A Door of Hope (Part Three)

Hosea 2:14-23

On that day I will respond—this is the Lord’s declaration. I will respond to the sky, and it will respond to the earth. The earth will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the fresh oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will sow her in the land for myself, and I will have compassion on Lo-ruhamah; I will say to Lo-ammi: You are my people, and he will say, “You are my God” (2:21-23 CSB).

Finally, there is a new outlook. It is far too easy to become discouraged or perhaps even depressed as we journey through life. If we read or listen to news reports or scour the internet for information about situations, our outlook can become very gloomy. Or for others, all it takes is a visit to the doctor and follow-up testing, and anxiety about our mortality to affect ourselves, our family and friends. But God opens the door of hope widely to encourage and refresh his dearly loved people. Let’s listen to two hopeful vistas that he directs believers to ponder.

God reminds us that he is in charge of nature. There is a well-known cable weather service that delights to spread gloom and doom. They run programs to proclaim that we are wrecking our planet, and “superstorms” and other terrible events are just waiting to wreak havoc on our self-indulgent lifestyle. For example, it simply doesn’t snow anymore, but we face cruelly cold temperatures from a “polar vortex” and we just might face “blizzard-like conditions”. The shelves of grocery stores are emptied as people frantically buy ten loaves of bread, four dozen eggs, and gallons of milk. And it snows two little inches! (By the way, my family and I survived a huge blizzard with only an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk.) And to these people, it simply doesn’t rain an inch, but the highways have “treacherous conditions”. People love to hear the “weather prophets of doom.” In all of this, people forget God.

  • However, God reminds us that every part of the agricultural process is under his control. He is very able to act in the world he created to provide us with what we need to live, and to live joyfully. God does what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17 CSB).
  • To look at this another way, Israel, Jezreel, can see God’s care, start at herself, and then trace her blessings back to God. How skilled are you at reading the “map” of your blessings?

God offers a renewed exchange of “marriage vows”, of fresh promises of a new covenant relationship. The Lord had called them “not loved” and “not my people”, because of their rejection of him, refusal to love him, and rebellion against his laws. They had broken the relationship by their spiritual adultery. God promises a better covenant relationship. In it God gives:

  • A promise of enduring love. This promise holds true for God’s new covenant people. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39 NIV).
  • A belonging to each other. Paul clearly applies these words to the church. What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” (Romans 9:23-26 NIV).

Do you belong to Jesus? Are you in a covenant relationship with the Lord? Has he laid hold of you by his amazing, wonderful love? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? FAITH is Forsaking All I Take Him.

Grace and peace, David

A Door of Hope (Part One)

Hosea 2:14-23

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt (2:14-15 NIV).

Previously in God’s always relevant Word, we read how God announced judgment on Israel for falling away from the Lord. It looked like Israel was finished! What hope could there be for those who turn their backs on the living God? What hope is there for those whom God threatens to punish? Some would write off America and other western nations as beyond hope. But is that so? What passage of Scripture can they appeal to? Doesn’t the Bible and church history present the darkest scenes of human hopelessness as the best opportunities for God to show his power?

The message of the Bible is a message of good news for the undeserving. God speaks of confident anticipation and of free and full forgiveness for the darkest sins. When all seems beyond hope, God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). God gives hope to the hopeless, joy to the grief-stricken, and peace to those torn apart by strife. The Lord is the God of new life and fresh vitality. And when he gives new life, it is a better life than previously known.

The Lord points to a new beginning (2:14-15). The key idea is unexpected and unmerited favor. God had just announced a just judgment upon Israel. She would be ruined! And now he speaks of leading her into the desert. How much worse could it get?

  • Biblically speaking, the desert has been a place of hope for God’s people. In the desert God formed Israel into a nation. In the desert, John the Baptist preached repentance and pointed people to Jesus, the Lamb of God. In the desert places of your life, the living God can speak tenderly to you (cf. Psalm 119:71). If you’re in a dark place now, look around with the eyes of faith and see the rays of hope breaking through the clouds.
  • God promises to reverse Israel’s fortunes. The destroyed vineyards (2:12) would be restored. The Valley of Achor, “Trouble”, which was always a dark memory because of Achan’s sin at Jericho, would become a door of hope. When you’re at the end of your rope, you’re at the place where God is able to untangle the knots in your life.

Sometimes God’s people go down into the “valley of trouble”, but in free grace God can open a door of hope unexpectedly before them. And when we walk through that open door, we have new opportunities to serve and enjoy the Lord. Remember Psalm 43:5: Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God (CSB).

The Lord foretells coming days of joy and celebration. Israel would sing to the Lord again, as she did at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21). The lost song can be restored. This is very important. Yes, we can mess up our lives because of our sins, especially the sins of unbelief and the lack of thankfulness and worship. But God gives overflowing grace. Get off the performance treadmill, follow the Lord in faith, and rejoice in him anew!

God’s people sing when God makes us glad because of his salvation (Revelation 15:1-4). Has the Lord been gracious to you? Do you have good reasons to sing his praises? Yes, you do when you remember his saving, redeeming, matchless grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Clouds and then Sunshine (Part Two)

Hosea 1:4-2:1

Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God’ (1:10 NIV).

The third child was named Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people” (1:8-9). God’s message through the prophet Hosea was that he would cast Israel away. Israel was overconfident about her covenant relationship to the Lord, even as she turned from the Lord to Baal. It is much like the modern American, who somehow falsely assumes America is a “Christian nation”, while the Lord’s name is blasphemed, his worship forsaken, and a godly way of life is abandoned, mocked and resisted like the plague.

The Bible tells us that God cannot be mocked. Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap (Galatians 6:7). People may pretend to be Christians today, but God will not own them as his own on the Judgment Day. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV).

The fact that God gave this message through the naming of the children, which took a few years, demonstrates that he gave Israel the opportunity to repent. God has issued many warnings to this world over the last hundred years: terrible wars, terrorist attacks, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, ice storms, plagues, and blizzards. Yet people have not turned back to God. How much longer do we have before far more destructive judgments fall from heaven?

However, in a setting of apparent hopelessness, the living God offers a word of hope, a promise of restoration (1:10-2:1). The foundation is that God keeps his covenant promises. Remember his promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:4-6; 22:15-18). God’s grace is greater than human sin and weakness.

What did the Lord promise? The place of rejection would become the place of restoration. There would be another reversal of the name Jezreel! God is able to restore, even when it seems impossible. Keep on praying and believing. Never give up! As the New Testament makes clear, this was also a promise of salvation to the nations (Romans 9:22-26; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

God would restore the names of love and relationship to his chosen people. They would again be honored as God’s people. They would experience anew that they were loved by the Lord. God has freely chosen to have a family relationship of love with people that were rebellious against him. He makes this happen through his Son, Jesus Christ. The Messiah died to pay for our sins and rose the third day that we might be declared right with God when we turn from our sins and trust in the Lord. Are you right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are, worship God. Expressing your joy in God through worship is God’s great purpose for you.

Stop and think for a moment. What about your relationship with the true God? Are you able to say with good and right Biblical reasons that you belong to God and that God loves you? There is hope, living hope, when we turn to the Lord for mercy and grace. Today is the day he offers salvation and righteousness. Are you right with God? You may be today by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. If your life has been thick with clouds, there is a glorious ray of sunshine. God has brought you to a place where you can hear his good news. We pray that God will be exceedingly merciful to you. Seek the Lord today, while he may be found! Isaiah 55:6-7

Grace and peace, David

The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part One)

2 Kings 2:1-14

The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel (2:1-2 CSB).

James described human life in this way, What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14b NIV). So it is with the best and the worst of people, small and great, rich and poor, unknown and well-known. We all appear on the stage of planet earth, make significant decisions and actions for which we give account, and yet which God also uses as he weaves the large tapestry of history for his glory. Then we reach the end of our lives, and keep that appointment which all of us must. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).

So it was with Elijah. He was born and suddenly appeared in the public life of Israel, announcing a drought on the land. Then God miraculously fed him at the brook and at the widow’s house. By God’s power Elijah raised the widow’s dead son to life. After three years of drought, he called Israel back to God at the contest on Mt. Carmel. The Lord heard his prayer for fire and later rain, and continued to use Elijah for many years to stand for the truth in a country that was religiously twisted and morally corrupt. Then it was time for Elijah to die….

No, it wasn’t! Though Elijah had once prayed to die, the Lord had a different end to Elijah’s stay on earth. Billions of people have inescapably marched into the jaws of death. Only two have escaped: Enoch and Elijah. When the Son of God returns in power and great glory, all his people who are alive at that time will also avoid death. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV). Come, Lord Jesus!  But while we must remain, what are some lessons we can learn from the close of Elijah’s life on earth?

When the situation appears hopeless to us, the living, sovereign God is able to act. As Elijah looked at life from his limited perspective, it often seemed to him that little positive religious change was occurring. He said, “I’m the only one left”—after Obadiah had told him of one hundred other prophets (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah said, “I’m the only one left”—after he had experienced God’s answers to his prayers for fire and rain (1 Kings 19:10,14).

Yes, Elijah thought he was the only one left, but look what the Lord was doing!

  • Elisha was appointed as Elijah’s successor, and he remained faithful to Elijah until the end. God provided Elijah with a friend in the ministry.
  • Micaiah boldly stood up for the truth before Ahab (1 Kings 22:1-28). We might be unaware of their courageous stand, but God has a people for his glory.
  • Elijah was able to start or assist in the ministry of at least two “schools” of prophets at Bethel and Jericho. To train others for ministry is an important task though not very dazzling.

Though it was not God’s time to destroy the altar for false worship at Bethel, he used Elijah to raise up a testimony against it. (The Lord had already announced that Josiah, a descendant of David would destroy it later in history, cf. 1 Kings 13:2. Why did the Lord wait? He acts mercifully to allow people an opportunity to repent.) Though during the time of Ahab, the cursed city of Jericho was rebuilt, God had men to speak for him in that place.

Let us avoid an “Elijah complex”, supposing, “I’m the only one left.” Or as more of us might think, “Our small church and a few small faithful sisters churches are the only ones left to stand for God.” We can waste a lot of precious time moaning over the terrible times we live in, or we can labor for the cause of God and truth with a bold faith.

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Restoration (Part Three)

1 Kings 19:11-18

But I will leave seven thousand in Israel—every knee that has not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him (19:18 CSB).

We must realize the crisis through which the Lord planned that Elijah must walk. It had been a lonely path. God had sent him to a ravine to hide, where his only companions were the raven that brought him food twice a day. Next, God led him out of Israel to stay with a Gentile widow (Luke 4:25-26) and her son. He was away from the people of God for about three years. He was far off from Jerusalem and worship. When he returned, he saw God’s people devoted to false gods. It was too easy for Elijah to draw the conclusion that he was the only one faithful to the Lord. Yet God always has a people.

God raised up other men for the ministry (19:16). First came Elisha and Micaiah, and after them many others appear. We must not give up when we appear to be alone. How foolish we sometimes feel and act! Our goal should not be to count noses, but to stand for God and his truth, trusting him to bless his word in our generation. When by grace Luther “rediscovered the gospel”, he had no intention of starting a movement. He merely wanted to testify to the truth of the Scriptures. God sent the revival.

Hopefully, Elijah’s heart was filled with joy to know that God had another man to carry on his prophetic ministry. Regardless of how Elijah was affected, The Lord taught him the doctrine of sovereign grace (19:18). Lesson to what the Spirit later said through Paul. I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.” And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:1-6 NIV).

Things had looked dark from Elijah’s limited perspective. We only have a small window on the world, a window that is limited by space and time. God was saying to Elijah, “Come here, son, and look through my very large window.” Every time we read the doctrines of grace in the Scriptures, we ought to think, “This is really cool! I’m able to look through my Father’s window.”

There was a remnant because of God’s gracious choice. God did this: I have reserved for myself. “If any are preserved from false worship … it is by his special influence and agency” (Haldane). The Lord did this completely by grace; he did not consider the works of any whom he had chosen. All of us only deserve one destiny, eternal punishment for our countless acts of rebellion against the living God. But thanks be to God, in Jesus Christ he has freely chosen to be gracious to us. How did God restore Elijah? By teaching his prophet about sovereign grace. We do not have a weak God, who is bound by the fickle dictates of the corrupt wills of a fallen people. We serve a God who is infinitely powerful and who is able to save. What has he taught you of his power to save?

Are you discouraged? Then learn what God taught Elijah. Turn your thoughts from your own limited self to the unlimited God. You and I must have the proper starting point for our doctrine and practice. Are you without hope? There is only one way to face the future properly. You need to have hope, confident expectation. You cannot find this in yourself or in the things and activities of this world. God gives certain hope to people like you and me in Jesus Christ. Turn from your sin, which can only bring you to everlasting sadness and despair. Turn to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in him for eternal life. Then you will have a hope that will never perish, spoil or fade!

Grace and peace, David

Better by Far! (Part One)

Philippians 1:23

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… (NIV).

The church at Philippi was a good church, though like every other gathering of believers, it was not perfect. Wherever you have people, you will find problems, since we all sin. In this blog, I write of God’s grace for sinners and strive to help people that struggle with sin. But I openly confess that I, like the Philippians, am far from perfect. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul sent the Philippian church this letter, because he was troubled about a weakness in their fellowship. They needed to work together in joyful love for the spread of the gospel, but they were pulled apart by strife between people.

Paul sought to bring his friends to greater unity by various means. Our text is taken from a section in which he did not hesitate to use himself as an example. What he urged them to do was not merely some fine theory. Instead, it conformed to how he was living at that time. He told them that he lived to advance the gospel. That was very important, but he was torn between two alternatives. He wanted to live on to preach the gospel, though he suffered, yet he also wanted to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. He used his desire to be with the Lord to motivate them to change the way they currently lived. Today, we ask the first of three questions about this desire.

The first question is, why is it better to depart and to be with Christ? By the way, notice that Paul clearly believed that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. The Bible nowhere teaches soul sleep or purgatory.

To be with Christ is to be freed from suffering and trials. The apostle knew a great deal about these hard events of life. It was not pleasant to be in a first century prison. Consider also his other sufferings for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Let us not pretend to be more spiritual than we are. No one likes suffering. The apostles rejoiced that they suffered for the sake of Christ’s name. We can rejoice in the blessed fruit that suffering brings. But suffering itself is not joyous.

After Christ’s servants die, this world can do nothing more to harass (Revelation 7:15-17; 14:13; 21:3-4). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be freed from sin. During our time on this old world, sinful desires wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). This war lasts our entire Christian life. We sometimes ask, “When will this war be over?” But then we will be like Christ in purity and holiness. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27 CSB; cf. 1 John 3:2-3; Hebrews 12:23). Certainly this is better by far! Is your hope to be like Jesus Christ? It is one of the signs of having new life.

To be with Christ is to be where God is always praised. Now we must live among a people that revel in their own perversity (Romans 1:28-32). They take pleasure in violence and moral degradation. They mock what is pure and good and right. But when we are with the Lord, we will only hear the voices of those who magnify the Lord with us (Revelation 5:9-14; 15:3-4; 19:5-8). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be with one who has overflowing joy. Even now we should rejoice, since we are in Christ (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). Too often, our joy is mixed with sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10). To be with the Lord will be the experience of eternal joy. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11 ESV; cf. Matthew 25:21, 23). Certainly this is better by far!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Eleven)

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced (63:9-11 NIV).

Though in soul-refreshing, heart-encouraging experience of personal fellowship with the living God, David in fact was still in a dry and weary land (63:1 NIV). This is life in this fallen world. Our God has plans he acts toward, and they involve keeping and sustaining his dearly loved people in unpleasant situations. Yet David confidently expected God to act in his dangerous state. On the run from his enemies, he did not abandon his hope. Since he is able to draw near to God, he is confident. This is the benefit of knowing God according to his revelation of himself in the Scriptures. Outward circumstances may not improve, they may even get worse. But believers in God are certain of the ultimate triumph of God, his truth, and that they will share in that victory.

On the one hand, David was certain of the defeat of his enemies. If this refers to the revolt of Absalom, his enemies had a decided military superiority. The plot had been well-laid. David and his men had been taken by surprise. But Absalom’s advantage would disappear, and David’s enemies would be defeated. Observe that David envisioned a battle: given over to the sword. He did not expect to escape without a fight. Confidence in God should never promote a lazy, careless attitude. God’s sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. Jackals “are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind” (Kidner). No one cares about their graves.

Notice the justice of God. David’s enemies plotted to throw off their lawful king, the one anointed by God as their leader. So then, God threw them aside for everlasting contempt. Unlike Absalom and his fellow rebels, many evil people escape justice in this world. But they cannot escape the final Judgment Day. God chose to make David’s enemies an example of what will surely happen to his enemies.

On the other hand, David was confident of his victory and of all who know the Lord. He looked forward to being able to rejoice in God, along with all those who were faithful to the Lord. Notice that David called himself the king. While this provides us information about the time of this psalm, it does more than that. David expected victory because he knew that God is always faithful to his covenant promises. God had said that he would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; cf. Psalm 89:1-2; Isaiah 55:3-4). Much in God’s plan depended on David’s safety, so David could be confident.

We should also claim God’s covenant promises (Hebrews 8:8-13). Events might look bleak; any outward confidences might disappear, but God’s promises cannot fail!

Grace and peace, David

God and His People (Part Two)

Psalm 30:1-3

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit (ESV).

We all need God to rescue us. Some of these might be very dramatic. Others might be like a parent acting quickly to intercept their child before they get into dangerous situations. We daily require the help of the merciful God (30:1b-3).

In his mercy (cf. 30:10), God answered David’s prayer for help. We act very wickedly and foolishly when we leave God out of our problems, including our physical problems. We ought to pray before we visit the doctor. Think about King Asa of Judah and what happened to him (2 Chronicles 16:12). “As the writer reflects on his experience, the one thing he seems to recall most vividly is how earnestly he fell back upon prayer in his extremity, and how effective prayer proved on this occasion. The entire experience may be said to be summarized in this one verse” (Leupold).

What help did God give David? He gave David physical healing (30:2b-3). David had been in danger of dying, but the Lord restored him to health. He gave David victory over his enemies. They wanted to gloat over his ruin, but God did not permit that to happen. We still have spiritual enemies who would gloat over our destruction, fall or disgrace. But remember the happy truth of 1 John 4:4. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (CSB).

God lifted David up (30:1b). There is a great and mighty army of people whom God has lifted up, though their problems seemed beyond hope.

  • God lifted up Noah, when the whole race faced destruction
  • God lifted up Jacob, when he was a penniless refugee
  • God lifted up Joseph, when he was sold into slavery
  • God lifted up Gideon, when he hid in fear
  • God lifted up Ruth and Naomi, when they were poverty-stricken widows
  • God lifted up Elijah, when he was a downcast prophet
  • God lifted up Jeremiah, when his enemies had placed him in a well
  • God lifted up the woman at the well, when all despised her
  • God lifted up Peter, when he was a weeping apostle
  • God lifted up Paul, when he was a violent persecutor

How great is the grace of our God! As an old song says, “It is no secret, what God can do! What he’s done for others, he’ll do for you. With arms wide open, he’ll pardon you. It is no secret what God can do!” (Stuart Hamblen)

The God of grace has lifted us up as well! He has lifted us from the pit of hell, from the sewer of sin, from the swamp of depression, and from the slavery of doubts and fears. O brothers and sisters, will you glorify the Lord with me? Come; let us exalt his name forever (Psalm 34:3).

Grace and peace, David

By Faith Joseph (Part Two)

Genesis 50:22-26

In our previous post, we saw how Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage with joy. We conclude this series on his life with this: By faith Joseph spoke about the future. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22 NASV).

For their immediate future, he encouraged them to rely on the Lord. He comforted them with the same comfort that he had received from his father (48:21). This is a pattern for our lives. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV). They who believe God’s promises are desirous of persuading others to believe also. That which had sustained him for over ninety years, he now leaves as a heritage of faith to his family.

Joseph had been the means of God’s support and protection for the family. Now that the means was passing away, what would become of the family? He directed them to the actual source of their security: The God who had made covenant promises to his people (50:24). “God’s gracious visits will serve to make up the loss of our best friends. They die; but we may live, and live comfortably, if we have the favor and presence of God with us” (Henry).

For the more distant future, he encouraged them to hope in God. God’s people must journey through this world with their hope (confident expectation) on what God has promised. We don’t look for satisfaction in this present world but in the world to come. Joseph’s family, which would become God’s covenant nation at Sinai, was not to look for satisfaction in Egypt. God had a better place for them, a place where they could flourish as his people. But they would not reach that land for many years. Until then, by faith Joseph spoke two messages of hope.

First, Joseph told them that God would come to their aid. Their way would eventually turn out to be bitter slavery. The people themselves would even turn to idols (Joshua 24:14). But God’s grace is greater than his people’s sins and sorrows. Hear the word of the Lord, “But God will surely come to your aid.”

Second, Joseph prophesied that God will surely take them to the land of promise. Egypt was not to be their home, and as a testimony to them, Joseph ordered that they take his bones out with them in the Exodus. Famous men often want to build monuments to their own honor in this world. Joseph was of a different spirit. Let Egypt do as it wished for the present; he had his sights set on a better country.

God’s people in all ages must keep their eyes on God’s promised rest for them. Let us remember where our home is. We are only strangers and pilgrims here. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13 NIV). We are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Let’s focus on some lessons we can learn from Joseph’s life.

  • What made Joseph tick? He had surely seen God do great things for him and through him! But was his experience his consolation in the end? No, it was the word of God. His hope was in what God had “promised on oath” (50:24). Two unchangeable things sustained him at the end, God’s promise and oath (cf. Hebrews 6:18). We will do well to pay attention to the word of the prophets made more certain, for it is the word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).
  • Let us not be weary of repetition. Joseph repeated that God would surely come to their aid. Weak minds continually lust after new, exotic, spicy spiritual and intellectual dishes. Strong minds are content to feed on meat and potatoes. Make God’s word your delight and rely on it; beware the opinions of people.
  • Joseph endured thirteen years of suffering, but he also enjoyed eighty years of honor. Let us not lose heart concerning any present suffering for Christ. He can abundantly reward us. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).
  • A godly man may die in the Egypts of this world. That matters not. All the godly will share perfection together someday (Hebrews 11:40). O that it was today!

Grace and peace, David

Heaven (Part One)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).

One of the privileges of being a pastor or elder is the spiritual care of God’s people, especially as they approach the end of their earthly journey. Then, we see together what is truly important in this life, and it is not houses, cars, career accomplishments, victories by our favorite sports teams, vacations, entertainment, and gourmet restaurants. At the end, family and friends matter most, and if we are wise, our approaching meeting with the Lord. Our present purpose is to examine what the Bible says about life after death for believers, about what most people refer to in a general sense by the word “heaven”.

What do we mean by heaven? The term is used in two general senses in relation to God’s purposes of salvation. The first refers to the past ages and this present age. When we speak of heaven in the first general sense, the term is used in to speak of:

  • The sky (Matthew 8:20; 16:2-3)
  • The region of the stars and galaxies (Acts 7:42: Hebrews 11:12)
  • The place in the present age where God reveals his glory, where Christ resides in his glorified humanity, and where the angels and the spirits of the justified currently reside (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:45; 18:10; Luke 22:43; John 12:28; Acts 1:11; 3:24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Galatians 1:8; Hebrews 8:1)

When we speak of heaven in the second general sense, which is the primary subject of this study, we are speaking of the eternal destiny of God and his people. In this second sense, we refer to the new heavens and the new earth, and what the Bible reveals about them. “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1159).

Eternity is a most solemn and heart-searching subject. Our present life is but a very brief blip. Think on the following (cf. Ryle, Practical Religion, pp. 472-488):

  • We live in a world where all is temporary and passing way (2 Corinthians 4:18), whether beauty, strength, wisdom, or the worldly wealth we accumulate.
  • We are all going to a future where everything is eternal, whether for eternal happiness with God or for eternal misery under God’s wrath (Matthew 25:46)
  • Our state in eternity depends entirely on what we are in time (John 3:16-18, 36; Romans 2:6-7; Galatians 6:8)
  • The Lord Jesus Christ is the Great Friend to whom we must all look for help, both for time and for eternity (John 6:37-40; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:15; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18)

Next, consider the various terms used in the Scriptures to describe the future blessedness of the saints. Invest some of your time in reading and meditating on these verses.

  • Life, eternal life, live forever (Matthew 7:14; 19:16, 29; 25:46; John 5:24; 6:47, 54-58)
  • Glory, the glory of God, an eternal weight of glory (Romans 2:7, 10; 5:2; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 3:21; Colossians 3:4; 2 Timothy 2:10)
  • My Father’s house, home with the Lord (John 14:2; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
  • Peace (Romans 2:10)
  • Salvation, eternal salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Hebrews 5:9; 9:28)
  • Paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7)
  • The Jerusalem that is above, the city with foundations, the heavenly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22; Revelation 3:12)
  • A better country (Hebrews 11:16)
  • The kingdom, heavenly kingdom, eternal kingdom (Matthew 8:11; 25:34; 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 1:11)
  • Eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4)
  • Eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9)
  • Glorious freedom (Romans 8:21)
  • To live and reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
  • Heaven (Matthew 5:12; 6:20; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Peter 1:4)
  • New heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)

Each of the above ought to stir the hearts of followers of the Lord Jesus. They tell us what to set our minds upon. Make room for heaven in your thoughts today!

Grace and peace, David