Day 297: The balm of Truth

Psalms 1-22 Thessalonians 1-2

Soon after Paul sent his first letter to the Thessalonians, he must have received a disturbing report back from the church, because he penned 2nd Thessalonians just after 1st Thessalonians.

This letter addressed three specific issues:

  1. God’s purposes for allowing persecution and suffering (Chapter 1),
  2. Detailed teaching regarding Jesus’ second coming (Chapter 2), and
  3. Exhortations against laziness and presuming upon wealthy Christians (Chapter 3).

We learn in the beginning of Chapter 2 that the Thessalonians (wrongly) believed that the day of the Lord had already come…that somehow they had missed Jesus’ second coming!

Paul allotted most of his teaching to this one topic. The Thessalonians were alarmed because they believed false teaching. Paul calmed their hearts and minds with TRUTH!

Note: For a more detailed discussion of the implications of Paul’s teaching on Jesus’ second coming, this sermon by John Piper is an excellent resource!

Paul also addressed the young church’s afflictions in the wake of relentless persecution. Paul writes,

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1:4-7).

Paul teaches that God doesn’t just allow suffering, he ordains it. It is his righteous judgment (1:5) in the context of this fallen world. In other words, because of our struggle with sin, God’s purposes for suffering are loving and good!

Paul lists three good purposes for suffering in these verses… First, suffering helps to refine (not punish) the unholy believer so that he is fit for the holy kingdom of God (1:5). Second, God will repay those who sin against believers. He will execute perfect justice (1:6). And third, we will be comforted when Jesus comes again to defeat Satan and evil and to usher us into His final rest (1:7-8).

Paul wrote these truths to calm and comfort the young Thessalonian church. Likewise, these truths should comfort our souls. They should burrow their way down into our hearts and serve as a spring to water our parched lives. These truths should be our delight!

Blessed is the man […]
[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:1-3).

Day 278: The “Who” outshines the “why”

Job 4-7

The first of Job’s three friends speaks in Job 4-5. It would have been much better if all three of them would have just kept silent (as they did in Job 2)!

Eliphaz clearly believes in God and understands glimpses of God’s character. I’m sure he means well, but his words are filled with false assumptions and presumptuous claims. But most damaging, he places his own observations and dreams above the truth of God’s word.

For example, in Job 4:7-11, Eliphaz makes sweeping generalizations when he says that the innocent never suffer – only the evil are destroyed. Later he presumes that God is “disciplining” Job (5:17-18) and promises that God will restore all of Job’s blessings if Job learns from the Lord’s reproof. Eliphaz even goes so far as to suggest that Job is a “fool” (5:2-6)!

Poor Job. He has lost everything, and now he must deal with disappointment in his friends (Job 6:14-21).

But the hardest thing that Job has lost is his belief that God loves him.

The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me (Job 6:4, NIV).

Ironically, it is because of God’s great love for Job that God has entrusted him with this trial! Satan suggested that Job’s love for God was really just love for his blessings – not for God, Himself. So God has entrusted his beloved Job to stand firm in this test to prove to Satan that God, alone, is worthy of our love.

And Job’s only comfort through this trial is that he has not “denied the Holy One” (Job 6:10).

So even though Job has sunk into complete despair and is devoid of all hope, he is standing firm in his faith in God. Satan has not won!

But here’s where I relate to Job the most… Job magnifies his pain because he seeks to know the “why” behind the suffering. How many of us have echoed Job’s question to God in the midst of suffering?? “Why me, Oh Lord??!!”

Why have you made me your target? (Job 7:21)

In Frances Bennett’s bible study on Job, (Job, Lessons in Comfort; CEP, 2009), she asserts that we must not seek after the “why” of suffering but the “Who.” She writes, “God teaches from Genesis to Revelation that all we really need to know is Who.”

Job has temporarily misunderstood God. He has assumed that God doesn’t love and care about him. This false belief has led him into hopeless despair. He needs to remember Who God is – and then the why of suffering will fade in the splendor of God’s character!

*Anything I’ve written about these chapters in Job, I have learned from Frances Bennett’s excellent teaching in her bible study on Job. I highly recommend her to you: Job, Lessons in Comfort.

Day 277: God of all Comfort

Job 1-3; Galatians 6

For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water (Job 3:24).

This, friends, is grief. Job has lost everything.

When he lost his possessions and children, he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

When he lost his health, he said, “Shall we receive good from God and not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).

But now, after time has settled in, and the reality of his loss becomes heavier, Job curses the day he was born (Job 3:3).

This was it. This was all he could bear. And Satan waited – and watched – and hoped that he had taken away the thing Job cherished more than God.*

But that was impossible, because Job loved God above all else. And because of Job’s love for God, the thought that God, Himself, might have forsaken him… well this was Job’s hardest trial.

For Job didn’t suffer because of his sin. And Job didn’t suffer because of someone else’s sin. He suffered to prove his loyalty to God.

How do we reconcile God’s goodness with the heavenly conversations recorded in Job 1 & 2? How does Job wrestle with these same doubts? This is the crux of Job.

But sprinkled through Job’s test of faith in God’s goodness are lessons in comfort. The word “comfort” finds its roots in the Latin words meaning “with strength.” So we must not mistake comfort for removing the pain. Sometimes the best comfort comes from finding truth in the midst of the pain. For instance, God knew Job’s limits. And he refused to let Satan overstep those limits. This is a comforting truth. Job’s friends come and sit in comforting silence (Job 2:11-13). Even Job offers comfort to his wife, in the form of a gentle rebuke (Job 2:9-10). But ultimately, it is Job’s hope in God that provides him the most comfort (Job 3:23).

Paul, in his final words to the Galatians, gives specific ways to comfort those around us who are suffering…

restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

Do you see God’s comfort in the pages of Job? I do. I am comforted that God limited Job’s afflictions. I am comforted that God gave room for Job to grieve. I am comforted that all suffering doesn’t come from sin – but that my response in the midst of it could thwart the plans of Satan and bring glory to God! I’m comforted that God had a purpose for Job’s suffering that transcended Job’s lifetime and ripples into our hearts today. I’m comforted by God’s sovereignty, his authority over evil, and yes, His goodness. For even in the midst of suffering, God is still good.

*Job, Lessons in Comfort, by Frances Poston Bennett, pg 24

Day 235: God’s desire for a People

Isaiah 16-18; Romans 15:14-33

Isaiah continues his oracles for the nations in today’s reading. And Isaiah broadens his message to include the whole world in Chapter 18…

All you inhabitants of the world,
you who dwell on the earth,
when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
When a trumpet is blown, hear! (Isaiah 18:3)

In other words, pay attention to the works of the Lord! He holds the nations in his hands. No ruler or authority will ever be more powerful than the God of Israel!

Isaiah not only reveals God’s absolute power and sovereignty in these chapters, but also God’s compassion. From the oracle concerning Moab…

And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field,
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
no cheers are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
I have put an end to the shouting.
Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.
(Isaiah 16:10-11)

Even though God brought judgment on the proud nation of Moab, it grieved Him to watch the people of Moab – people created in His image – turn away from Him and choose lesser gods.

God not only wants good for us, He knows what is good for us! And it grieves Him to see us choose lesser gods.

Paul finds his purpose in the compassionate heart of God…”to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16).

Paul understood God’s great desire has always been to have a people. Paul could look back through history and see that everything God has ever done, and everything that He will ever do… will be for the purpose of gathering a people for himself.

And God wants you to be a part of His people!! He knows what is good for you, so do not grieve the heart of God. Rather, trust in His goodness – his strong-arm to save and His grace to change you. Turn to Him in repentance and faith and rest in the compassionate heart of God.

Day 234: God’s plan for the nations

Isaiah 13-15; Romans 15:1-13

In Isaiah, we begin the oracles against the nations. These type of judgment oracles are typical of the prophecy genre. They show that God is sovereign, not just over Israel, but over the Gentile nations as well.

In Romans, Paul stresses again that God’s plan for salvation has always included the Gentiles.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy (Romans 15:8).

That’s a mouthful, but oh, the riches contained in that verse!! Christ’s life, death and resurrection proved that God’s word was true. Every Old Testament promise was fulfilled in Christ. And because of Jesus, the way has been opened for all to receive his mercy and enter the Kingdom of God!!

Isaiah’s judgment oracles should remind us to run away from God’s judgment by running into His kindness… Let the truth of the gospel sink into your heart and cause you to wonder at the awesome power and goodness of our God!!

Day 211: Israel’s political disparity

1 Chronicles 25-27; Acts 24

The political contrast between Israel in the Old and New Testaments is wide.

David would always be the “standard” for Israelite kings. Today we read of all the people he organized for temple service, as well as the thousands he commanded who served in the nation’s military. Israel was a major world power. David extended Israel’s borders and had significant political weight in the world.

Jesus was born into a very different Israel. It was no longer a sovereign nation, but was ruled by Rome. Rome instituted its own governors and officials throughout all of Israel. Even though the Jews maintained the Sanhedrin, their own religious ruling council, they had no true governmental control.

The Jews had been waiting for a “Messiah” to come and re-establish Israel as a major world power. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as Messiah by most of the Jewish council was that he wasn’t a political figure. They couldn’t accept the radically different notion that Jesus came to establish a heavenly or spiritual Kingdom on earth.

Consequently, the Jewish Sanhedrin was very much against the new sect of Jews who believed Jesus to be their Messiah. First, they didn’t want this new sect stealing even an ounce of their limited power and influence. And secondly, I imagine the thought of a Messiah having come and not returning sovereign rule to Israel – was… well – a very bitter pill to swallow.

So, in today’s reading – we see Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix organized a trial, and the Jewish council sent a delegation from Jerusalem to testify against Paul.

The entire conflict between the Jews and Paul could be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Paul, himself, admitted this to Felix when he said…

It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day (Acts 23:21).

The resurrection of Jesus was just as world-changing – just as life-altering back then as it is today. If Jesus’ resurrection was FACT, then his claims to deity were true, and the Jewish Sanhedrin would be forced to accept that they killed the Messiah. And if Jesus was really the Messiah, all of their hopes and aspirations for a Sovereign Israel would be lost. There was just too much to lose. It was much easier for the Sanhedrin to turn a blind eye to the facts, than to admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Their lust for power was so strong that they were willing to do anything to silence Paul. Even break their own law (and Roman law) to conspire to kill him.

But God used Felix, the corrupt Roman governor, to protect Paul from ambush and death. Indifferent to Paul’s innocence, Felix kept Paul imprisoned, albeit comfortably, for two years. What better way to protect Paul from the rage of the Jewish Sanhedrin than to keep him locked up in a Roman prison!!! What men intended for evil, God worked out for good!

Day 191: Working for our good

Ezekiel 26-28; Acts 12

In Ezekiel, we are right in the middle of the oracles of judgment against the nations. Most prophetic books contain prophecies concerning nations other than Israel and Judah. This shows that God is not just sovereign over the affairs of Israel, but over the whole earth!

God’s sovereignty and power are on full display in Acts 12 as we read of Peter’s miraculous rescue from prison. Peter was put in prison after the apostle James was killed by Herod.

In Acts, James’ death comprises one sentence. But think of the implications. James was the brother of John, the gospel writer and close companion of Jesus. I imagine how sad John must have been as well as the other members of the early church.

Human logic tells us that the church would have shrunk under such severe persecution. But God is not ruled by human logic…

But the word of God increased and multiplied (Acts 12:24).

What man intended for harm, God used for good.

Even today’s passage in Ezekiel ends with an encouraging message. For right in the middle of the foreign nation oracles, God reminds his people that he is judging the nations for their good.

When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered […] then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt (Ezekiel 28:35-36).

God’s sovereignty and power are only a comfort in the context of his loving-kindness… He is working on our behalf… He is working for our good.