Wednesday, September 28, 2016

""What the future holds for those who know Jesus!"

September 29th, Day #273

Scripture Reading:  Mark 13 - 14 …

Before Jesus went to the cross … before He died and rose again, He told the disciples what was going to happen:  not only what was going to happen in Jerusalem in the next few days, but what was going to happen much later, when He returned to earth.  Timing is everything, and God sees the end from the beginning.  What happens today is connected to what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  We live one day at a time, but in God's sight one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.  God sees everything and knows everything and knows how it all fits together.  That is a great comfort for those who know Him and who trust Him.

Jesus reveals to His disciples that there will be some general signs that this world will not always continue as it was at that time and as it is today.  Some will come who want to deceive (13:5).  There will be wars and rumors of wars (13:7).  There will be earthquakes and famines (13:8).  All these, Jesus says, are "the beginning of birth pains" (13:8).  These things have been happening at an increasingly frequent pace since the time of Christ.  

But then Jesus gives them more specific signs of His return.  I realize that there are some who say that Jesus could return at any moment, but according to Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21 and many other passages of Scripture, there are things that must happen BEFORE He comes to gather His elect, His chosen ones.  He says here, as Matthew quotes Him in Matthew 24:14, that "the Gospel must FIRST be preached to all nations" (13:10).  It appears that this is being fulfilled in our present day for the first time in history.  It has been said that there were more martyrs for the sake of the Gospel in the past century than in all the rest of the centuries since Jesus ascended into heaven combined.  Jesus says, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (13:13).

Then He speaks about "the abomination that causes desolation," spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27).  At this time there will be a time of distress unequaled at any time before that or at any time after it.  The coming of Jesus in the clouds will cut those days short (13:19-27).  Many today teach that the Great Tribulation will take place AFTER the rapture, but the order Jesus gives us here and in Matthew 24 is different.  He says, "FOLLOWING that distress 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken' (Isaiah 13:10 and other passages).  At THAT time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And He will send His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (13:24-27).

It is important for you to understand these things so that you will not be deceived when the Antichrist is revealed and he performs signs and wonders (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).  Jesus will not return until these things are fulfilled.  So He tells His disciples, then and now, to "keep watch" (13:35).  We don't know the day or the hour, but we WILL, we MUST know the time, and be watching and working until He comes.

As Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples He told them that He would "not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (14:25).  He was referring to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb described in Revelation 19.  As Jesus went to Gethsemane, He was looking at what lay ahead at the cross, yet He was looking farther ahead, too.  The writer of Hebrews encourages believers to persevere by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:2-3).

When speaking to people who are going through struggles, the best thing you can tell them to do is to keep their eyes (or in some cases, to GET their eyes) on Jesus!!  Like Peter when Jesus called him to get out of the boat and to walk on the water, we hear the roar of the wind and take our eyes off of Jesus to look at the waves rolling around us and we begin to sink.  Jesus went to the cross willingly.  He said to His disciples in the garden, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (14:38).  We who know and love Jesus WANT to be strong, but when we try to live for Jesus by our own strength we end up looking at the trials and struggles and lose heart.  We need to keep our eyes on JESUS!  HE is able!!

When the high priest asked Him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"  Jesus answered, "I AM!  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (14:62). Hear Jesus' own testimony and believe in His Name and you will be saved!  Whatever trials, whatever persecution, whatever burdens you are called to bear in this life in this world, you can know that you are SAFE in His arms and that He IS with you.  "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

The signs of His coming are all around us.  Whether it is in your lifetime or mine, the end WILL come. But through faith in Jesus, the end is the beginning, because He IS "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 22:13).  When it does end, where will you be standing?  I pray that you have placed your trust, your hope, your faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that you have found LIFE in His name.  Then you can know that the Father is willing and ready to welcome you HOME, where you will reign with Jesus … forever!  Oh, happy day!!

"Heavenly Father, knowing You and drawing near to You through the blood of Your Son, Jesus, is the greatest privilege, the greatest blessing anyone can receive from Your hand.  Thank You, Father, for loving me, for sending Jesus to give His life as a ransom for me, for filling me with Your Spirit and moving me to trust in Your Son, and for the promise of eternal life with You when He returns.  Give me strength to endure, to stand firm, to watch and to pray until I see You face-to-face.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"The Stone the builders rejected ... IS LORD!!"

September 28th, Day #272

Scripture Reading:  Mark 11 - 12 …

As Jesus entered Jerusalem to go to the cross He continued to teach His disciples.  The Pharisees were unwitting illustrations of the spiritual blindness that affects all of mankind.  Thinking they knew the truth about God, they refused to listen to Jesus and would not even entertain the possibility that He WAS Who He said He was.  Instead, they tried to trick Him, to trap Him, so they would have an excuse to put Him to death.

For those of us who believe, it is so easy to see the truth because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes.  As Jesus approaches Jerusalem He tells His disciples to go into the village to find the colt of a donkey.  Why the colt of a donkey?  Because the prophet Zechariah had written, "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).  Details!  Our God is a God of details … details that confirm Who Jesus is and what He came to do.

As He entered Jerusalem Jesus went to the temple … the symbol of God's presence with His people.  The purpose of the temple was to point to God, not to provide a place to do the business of the world or to go through a bunch of religious rituals without understanding their meaning.  And what was the response of the chief priests and the teachers of the law:  they began looking for a way to kill him!  THEY were the fig tree that wasn't bearing fruit, and they were the tenants of God's vineyard who killed the Son of God when He came.

The Pharisees were continually challenging Jesus' authority.  "Who gave you authority to do this?" (11:28).  Authority is a big issue in the church today. Who has authority to speak for God?  The Pope, the leader of the Catholic church, claims to have such authority.  Others may claim the same thing, but the truth is only JESUS and the Holy Spirit have the authority to speak for God.  The Father, Son and Spirit are ONE.  Therefore, everything Jesus said bore the authority of God and everything the Bible says, having been inspired by the Spirit, bears the authority of God.

Peter writes concerning Scripture that "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:20-21).  We who preach can speak with authority only if we proclaim the words of God that have been written down for us.  The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans because when he spoke they checked the Scriptures to see if these things were true (Acts 17:11).  More people need to do that today!  The reason false teachers can and do worm their way into the church is because people have not studied God's Word and are not willing to seek the Scriptures to see if these things are true.  They are easily led astray.

Jesus would say to His disciples after His resurrection:  "All authority has been given to Me, in heaven and on earth!"  (Matthew 28:18).  Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22-23 when He said, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (12:10-11).  The question of authority has been asked and answered!  There is no one like Jesus.  

Want to know something about heaven?  When asked about marriage Jesus answered, "When the dead rise they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (12:25).  We will be like the angels, living in total devotion to the Lord, focused on Him with perfect love, in adoration and worship as we serve Him forever.  Can you fathom that?  Can you grasp loving God as you are loved by God?

One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment and Jesus repeated the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:  "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (12:29-30).  In heaven we will DO that!!!  

And then, one more question … this time from Jesus:  "How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the Son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:  'The Lord said to my Lord:  Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.' David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?" (12:35-37).  The large crowd listened but did not yet understand who Jesus was.  How could a "son of David" be David's LORD?  The Holy Spirit was using David to point to Jesus, one born from David's line who was at the same time David's "son" and David's Lord!!  Jesus was claiming to be the ONE David was talking about!

Do YOU know Who He is?  "The stone the builders rejected IS Lord!"  This is how you know if you are one of Jesus' sheep?  Peter writes, "For in Scripture it says:  'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.' Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.  But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' and 'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall'" (I Peter 2:6-7).  And he goes on, "They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for."

What are YOU destined for?  "The stone the builders rejected IS Lord!"  To those who believe, these words of Peter bring peace and joy:  "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).  If you believe that Jesus is Lord, if you confess Him as YOUR Lord and desire to follow Him today, then you have been born again by the Spirit and YOU are one of His!  Live each day to declare the praises of the One who called you out of the darkness and who brought you into His marvelous light!

"Heavenly Father, I am amazed, thankful, overwhelmed and humbled by Your grace to me in Christ Jesus.  As I see others question Jesus' authority, I yield to His Lordship and confess that He alone is Lord and His Word, YOUR Word, is true.  Teach me to know the truth and to love the truth, knowing that it leads me always to Jesus, the Christ, my Savior and my Lord, and through Him, to YOU, my Creator and my God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Learning from Jesus ... and passing it on!"

September 27th, Day #271

Scripture Reading:  Mark 9 - 10 …

This was a real "mountaintop experience" … like none other!  Peter, James and John, standing on the mountain as Jesus is "transfigured" in front of them ... and then Elijah and Moses appear!  Some believe that Elijah and Moses are the "two witnesses" of Revelation 11.  A literal interpretation of the events there would certainly point in that direction.  At any rate, this was such a magnificent scene that Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop with Jesus.  Who could blame him?!  The voice of the Father spoke from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!" (9:7).  Moses received the Law from God Himself and Elijah represented the Prophets who brought God's Word to Israel, and he himself was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire without dying.  Now One who was even greater has appeared in fulfillment of God’s promises.  It is here that Jesus first mentions "rising from the dead," (9:9-10), though the disciples did not yet understand what He meant.

You can understand why they wanted to stay on the mountaintop when you read through the rest of these two brief chapters.  Jesus is confronted by an argument about His disciples not being able to cast an evil spirit out of a boy; followed by an argument among the disciples over who would be the greatest.  Then there was some teaching about hell, followed by a debate with the Pharisees concerning divorce.  Jesus was then rejected by the rich young man who walked away, not willing to make a commitment to Jesus, more talk about Jesus' death, another ridiculous request by James and John (hadn't they just been on the mountaintop??), and the healing of a blind man.  In every detail Jesus was teaching the disciples about His kingdom and why He had come.  Jesus was the ultimate teacher because everything He spoke was truth.

The effects of sin are all around us in this world and the words of Jesus that "all things are possible with God" (10:27) are desperately needed as we live in this world … when we come down from the mountaintop.  It seems that too many Christians crave one mountaintop experience after the other.  We often want to run away from this world, rather than confront the ills that are so obvious in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  Since all things are possible with God, then what should we be doing?  We need to be learning from Jesus.  We who are disciples of Jesus Christ today must understand that the only solution to the problems in this world that are caused by sin is the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of His kingdom!

It would be easy to focus on Jesus casting out demons and healing the blind, but these were signs that pointed to the greater healing that Jesus came to bring:  the healing of the human heart.  Jesus called the disciples then and His disciples now to be servants in this world (9:35; 10:42-45).  He says, "Even the Son of Man did not come to BE served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (10:45).  He welcomed the little children and said, "Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (10:15).  A child accepts things by faith … so must we.  Jesus wasn't saying that we should remain as children.  We need to learn, to grow, to mature.  Yet we must never lose that childlike faith that cries out to the Father for help, for direction, for strength.

Jesus told the disciples, "some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power" (9:1).  This was right before the transfiguration on the mountaintop, but Jesus was likely referring to Pentecost.  After His resurrection, just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8).  As the disciples of Jesus today we need to learn that it is in walking with Him, praying in His name, believing His promises and obeying His Word that we are equipped and empowered for ministry in this world as the Spirit does His work within us.

It is in the name and in the power of Jesus that we are able to confront sin and all its consequences and declare victory!  Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount that we are the salt of the earth, and He says here, "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other" (9:50).  As many have said, salt is a preservative and we who know Jesus are called to be a positive influence in this world by speaking and living for God.

Learning from Jesus means humbling ourselves so that we are good listeners to all that He says.  I think of the debate today that surrounds marriage and how Jesus makes things simple:  "At the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'  'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (10:6). All of us need to be students at the Master's feet and learn from the One who is the Living Word made flesh.

In the midst of all of these events, Jesus began to teach the disciples that He came to die, to pay the ransom for sin, and that He would rise again, victorious over death.  They did not yet understand, but when they did, and when they received power from heaven, the focus and attention of their lives would be on passing on to others what Jesus had taught them.  This is what the Church today is about:  Learning from Jesus and passing it on.  The power of Jesus is displayed in lives focused on Him and lived for Him.  Faith believes that all things are possible with God and then prays, as Jesus did in the garden, "Your will be done!"

Commit yourself to a life of learning from Jesus.  The rich young man had it right when he called Jesus, "Good teacher" (10:17), but he was not willing to learn from Jesus.  He wanted to do things his way.  Learning from Jesus leads to living life as a servant of others, knowing that you will some day have an eternity of mountaintop experiences!  It will be worth the wait.

"Heavenly Father, You gave Your best when You sent Your Son into the world to be our Teacher, our Savior and our Lord.  Fill me with Your Spirit and help me to be a good student, constantly desiring to sit at the Master's feet to learn more of what He has to teach me.  And when confronted by the realities of life in this world, let me be 'salty' enough to improve the "taste" of life for those around me.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"What Jesus really came to do …"

September 26th, Day #270

Scripture Reading:  Mark 7 - 8 …

You may have heard the phrase:  "Majoring on the minor things …"  That means focusing on things that have less importance and missing the things that have greater importance.  That's what the Pharisees in Jesus' day were doing … but they weren't the only ones.  The crowds and even the disciples often did the same thing.  And today people search for meaning and purpose in activities and things and even other people, but cannot find what they are looking for because there is nothing that ties all of life together.  Each different part of life is like one piece of a giant puzzle, but there is no answer to the “WHY?”  What is all of this about???

The Pharisees and the crowds, and yes, even the disciples, failed to understand what Jesus had come to do.  All the Pharisees seemed to be able to think about was their own religious traditions.  Criticizing the disciples of Jesus for not washing their hands? Really??  Jesus accused them of setting aside the Word of God for the sake of their traditions (7:9-13).  The Pharisees were telling people that if they had to choose between giving a gift to God or honoring their parents by taking care of their needs, they should give their gift to God (which meant putting it in the hands of the Pharisees!), and let their parents fend for themselves.  But Jesus told them that GOD's command to honor parents trumped their tradition.  The Pharisees were being hypocrites because they acted like they really cared about what God wanted when the reality was they were focused on themselves and the things of this world.

That’s often what happens when people defend their religious “traditions,” even those that are “Christian” traditions.  Many debates in the church are caused not by a difference in understanding God’s Word, but in personal preferences and manmade traditions.  How foolish!  How sinful!!

There was something more going on here.  Sometimes people say, "That's a HEART issue," meaning that people's wrong behavior is the result of a heart that is in the wrong place.  This was the case with the Pharisees.  It was not simply their outward behavior that was wrong, but their hearts.  They were more concerned about people following their traditions than about leading people to God in order to find hope in forgiveness and salvation.  How true is this today?  It's not enough to want people to improve their lives or go to church!  They need a HEART change that only Jesus can accomplish, by His Word and His Spirit.

The example of the Gentile woman reveals that God can change anyone's heart.  She believed Jesus could fulfill her need and she was not afraid to come to Him and reveal her desperation.  We should all be so desperate!  As Jesus healed, He often took the people who were brought to Him away from the crowds because He did not want people to focus on His ability to heal.  That was NOT why He had come.  Moved by compassion, He healed, He fed the crowds and did other miracles, but that was not the primary reason He had come.

Jesus came to call people out of the darkness of sin.  He came to do what He has sent US to do:  Make disciples!!  … true disciples … disciples who know who He is and why He came.  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many; to seek and to save the lost.  Jesus was frustrated because that generation was always asking for a miraculous sign (8:12).  That probably doesn't sound like Jesus to some today.  Surely, miracles are a good thing!?  But Jesus knew people's hearts and He knew that if all they saw was the miracles they would begin to major on the minors.  Physical healing … especially miraculous physical healing, can be used as a testimony to the power of God, but the GREATER healing is spiritual healing, when the heart is changed.  The result is one who denies SELF, takes up the daily cross of service to Christ, and does what Jesus did:  gives his or her life away.

To do that you need to know that Jesus was and IS the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the KING!  God's chosen King!  If Jesus is worth dying for, then He is worth living for.  Peter wanted something else.  He wanted a victorious ruler rather than a suffering servant (Isaiah 53).  Jesus told him, "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (8:33). How about you?  Do you have in mind the things of God, or are you majoring on the minors?

People in the church often focus entire seasons on Christmas and Easter and miss Jesus!  People who do not ordinarily worship regularly or even think about these things will "go to church" or go to watch a play or hear a choir.  The question is:  Will hearts be changed?  Will the message of the Gospel be proclaimed?  Will people be told the truth:  that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing … by denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him … they may have LIFE, NOW and forever?!!

Pray with me that God will tear us away from manmade traditions that lead to hypocrisy … things that are done “for God,” but which are not pleasing to Him because they lead us away from Christ!  Pray that He may be pleased with our lives and our worship as we draw near to Him in the name of Jesus, the Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Pray that we would not be like the Pharisees and others, who honor God with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him.  Pray that because the Spirit has taught us through the Word what Jesus really came to do, that we would be His instruments to call others to follow Him, too.

Jesus told His disciples that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents and believes.  May we be found following Jesus and making disciples.  As He came to give His life as a ransom for many, may we lay down our lives at His feet and ask Him to use us to glorify His name by engaging in the work of making disciples!  There is nothing more important in this world than knowing the one true God, trusting in His Son Jesus Christ and living for Him.  Don’t be distracted by minor things and human traditions.  Focus on CHRIST!!!

"Our Father in heaven, I earnestly pray that Your kingdom would come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  I acknowledge that for that to happen, hearts must be changed and that only YOU can change them!  Use me, I pray, to proclaim Your Word to those around me, to declare that Jesus is Savior and Lord and to call people to join me in serving Him.  To You, our God, be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, now and forever.  In Jesus' name, Amen"