March 9: The Perfect Sacrificial Lamb

Read 1 Peter 1:18-20

For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the times for you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-20)

The perfect Lamb of God journeyed first to the cross, then to the tomb before rising victorious. The precious blood of Christ, given for us, suffered the unimaginable along this journey to the empty cross so you and I would not have to.

“Lamb Of God”, written by Twila Paris

Your only Son no sin to hide
But You have sent Him from Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod
And to become the Lamb of God

Your gift of love they crucified
They laughed and scorned Him as He died
The humble King they named a fraud
And sacrificed the Lamb of God

Oh Lamb of God, Sweet Lamb of God
I love the Holy Lamb of God
Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God

I was so lost I should have died
But You have brought me to Your side
To be led by Your Staff and Rod
And to be call a lamb of God

Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God

Singer Sarah Reeves performed a cover of this song. Follow this link to hear her beautiful rendition.

December 12: The New Jerusalem

Read Revelation 21:1-22:21

How do you envision eternity?  If you are a follower of Jesus, you will spend forever with God.  But what will that be like?  Compared to the alternative, a lake of burning sulfur, any alternative may sound pretty good.  But do you ever fear that it might become boring?  I mean, if people are singing and playing harps 24/7 and if you aren’t particularly musical, it could get old pretty fast.  After all, eternity is a long time!

Perhaps some of your fears of boredom were relieved as you read these final chapters of Revelation.  You see, this “forever experience” is not as mysterious and “otherworldly” as your stereotype may have originally indicated.  You may have been encouraged to read that eternity will include some very familiar elements.

  • There will be a heaven and earth (21:1). If your vision was one of halos, wings, and cloud walking, guess again.  You will dwell on a new earth surrounded by a new heaven.
  • There will be a city with walls, gates, and streets (21:9-21).  Whether you prefer green acres or city life, all of us have to “go to town” once in a while.  This city will be a spectacle of beauty.
  • There will be springs, rivers, and trees (21:6; 22:1, 2).  Eternity is not a cement jungle.  The beauty extends to nature itself.
  • We will eat and drink (21:6; 22:2).  Although I have known a few people in life who see food as a necessary evil, most of us enjoy eating.  Thankfully, food and drink will be part of our “forever experience” as well.
  • We will continue to serve God (22:3).  Eternity is more than music.  There will be endless opportunity for us to serve God.  Some even understand verses like 21:24-26 to indicate that we will continue to uncover the wonders of God and worship Him for them.

These few lines in no way convey all that we will experience in eternity.  It is possible, however, that they alter the stereotype we have.  At a minimum they should heighten our anticipation of what is to come so that we cry out with the apostle John, “Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!”  (Rev. 22:20b)

sbk

December 11: The Throne of Heaven

Read Revelation 4:1-7:17

On Christmas day, we will celebrate One born and placed in a manger.  But the story does not end there.

Who is this One who commands the attention of heaven?  Whose throne is the very centerpiece?  Who is He from Whom glory, grandeur, and majesty emanate like the dazzling reflections of rainbows, precious stones, flashes of lightning, and crystal?  From Whose throne do peals of thunder echo?

Who is He Who captures the attention of twenty-four of heaven’s VIP’s?  Before Whom would these elders fall down to worship?  At Whose throne would they lay their own crowns?

Who is the One surrounded by four living creatures?  The One Who captivates a six-winged lion?  He Who is the focal point of an ox and a man covered with eyes?  Who is this One Who is worthy of the flying eagle’s ceaseless praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”?  (4:8)

Who alone is worthy to take the scroll and open it?  Who is the only One possessing the power to unleash the plagues associated with each of the seals on the scroll?

Who is this One served by 144,000 servants from the twelve tribes of Israel during the Tribulation?

Before Whom do multitudes gather?  Who is it that has redeemed for Himself people from every nation, tribe, people, and language? Who is worthy of white robes and waving palm branches?  To Whom do they cry, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  (7:10)

Whom do the angels serve?  Whose throne do they gather before?  Who is worthy of their words: “Amen!  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.  Amen!”  (7:12)

Of course, the answer is our triune God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!  He alone is worthy.  He alone will capture eternal attention.  Are you allowing Him now to turn your head and become your focal point?

Ready for a blast from the past?  A few decades ago, the band “Petra” put some of the words from Revelation 7 to music.  Click on the link if you want to hear their song “Salvation Belongs to Our God.”

sbk

December 10: The Coming of the Lord

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

I missed a bus once.  I was at college in Cleveland and decided to come home on the Greyhound on a Friday night.  That all went well enough.  It was the return trip that was problematic.  I went to the bus station and sat in the car with Celeste, expecting to hear some kind of major announcement audible to me in the parking lot…an announcement kind of like you hear at the gate at the airport:  “Bus #347 to Cleveland is now boarding.”  Unfortunately, as Celeste and I chatted, a bus…my bus…pulled away.

Believers in the first-century city of Thessalonica were fearful that some of their friends had also “missed the bus.”  Apparently, they were familiar with the promise Jesus had given in the Upper Room before the crucifixion:  “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  They understood that Jesus would one day return to take His followers to be with Him.  In fact, even 2000 years ago, they even viewed that event as imminent.  What messed with their minds, however, was the grievous reality that some from their number had died.  To them it was clear.  Their loved ones had missed the bus.  They would not be taken to be with Christ, right?

Into that context of grief, Paul wrote words of hope in 1 Thessalonians 4.  He assured them (and us) that there was no reason to grieve hopelessly over those who, as followers of Jesus, had passed away.  They would indeed be participants in this event that we now refer to as “the rapture.”  The fact is that their transformed and glorified bodies will be the first to rise, followed by those who are alive at His coming.  Neither those believers who are living nor those who have passed will miss out on His return!

While grief is a natural part of a loved one’s passing, there is joyous, encouraging, and comforting hope in the face of the death of a follower of Christ.  That hope is the anticipation of the resurrection of a whole, healthy, and glorified body at Christ’s return at the rapture.

sbk

December 9: All Scripture is God-Breathed

Read 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8

The Bible.  The Word.  The Holy Scriptures.  The sixty-six books from Genesis to Revelation.  Thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven in the New Testament.  Every book, every chapter, every verse, every word, every iota and every dot found its origin with God.  He placed all of it into the hearts of roughly 40 men.  It came to them in dreams and voices, in angelic encounters and in inexplicable impressions.  God revealed Himself, His love, and His will.

BibleAnd then, He guided these men in recording it.  They wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  On the original written pages/manuscripts/papyri, the words, verses, chapters, books, and testaments were written just the way He would have them worded.  It was as if He Himself had breathed them onto the parchment.  Oh, yes, He allowed the personality of the human authors to shine through, but each was, at the same time, a masterpiece as if penned by Him.  The words were inspired.

For most of us, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are not discernible.  Thankfully, translators have helped.  Among the many translations I have used, I have benefited from the work of those who translated the Scriptures into the “king’s English” (King James Version).  I have appreciated the accuracy of the New American Standard.  I have been blessed by the readability of the New International Version.   For our benefit, the Bible was translated.

God’s purposes, however, were not fully accomplished in the revelation, not in the inspiration, nor in the translation.  God’s ultimately plan for His recorded word is that it may penetrate to the deepest recesses of who we are…to the very division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow.  It is there that it can judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb. 4:12).  There, at the core of our identity, God has planned that His word would teach, rebuke, correct, and train us.  God’s purpose for His word, you see, is life change.  He wants me to be a different person.  He wants you to be equipped to serve Him.  The Bible’s purpose is transformation.

If you read the Bible today, you are on the right track.  Make sure, however, that you allow it to change your thinking and your actions!

sbk

December 8: The Supremacy of Christ

Read Colossians 1:1-23

I took a walk one early spring day among the trees in my backyard woods. The forest was preparing for its budding, its blooming, its flourishing. I heard a woodpecker working his way through a tall dead tree trunk. His bright red head stood out beautifully among the brown woods and the evidence of winter’s end.

I had my camera in my hand, so I tried to capture the contrast. The beauty of creation shone right there in my own backyard. So I snapped the shutter and checked the digital image on the screen. But the fullness of all the beauty in that one single moment could not be captured by the lens of my camera.

To be sure, a better photographer would have done a much better job. Still, no camera or person could truly capture the whole of that beautiful scene, because while photos take images, short from having you join me on that walk through the woods, the true beauty cannot be grasped with a camera.

Our reading today tells us that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God . . . God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (vv 15, 19).

Jesus is better than a camera when it comes to displaying who God really is.

Through Jesus Christ, mankind can see and know God himself. We can see His image and know His Person. Jesus Christ is not just a picture of who God is. He is God. In all of His supremacy, authority, and first-ranking power.

Because of His supremacy, Jesus Christ has the ability and the power, to rescue us from darkness. Because He rules over all, the righteousness that He bestows on those who call Him Savior is the righteousness that brings us peace with God. When He looks, He sees His holy, without blemish, free from accusation people who fear Him (v22).

And Jesus Christ is enough. Jesus Christ is the Son of God in whom dwells every ounce of the sum total of God. He is enough. He is enough to seal our eternity with Him and to give us true hope. Without God, without Jesus Christ His Son, we would not really live.

Does your life display His righteousness? Have you trusted Him for it? He is enough.

brw

December 7: The Jerusalem Council

Read Acts 15

Change comes hard sometimes. Especially when you’re talking about tradition that dates back almost to the beginning of time. This was particularly true for the Church in Acts under the new covenant, which Christ had instituted. The change involved laws that God Himself had appointed through Moses on the mountain called Sinai in Exodus chapter 20.

It was more than tradition these men discussed. Rather, they sought the very hand of God at this council in Jerusalem. They needed to know where His finger was pointing.

This was all new. Everything but the God they worshiped seemed to have a different flavor — the delicacy of God’s grace. They knew that in seeking Him they would find His way because it was His ow institution. His Holy Spirit had included these newbies.

Until this point in time, the children of God had laws that governed every part of any question they could think of concerning worship and living. Laws that told them everything from what to wear to what to do with a diseased person. These laws had set them apart. God’s chosen people. These dictates had led the Jews for hundreds of years.

But now they were at a loss. God had opened a way to include non-Jews, people who had not been born into the laws the Israelites had followed for so long. I mean, these people, these Gentiles, weren’t even circumcised — the main physical delineation between those who were set apart for God and those who were not! And now here they were, included in God’s plan for life and forgiveness, included in God’s family.

What were the elders to do with that?

They sought the counsel of God by holding a council of their own. And God, in His sovereign and almighty wisdom, used His man Peter to clarify.

“(H)e purified their hearts by faith . . . We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (vv 8,9,11).

God made it clear through Peter that neither circumcision nor rule-following has anything at all to do with His saving grace. It is all His doing. The purifying He does and has always done among His children takes place in the heart, not the body.

How many times have we done the same thing — wrestled with the requirements for God’s grace? How silly we are to think that God’s grace is anything but grace!

brw

December 6: The First Missionary Journey

Read Acts 13-14

Not just chosen but set apart by God’s Spirit.

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ (13:2).

Believers had come together in worship, like we do on Sundays and sometimes through the week, and the Holy Spirit was there. Not just there, but working among His people to set apart two men whom He had chosen to take His message to new places, new people.

But Barnabas and Saul were not the only ones chosen to do His work. The church itself had been chosen, too. Chosen to send them to the ends of the earth.

“So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (13:3).

The journey was long. Many miles, many days. It was a journey laid out by God before time began. A venture that eventually led to this writing right here, right now. For you see, Saul’s and Barnabus’  pilgrimage led to the opening of God’s truth the the entire Gentile world. That means you and me. That means here and now.

The impact they had on the people in Pisidian Antioch led to the Jews’ jealous actions against them. It led to the preaching of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to the Gentiles, and eventually to you and to me.

“Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (13:46).

He’d been given two names at birth. Because he had been born both a Jew, and a Roman citizen, Saul had two names — his Jewish name and his Roman name. And during this very first missionary trip, his calling clarified, he began to be known by his Roman name. For it was to Gentiles that he had been called.

“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (13:47).

It amazes me the intricate details with which God plans and executes what He will do. Having prepared Saul from the beginning of time, God gave him audience with men and women who would eventually bring the truth of Jesus Christ to us.

It makes me wonder, Lord who are we that you would care enough to start working Your plan so long ago to make sure we know of your forgiveness, Your life in Jesus’ name?

brw

December 5: Sharing the Word

Read Acts 8:1-40

Serve food…That was all that Philip signed up to do.  That was all the church had elected and commissioned him to do.  It was his ministry to provide oversight to the food ministry to widows in Acts 6.  Though I can’t say for sure what that looked like, it is not hard to imagine a list of names and a knock on a door with roast beef and dinner rolls (or their first-century equivalents) in hand.  I can picture Philip compassionately hugging Lydia who was still grieving, gently raising his voice for Euodia who was hard of hearing, and patiently listening to Tryphena who, in her forgetfulness, told a story that she had already shared with him countless times.  That was his ministry…until it was all turned upside down.

As persecution broke out, it seemed that the church split apart.  Philip was one of many believers who now sought refuge in the surrounding areas.  These areas didn’t have a “Meals on Wheels” ministry, churches, or even followers of Jesus.  But Philip’s former ministry neither defined nor confined him.  Instead of serving meals, he assumed the responsibility and embraced the opportunity to share Christ with others in a bustling Samaritan city and also on a deserted Gazan road.  In fact, when he asked if the eunuch understood the Scripture passage he was reading, the eunuch replied, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” (v. 31)  If Philip looked to his right, left, front, or back, he would not have found a “someone.”  I suppose he could have said, “Wait right here.  I’ll only be gone a couple of hours, but don’t worry, I will bring ‘someone’ back with me.”  Instead, Philip saw himself as the “someone” for that situation!

Every church needs people who are passionate about serving in their niche of ministry.  But every believer is also called to represent Christ wherever he/she is.  Whether you help with child care, teach, lead a student small group, greet or usher on a Sunday morning, you are a spokesperson for Jesus all of the time.  You are the “someone” that God would use to share the story of Christ with others.

sbk

December 4: The First Martyr

Read Acts 6:8-8:8

Although most anyone would be able to deliver food, the early church was very selective when it came to the character of those who helped in that ministry.  Stephen was one of the men chosen.  But his job description of serving meals to widows was vastly different from the miracle working/evangelist/teacher roles that he also played.  He seemed to understand that his meals on wheels ministry was subordinate to the call to make disciples…and so he invested in both!

What is your ministry?  Would you define it as a “support role” less obviously and less directly attached to disciple-making?  Rocking babies?  Counting money?  Caring for facilities?  Setting up the stage?  Serving food?  Those are vitally important!  You can be making a great contribution to the Great Commission even though the connection isn’t as direct.  Meanwhile, don’t excuse your direct involvement.  Pray for your “five.”  Engage in evangelistic relationships and opportunities.  Share biblical truth with those in your world.

Stoning of StephenAs Stephen served faithfully on two fronts, some didn’t like what they heard.  They saw him as a threat to Old Testament Judaism.  He wasn’t the first to experience opposition. Peter and James had made enemies in chapter 4.  But he was the first recorded individual since the ascension of Jesus to be executed for his faith in Christ.

That may sound like a terrible ending…or reason to justify not sharing Christ with others.  It really isn’t.  You see, through the persecution associated with Stephen, two great things happened:

  1. Believers scattered.  This was not a “run for your life and shut your mouth” response.  Those who spread out “went about preaching the word” (8:4).  You see, Stephen’s death caused first-century disciples living in Jerusalem to carry the message beyond the city limits to others who needed to hear.
  2. Saul became a leading persecutor.  He had voted in favor of Stephen’s execution.  In fact the cloaks of the “stoners” were laid as his feet.  And, starting there, Saul became more and more aggressive in trying to silence believers.  While that is not good, Saul’s prominence as a persecutor of Christ would only later make his role as an ambassador for Christ more intriguing.

Engage in the Great Commission…and do not give up if you experience opposition!

sbk