Psalm 146:2, 5, 6

“While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being… Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is…”

Praising the LORD God is always the right thing to do. He is worthy of all of the praise and glory and honor and worship His creation can bring. Scriptures speak of praising Him in all circumstances and at all times. The writer speaks above of praising God as long as he was alive and had any being; as long as he lived. Unto the moment when his abilities were drained, he wanted to be praising the LORD. As God’s people, our last breath will usher us into His glorious, eternal presence. There we will praise Him with infinitely better ability than we possess now. And we will do so forever.

Praise to God does not depend on anything. He is deserving of praise simply for Who He is. Our circumstances should never change our praise to Him. Though our circumstances change, He does not. He is always the same, and so always worthy of praise. And, He is always good. Our circumstances do not reflect on His character in any way. In Job 34:10, Elihu told Job and his friends, “Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.” God is good to us and faithful, and, He is always with us no matter our circumstances.

Verses 5 and 6 give reason to praise the LORD. “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help.” The story of Jacob shows God’s faithfulness and goodness. God had changed his name to Israel. He was the father of that nation. From his four wives were born 12 sons, each one a head of the tribes of Israel. But Jacob had trials in his life. Perhaps the hardest was the day that he heard that his favorite son, Joseph, had been killed by a wild animal. His grief was great. On seeing his grief, none of his sons told Jacob what had happened to Joseph. They knew where he was, but told Jacob that Joseph had died! Years later, those same sons worried about what impact further loss would have on Jacob.

A great famine came on the land. We know from scriptures that it was not only in Canaan, but also in Egypt. We also know that this famine was going to last seven years. But in Egypt was a wise man who had prepared the land for the famine. Through his wisdom, he was able not only to keep the Egyptians alive, but also people from other nations. This wise man was Joseph, Jacob’s “dead” son! In time, Jacob and his whole family moved to Egypt, where they were saved from the famine. So, after 14 or 15 years, Jacob saw Joseph alive again! This situation was used by God to save Jacob and his family.

This was the LORD’s doing and it was marvelous. From Jacob’s perspective, all was darkness and his son was dead. Nothing else mattered. But, God knew of the coming famine and arranged to save Israel and his family. Joseph’s trip to Egypt was engineered by God. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph told his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” As it says above in Psalm 146, “Happy is he that has the God of Jacob for his help.” Jacob discovered that God is a sure and steadfast help in time of trouble. Happy, indeed, is the one that has the God of Jacob for his help.

The Psalmist also says that happy is he, “whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is…” All of creation stands as a monument to God’s might. Its immensities have yet to be fully fathomed by mankind. The sky for its vastness and the sea in its depths are beyond our ability to fully explore. The more we learn the greater we find God to be, Who created all things in the smallest detail.

His creation and His dealings with Israel are only two things that reveal His might. Is He our hope? Do we trust Him in all things? Do we believe that He is the good God that He says He is? He made the way for mankind to be reconciled to Himself when He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. Jesus took the penalty for our sin, bearing God’s wrath.

Psalm 46:1-3 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” When God in His good wisdom determines to shake and undo His creation (as He will do soon), those who are His will have no reason to fear. Jacob learned what the psalmist said, He is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in trouble. He is worthy of our trust and our praise.

Praise the Savior, ye who know Him!
Who can tell how much we owe Him?
Gladly let us render to Him
All we are and have.

Jesus is the name that charms us,
He for conflict fits and arms us;
Nothing moves and nothing harms us
While we trust in Him.

Trust in Him, ye saints, forever,
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.

Keep us, Lord, O keep us cleaving
To Thyself, and still believing,
Till the hour of our receiving
Promised joys with Thee.

Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
Things that are not now, nor could be,
Soon shall be our own. (Thomas Kelly)

Ezra 8:22

“For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.”

Ezra had been sent by King Artaxerxes to Jerusalem. At the same time, he was to take back to the temple of God everything that had been taken by Artaxerxes’ predecessors. Ezra 8:26, 27 describe the amounts of gold, silver, and copper that were being taken back: “…I (Ezra) even weighed unto their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels an hundred talents, and of gold an hundred talents; also twenty basons of gold, of a thousand drams; and two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold.” A talent was 75 pounds, as we would reckon it. So, the total weight of silver was 56,250 pounds (28 tons) and the gold came to 750 pounds. A dram was a Persian gold coin of indeterminate value, but, clearly, the value of the described basins of gold and copper was great. So, Ezra and his companions were about to take a journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, approximately 1678 miles (2700 km), carrying all of that treasure!

Since he had strong backing from King Artaxerxes, one might think that Ezra would have asked for one more favor; that the king would send along some of his army to protect them on the way. He and his companions had grown up under the oppression of the kings of the day. They were not trained in war. And, there were only about 1,700 of them. Surely, many enemies were along the way, and aware of Ezra’s journey and the great wealth that they carried.

Ezra’s thinking is seen in the verse above; he was ashamed to ask for protection. They had told Artaxerxes about the greatness of Jehovah, and that He would be their protection. Ezra was ashamed to now turn around and ask Artaxerxes for help. The time for his journey had come.

But Ezra said more to the king. Not only did he speak of God’s almighty hand for good on behalf of them that seek Him, he also told the king about judgment for them that forsook God. His power, for good to them who sought Him, would be turned against those who didn’t, and His wrath would fall upon them. One might say that Ezra had painted himself into a corner. At this juncture, he must either follow and trust God, or he would be guilty of forsaking God, and find himself under God’s wrath. In the verses around this one, Ezra and his companions fasted, and appealed to God for His hand of protection, and for His guidance in the way. They trusted God and sought Him.

Forsaking God requires knowledge of Him and His ways in the first place. Forsaking is not done in ignorance. It is an act of the will with knowledge of the Person being forsaken. Ezra really wasn’t facing a decision. He already knew what he was going to do, and that was to trust God. He didn’t ask for the king’s assistance for the trip to Jerusalem. He was ashamed to do so. He was going to trust God.

What a challenge Ezra’s declaration puts before us. Have we ever boldly declared our trust in God and His abilities in the comfort of our home, only to balk under different circumstances? Does our trust in God pale when our comforts melt away, or the face of the crowd is scowling? Ezra was in the position to show where he stood, and stand he did. Perhaps nobody would blame him if he allowed the fears of the trip overtake him, and he requested the king’s help. But, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, he put his trust in his God, daring to stand with Him no matter the consequences.

Exodus 3:11, 12 records the conversation between Moses and God when Moses was sent by God to Egypt to lead out the Israelites. “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.” The evidence that Moses was wise in trusting the LORD would come when he came back, after the Israelites had left Egypt. Ezra was similarly rewarded upon the completion of his trip to Jerusalem. As recorded in Ezra 8:31, “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.” Our reward for trusting may come after the fact, but it shall surely come. To trust Him more!

Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain

Trusting as the moments fly,
Trusting as the days go by;
Trusting Him whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Brightly does His Spirit shine
Into this poor heart of mine;
While He leads I cannot fall;
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain

Singing if my way is clear,
Praying if the path be drear;
If in danger for Him call;
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain

Trusting Him while life shall last,
Trusting Him till earth be past;
Till within the jasper wall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain (Edgar P. Stites)

3 John 11

“Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”

These words of John to the well-beloved Gaius clearly divide. The division is between good and evil. At the same time, it is between them who are of God, and them who have not seen God. There are only these two groups of people. John spoke of no middle ground. One group has not seen God, and the other is of Him, or belongs to Him.

They that do evil are the ones who have not seen God. Quoting various Old Testament scriptures, Romans 3:10-18 puts it this way, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.” These words of Paul speak of the one group; the one that has not seen God, to use John’s words.

John meant something other than seeing God with the eyes. What he spoke of is taking heed to God. Is it the evil that they do that keeps them from seeing God? Or is it that they have not seen Him and so commit evil? The above words from Romans 3 tell us it is the latter. Scripture speaks of His law being written in men’s hearts. Many do not heed His law that is there. In fact, at the end of Romans 1:32 Paul ends a list of sinful behaviors with this, “… Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” It is because they don’t take heed to God that they do evil. This is not ignorance of God, but awareness of His demands, and choosing to set them aside. It is rebellion.

But, John also said that he that does good is of God. Romans 3, above, speaks of the whole human race. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no, not one. Yet something is different about certain ones. They do good and are said to be of God. Some change has come upon them. The difference is because of the LORD Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19-22 relates, “For it pleased the Father that in (Jesus) should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight …” God has effected a reconciliation between Himself and mankind through the death, burial, and resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ. This was the reason Jesus came to earth.

Ephesians 2:7-9 notes, “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Paul tells the Ephesians that their works, good deeds, do not come into the equation when it comes to being saved. This is entirely the gift of God through His grace, kindness, and mercy.

For the group that has not seen (neither heeded or acknowledged) God, a change is possible. It must start with acknowledging our sin, and the person of God, and His claim on their life. And, ends with resting on the LORD Jesus Christ as Savior. Then, doing good comes, showing that they are of God.

For the group that is of God, the verse above brings a command; “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.” It must be that though they are of God, it is possible that they could follow after evil. So, John provides this reminder. The ways of the world are still attractive to us. Praise God, His salvation is not taken back by Him when we stumble. As Paul told the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) May we strive to follow God and do that which is good.

The caution is not vain:
We may unfaithful prove,
And turn from God to sin again,
And fall from pardoning love;
Yet will we boldly press
T’ward our high calling’s prize,
And follow after holiness,
And to perfection rise.

Perfection is the good
Which wrestling saints receive,
Worthy of all to be pursued
Who in our Lord believe:
Perfection is the goal
Which terminates our race;
And comes to that, the spotless soul
Expires in his embrace. (Charles Wesley)

Revelation 2:4, 5

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

The church at Ephesus is commended for their stand for the LORD, their work and labor for Him, and their care regarding the teachers they heeded. But the above rebuke comes from our LORD, and a dire consequence was promised if things didn’t change. Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the seven churches. The LORD was promising to take away the Ephesian church. Even Laodicea, as weak as they were, was not similarly threatened.

The problem in Ephesus was they had left their first love. At this point in the passage, preachers often go into discussion and encouragement to his hearers to love one another; to care for one another and those in the world. We want to avoid the fate of the Ephesian church and being encouraged to love one another is appropriate. Many scriptures encourage us along these lines. It is important teaching. But are we missing the point if we focus on the love for those around us? Is our LORD rebuking the Ephesians for a lack of love to each other?

The LORD’s rebuke of the Ephesians is they have left their FIRST love. The Greek word translated “first” could be translated foremost, chief, or first of all. Many Christians remember their first zeal for the LORD because of His salvation. They honestly admit that their lives are not what they used to be. They recall being evangelistic, sharing the good news with those around them. Is this the first love? Is this the foremost or chief love? Is it the first-of-all love? They also remember that their heart was overwhelmed with gratitude and love for God for His great salvation.

Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29-31 suggest an answer. “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Notice His use of the words first and second. The first command is to love God with all of our being and ability, and the second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Would it be stretching Jesus’ words in Mark too much to suggest that the first love, the love of God, is the one He means in Revelation 2? According to 1 John 5:2, the evidence that we love our fellow believers is that we love God and keep His commandments. In Joshua 22:5 Joshua reminds the Israelites, “But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Note the separation between loving God and keeping His commandments. Firstly, they were to love Him, and then to walk in His ways, keep His commandments, and serve Him.

Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Luke 11:42 brings a charge that is similar to Revelation 2:4, “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” They were good about tithing and such matters, but they passed over the love of (or for) God! They were wrong in many other ways, but Jesus pointed out their lack of love for God.

Could it be that the church in Ephesus was so taken up with its works that they had forgotten Who it was that they served? Had they left their love for the LORD in pursuit of love for other things, even service for Him? The promise to remove the church, which apparently came to pass since there is not even a city of Ephesus any more, is a strong judgment. As noted before, this judgment was not put before any of the other churches in Revelation.

The Israelites of old were warned time and again to turn back to God. They refused to listen, and ultimately they lost their nation for a time. Other writers of God’s Word encouraged their readers to love their neighbors. But a judgment such as the loss of their church was not mentioned. Turning away from loving God would bring a strong judgment.

Did the believers in Ephesus set aside their love of God and the keeping of His Word in order to love their neighbors? Love for God is the first love that Jesus commanded in Mark 12, and it seems that it is the love the Ephesians left. Is the modern church becoming so focused on love for their neighbor that it is setting aside their First love? Is the second commandment being pushed ahead of the first? Churches have set aside teaching from God’s Word that might be unpopular so that they can be more appealing to their neighbors in the world. But our first love must be of God, His Word, and His ways. If that puts us at odds with the world, that is only what Jesus said would happen. If they hate us, remember that they hated Him, too. We must never set aside God’s Word and commands to accommodate the world. This is something for which the LORD ought to remove our church! How could He use or bless a church that does not love Him and keep His Word?

Is it possible for Christians to turn away from their love of God? Is it possible for Christians to commit any other sin? He is gracious and loving to us. Yet it is possible for us to become so enamored of work for Him that we miss Him altogether. Recently, a man preaching on this passage was heard to encourage his hearers to set aside theological correctness and to be working. If we do not cling to God’s Word, we have nothing to guide us. If work for God is our focus, and not Him, we miss out; we leave our first love. Let us pray that our LORD would show us if we have left our first love for Him.

O what an evil heart have I,
So cold, and hard, and blind,
With sin so ready to comply,
And cast my God behind!

So apt His mercy to forget,
So soon dissolved in ease,
So false, so full of all deceit,
And desperate wickedness!

What shall I do, my God to love,
My loving God to praise!
The length, and breadth, and height to prove
And depth of sovereign grace! (Charles Wesley)

Ezekiel 8:12

“Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.”

Hundreds of years before Christ, the nation of Israel, by then divided into the nations of Israel and Judah, was taken away from their land. Israel was first carried away to Assyria. Then, 140 years later, Nebuchadnezzar took the nation of Judah captive to Babylon.

After the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people of the land of Judah were carried away, Ezekiel was sent by God to speak to them in Babylon. His job was to tell them why it was they were taken captive. If they had been listening to God’s many prophets, Ezekiel’s words would have been familiar. They told Israel and Judah that they would be taken out of their land because of their idolatry. At God’s command, those prophets warned them repeatedly to turn away from their idols, and turn to God. But, they turned their back on the LORD God and His prophets, and worshiped the idols of the nations around them: the nations that Israel had displaced in the land. Their idols did nothing for those nations, and they were unable to do anything for Israel. Their God was the Living God.

Earlier in chapter 8, Ezekiel recorded a vision that the LORD had given him of the idolatry of the leaders of Judah; idolatry that they carried out even in the temple of the Living God. The very last phrase of the verse above reveals their thinking; “… The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.” The idolatry of the leaders was great, and though they thought it was unknown, the LORD was fully aware. Their ignorance of God was so deep that they thought that He didn’t care about what was going on with them, Israel, or in the world. They forgot God’s great history of caring for them, all the way from bringing them out of Egypt, leading them (not forsaking them) in their travels through the desert (though they had forsaken Him), fighting for them as they took the promised land, and providing leaders.

Similar words to those above are recorded in Ezekiel 9:9, “Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.” This is what the people were saying. The attitude of the leaders, above, had taken hold of the whole nation. Ezekiel was told that because of their view of God, their city was full of blood and perverseness. Like their leaders, their ignorance of God was so deep that they thought that He didn’t care about what was going on in the world. They, too, forgot God’s great history of caring for them. Their idolatry ruined their city, and ultimately led to them being taken captive.

This kind of thinking about God continues to this very day. Many believe it. But, just as it was a lie in the days of Israel’s captivity, so it is today. The scriptures that they had told a different story about God. So do the scriptures that we have today. In both He is called good and righteous and holy and faithful and merciful and loving, to name only a few. Colossians 1:16, 17 tell us, “…For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” That is, He holds all things together. Throughout history it has been the case that the things that happen are because of mankind’s sinful nature, not God’s lack of interest. We think that He won’t take action regarding our sin, and when He doesn’t we conclude that he doesn’t know or care.

About 100 years after Ezekiel, it was recorded in Jeremiah 51:5, “For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the LORD of hosts; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” In spite of their sin, the nations of Israel and Judah had not been forsaken by God. In the context of this verse in Jeremiah, God promises to bring Israel and Judah out of captivity, back into their land, and back to Himself.

In John 14:1-3 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Jesus’ care for His people is evident in these words. He is not ignorant of what is going on in their lives.

All of these last few scriptures show that the LORD sees, and neither has He forsaken the earth. Opposite to what the leaders in Ezekiel’s day said, Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.”

Rejoice, the Lord is king! Your Lord and king adore;
Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains He took His seat above;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He all His foes shall quell, shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell with pure seraphic joy;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice! (Charles Wesley)

Matthew 27:34

“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.”

The Roman soldiers nailed another victim to a cross. Per procedure, the victim was offered a dose of vinegar mixed with gall. According to tradition, this mixture had a stupefying effect, perhaps to reduce the victim’s pain, or to prolong his suffering. But this one refused.

This One was none other than the LORD Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Who was sent by God to solve a problem in His creation. God’s creatures were at odds with Him; under His wrath for disobeying Him. From the days of Adam and Eve until this very day this has been the case. For mankind’s disobedience, God the Judge’s sentence is, “Hell.” Many scriptures speak of Hell, and it is described in very strong terms. As given in scriptures, Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did of Heaven. It is a real place. Hell is fire, torment, and complete consciousness for those therein. It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is called outer darkness, and is the place where Satan and his angels will be judged for eternity, along with disobedient mankind. In Revelation 14:9-11 we read, “…If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” They have no rest night or day.

The torments of Hell are endured in complete consciousness. This can be seen in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus relates this story in Luke 16. In verses 22 and 23 we read, “And it came to pass, that [Lazarus] died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Note that the rich man did not request to be released from the torture, he asked only for a drop of water on his tongue. He knew that he was where he was supposed to be. But he wanted relief. None would be given him. He then requested that his brothers be warned from joining him. He was thinking clearly and fully aware of his torments. He wanted the slightest of reliefs, and that others be kept from ending up where he had.

The solution to the problem of sin was that Someone needed to be a substitute before the Court of Heaven. Someone Who would suffer the entirety of God’s sentence of judgment. Of course, it had to be Someone who was innocent before God. The only One that could meet that requirement was God Himself. Mankind is guilty, and cannot in its own efforts satisfy God’s justice and avoid the sentence. The Substitute would have to bear the whole of God’s wrath against mankind’s sin. Any part left undone would mean the work was not finished, and mankind’s situation would be unchanged.

Jesus’ refusal of vinegar mixed with gall was because if He were not fully conscious, then He would not have endured the whole of God’s wrath against the sin of mankind. Unlike the rich man, Jesus did not seek relief. Had He taken that drink, He would not have endured the full wrath of God, and mankind’s sin would remain. But, Jesus said, It is finished!

“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.”

The Roman soldiers nailed another victim to a cross. Per procedure, the victim was offered a dose of vinegar mixed with gall. According to tradition, this mixture had a stupefying effect, perhaps to reduce the victim’s pain, or to prolong his suffering. But this one refused.

This One was none other than the LORD Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Who was sent by God to solve a problem in His creation. God’s creatures were at odds with Him; under His wrath for disobeying Him. From the days of Adam and Eve until this very day this has been the case. For mankind’s disobedience, God the Judge’s sentence is, “Hell.” Many scriptures speak of Hell, and it is described in very strong terms. As given in scriptures, Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did of Heaven. It is a real place. Hell is fire, torment, and complete consciousness for those therein. It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is called outer darkness, and is the place where Satan and his angels will be judged for eternity, along with disobedient mankind. In Revelation 14:9-11 we read, “…If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” They have no rest night or day.

The torments of Hell are endured in complete consciousness. This can be seen in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus relates this story in Luke 16. In verses 22 and 23 we read, “And it came to pass, that [Lazarus] died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Note that the rich man did not request to be released from the torture, he asked only for a drop of water on his tongue. He knew that he was where he was supposed to be. But he wanted relief. None would be given him. He then requested that his brothers be warned from joining him. He was thinking clearly and fully aware of his torments. He wanted the slightest of reliefs, and that others be kept from ending up where he had.

The solution to the problem of sin was that Someone needed to be a substitute before the Court of Heaven. Someone Who would suffer the entirety of God’s sentence of judgment. Of course, it had to be Someone who was innocent before God. The only One that could meet that requirement was God Himself. Mankind is guilty, and cannot in its own efforts satisfy God’s justice and avoid the sentence. The Substitute would have to bear the whole of God’s wrath against mankind’s sin. Any part left undone would mean the work was not finished, and mankind’s situation would be unchanged.

Jesus’ refusal of vinegar mixed with gall was because if He were not fully conscious, then He would not have endured the whole of God’s wrath against the sin of mankind. Unlike the rich man, Jesus did not seek relief. Had He taken that drink, He would not have endured the full wrath of God, and mankind’s sin would remain. But, Jesus said, It is finished!

The cross! The cross! The blood-stained cross!

The cross of Christ I see.

It tells me of that precious blood

That once was shed for me.

The wrath! The wrath! The awful wrath

That Jesus felt for me;

When bearing my sins heavy load

He died on Calvary.

But Jesus lives! The Savior lives!

In heav’n He pleads for me;

And boldly I approach to God,

His blood my only plea.

He comes! He comes! The Savior comes!

Who bled and died for me;

Then will I sing, with rapture sing,

When gazing, Lord, on Thee. (John H. Stockton)

2 Samuel 10:12

“Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth Him good.”

The Syrians and Ammonites had gathered together to attack Israel. King David sent Joab and the army to take up the battle. When he got to the place, Joab discovered that it was a two-front war. So, he sent his brother, Abishai, with some of the army of Israel against the Ammonites, and Joab and the rest of the army went against the Syrians. Joab told Abishai that if the battle was too much for his army, he would come to help. And, if the battle proved too much for Joab, Abishai should bring his army to help Joab. Before taking up their battles, Joab gave his brother the encouragement recorded in the verse above.

The first part of what Joab said was words of courage and boldness in the effort. They were on the battlefield for the sake of the people of Israel. The security and safety of their country and its people were why they were soldiers. They were to take up the battle for their people’s sake. Also, they had a further mandate in that the cities of their country were the cities of God. The second part of what Joab said spoke to this aspect. Scripture has many references to the fact that the land of Israel is the LORD’s land, and the inhabitants are His people. The battle they had before them was in the service of God. They were to take up the battle for His sake, and in trust on Him. These were the things of which Joab reminded Abishai as they went to the battle.

This battle was between earthly armies, but Israel had an advantage. God was on their side. In the end the Israelites won because of this simple fact. Joab’s words showed that he considered this in his planning. While he and Abishai made plans, ultimately in Joab’s mind it came down to what God would determine to do: “…and the LORD do that which seemeth Him good.” Their success ultimately rested on this. As the story went, the moment Joab and Abishai went out to take on their enemies, the armies of the Syrians and the Ammonites fled from Israel. They had hardly begun to fight, and the fight was over.

In the human realm, the deciding factor in battles is which combatant has the biggest army, or is the best armed, or who has the best strategy. Countries don’t usually take up battles against more powerful neighbors. In the spiritual realm, we humans are greatly out matched. From before the battle starts there is no hope of success in it. This is because, at their weakest, spiritual creatures, whether friend or foe, are more mighty than we. Also to their advantage is we cannot see them. We are incapable of discerning spiritual things.

To illustrate, in 2 Kings 6:15-17 we read, “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” Though surrounded by earthly armies, Elisha was safe because of the armies of God that surrounded the earthly armies.

What was true with Joab and Abishai in their physical battle is true in spiritual battles; “…and the LORD do that which seemeth Him good.” They needed to depend on God in their battle, and we must depend on Him in ours. God’s Word calls Christians to various tasks, and each of them is part of a spiritual battle. As Ephesians 6:12 puts it, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We are in a battle that has eternal implications. As Elisha said, “…they that be with us are more than they that be with them…” As Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.” As Paul told the Romans, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” And we know that in the end, God will triumph!

If God had not been on our side
And had not come to aid us,
The foes with all their power and pride
Would surely have dismayed us;
For we, His flock, would have to fear
The threat of men both far and near
Who rise in might against us.

Their furious wrath, did God permit,
Would surely have consumed us
And as a deep and yawning pit
With life and limb entombed us.
Like men o’er whom dark waters roll
Their wrath would have engulfed our soul
And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.

Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat
That they could not devour us;
Our souls, like birds, escaped their net,
They could not overpower us.
The snare is broken—we are free!
Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee,
Who madest earth and Heaven. (Martin Luther)

Acts 17:30, 31

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

In his travels, Paul found himself in Athens. There he observed many examples of idolatry, even a statue to The Unknown God, whom they ignorantly worshiped, just to make sure all of the bases were covered. So, Paul took the opportunity to preach to them about this unknown God. The verses above are part of his message that day. Paul pointed out that God is a living God, not a piece of metal or stone. And, as he told them in verse 30, God had overlooked their ignorance. But now things were different. Had God changed?

Of course not, God is unchanging. But something new had come to pass in God’s dealings with mankind. Though He had previously winked at their ignorance (How gracious of Him to do so!), He now commanded all people everywhere to repent of their idolatry. Idolatry puts that which is not God in God’s place. This is what the Athenians and all of mankind were doing, and are doing to this day.

Paul told them that the reason for God’s command to repent is He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness. This is an important event that still hangs over the heads of mankind. The day is certainly coming on which the LORD will judge. It’s seeming delay is not an indication of Him changing His mind, or an inability to make it happen. The world does not believe it. But that day is surely coming. And, He will judge the world in righteousness. His definition of what is righteous is what counts. And, as Romans 3:10, 11 puts it, “…There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

According to Paul, this coming day of judgment will be by that man whom God had ordained. Though not specifically identified prior to this, Paul mentions that the ordained man was raised from the dead. This, of course, is none other than the LORD Jesus Christ! He will come as the judge. The vision of His coming is recorded in Revelation 19:11, 12, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.” This is the one that God has ordained to be judge, Who will judge in righteousness.

He is the one that mankind spit upon and hung on a cross. He is the one that was mocked and ridiculed. This is the one that will come to judge. We are told in Revelation 6:15-17, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”

God’s judgment day will be a terrible one. The book of the Revelation speaks of it. Paul told his Athenian audience something great in his message. That is, God hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised Jesus from the dead. With the backdrop of judgment just considered, it is apparent that mankind needs assurance in that day. If none are righteous, as Paul told the Romans, then how can anyone stand in that great day? As described in Revelation 6, they will call on the mountains to fall on them. And that will be a futile exercise. Nobody will avoid that day.

But God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus when He hung on the cross. His death was a substitute for mankind, making it possible for everyone to be reconciled to God. God raised Him from the dead. So, assurance in the day of judgment is possible. But this is not a blanket salvation. Many refuse this incredibly gracious gift of God, choosing to bring their own righteousness to God to appease His wrath against their sin and gain heaven. While God’s assurance through Jesus Christ is available to all, in this way many reject it. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and so they are under God’s wrath. John 3:36 tells us, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

In Isaiah 32:17 we read, “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” The sacrifice of the LORD Jesus Christ was a work of righteousness. For those who take His sacrifice as being for them, and are reconciled to God, there is peace with God, quietness, and assurance for ever.

Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Refrain

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Refrain

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

Refrain (Fanny Crosby)

Mark 9:24

“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

While Jesus was on the mountain with John, James, and Peter for the Transfiguration, a man brought his son to Him. The son was desperately ill, and the father had heard of the healings that Jesus had performed. Jesus’ other disciples were unable to help. So, when Jesus came down from the mountain, the father brought his son to Him. He needed Jesus to intervene.

The man’s son was possessed by an evil spirit. “How long has this been the case with him?”, Jesus asked the father. He told Jesus that he had been that way since he was a child. He also told Him that the spirit often threw his son into the water or into the fire to destroy him. Upon seeing Jesus, the spirit convulsed the boy, and he lay on the ground wallowing and foaming. After explaining the situation, and perhaps out of increasing desperation, the father said, “If you thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”

In spite of the father’s desperate plea, and the suffering boy at His feet, Jesus seemed to be unhurried. He had a different focus. He spoke of the most important issue; “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” The boy’s father responded as recorded in the verse above. Then, Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the boy, and to never come back. As it left the boy, the spirit screamed and convulsed him again, after which the boy lay still. He was so still that those around said he had died. Then, Jesus took the boy by the hand, lifted him up, and presented him to his father whole.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. This is the quality for which God is looking in every person. Having faith, or believing, is not simply mental assent. It is a heart response to what God has said. It is trust in Him. It is taking action based on what He has said.

Faith has come to mean that which people believe. It may be doctrines of their church or things they have concluded for themselves. The variety of beliefs is wide including belief in multiple gods, or none at all. But, God is not as interested in what we believe as much as we want to think. What He wants is us to believe in what He says is true in His Word, the Bible. In that context, faith is trust in God. Jesus told His disciples in Luke 12:4, 5 “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” This is faith.

Faith is trust in Him. Is He God? Can He do mighty things? Did He create all things in heaven and on the earth? Does He hold together everything that we can see, as well as everything we cannot? Does He know everything? Is He everywhere present? Does He possess all power and might? Is Jesus Christ God? Are we sinners in need of God’s help to gain Heaven? Are our works inadequate to get us to Heaven? Must we rely only on Jesus for eternal life?

These questions are all addressed in God’s Word. According to the Bible, the answer to each of them is, Yes. Many verses can be found that teach these facts about God, Jesus, and our eternal destiny. Do we believe it? Do we believe God when He says these things are true? Are we willing to come only to Him for forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, believing that we remain under God’s wrath if we don’t? Are we willing to set aside our own efforts to gain heaven and trust only in Jesus? Do we believe God’s Word? It tells us all of these things. That is faith that pleases God.

In the case above, the father believed that Jesus could heal his son. And, He knew that Jesus was God. But, the sad state of his son loomed large. He feared that some lack on his part could stand in the way of his son being healed. “Help thou my unbelief!” He walked away with his son healthy, and the assurance that these attacks would not come on him again.

Look how accommodating Jesus was to this man in his need! He raised the issue of belief, and then healed his son from his afflictions. There were no stern words. Only a gentle leading to a fuller understanding of faith. In this way, Jesus deals with all who trust in Him.

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

Refrain

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.

Refrain

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
Salvation through His blood.

Refrain

My great physician heals the sick,
The lost He came to save;
For me His precious blood He shed,
For me His life He gave.

Refrain (Eliza E. Hewitt)

Mark 10:18

“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”

In His reply to the rich young ruler, Jesus made a statement concerning God’s character. There is none good but Him. In the context of the story, Jesus was making the point that if the ruler called Him good, then he must also acknowledge His deity. Jesus’ command to sell all and give to the poor was an exercise of His deity, and the ruler’s reaction to it shows his heart toward God.

The concept that God is good is important. Since God is eternal, it must be that God has always been, currently is, and will ever be good. Everything He does is good. As recorded in Genesis 1, everything that He created was declared to be good, with the ending assessment that it was all very good. In Acts 14:17, Paul told the people in Lystra that God, “…left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” The blessings we receive, like rain and harvest, are evidences of God’s goodness.

But even Bible-believing Christians may balk when they put this concept along-side God’s judgments, recorded in the Old Testament. Many lives were taken, either through war or famine or pestilence. None of these things were outside of God’s control. And, God commanded Moses and Joshua to spare nobody, man, woman, or child, while taking the Promised Land. We fail to see how these things were good, as we think about it. But God is still good. Our estimate of what is good is faulty.

In human government, imperfect though it may be, judgment falls on those that have broken the law, and are found guilty. It is not good if someone is found guilty of a crime but goes unpunished. The punishment of crimes is good; it is a benefit to mankind. Any government that does not apply judgment is considered corrupt. Any judge that does not administer justice is despised.

So, God’s judgment was always good. He was never slack at administering justice. Many scriptures give God’s commandments. Disobedience to His commands brought and will bring judgment. As Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “…every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Leviticus 18 provides a listing of the sins of which the nations in the Promised Land were guilty. In verse 24 the LORD says, “Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” The nations were guilty before God, and He used the Israelites to execute His judgment. In this God was good.

But God did not act without warning or in haste. When God told Abraham that He was going to give the land to Israel, He said that the Israelites, “…in the fourth generation …shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Genesis 15:16) There was timing to God’s promise. The coming of Israel into the land would be delayed until the Amorites were ready to be judged. That was about 470 years after God’s promise to Abraham. He was not in a hurry but was longsuffering. The sins listed in Leviticus 18 were why God judged them, and He used Israel to do it. This explains God’s command to judge the people in the land as He did. His law was broken by them, and He judged them. In this God was good.

God will again judge sin. Speaking of the whole human race, Romans 3:10-12 says, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” All of mankind is guilty before God. None of mankind is good. There will be a time when His judgment must fall again. And He will be good in doing so because justice must be served. He is good in everything.

This is hard truth. But it is hard because we don’t properly understand what is good. Jesus said that none is good but God. Believers must always hold that it is so, no matter how things may look. On the occasion of his loss, Job famously commented in Job 1:21, “And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” God’s comment concerning this in Job 1:22 is, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” C.H. Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.” God is good.

Good Thou art, and good Thou dost,
Thy mercies reach to all,
Chiefly those who on Thee trust,
And for Thy mercy call;
New they every morning are;
As fathers when their children cry,
Us Thou dost in pity spare,
And all our wants supply.

Mercy o’er Thy works presides;
Thy providence displayed
Still preserves, and still provides
For all Thy hands have made;
Keeps, with most distinguished care,
The man who on Thy love depends;
Watches every numbered hair,
And all his steps attends.

Who can sound the depths unknown
Of Thy redeeming grace?
Grace that gave Thine only Son
To save a ruined race!
Millions of transgressors poor
Thou hast for Jesus’ sake forgiven,
Made them of Thy favor sure,
And snatched from hell to Heaven.

Millions more Thou ready art
To save, and to forgive;
Every soul and every heart
Of man Thou wouldst receive:
Father, now accept of mine,
Which now, through Christ, I offer Thee;
Tell me now, in love divine,
That Thou hast pardoned me! (Charles Wesley)

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