Preaching a message people don’t want to hear
Isaiah 22: Don’t tell me it’s going to be all right. These people are doomed. It’s not all right.
Have you ever been to a hurricane party? The tamer version of it is that, with the storm knocking out all power, people dig into their freezers and have a feast of all the ice cream, etc. that won’t survive the power outage. A few years ago, when we fled a hurricane supposedly aimed for our area we took steaks we’d been saving and had a big cookout as we awaited the bad weather. We might as well enjoy the food; otherwise it’ll be lost when the electricity goes off. I wonder if that’s the thinking in this portion of Isaiah. The nation is in trouble, and no victory has been won, but Isaiah complains about the party atmosphere he sees. Apparently, someone has told him to lighten up, that things will be all right. His response is that things aren’t going to be all right. They live in a doomed nation and everything’s about to fall apart. Sometimes our message to our society isn’t the message it wants to hear. Sometimes, it isn’t going to be all right. In fact, when we look at things from the largest point of view we know that the world isn’t going to just go on and on as it is. A day’s coming with everything we know is going to melt away. While we can’t just live there, in doom and gloom, we Christians need to take a good look at the people around us. Outside of Christ, to use Isaiah’s words, “these people are doomed.” Ours is a message of hope, but it’s also the only hope of a world that’s doomed.
Take Away: Our message is one of hope, but we need to remember it’s the only hope of an otherwise doomed humanity.
Believing against the evidence in the justice of God
Job 24: If Judgment Day isn’t hidden from the Almighty, why are we kept in the dark?
One topic that surfaces often in the book of Job is that of “inequity.” Job considers how often it is that the innocent suffer while the wicked get away with their evil. Still, Job’s sure of this: God knows what’s going on. Job doesn’t understand why it is that God doesn’t immediately make things right (he says “God does nothing, acts like nothing’s wrong”) yet he believes God is a God of justice and that sooner or later the Lord will act. This is a huge statement of faith for a man who’s experiencing his own “fate worse than death.” Even though the wicked appear to get away with it all Job says that “God has his eye on them.” Even as Job suffers his own personal torment, he still trusts that, in the end, God will make things right. This is a powerful understanding of the nature of God.
Take Away: We may not understand the here and how but we can understand that, ultimately, the Lord will make all things right.
Revelation 20: I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there – before the Throne!
The events described are challenging to say the least. There’s a 1000 years of peace on earth as the old dragon is bound in the pit. Is it a literal thousand years? Is the peace total or just the general condition of the earth? At the end, it seems there’s a good chance that the story of the human race is about to start all over again as the dragon is released and goes to work. But it’s not to be. Time is up. The dead are called forth and Judgment Day has finally come. Two books; one detailing the deeds of each life and the other listing those who’ve given themselves to the Lamb are the witnesses. The separating of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares takes place. It’s the end. It’s the beginning. Everything that’s happened has been the prelude to eternity. As is plain to anyone reading my devotionals on Revelation I really don’t have a clue. I’m lost as to both timeline and actual events. However, even someone as clueless as I am can have a handle on this final event. I’m going to stand before God. My life is going to be an “open book.” At that point, my only hope will be that second book, the Book of Life. If I’ve given my heart to Jesus and lived for him, it’s that book that’s my hope: my hope of life. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
Revelation 11: Get up and measure God’s Temple and Altar and everyone worshiping in it.
This chapter of John’s Revelation might be considered to be the first conclusion of the book. We’re now at the sounding of the final trumpet and once it sounds Judgment Day has arrived as time comes to an end. However, John has much more to see as the description of specific events will be expanded. Before that final trumpet sounds John’s given the same task Daniel was given many years earlier. He’s to measure the “Temple and Altar and everyone worshiping” there. One understanding of this that works for me is that this is a measurement of God’s Church in preparation for judgment. Everything’s about to wrap up and the time Jesus referred to as a dividing of sheep and goats is about to begin. Now John’s given the task of seeing how the Church, represented by the Temple and Altar in the vision, measures up. As John prepares to go to work he’s told to ignore those in the outside court. They may be hanging around the Temple and appear to belong. However, they aren’t part of the worshiping body. I’m not claiming to have figured things out here but there’s a lot of truth in that interpretation. At some point the Church will be measured and people will give an account of themselves to the Judge of the world. Just hanging around the fringes won’t cut it. Those who are faithful, serving the Lord, worshiping him in both good days and bad, though, have nothing to fear even in the fearful days described in this passage.
Take Away: Oh I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.
Why it’s taking so long for Jesus to come back
2Peter 3: So what’s happened to the promise of his Coming?
The Apostle tells his readers that as the time for the return of Christ gets closer that people will be more outspoken in their doubt that it will happen. One of their reasons for doubting is that it’s been so long since the promise was made. Common sense, they think, dictates abandoning belief. People will think, “Nothing like that has ever happened since the beginning of time, now so long after the promise, things have continued as they have always been. It’s time to move on and forget about the promise.” Peter gives a three point response to that kind of thinking. First, there’s precedence for God stepping in and changing everything. After all, for eons the universe existed without this planet. Then, God stepped in, bringing about the creation of this very world. Later on, in Noah’s day, God changed everything again by bringing to pass a great flood. Here are two prime examples of God intervening in Creation to do a new thing. Second, time matters a lot more to us than it does to the Eternal One. A thousand years is a lot of time for humanity, but it’s a blink of the eye for the Ancient of Days. Third, God has reason to wait. That reason is that he wants to give more generations opportunity to be redeemed. The Lord wants to save people; all the people he can save. Therefore, he’s patient, taking all the time necessary to get as many in as he can. The Day of Judgment is definitely coming. Jesus will return and that will set the whole End of Time in motion. Meanwhile, we wait with the understanding that God knows exactly what he’s doing and at just the right time Jesus will come back. My job is to get ready, to stay ready, and to help all who will to prepare for that certain upheaval of history.
Take Away: No doubt about it, Jesus is coming back.
John 19: He sat down at the judgment seat.
Pilate doesn’t want to crucify Jesus. In fact, he wants nothing to do with him. His brief encounter with Jesus has been disturbing and dissatisfying. He senses that this isn’t just another internal squabble among the Jews. Something more is going on here. The accused man has self-confidence and something even more that Pilate can’t quite put his finger on. This business of his being “King of the Jews” somehow resonates. The Jews are using this to force his hand. After all, no Roman governor wants it reported to Caesar that he tolerates locals claiming to be kings. Finally he has Jesus brought to Gabbatha, and takes his place on the seat of judgment. He wants to get this distasteful business over with and to get on with his morning’s responsibilities. Pilate sits on the judgment seat and Jesus stands before him. He condemns Jesus to death. It’s the world turned upside down and it’s a situation that will be rectified on Judgment Day. On that day it will be King Jesus sitting on the judgment seat and it will be Pilate who will stand before him. No doubt, his part in the injustice of this distant day will be very much in play at that time. Of course, this scene doesn’t only concern Pilate. I too will have my turn at Gabbatha. My only hope is to right now make the Judge also my Savior.
Take Away: Now is the time to prepare for my Day of Judgment.
There’s a great day coming
Zechariah 12: I’ll pour a spirit of grace and prayer over them.
The prophet with a name similar to Zechariah is best known for his “Judgment Day” sermons. Zephaniah’s three chapters focus on that topic. Now Zechariah turns his prophetic gaze to “that day” (which is paraphrased in the Message “the Big Day”). Jerusalem, that city of peace, is going to be ground zero for a battle to end all battles. When it appears there’s no hope, God will take over its defense. He’ll not only destroy the attackers, but he’ll move on the hearts of his people, pouring a “spirit of grace and prayer” over them. In a moment of clarity, they’ll realize their Messiah came centuries earlier. They’ll weep as they realize that they rejected him. They’ll mourn as they remember how his life was taken, a spear thrust to the side being the final act of violence done to his body. This national act of repentance will result in God’s “washing away their sins.” As history winds down Israel will be restored as God’s chosen people. We Christians, according to the New Testament, have a place in all this. Paul says we’re like a branch from a wild olive tree that is grafted into the cultured one that has been lovingly cared for by the husbandman. Because of that, I have a stake in this promise and like Zechariah and Zephaniah I anticipate “the Big Day” promised in this passage.
Take Away: There’s a Great Day coming, a Great Day coming by and bye.
Amos 8: They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone, hoping to hear God’s Word.
God warns that a famine is coming to the nation of Israel. This time, it won’t be a famine of food or water, but a famine of God’s Word. Now, Amos isn’t talking about a lack of leather bound Bibles. He’s talking about a time when God, Himself, goes silent. When that happens, the prophet says, people will roam the land seeking a message from the Lord. Amos ties this to the Judgment, a time when the God who has been available to them, reaching out to them, calling them to return withdraws the invitation. Many have abused the prophets, even murdering them in an attempt to silence their voices. Now, one of those prophets warns that they’re going to get their wish and that they won’t like it when they do. I’m reminded today that there’s a measure of God-hunger in every human being. There are times when people long for the touch of God on their lives. In their ignorance, they’ll substitute something else but whatever it is will fail to satisfy. Realistically, why settle for a poor substitute when the Real Thing is available? Happily, we aren’t living in the day Amos describes. Right this moment God is speaking, reaching out to all who’ll come. This isn’t an invitation to join a church. Rather, it’s an invitation to respond to the call of God to fellowship with him.
Take Away: Right this moment the Lord is speaking, reaching out to all who’ll come.