A Somber Warning

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!” – Jesus, Matthew 7:21-23

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issued a somber warning: Some who think they have salvation in him will not. On the one hand, Jesus did not mean this to terrify the true believer. Jesus intends our lives to be filled with joy in him (John 17:13) not worry and doubt over our salvation. On the other hand, this warning is very real for those who believe they are safe in their religion.

You see, Jesus’ point is simple: Your religion will not save you.

The people Jesus spoke about claimed to belong to him and claimed to do many marvelous things in his name. But, if you dig a little deeper into their lives, they lack something–their faith does not produce true obedience to the will of God.

They claim they want Jesus, they even want the spectacular things he does in the world, but they don’t actually want the life he calls us to live as his followers. They want their religion and their idea of Jesus, but not the things that Jesus himself wants.

This is why this warning has the bookends it does. Before it, Jesus stated that you’ll recognize a tree by its fruit. The tree might look healthy on the outside, but if it’s rotten on the inside then the fruit will be bad as well. A good tree produces good fruit. A true follower of Jesus will be growing in godly character and good works that serve others. After it, Jesus said the wise man hears his words and does them but the foolish man hears his words and neglects them.

The true follower of Jesus can have joy in abundance because they love Jesus and they love the life he provides. They’re seeking to follow him and to do his will; they’re growing in spiritual fruit; and when they fall short, they confess it to God and rest in his grace that forgives all their sins through Jesus. But the one who wants a Jesus-religion without actually following Jesus and his word should take heed to this warning: Without coming to embrace Jesus for who he truly is, the words await, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

When God Saves a Terrorist

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

In the Bible, we read about a man who did great violence to others. This man threatened murder, violently persecuted and tried to destroy others, and helped arrest people because of their religious beliefs and sent them to their death. From these descriptions, found in Acts 8, 9, & 26, and Galatians 1, we wouldn’t be far off if we called this man a religious terrorist.

This man was named Saul, later known as Paul–the same Paul who became a life-and-safety sacrificing witness and missionary for the very religion he sought to destroy; the same Paul who wrote a large part of Christian scripture.

How did Saul the persecutor of Christians become Paul the Christian? Acts 9:1-9 describes it for us: While Saul traveled toward Damascus, Jesus showed up with a flash of light and radically changed the radical’s life.

Saul wasn’t looking for salvation. He thought he had it all figured out. He thought followers of Jesus were a threat that needed to be wiped out. He thought Jesus was simply a man who died on a cross. Then he met Jesus, the resurrected man who is also God the Son, and received his grace.

Paul’s story reminds us that this side of death and eternity, no one in the world is out of the reach of the God’s saving grace offered in Christ. Not you, not me, not your mean neighbor, not your crass coworker, not the bully, not the maligned politician, not the terrorist.

This is why the call of Jesus is to go and make disciples of all nations. The church, as a whole, is to strive to take the gospel into every corner of the earth and share Jesus with anyone who will listen. Sometimes that means the nice couple next door who smiles and waves every time they see you, and sometimes that means the person who would love to kill you for your faith if they had the chance.

God offers grace to all, but they will only know it if God’s people will share. Don’t be afraid of the Sauls, as they very well may become the Pauls.

Judge of the Nations

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

The wicked will return to sheol–all the nations that forget God. For the needy will not always be forgotten; the hope of the oppressed will not perish forever. Rise up, Lord! Do not let mere humans prevail; let the nations be judged in your presence. Put terror in them, Lord; let the nations know they are only humans. ~ Psalm 9:17-20 (Christian Standard Bible)

Much of the Old Testament speaks of God being judge over the nations. The prophets, especially, show us that God sits enthroned over every government, king, president, and emperor. Israel may have been chosen as his special people, but all nations are subject to his decrees.

David meditated on this theme as well in Psalm 9. He praises God for being the “righteous judge” (9:4) who “executes judgment on the nations with fairness” (9:8). Part of the criterion for judgment here and in the prophets is how the nations treat the poor, needy, and oppressed.

In 9:17-18, David condemns the nations that “forget God” and immediately connects that to the needy and oppressed. A nation that is true to God and his word will not turn its back on the poor, desperate, in need, and outcast. They will not oppress those with little power. Time and time again in Scripture, it is God who stands up for those in need against the oppressor.

In our culture, the power of the government rests in the hands of we the people. The persons and policies we vote for are representatives of our voice. If we truly strive to be a nation that remembers God, we will also remember the struggling, oppressed, and outcast. We will find wise ways to use our vote, voice, and resources to help those in need.

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A Matter of Identity

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

Matthew 4:1-11 records the temptations of Jesus. Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he had gone over a month without food when Satan showed up with three temptations.

The first dealt with Jesus’ hunger: Tell these stones to become bread. The second dealt with Jesus’ security: If you throw yourself down from here, angels will protect you. The third dealt with God’s plan and Jesus’ right to rule over creation: Worship me and I’ll give you all of these kingdoms without you having to face the cross.

Yet, despite these differences, a common thread ran through each temptation–identity. Satan even said to Jesus in two of the temptations, “If you are the Son of God…”

Jesus, the eternal God the Son, came to earth and took on human nature and weakness. Would his human side depend fully on God or on his own will and flesh? Could Jesus actually trust the Father and his plan? Would the pain of the cross really be worth it?

Satan figured that if he could get Jesus to waiver in his trust as the Son of the Father, then God’s plan would fail. Jesus, however, remained faithful, refused Satan’s temptations and offers, and trusted fully in the Father as the good Father who provides for his children. And, indeed, when Satan left, the Father sent angels to serve Jesus.

What we face in our temptations is similar. If we have placed our trust in Jesus, we are new creations with new hearts. We are the adopted sons and daughters of God. We belong to a new family and a new kingdom. The old self in sinful rebellion is vanishing, and we’re to do what we can in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to help that process along.

When we face a temptation to sin, the question we must answer is: Am I going to choose to act as my new self in Christ; or am I going to momentarily say that God is not the good Father, his plan is not the best, and I can find greater happiness in my old ways?

God gives us plenty to help fight temptation–his word, prayer, accountability and fellowship with other followers of Jesus, etc., but he also reminds us of our identity. In Romans 8, Paul says that we have the Holy Spirit within us crying out Abba Father, reminding us of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters through Christ.

Holding firm to this identity helps us choose the way of righteousness, like Jesus, and say no to the ways of sin.

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Staring at the Skies

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

After Jesus had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going, thy were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11 (Christian Standard Bible)

A once-popular phrase went: You shouldn’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. On the one hand, that phrase misses the mark. In Colossians 3, Paul wrote that we’re to set our minds on the things above where Christ is. Doing so promotes the most earthly good in how we think about and treat others (3:1-17).

On the other hand, that phrase reminds us to not be like the first disciples in Acts 1.

Jesus had just spent the better part of three years teaching and training them. Then, to their dismay, he was arrested and crucified; but, to their great joy, he had risen from the dead and spent another 40 days appearing to them and teaching them. It was at this point, while with them, that Jesus ascended from earth into the sky.

He had just told them that soon the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and when he did, they were to go in the power of the Spirit and be witnesses about Jesus in all parts of the world.

Once he left their presence by rising upwards, however, the disciples must have stood around awestruck. Perhaps they even lingered a while, mouths agape, as they stared at the sky. It took two men in white (presumably angels) to shake them from the moment. And what was the message?

“You heard what Jesus told you to do, now go do it, don’t just stand there and stare.”

The simple lesson here is that we don’t have to wait for a word from God, a feeling in our gut, a sign of some kind, or the return of Jesus before we go do what he has already told us to do. As followers of Jesus, wherever we live, work, or play, God has given us his Holy Spirit and he has given us a mission–to share the love of Christ with those we encounter. When we fail to live on mission, whatever our excuse, we’re just like those eleven disciples who stared at the sky after Jesus told them what to do. So, where God has spoken, let us obey and let us live on mission without hesitation.

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Whatever You Did for the Least of These (The Last Days, part 7)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll conclude with Matthew 25:31-46.

In Matthew 25, Jesus concluded his teaching about his return with a picture of final judgment. Final judgment is the last event of the current age of history, before eternity kicks off with the re-creation and perfection of the heavens and earth. Of this event, Jesus says,

“All the nations will be gathered before [the Son of Man], and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'” (25:32-34)

Jesus’ mention of “all the nations” indicates that though he was a Jew and the expected Messiah of the Israelites, that neither the salvation he offers nor the judgment he carries out is exclusively for the Jews. In the Old Testament, God chose the Jews as his people to bring forth a King who would be King over all peoples. So, rightly, all will stand before Jesus at judgment.

During judgment there is a separation of people that Jesus compares to the separation of sheep and goats. Shepherding terminology is used much throughout the Bible, and sheep often stand as a metaphor for God’s people and goats as those who continue in their sin and rebellion against God. The sheep are blessed and welcomed into the joys of eternity; whereas later, the goats are cursed and sent “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angles” (25:41). This showing the wrath of God that burns against sin.

So, what does Jesus say marks the difference between the sheep and goats? Of the sheep, he says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me” (25:35-36).

This prompts the people to ask, “When did we do these things?” With the King replying, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (25:37-40). The goats, however, are described as those who did not help take care of others.

Here we find an example of what James would label as faith and works. Faith without works is dead, James wrote. His point being that a true faith in God through Jesus, a faith that is trusting in him for the love of God and the forgiveness of sins, is a faith that also manifests itself in good works, specifically works that show a great love for others.

Love is at the heart of the Christian faith. We experience God’s love and that love compels us to love others. We still might do some socially good deeds like those described without faith, but the deeds themselves won’t save us. We need faith. (See: Isaiah 64:6 and Ephesians 2:8-10). But then, a person with faith will live out that faith in a way that makes a positive impact on others. Saving faith always leads to doing good. And as we do to others, it is as if we have done for Jesus.

So, as we long for Jesus’ return, let us live out our faith, seeking to meet people’s needs as we wait to enter the perfect joy of eternity.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/08/16/well-done-the-last-days-part-6/

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“Well Done” (The Last Days, part 6)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 25:14-30.

Matthew 25 records Jesus telling three parables about his return. The first in 25:1-13 reiterates the truths at the end of chapter 24–we don’t know when Jesus is going to return, but we should live each day prepared, seeking to do his will while we still have breath on this earth.

Then in 25:14-30, we come across what is often called “the parable of the talents,” which tends to be quite familiar to followers of Jesus. Jesus told the story of a rich and powerful man who had three servants. To each he gave various talents, a measure of money in which one talent was worth about 20 years wages of the common laborer. The man then went on a journey to return at a later time.

Two servants took what they were given and earned more back for the master. The last servant, however, hid the talent in a hole in the ground and did nothing with it. When the master returned he called the servants to himself and found out what they had done.

The first two received high praise: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!” (25:21, 23).

The third servant did not fare well. He was called evil and lazy and he was stripped of all he had and tossed into the “outer darkness.”

The point of the story expands on the idea that Jesus will return and we won’t know when. The emphasis here, however, is the faithfulness we show in the meantime.

God gives a variety of “talents” to each of us. These may include our experiences, education, money, influence, time, etc. These are resources that God has given us to use in the world to love him supremely and love others deeply. The question is: What do we do with them?

A follower of Jesus will see his or her life and the things of life as an opportunity. This opportunity isn’t to make a name for ourselves but to magnify the fame of Jesus. It is an opportunity to tell the story of the great love he showed us in dying for our sins, and to tell the story of the great hope and joy we can have trusting in his return. It is also an opportunity to look around at the various needs others around us have and figure out ways to meet them as tangible demonstrations of God’s love.

Living our lives in such a way, trusting in Jesus and loving others as he has loved us, will lead us to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/26/no-one-knows-the-day-or-hour-the-last-days-part-5/

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