for the truth—the proclamation of God’s Gospel.

For us in Cape Town, which isn’t really a layover stop as missionaries move from one place on to their final destination, we can do this by showing hospitality to our missionaries who have come home for a short while to rest and recuperate, and by supporting through prayer, encouragement, and finances those who have gone out for the sake of the Name to other countries all over the world. Our support for our gospel partners should not be half-hearted but a real labour of love in a ‘manner that honours God’ (verse 7).

Just in case it’s not obvious why we should support missionaries like this, John hints at a number of motivations for us. Firstly, it is a faithful thing to do for our brothers and sisters—even if they are strangers to us they are our family and we should treat them as such (verse 5). Secondly, it flows out of and testifies to our love (verse 6a). This is something we’ve seen is a common thread through 1, 2, and 3 John that marks us as genuine believers. Thirdly, these fellow workers are doing this for the sake (or glory) of God’s Name (verse 7). How could we not want to join in any efforts that bring glory to God! Finally (from this text anyway), missionaries don’t accept any help from the people they are taking the Gospel to (verse 7). This is a principle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 11:7–9. He did not want to charge a fee for his preaching but instead shared this good news for free. But even Paul still depended on the generosity of other churches to support him financially; we should do likewise today.

‘Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.’ (verse 11)

Heavenly Father, thank You for those men and women whom You have called to the global mission field and who have responded eagerly to Your call. Thank You that they are proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ for the glory of Your Name. Thank You that we can partner in them with their mission. Help us to show hospitality to those who are at home with us. Help us to support those who have gone on their way in a manner worthy of You. Amen.

7 November 2018

2 John
Psalm 120

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

Psalm 120:1-2

This psalmist is living in a land far from Jerusalem (verse 5) surrounded by people who hate peace (verse 6) and therefore, most likely, hate God and His people too.

We don’t really live in a country like that. Despite our difficulties and frustrations in South Africa, we are still far better off than many, many others. And as Christians, we should not take for granted the freedoms we have here to worship and proclaim Jesus Christ. May this be a reminder for us to pray for those who don’t have those same privileges and who live under constant threat because of what they believe.

Having said that, we can, and do, encounter people who wish to oppose us—whether it’s because we are a Christian and the message we preach is an offence to them, or because they just don’t like us for whatever reason. It might be a work colleague bad-mouthing you to your other colleagues and your boss with the goal of sabotaging your career, it might be an old friend spreading untrue and hurtful things about you to turn people away from you, or it might be a relative pulling your family apart by how they speak about you with the others. While not nearly on the same level as what Christians face in the Middle East or North Korea, these are real examples of suffering and persecution—and it can hurt.

We must respond in two ways.

Firstly, as we’ve seen in 1 John over the last few days, we must love them and show God’s love to them, even when it hurts. Jesus commands us to ‘love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]’ (Matthew 5:44). Paul instructs us to ‘not repay anyone evil for evil’ and to ‘not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath’ with the goal that we might ‘overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:17, 19, 21).

But sometimes, try as we might, we just aren’t able to win them over with love. So, our other response is to call out to God like this psalmist and to ask Him for deliverance. The Psalms are full of prayers for judgment on God’s enemies (eg. Psalms 58, 69, 109). Our struggles with our colleagues and difficult family members are definitely not on the same scale as the enemies Israel faced or what some other Christians experience, nevertheless, we can trust that God will deal with all the injustice of this world against His people—if not now (which He may do), then certainly at Jesus return.

So, let’s pray for them that they might turn to God before it’s too late. Let’s pray that we will love even those who make life difficult for us. And let’s pray that God will deliver us from our distress and our fellow believers who face much harsher persecution.

6 November 2018

1 John 5
Psalm 119:145-176

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:1-5

Throughout this letter, John lays out three tests for professing Christians to examine themselves as to whether they live out what they claim to be. In this section, all three come together as John connects faith, love, and obedience with the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian.

The logic of these verses goes something like this:
1. A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (verse 1)
2. They have been born of God (verse 1)
3. Christians love God (verse 1&2)
4. And they love other Christians too (verse 1&2)
5. We know that Christians love God when they obey Him (verse 3)
6. This isn’t burdensome for them (verse 3)
7. Because they have overcome the world (verse 4)
8. And they have overcome the world through faith—by believing that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 4&5)

Point #8 takes us back to point #1 in an almost circular fashion. I think that’s John’s point; faith, love, and obedience are so intertwined that they naturally lead into each other and foster the growth of each other. That’s why James can say ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26) or why Paul can say ‘if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:2).

These three things are the marks of a true Christian. So, test yourself…

Do you have faith? Do you believe as we saw yesterday that Jesus Christ has come as a propitiation for our sins? Do you believe that you are a sinner fully deserving of God’s judgment and that there is nothing you can do to rescue yourself—that you are ‘dead in your transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1)? Or do you, like many in our world today, believe that you’re ‘not too bad’—that if God ‘really were loving’, He wouldn’t send a ‘good person’ like you to Hell?

Do you love? Do you ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and do you ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37–38)? Do you love sacrificially till hurts—like God loves us to the point of sending His Son to die for us? Is your love so obvious that it has become magnetic—drawing people in from outside the Church to see what love this is that could unite such a diverse group of people? Or, has your love for God grown cold (Matthew 24:12)? Have you become a lover of yourself, money, and pleasure, rather than a lover of God (2 Timothy 3:1–4)?

Do you obey? Do you keep God’s commands? Do you ‘impress them on your children, talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’ (Deuteronomy 6:7)? Do you find them burdensome or is it a joy to please your Heavenly Father by obeying Him (1 John 3:22)? Can you say as the Psalmist has in our readings over the past few days, I have obeyed your laws, for I love them very much’ (Psalm 119:167 NLT)? Or, have you made God’s grace cheap and insulted the work of Jesus by continuing in your sin saying, ‘[I] go on sinning so that grace may increase’ (Romans 6:1) and ‘[I] sin because [I am] not under the law but under grace’ (Romans 6:15)?

Brothers and sisters, let us show that we have overcome the world by our faith, love, and obedience.

Heavenly Father, I am sorry for when my faith fails, when my love grows cold, and when my obedience falls short of Your commands. Help me in my unbelief to confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. Help me to love You wholeheartedly and to love others even when it hurts. Help me to find joy in obeying You and strengthen me by Your Spirit to do Your will. Amen.