God’s Loving Kindness

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever, Amen”

Revelation 7:12

What would provoke angels, elders and the four living creatures standing around the throne of God to worship the Lord with these words? In the previous chapter we read that a quarter of the world’s population had been killed by war and famine. The world will be in unimaginable upheaval. Much worse will follow as four angels stand ready to reap destruction on those still living (7:1). Our Creator is a righteous judge and will judge all sin and unrighteousness but because of what the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross on our behalf He is able to show mercy and save anyone who will call upon His name.

Another angel seals 144,000 Jews who, in the likeness of the apostle Paul, will preach the Gospel throughout the world. A number beyond counting will put their trust in Jesus and many will be murdered for that faith. John sees them before God’s throne in white robes washed in Christ’s blood (vv 9-14). God Himself will dwell with them (v 15) so it isn’t surprising that there will be no more tears (v 17). At present, we who believe have the privilege and responsibility of sharing the Gospel.

In the midst of God pouring out righteous judgment on a rebellious and unbelieving world He shows His abundant mercy by sending messengers throughout the world with the Good News. In spite of the very real threat and likelihood of being murdered, multitudes choose to believe.

When times of trouble come there are many who will reach out to the Lord provided they are warned and informed of God’s available mercy and forgiveness. In the midst of wrath God remains abundantly merciful and will forgive anyone who comes to Him. Jesus is the Lamb who took away the sin of the world and through whom salvation is offered as a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23). “It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). God’s loving kindness toward people is revealed again in this: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). There is no sin, and no sinner, so great that Jesus’ death and shed blood cannot forgive and take away. Even in judgment God remembers mercy. Such is the loving kindness of our God.

Such a Time as This

“Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this”

Esther 4:14

None of us had a choice in the timing or location of our entrance into this world. We didn’t choose our parents, siblings, ethnicity, country, body shape, eye colour or natural talents. We weren’t consulted about any of these and many other things. The same was true for Esther yet she found herself in a position to affect the future of a dispersed nation. Her cousin, Mordecai, was also in such a position and he took it by the horns. His life was under threat already and he asked Esther to place her own life in jeopardy as well. He reminded her that if she did nothing she would die anyway and she would lose the opportunity to have this vital role in her people’s future.

You and I are here in this world where we are and in this time not of our choosing but, like Esther, God has prepared and placed us for such a time as this. The question we face is the same as that which Esther faced. Will we take the opportunity God has given us and use it to preserve His people and to save others?

To the faithful church in Philadelphia Jesus said, “I know your works. See I have set before you and open door, and no one will shut it; for you have a little strength, kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). The circumstances in which we find ourselves are, for those who are faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, an open door for ministry to others who belong to Christ and for sharing the Gospel of Christ with others. Yes, there is the possibility of an undesirable reaction from some. Esther put her earthly life on the line. Let us remember that Jesus didn’t just put His life on the line for us, He gave His life as a ransom for us. We know the outcome for Esther and Mordecai but when they were making their choices they didn’t know what they might suffer or what the outcome would be. That is where we are too but “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We are here in this world, placed where we are with the preparation the Lord has given us, with an open door before us. All that remains is for us to choose whether we will serve Him or not. James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is will be seen in how we minister to one another and reach out to others in such a time as this.

Lost Love Restored

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love”

Revelation 2:4

There have been changes and there will be more changes in the way Christians express their worship of the Lord during the present difficult times. It will be a time of testing as to whether we truly worship the Lord or merely have a weekly habit that makes us feel we have worshipped the Lord. It is the right time for us to check ourselves and ensure that our activities, practices and habits have not replaced genuine love and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians in the church at Ephesus had been actively doing the right things and the Lord acknowledges that in verses two and three. They worked hard and persevered in ministry to one another. They endured mocking and criticism from unbelievers. As in all ages there are those who claim to represent God but do so falsely. These they tested against Scripture and found them wanting and rejected their teaching. All that they did they did for the sake of Jesus Christ. However, in the midst of all this good activity they neglected the most important thing.

That which was neglected is the same as that which is often neglected in many marriages that sometimes end in break up. The Christians at Ephesus had neglected their relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus exposes their neglect with these words, “You have left your first love.”

Fortunately for them and for us He gives the remedy: remember and repent. Remember how you responded to Christ’s love and forgiveness and the gratitude you experienced. Remember that Jesus died and shed His own blood for your sin. Go back to that which began your relationship and reengage with Him in personal communion.

In such a time as this let us follow Jesus’ counsel to the church at Ephesus and ensure that we maintain our intimate relationship with Him. Is our first love our form of worship or is the object of worship our first love? Activities of serving and ministering to others will flow out of that relationship but they must never be allowed to be a substitute for it. Activity is no substitute for a relationship with Jesus. We live in testing times, a problem for the world but an opportunity for believers. For the sake of those who will respond to the Gospel of Christ we must be ready and willing to share it with them with a compassionate heart in love and truth.

Setting Affections

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him…”

1 John 2:15

The world in this verse means that which excludes God and love for the world is that which entices and captivates our affections. In the next verse John explains what that is.

The “lust of the flesh” is appetites of the body or sensual gratification. James writes, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). Those who persist in this way may find Romans 1:26 applicable, “God gave them up to vile passions.” “Lust of the flesh” may be in the form of pursuing physical pleasures, emotional comfort and freedom from the sexual restraint of one man and one woman in marriage. All these appetites have the ability to gain power and control over the one who feeds them. They are addictive.

The “lust of the eyes” is the appetite of the mind expressed in covetousness. We want something that belongs to another. It explains why we may be desperate to have something but, once we have it, we quickly lose interest

The “pride of life” is the appetite of the human spirit seeking self-sovereignty. This was the lie Satan fed Adam and Eve, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Pride declares I am my own god. Self-esteem manufactured by trying to apply my own value will not satisfy. Self-esteem rightly applied means I realize the value that God places on me as revealed in such places as John 3:16 and Romans 5:8. Essentially, the “pride of life” is the deification of man. It is a futile attempt to deny God’s existence or sovereignty and our accountability to Him. By this we feel free to do whatever we wish.

In verse seventeen John gives us the reason for not loving this world: “the world is passing away, and the lust of it.” That surely speaks to the futility of pursuing things of this world. Those who love it will continue to lust for it in eternity but it will have gone forever. What a torment that would be for them!

On the other hand, “he who does the will of God abides forever.” No person with any wisdom invests in something he knows will be destroyed without a return on the investment. The wise investor invests in that which will keep on giving a return for that investment. John wrote this letter so that our joy might be complete (1:4). If we set our affections on Jesus Christ that joy will be fulfilled.

Feed My Sheep

“He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; you know that I love You.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’”

John 21:17

Each time Peter affirmed that he loved Jesus he received a similar response; “Feed My lambs;” “Tend My sheep;” and “Feed My sheep.” One who has a genuine love for Jesus will have a genuine love for the objects of His special love – other believers.

Jesus commands Christians to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:11) but we may lose sight of what that means. Jesus gave an illustration to His disciples recorded in John 13 when He washed the disciples’ feet. Peter got the point as we can read in Acts and Peter’s letters where he writes, “Above all things have fervent love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8) and then goes on to reveal that fervent love is expressed by exercising the spiritual gifts given to us (1 Peter 4:9-11). If we love Jesus we will love His people expressed by serving His people.

“Feed My lambs” means that we will have a special concern and care for those who cannot care for themselves, especially new believers. That means we will go out of our way to disciple and mentor them.

“Tend My sheep” means to shepherd His people. We can all be  shepherds who look to the needs of others (Philippians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:2). This will include providing what they need, guarding them against the enemy, warning, encouragement and comfort (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

“Feed My sheep” means that we nourish other Christians with the Bread of Life – God’s word developed in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We will teach God’s word to others. In all of these we note that the lambs and sheep are His and we are under delegated authority to engage in activities that express His sacrificial love for His flock. We may differ in the expression of these depending on opportunity and gifting but we cannot affirm we love Jesus if we are not so engaged. Singing songs of love to Jesus is hypocritical if we are not serving His people out of genuine love (John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). To love other Christians with God’s kind of love (1 John 3:16) is to serve one another without condition or expectation of anything in return.

Living by Faith

“The just shall live by faith”

Romans 1:17

The “just” or “justified” are those who have been tried and found to be without guilt. Paul writing to the Romans, quoting from the book of Habakkuk, is speaking of people who have nothing to answer having been found to be righteous before God. Paul goes on to explain how this is possible and that makes this an important letter.

Since everyone sins and falls short of God’s righteous standard (3:23) how can a person attain His righteous standard both in being and behaviour? Fortunately Paul leaves us in no doubt for he goes on to write, “being justified freely by His grace (i.e. a gift) through redemption (i.e. purchased) that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation (turning away of God’s wrath) by His blood through faith” (Romans 3:24). This verse, in its context, explains how a person who is guilty before God may be declared justified or righteous. A key example is given in the next chapter. Quoting from Genesis 15:6 Paul writes, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” So we see that being one who is justified is one who has received atonement through Jesus Christ’s shed blood. It is a gift in response to believing God’s Word.

“The just shall live by faith” tells us that those who have been justified by faith will continue to live by faith. That is, we will continue to believe what God has said and live in the light of His word. It means our thoughts, words and behaviour will change to match the revelation of God in Christ. This is only possible when Christ is alive in us. This is not possible for one who has not received justification through Jesus Christ. Not living by faith may be an indication that a person has never exercised faith in Christ and thereby received the gift of God’s kind of righteousness. Seeking one’s own righteousness to gain God’s favour is a futile exercise because it denies Christ’s sacrifice in our place. We can only live by faith in this moment. Yesterday has gone and tomorrow is not guaranteed. James warns us not to boast of tomorrow because we “do not know what will happen tomorrow” (James 4:14). Living by faith is what we do now, at this very moment, not later. Also, we can only live by faith in this life. When we leave this earthly life we will see Him face to face and will no longer live by faith. Let us make the most of the opportunity.

Please Take a Seat

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”

Hebrews 11:6

Multitudes of people seek ways they may please God. Religions have been established on this desire. Their adherents are trapped and held captive in futile hopes of pleasing a god or gods so that this life, or the life hereafter, is made more comfortable and pleasant.

Faith always requires an object and, when the object is deemed worthy of that faith, appropriate action will follow (James 2:20). Hebrews chapter eleven reminds us of many people who have acted out of faith in God.

No one is able to have or exercise faith in God unless they first believe He exists and it is naive to expect anyone to place their faith in Jesus Christ without first evaluating the evidence. No one sits on a chair without giving it at least a cursory evaluation so we shouldn’t expect someone to trust their eternal soul to Jesus without an evaluation of whether He is worthy of that trust. This is one of the benefits the Bible brings but there are other witnesses. We who have already trusted Christ are living witnesses of, and evidence for, the ability and worthiness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He has made us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new and living way of life (Hebrews 10:20) by which we are able to commune with God. We are witnesses that Jesus Christ is worthy and faithful. It is our day by day living faith in Him that pleases Him and witnesses of Him. Service follows faith and is our response to receiving eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 6:23). Faith in Jesus Christ pleases God because:

  1. It recognises who Jesus is
  2. It recognises what Jesus has done for us on Calvary’s cross
  3. It recognises that we are sinners in need of a Saviour
  4. It is acceptance of God’s remedy for our sin
  5. It is the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. They distrusted God whereas faith is trust in God

It is as simple to please God as it is to sit in a chair yet many make it a hopeless and useless burden. Paul writes, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a matter of will. Will you believe?

Healing the Spiritually Deaf

“The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night”

1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10

Thieves do not forewarn their intended victims because they know that if they do they can expect a reception that would prevent their objective. In the unlikely circumstance they did warn the intended victim and the warning went unheeded they might still be successful.

The Day of the Lord – Jesus’ Second Coming – is presented in the Bible as coming like a thief. That is, His coming will not be expected by mankind. It will be a surprise to most, but not all. Paul writes, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). At this point I believe Paul is directly addressing believing Jews in the Tribulation period that culminates in Jesus Christ’s return but it certainly has application to believers today.

Unlike an earthly thief, the Lord has given clues in the Bible as to the timing of His coming (e.g. Matthew 24:32-35). No exact time is given or even suggested but conditions in the world at that time are described and, while some have always been observed the confluence and intensity of all descriptions can be observed now.

Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:15) and Peter (2 Peter 3:11f) believed Christ’s coming could have been in their lifetime so how much more us today? Peter goes on to say that this prospect should affect our daily lives as we “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This will affect how we live.

Jesus (Matthew 24:43), Paul and Peter all attest that Jesus’ Second Coming will be unexpected by the general population but a few will be prepared (cf. Matthew 25:1-13). The difference is that some hear the warning and believe it. The problem in the world is that we have not heeded the Father’s admonition in Matthew 17:5, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” This is also a problem for the church as Jesus tells us in each of His letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 2 & 3, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We don’t hear God speaking because we are not listening. We are not listening because we do not believe God has spoken. Only Jesus can cause the spiritually deaf to hear (Mark 7:31-37). Come to Him!

Evidenced Based Faith

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”

Hebrews 11:1

Christians have been accused of “blind faith” but we have the testimony of God and hundreds of witnesses in the Bible, the witness of many more in church history as well as many alive today. Louis Pasteur (1822-1875) scientifically demonstrated that life only comes from life and cannot be generated spontaneously. Yet, in spite of the evidence many still believe it must have happened.

“It is a curious fact that the same scientists who believe that life cannot now come from non-life also believe that life did develop from non-life several billion years ago. What is impossible to happen today was possible in the past. These scientists realize the inconsistency of their position, but they believe that past conditions then were radically different than they are today. The problem with holding this view is that no evidence exists that conditions in the early earth were radically different from today’s conditions. It is merely an assumption that is not supported by any evidence. Yet most scientists and most introductory science texts present the existence of such a primeval soup and primeval atmosphere as an established fact.”

Don Stewart , “Can Life Come from Non-Life?” https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_611.cfm

Christians believe God’s word and the evidence, that life comes from God; but the evolutionist believes in a much greater miracle, that life came from non-life. The scientific evidence is in accord with the Christian biblical view but contrary to the evolutionists’ view.

Jesus said, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26). Jesus said that He is the source of life and gives life (John 6:33). Those who come to Him will receive life (John 5:40). Life comes from life.

When a person examines the evidence that God has revealed in the Bible, in the creation (science that is testable, not based on assumptions or theory) and in the human heart it will point them to God as the source of life. Evolution requires “blind faith” because it is contrary to true science. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) so let us place our faith in that which is supported by faithful witness and testable evidence.

To Be With Jesus

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”

1 Timothy 2:3-4

The Bible teaches that God is not willing that any should miss His gift of salvation (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Hence we read in several places that Christ died for all (e.g. John 1:29; Romans 5:6, 8; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). Since God created us in His image we have the ability to choose how we respond to God’s invitation and He will not override that choice or we would be no more than robots. Out of love for mankind God sent His Son to deliver us from sin and death by dying in our place. Now that the price is paid God invites all who want to, to come to Jesus and receive eternal life in Him as a free gift (John 1:12; Romans 6:23).

Sadly, most will go to anyone or anything except Jesus; but Paul writes that there is only one Mediator between God and man and that is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). The reason He is the only Mediator is that He alone died for our sin and is therefore the only one qualified to forgive sin (Romans 5:8; c.f. John 14:6; Revelation 5:1-7). There are some who want a heaven without Jesus but that is impossible. Heaven is being with Jesus. Anything else is hell. If you don’t desire to be with Jesus then it may be that you have a false or futile hope of heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for the saved and it is with Him (John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 5:8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:10).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes that he was appointed to preach Christ primarily to Gentile unbelievers but also to unbelieving Israel (1 Timothy 2:7).  That mission has also been given to the church, a living body composed of all individuals who have received Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Gift of God, which is Jesus (John 3:16), is offered to all people because Christ died for all people. But God will not usurp a person’s own will. He invites, He provokes, He persuades but He does not force anyone. Only those who will of free will receive God’s Gift and appropriate Him will benefit. Many years ago I was conscripted into the army but there will be no conscripts in heaven. Everyone in heaven will be there because they believed God’s offer, wanted to be with Jesus, accepted His invitation and received His Gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:17).