Monday, December 31.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our reading through the Bible schedule this year, and if you’ve read through the Bible, or been a daily Bible reader, I’d love to hear from you.  On our website you will find a section like this on over seven hundred chapters of the Bible.  We are now half way through a four year project to provide a devotional thought on every chapter of the Bible.

If you have suggestions you would like to make regarding these GraceWords messages, please write to me at Mike@AmazingGraceInternational.com.

Tomorrow, we begin anew our journey through the Bible with the reading of Genesis 1-4. I hope you will join me here each day for another look at another chapter of each day’s reading.

Sunday, December 30. Revelation 21-22

Revelation is really a tale of two cities.

The first one is described in chapter eighteen.  She is filled with ivory, costly wood, bronze, olive oil, cattle and sheep – every luxury imaginable.  The kings of the earth admire her.  But one thing is missing: God.  No matter how admirable and powerful the city seems, she is impotent and vulnerable.  In one hour, she is brought to ruin.

The other city is described in chapter twenty-one.  She is not filled with costly things.  She is made of costly things.  Gold there is as common as the pavement of her streets, and most importantly, it is the home of God.

Only the people of God will inhabit that city – those who thirst for the water of life that only Jesus gives.  But not all of even them live there.  Only those Christians whose behavior in life repudiates the behavior of the inhabitants of Babylon will live there, for only their names remain written in the book of life.

This year, at the age of 93, renown Bible scholar Dr. Jack P. Lewis, writing about his childhood,  penned these words:

In the pre-television age, a program on the radio from Dallas offered a New Testament to any person who would read the entire New Testament.  I never knew what group was making the offer.  They mailed out the Gospel of Matthew; and when it was read and returned, they mailed out Mark.  Postage then was only two cents.  I received the gospel of Mark and finished it in a day or maybe two.  My parents had to be convinced I had read it by a recitation of its content.  I finally received and read the book of Revelation.  I received my New Testament.  The pictures of the book of Revelation impressed themselves in my childish consciousness.  That is something I have to see!

I have been blessed by the privilege of traveling widely.  I have seen a lot of what the world has to offer; but as I approach the end of my pilgrimage, I am still registering, “the city with the street of gold and gates of pearl is something I have to see” (Jack P. Lewis, As I Remember It (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 2012) pp. 228-229).

Life is a tale of two cities.  Which you end up with is all about the one you really long for.  As the new year approaches, where are you headed?

Saturday, December 29. Revelation 18 – 20

How shall we identify the “Babylon” of Revelation 18?

Only one city qualified to be “Babylon” in the ancient world, for only one city sat on seven hills: Rome. Rome’s condemnation, and therefore the empire’s condemnation, is caused by many things, but you should not miss their importance for our own time.

* Rome was a haven for every kind of behavior God found detestable. It wasn’t just that such behavior was practiced, but that it was tolerated, encouraged, and defended (vs. 2).
* Wherever the influence of Rome spread, her permissive and materialistic culture spread too (vss. 3, 23).
* Her culture prized excessive wealth, and she influenced other cultures to prize it above all things.
* Honorable behavior, like loyalty, was depreciated for the sake of self-enrichment, and that is why Jesus refers to her sins as “adulteries.”
* She exalted herself as the best, greatest, most powerful nation on earth, and her pride led her to the belief that no one and no thing could affect her endurance.
* The consequence of her end would be economic ruin for all who followed her corrupt culture.

I would not want you to think that any nation, adopting such an immoral ethical code, is bound to similar ruin (and therefore serves as a warning for our own), for such a conclusion might lead you to think that the way to preserve a nation is to change its behavior, and that might become your focus too.

God is not interested in the preservation of nations. All stand doomed.

God is interested in His people not adopting the values and behavior of the nations the world admires. The reason is His people are intended to be eternal. The nations of the earth are not.

Friday, December 28. Revelation 15 – 17

Note the parallels between chapters 4 – 11 and 12 – 17

* Both begin with a scene in heaven (chapters 4, 12)
* Both continue with a conflict between the people of God and the forces of evil (chapters 5, 12)
* Both anticipate God stepping into the picture (chapters 8 and 14)
* Both have God identifying His people as the 144,000 (chapter 7 and 14).
* Both have God acting to discipline the earth for its evil (chapters 8-9 and 15-16).
* In both sections, the discipline fails to change the behavior of mortals (9:21; 16:9).
* Both sections end with the end of the world, signified by lightning, peals of thunder, earthquake and hailstones (compare 11:19 and 16:17-21).

Chapter fifteen serves to introduce us to the coming judgment of the earth. The judge is just and true. He alone is holy, and all nations will, if not submit to His will, succumb to His power.

Thursday, December 27. Revelation 15 – 17

The first section of Revelation chapter one, where we are introduced to the major players in the book and are told why it has been written.  In the second section (chapters 2-3), the Lord addresses Revelation’s recipients directly and lists his concerns about their behavior.  For most of them, there needs to be change.

In the third section, chapters 4 – 11, The Lord tells why there should be change, and the main reason is that His is going to hold the inhabitants of the earth accountable for their sins – including His own people.

Chapters 12-16, section four, say much the same thing, but with the addition of some details left out of 4 – 11.  This section even begins much the same way as the last.  Both open with a look into heaven.  Both open with conflict – in chapter 5 the conflict is between earthly forces bent on conquest that hurt the lives of Christians.  In chapter 12, the conflict is in heaven between forces of evil and the army of God.  What is revealed to us is that the struggles of God’s people on earth are caused by a conflict that began in heaven.  Because the forces of evil were defeated in heaven, we can be confident they will be defeated on the earth.

Wednesday, December 26. Revelation 9 – 11

Martyred souls under the altar of God cry out “how long?”

How long will God’s people have to suffer persecution?

How long will justice be delayed?

How long will God’s vengeance wait?

The answer seems to come with the vision of the seven trumpets.  With each, judgment comes on the earth.

But it is not the judgment, only divine motivations to repentance, With chapter ten however, God’s patience is seen to have a limit.  The martyred souls were told to wait a little while longer.  But in chapter ten, the angel of heaven says: “There will be no more delay.”  The final judgment about to come with the seventh trumpet will be bitter-sweet.  Bitter for the wicked.  Sweet for the faithful.  That’s the message given to John to eat.  Those who believe everyone is going to be saved in the end no matter what will be surprised, shocked and dismayed.  God has never made such a promise.  It’s not how things are going to go.

Tuesday, December 25. Revelation 6 – 8 (Merry Christmas!!)

The scroll, sealed with seven seals, holds a message John longs to hear.

At least he thinks he does.

I’m not nearly so sure I want to know the future. In this case, as the seals are broken, the revelation is anything but inviting. The four horses of chapter six depict mankind’s obsession with power and control. In the wake of conquest comes bloodshed (the red horse), scarcity (famine – indicated by the scales weighing grain for one person’s meal for one day’s wage), and death.

But whose death?

In chapter six, only one group matters: the people of God. Their deaths have come because of mankind’s pursuit of power, a determination to have their way regardless of the testimony of Christians. I’m reminded of Herod Antipas’ beheading of John the baptist (for calling him out on his immoral marriage). I’m reminded of Herod Agrippa I’s beheading of James, Felix’ imprisonment of Paul, and, most of all, the crucifixion of Jesus. Whenever good people cry against the callousness of the powerful, good people die.

What I find strange is that they cry from the altar of God.

Now dead and in the Lord’s presence, comforted by Him, why should they care any more about the happenings on earth? Obviously, all heaven cares about earth’s goings on. Injustice, cruelty, greed, and oppression have never escaped the notice of God, nor those in his presence.

The martyrs wonder why God doesn’t do something.

Why indeed?

We don’t know. We’re never told. I do take some measure of comfort however in attributing it to God’s patience. He wants people of the earth to repent, and no matter how awful they act, every day judgment is delayed is another opportunity to change. I’m reminded of God’s patience with me. Asaph, in Psalm 73, vexed with the same apparent delay in God’s judgment, remembered that though he himself had sometimes acted no better than the beast of the field, still, God was with him, holding his hand, and guiding.

God’s patience is sometimes hard to swallow. It helps to remember how beneficial it has often been for the impatient.

Monday, December 24. Revelation 3 – 5

What is the most important part of John’s Revelation?”

I would contend the most important part of Revelation is chapters 2-3, the address to the seven congregations in Asia Minor.

Why?

Because like all books of the Bible, Revelation is specifically addressed to deal with behavior – the behavior of the children of God.  That behavior is addressed comprehensively in chapters 2-3.

The Revelation (and that’s really the name of the book – not the “Revelations”) differs somewhat in the presentation of this material.  In Paul’s letters for example, Paul usually tells why behavior must be a certain way, and then addresses the behavior itself.  In Revelation, the why comes last.

The Christians at Sardis were depending on past faithfulness to win them God’s approval.  The brethren at Philadelphia had gone through great persecution.  Faith teetered on the brink.  Jesus said: “hold on.”

The Christians at Laodicea found it difficult to decide whether they wanted to follow Jesus or follow the world.
All these are problems we face today.  The Revelation points the way, and provides the motivation.

Sunday, December 23. John 20-21, Revelation 1 – 2

Does God care about us?

Does He know what we are going through?

Is He watching us?

What does He think?

These are all questions the first readers of Revelation would have been asking. They are the same questions the readers of Zechariah were asking five hundred years before. Interestingly, God chose to answer the questions in both cases in much the same way.

The Revelation was a message given by God to the apostle John – the last surviving apostle at the end of the first century era. John wrote it down as instructed, and sent it to seven Christian congregations in Asia Minor.
Revelation is not just a letter. It is art. It contains a message conveyed by a panorama of images designed to grab the imagination and underscore the power and grandeur of God. Jesus, the author of the message appears as a man dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair are white like snow, and his eyes like blazing fire. His feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was sounds like a mighty rushing stream. In his right hand he holds stars and out of his mouth proceeds a sword. His face shone like the sun.

Wow!

And that’s the purpose of the signs: to get your attention.

Revelation has four parts:
1) The first part (chapters 1-3) is the direct address to the seven churches of Asia. To each, Jesus declares that He does know what is going on. He knows their situation, their troubles and their weaknesses. In this, the most important part of the book, he gives direction for living so that, when the end comes – and the book emphasizes an end is coming – they will be ready.

2) The second part (chapters 4-11) underscores why living according to the direction of Jesus is important. It opens with a magnificent scene in heaven. Jesus is the exalted “lamb of God” (chapters 4-5). He knows his people are at odds with the world, and oppressed by it (chapter 6), but he is not going to bring their troubles to an end yet. He takes special pains to protect his people (chapter 7) before he brings trouble on the earth to try and get humanity to change their ways and turn to him (chapters 8-9 – note especially 9:20-21). Ultimately, however, even God’s patience will grow thin, and the Lord will bring all things to an end. The world will always trample on the people of God until the Lord brings the earth to a final and cataclysmic end (chapters 10-11).

3) The third part functions very much as the second part, though giving a few more details. It opens with a magnificent scene in heaven (chapter 12). Jesus knows his people are at odds with the world, and oppressed by it (chapters 12-13), but he is not going to bring their troubles to an end yet. He takes special pains to protect his people (chapter 14) before he brings trouble on the earth to try and get people to change their ways and turn to him (chapters 14-16 – note especially 16:10-11). Ultimately, however, even God’s patience grows thin, and the Lord will bring all things to an end. The world will always trample on the people of God until the Lord brings the earth to a final and cataclysmic end (chapter 16).

4) The fourth part gives us a close up view of the coming end. The troubles of mankind are caused by a world run by Satan (chapters 17-18) – whose end, and whose minions’ end, is assured and described by God (chapters 19-20). The section closes with a description of the final home of the faithful, and the assurance of God that the message given is faithful and true (chapters 21-22).

Saturday, December 22. John 16 – 19

It’s a personal preference of course, but most meaningful to me in the Gospel of John are chapters thirteen through seventeen.

Why?

It’s the last night of Jesus’ life.  He knows he is going to die.  In his gospel account, John reserves Jesus’ teaching to these chapters, Christ’s final seminar with his disciples so to speak.  In view of the cross, here is a focused presentation of Jesus’ concerns for his disciples.

There’s lots here: Take care of one another.  Love one another.  Don’t be afraid.  Trust.  Remain in me.  Obey me.
And in chapter sixteen, Jesus says: “Pray.”

Please note that these words are not addressed to the world, but to Jesus’ disciples.  As such, John directs them to Christians.  We have a unique relationship with God.  He loves us because we have put our trust in His son.  Our relationship with Jesus gives us direct access to the Father, and it is an access only we possess.

Two issues arise:

First, Jesus promises that the Father will give us whatever we ask.  But our experience is that God does not.  Surely you’ve had prayers go unfulfilled.

No one should expect that God is here indebting  Himself to do our bidding.  In that case, He’d be abdicating His role as God.  But like a parent, God promises us access to His wealth and power, and as our Father, we can trust He will do what is best for us.

The second issue is timing.  Did you notice that little line: “in a little while”?  It appears four times in the chapter and John even tells us the disciples didn’t understand it.

It’s an assurance.

God does not promise that no bad things will befall us.  Bad things were certainly about to befall Jesus – and his disciples!  But what He promises is that they will not last.  In time, God’s time, they will be over.  Joy will return.

Both promises give us hope.  And that’s what Jesus intended.