Passing on the Mantle

2 Kings 2

March 15

Today’s reading starts out, “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind…” And to think, some people say reading the Bible is too boring.  Sorry, I can’t agree.

Elijah and Elisha did a lot of walking that day.  They started at Gilgal, walked to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River.  Each time they moved on, Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha would not be separated.  When he promised to follow Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:20, he meant to follow him to the end, and he was going to.  Elisha was dedicated.

They walked through areas of spiritual significance.  It had been at Gilgal that the Israelites first camped when they had entered the promised land, and it was there they were circumcised, and officially became “sons of the covenant” (Joshua 4:2-9).  Bethel had been the place Jacob had a dream with a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and down; and where God had promised to be with him wherever he went (Genesis 28:11-19).  Jericho had been the site of Joshua’s amazing victory as a result of just obeying God by walking around the city – no matter how ridiculous that seemed (Joshua 5-6).  And the Jordan River was where the river parted before Joshua and the Isrealites on their way into the promised land.  Elijah and Elisha walked down memory lane together.

In their travels, they visited two schools of the prophets (Bible Colleges), where the students told Elisha that Elijah was going to be taken away from him that day.  It seemed like everybody knew what was about to happen, and it broke Elisha’s heart.  

When they got to the Jordan River, Elijah hit the water with his cloak, the water divided, and they walked across on dry land.  It was then that Elijah asked Elisha if there was a parting gift Elijah could leave to Elisha.  Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”  Interesting.  The thing Elisha wanted most in this world was to be closer to God than even Elijah had been.  Elisha had his priorities right.

Elijah told Elisha that if he saw Elijah being taken away, he would receive his wish.

2 Kings 2:11-12 then says, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out …” 

Now Elisha couldn’t rely on Elijah’s help anymore.  He was alone…  or was he?  God was still on His throne.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak.  I think this is significant in that he was picking up the mantle of Elijah’s ministry.  But now Elisha was stranded on the East side of the Jordan River.  How was he going to get across?  You guessed it. Elisha struck the river with Elijah’s cloak, the water separated, and he walked across on dry ground.  God was with Elisha!  And the 50 Bible College students that were watching knew that Elisha was now the new head prophet.

Elijah then went on to Jericho, where he healed the water and land around Jericho (which Joshua had cursed in Joshua 6:26).  

The final miracle in this chapter is a little gruesome.  Elisha went to Bethel, where a bunch of punks mocked Elisha, saying, “Go on up, you baldhead!” repeatedly.  Presumably, they were saying that Elijah had been caught up to heaven and they were rid of him, now they wanted to get rid of Elisha’s godly influence (and condemnation) too.  Elisha called a curse down on them, and two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of them.  We’re not told that they were killed, so I assume they were scarred and maybe disfigured for the rest of their lives as a living testimony to what may happen when someone rebels against God.

After that, Elisha went to Mount Carmel, where Elijah had initiated the “god contest” that we talked about in yesterday’s devotion.  Then, Elisha started his own ministry.

So how can we apply stories from this chapter to our own lives today?

Elisha was committed to spending as much time as possible with Elijah – to learn as much as possible from him – as long as he had the opportunity.  I think it is important for less mature Christians to learn as much as they can from more mature Christians, while they have the chance.  I also think more mature Christians need to seek out those they can mentor in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).  And while we’re on the topic, I also have to wonder if Elijah intentionally visited those Bible Colleges to encourage those students one last time before he was taken away.  What are you doing to learn from those more mature and to share with those less mature?

Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?

Elisha’s greatest desire was to be even more godly than Elijah had been.  And it was granted.  (By my count, God performed 8 miracles at Elijah’s request, and 16 at Elisha’s request.)  What is your greatest desire?

Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you?

And how often do you grumble against your preacher?  Remember those 42 mauled hoodlums. 

Elisha revisited places where he had treasured memories of Elijah, then struck out on his own to start his own ministry.  We can’t live in the past either (although I personally would prefer to).  We need to be looking forward to what God still has for us to do, and we need to take action.  How are you doing on that front?

Finally, while we can’t expect to be caught up to heaven in a whirlwind like Elijah was, we do have this promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”  But this only applies to the righteous.  When Christ returns, will you rise to meet the Lord in the air?  I hope to. I hope you do, too.

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are you doing to learn from those more mature in the Christian faith and to share with those less mature? Why is each important?
  2. Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?
  3. What is your greatest desire? What else gets in the way? How can you be more devoted to your greatest desire?
  4. Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you? What do you think God still wants you to do for Him?
  5. Do you grumble against or put-down the leaders God has put in place?

Because He Followed God Wholeheartedly

1 Kings 18

March 14

As we mentioned yesterday, Elijah did what God told him to do, and did it when God told him to do it.  So in I Kings 18, when God told Elijah to “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” Elijah went to find Ahab – even though Elijah was a wanted man.  And Elijah knew that God was going to finally send rain – after a 3.5 year drought.

When they met, Elijah proposed a “God contest” to Ahab.  He told Ahab to gather at Mount Carmel the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, along with representatives from throughout all of Israel. (The 400 prophets of Asherah declined the invitation.)  Once everyone was assembled, Elijah made a speech in front of all of the representatives saying (1 Kings 18:21),  “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 

Then Elijah proposed a challenge.  Give a bull to the 450 prophets of Baal, and Elijah would get a bull.  They would build an altar, and he would build an altar.  They would pray to Baal, and he would pray to Jehovah.  The god that answered by fire from heaven would be the real god.  All the people replied, “What you say is good.”

So the 450 prophets of Baal got to go first.  They chose their bull, and built their altar. They prayed from morning until noon, but nothing happened.  At noon, Elijah started taunting them, “Shout louder!  Surely he is a god.  Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  So they shouted louder, and started slashing themselves with swords and spears – but there was still no response.

Then Elijah got his turn.  He rebuilt the altar of God, cut up the bull, and put it on top of his altar.  He then dug a trench around the altar, and had the people pour 12 large jars of water over the offering and the wood.  (Remember there had been a drought for 3.5 years, so water was very precious, and this had to have seemed like a huge waste of water.)  The water completely filled the trench – Elijah was giving himself a handicap.  Then Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

Did you notice Elijah’s reason for asking God to send fire from heaven?  Was it to make Elijah look good?  No.  It was to show the people that Jehovah is the only true God, and to show the people that Elijah obeyed God.  And ultimately, it was so the people would turn back to God.

Anyway, Elijah prayed, then *poof* fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and even the water.  When the people saw this, they fell face-down on the ground and said, “The Lord – He is God.  The Lord – He is God.”

Once the 450 prophets of Baal were slaughtered, Elijah told Ahab to go eat and drink before the rain started.  Then Elijah knelt to the ground and prayed for rain.  He sent his servant to look out over the Mediterranean Sea to see if he saw any clouds.  There were none.  This was repeated.  After the seventh prayer, the servant said he saw a small cloud forming.  Elijah told Ahab to jump in his chariot and escape to Jezreel before the rain stopped him, so Ahab rode off.  “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.”  – 17 miles.

In addition to Elijah’s obedience mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, in this story we see examples of his incredible faith.  Would you have had the guts to confront Ahab, even though Ahab had put a bounty on your head?  Elijah did.  Would you have been bold enough to challenge the pagan priests to a contest to call fire from heaven to declare which god was real?  Elijah did. Would you have been so bold as to tell Ahab to eat before the rain stopped him – even though the sky was still clear.  Elijah did.

How could Elijah have such profound faith in God?  It was because he was doing what God had told him to do.  And since he was obeying God, he had complete faith that God had things under control, even when things seemed impossible.  And then as icing on the cake, God gave him supernatural strength and endurance to outrun a horse and chariot for 17 miles to stay ahead of the rain.

The incredible faith, answers to prayer, and incredible endurance that Elijah experienced were all because he followed God wholeheartedly.  

Wouldn’t you love to have incredible faith, amazing answers to prayer, and other incredible things happen to you too?  You can – if you too choose to follow God wholeheartedly, and obey him in every way.  Or are you stuck “wavering between two opinions?”  If so, I’m reminded of Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Make up your mind.  Completely commit to one side or the other.  I’m choosing Elijah’s side – God’s side.  Which will you choose?

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Imagine you were an observer on Mount Carmel. What sights, sounds, smells, and emotions would you experience? What would you tell others about this experience?
  2. What other false gods and idols have taken the place of Baal today?
  3. Can you be on God’s side – just a little bit? What will happen?
  4. How are you doing at following God wholeheartedly? What would God suggest you change in order to follow Him better?

Elijah – the Lord Jehovah is my God

1 Kings 17

March 13

1 Kings 17 has so much in it, it’s almost impossible to cover it all in one devotion.  It starts with Elijah standing before King Ahab and declaring that there wouldn’t be rain for the next few years, except at Elijah’s command.  We need a little context for this.  King Ahab’s wife was Jezebel, a foreigner, who worshiped Baal.  Baal was the Phoenician fertility god that supposedly sent rain.  Jezebel was actively trying to cause Israel to worship Baal, and was trying to eliminate the worship of Jehovah, the one true God.

God had made promises to Moses long before in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, “If you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine, and oil.”  In Deuteronomy 28, we find the curses for turning away from God.  In verses 23-24, we find, “the sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.  The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.”

Remember that God always keeps his word, whether it is the promise of blessing for obedience, or of cursing for disobedience.  And in Israel, at that time, the country had already been worshiping the two calf idols that Jeroboam had made many generations before.  Now, the Israelites were increasing their rebellion by completely turning away from God, so God sent Elijah to Ahab to punish the country, and to set up a showdown three and a half years later to prove once and for all who was the real God.

Once Elijah had delivered his message, God sent him to a ravine, where ravens brought him food twice a day, and he drank from a brook – until it dried up.

Then, God sent Elijah to a poor widow in a foreign country.  Elijah asked her for some water and food.  The widow told him (1 Kings 17:12), “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.  I’m gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, so that we may eat it – and die.”

Elijah told her that if she baked that bread for him, after that, she could bake some for herself and for her son – because God would cause the flour and oil not to run out until the famine was over.  If you were that widow, would you have given your last meal to a stranger?  She did, and as a result of her faith and God’s blessing, her flour and oil did not run out – just like Elijah had said.

Eventually, the widow’s son got sick and died.  Elijah prayed, “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”  And in verse 22, we read, “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.”  Incredible!

I see several applications in this chapter to us today.  

Elijah was a godly man.  His name meant “the Lord (Jehovah) is my God”, and his name fits.  And this was at a time when virtually everyone else had forsaken God.  It’s only because Elijah was a godly man that his prayers were so powerfully answered, and that God protected him.  We too need to be godly if we want good things from God.

Elijah went where God told him to go, and when God told him to go there.  Presumably, God sent Elijah to Ahab.  We know that God sent him to the Kerith Ravine – and because of his obedience, God provided for him.  Then, after the brook dried up, Elijah didn’t go anywhere until God told him to go to Zarephath and meet up with the widow God had arranged.  Again Elijah obeyed, and God provided.  We need to be willing to do what God says, when he says it, if we expect God to provide for us.

Elijah experienced hardship, even though he was obviously doing God’s will.  He certainly didn’t have a life of ease, but God did provide for his needs.  We can expect the same.

Elijah could pray!  He prayed that there would be a drought, and it happened.  He prayed that the boy would be resurrected, and he was.  We’re told in James 5:17-18, “Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”  Yes, these were incredible miracles, but God did the miracles, not Elijah.  Elijah was a person just like us, but he was close to God, and God answered his prayers.  If we want our prayers to be answered, we too need to be close to God.

Everything Elijah was able to do was because of his obedience to God.  How do you compare?  

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. God has a way of creatively providing for those who obey Him. How did God provide for Elijah’s needs? How have you experienced God’s providence?
  2. What was the widow asked to do to help provide for the man of God? Why do you think she did it? How can God use you to help provide for His faithful people in hard times? What are you willing to sacrifice to be used by God in this way? What do you think would have happened to her if she had declined helping and fed herself and her son first? What would have happened to Elijah?
  3. What do you think of Elijah’s prayer life? What do you think of yours? What do you think contributed to Elijah’s prayer life? If you want to see your prayer life deepen and expand, what steps should you take? How serious are you about it?

Be Careful that You Don’t Fall

2 Samuel 11

March 11

The story of David and Bathsheba is probably familiar to most of us.  King David, described elsewhere as a “man after God’s own heart”, had a little too much time on his hands while his army was away fighting.  One evening, he got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of his palace; and from his roof, he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath.  I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

You might be tempted to stop right there and ask what this beautiful woman was doing taking a bath in public. Wasn’t she inviting unwanted attention? Presumably, she was in her own fenced backyard, and nobody could see her unless someone was on the roof of the palace next door – and who would be walking around on a roof?  Regardless, she isn’t the real topic of the story, David is.

The fact remains that David took a long look at her.  David lusted after her.  David violated one of the 10 commandments: “Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife…”.   Lust is a trap, especially for men – even for a “man after God’s own heart”.  David should have stopped right there, confessed, and asked God for forgiveness.  Instead, he asked one of his servants who she was.  He was definitely showing too much interest.

Once he found out that she was the wife of Uriah, one of his bodyguards, and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his chief advisor, he certainly should have walked away.  But she was gorgeous, so instead, he invited her over and slept with her.  David violated another of the 10 commandments: “Don’t commit adultery” – and the punishment for this one was supposed to be death.

When David found out that Bathsheba was pregnant, he recalled her husband from the battle so he could go home – to try to hide the fact that David was the father.  But Uriah didn’t cooperate; he didn’t go home.  Ultimately, David then schemed to have Uriah put on the front line of the battle, and have everyone else withdraw, so Uriah was killed.  And so he violated another of the 10 commandments: “Don’t kill”.

David seemed to successfully hide all of this until after the son was born.  But God sent Nathan, the prophet, to confront David.  Nathan told David that God was going to discipline David, according to his sins.  

David wrote Psalm 51 after Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba.  In this psalm, we find in verse 1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.”  In verses 11-12, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your Salvation…”  David’s heart was broken, he confessed, and was reconciled to God.

The discipline came a little later.  During Absalom’s rebellion, Absalom slept with 10 of David’s concubines in public;  David’s daughter Tamar was raped by her half brother Amnon; four of David’s sons died: this baby, Amnon, Absolam, and Adonijah; and David had problems for the rest of his life.  God forgave David’s sins, but David still had to live with the consequences of his sins.

God’s discipline isn’t punishment handed out by an angry God bent on vengeance, it’s difficulty allowed by a loving Father who wants to see his children develop godly character.  Otherwise, it would be too easy to just accept and live with sin, and God loves us too much to let that happen without a fight.

This brings us to our application for us today.

Do you consider yourself to be Godly?  If so, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  If you don’t consider yourself to be Godly, what do you think your long-term future (eternity) looks like?  Isn’t today the best time to solve that problem?

Look at the progression in David’s life.  A glance, lust, adultery, then murder.  Are there places in your own life where you are at that “glance” stage?  The “lust” stage?  Further down the path (to destruction)?  Wherever you find yourself, don’t continue down the path of sin.  Turn around.

Was David’s wild fling worth it?  Absolutely not!  Is the pleasure of your sins worth it?  It never is!  I’m reminded of Hebrews 11:25-26, where we’re told that Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time… because he was looking ahead to his reward.”  Are you strong enough to forgo “the pleasures of sin for a short time” and instead look ahead to your reward?  If not, ask God to help you.

And when you do sin, don’t just try to hide it.  Remember 1 John 1:9, where God promises, “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  It was only after David’s confession that he was reconciled with God.  The same is true for us.

You may be tempted in similar ways as David, or you may be tempted in other ways, but you will be tempted.  1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In your own experience, have you ever observed (or are currently in) the downward spiral of sin where one sin leads to another? Where would have been the best place to stop? How? How do you turn around now – look at David’s example (Psalm 51 is a beautiful place to start).
  2. To avoid the painful and long lasting consequences of sin in your own life how can you build your resolve to forego the “pleasures of sin” which last a short time? What can you do now to help yourself stand strong when you are tempted? What can you do when you are right in the the middle of a strong temptation? How can you help others stand firm against their temptations?
  3. Like David, sometimes we need our sin pointed out to us before we reach a point of confession. Read 2 Samuel 12. Have you ever needed a Nathan to help you see your own sin? Pray to see your own sin clearly. Then confess it. Have you thanked those who have helped you see your sin. Then, as David said in Psalm 51 – with a pure heart he could, “Then…teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”

The Heart of Christ

Matthew 9

January 9

I believe Matthew 9 gives us an excellent glimpse into the heart of Christ.  Let’s start at the end of the chapter.  Matthew 9:36 tells us, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Remember these crowds were filled with tax collectors and sinners – people rejected by polite society – people rejected by the religious leaders of the day.  And yet Jesus’ first instinct was that of compassion.  To understand the significance of this, let’s remember that Jesus was the only sinless person ever to walk the face of the earth.  One would naturally think that whatever sins cause us (sinful people) to cringe, would cause Jesus to be horrified.  And yet Jesus had compassion because the people coming to him were harassed and helpless.

If we now back up to Matthew 9:35, we see what he did because of his compassion, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”  Jesus was interested in helping these people who were helpless in and of themselves.  He first met their most basic need – their spiritual need – the need to be reconciled with God – by preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.  If all Jesus cared about was people’s salvation, I suspect he would have stopped there.  But in addition to preaching and teaching, he healed every disease and sickness.  This again points out that Jesus was deeply concerned with the people themselves, and cared about what the people cared about – and solved the problems they faced.  The only explanation is that Jesus genuinely loved these “unlovable” people.

Let’s look at some of the other stories in this chapter.  The chapter begins with some men bringing a paralytic to Jesus.  Jesus was so eager to help the man, he didn’t wait for anyone else to even speak, and just jumped in with, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” – almost as if Jesus just couldn’t wait to help the man.  Jesus jumped right to the most important problem – reconciling this man to God.  Then, to prove he had authority to forgive sins, he demonstrated his power again by completely healing the man.  The crowds were in awe, and praised God.

The next section talks about Jesus’ calling Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him.  Jesus didn’t only tolerate those society rejected, he actively sought them out.  It was at Matthew’s house that Jesus’ enemies accused him of eating (coming in close fellowship with) tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus’ response, in Matthew 9:12-13 was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mercy.  God desires mercy, and Jesus was demonstrating it.  And I would argue that one cannot really demonstrate mercy without first loving the target of that mercy.

The chapter goes on to detail other miracles, including raising a dead girl back to life, healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, and healing two blind men.  All in addition to the summary at the end, saying that he healed every disease and sickness throughout all their towns and villages.

For me, if I had to define Jesus with a single word, based on this chapter, that word would be Love.  Love we can’t even fully comprehend.  God-like love.  

1 John 4:16 says, “… God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.”

John 5:19 tells us, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

-Steve Mattison

Questions for reflection & Discussion

  1. Does Jesus care about the things that concern you?  (Hint:  read Matthew 11:28-30)
  2. If Jesus loved the people of his day, how much must he love you?  
  3. How has he demonstrated his love to you?  
  4. What is your response?
  5. If Christians are supposed to “imitate Christ” what would that look like in your life? (Hint: read John 13:34, Philippians 2:3-8, 1 John 2:6)
  6. How are you measuring up?

Wrath and Reward

Revelation 16

If you’ve ever needed an incentive to remain obedient to God, read about the 7 bowls of God’s wrath as recorded in Revelation 16 – if a stick motivates you.

Bowl 1.  Revelation 16:2, “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.

This is a good reason not to worship the beast, better known as the antichrist.  But it gets better…

Bowl 2. The sea turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.

Bowl 3. The rivers and springs of water turned to blood.

Bowl 4. People were seared by the intense heat of the sun, which grew very hot.

Bowl 5. Darkness, and men gnawed their tongues in agony.

Bowl 6. Demons gathered the kings of the earth for the war of Armageddon.

Bowl 7.  An earthquake more devastating than any since man has been on the earth.  Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.  From the sky, huge hailstones of about 100 pounds each fell upon men.

This should give us the incentive to remain faithful to God in the midst of persecution from the antichrist.  But we can’t endure alone, we will need God’s help.  This brings us to a promise in Zechariah 4:6, also in today’s reading, which says, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

We need to be completely dedicated to living wholeheartedly for God.  And when tough times come, He will give us the strength to endure, with the power of His Holy Spirit.

Personally, I’m more of a carrot kind of guy.  So I look more at the promises of Revelation 21:4, which says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

So whether you’re motivated by a carrot or by a stick, the important thing is to be completely dedicated to living wholeheartedly for God today.  Once the tough times come, it will be really hard to start serving Him then.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 3-4 and Revelation 16

Which Fate will You Choose?

Revelation 14 – 15

Even though Revelation 14 was part of yesterday’s reading, I waited to comment on it until today so we could contrast the fate of those who submit to the antichrist from Revelation 14 with the fate of those who resist the antichrist in Revelation 15.

Rev 14: 9-12 tells us, “…If anyone worships the beast [the antichrist] and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.  He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.  There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”

In a nutshell, no matter how bad it will get for Christians, including being martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus, the punishment for the wicked will be infinitely worse.  This will call for patience and endurance on the part of Christians – when given the choice between “the good life” of following the antichrist, or torture and death for remaining faithful to Jesus.

By contrast, we read in Revelation 15:2-3, “And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name.  They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the lamb:  “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.””

Every one of us has a choice to make.  Usually these choices are in little things – would God approve of this or that that I’m doing?  As we consistently choose to live for God, it gets easier to make the right choices.  Eventually, making the right choices will be really tough.  If we don’t develop the discipline now, we’ll never be able to endure when times get tough.

This reminds me of Moses’ challenge to the Israelites just before his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 30:15, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

Which will you choose?

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 1-2 and Revelation 15

Give Careful Thought to Your Ways

Haggai 1 – 2

The book of Haggai records events that took place in 520 B.C.  The foundation of the temple had been laid in 536 B.C. (Ezra 3:8-13), but building stopped because of opposition.  In Haggai 1:2, we see that people were making excuses, “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.”  The people themselves were living in fine houses, but just hadn’t gotten around to building God’s temple.  Their priorities were wrong.

God pointed out that He had been undermining the people’s prosperity because they hadn’t made God a priority.  Haggai 1:6 tells us, “You have planted much, but have harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

Once confronted with this, the people obeyed God and began to work on the temple.  The word of the Lord came to Haggai again in chapter 2, where God told Haggai in 2:9, “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, says the Lord Almighty…”

Interesting.  When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, fire fell from heaven to consume the offering, and God’s shekinah glory appeared so the priests couldn’t enter the temple.  The ark of the covenant, the representation of God on earth had been there.  But in this new temple, there was no ark of the covenant, no urim or thumim, no fire from heaven, no shekinah glory.  So how would this new temple have greater glory than Solomon’s magnificent temple, you may ask.  Here’s how:  Over 500 years later, Jesus taught in this new Temple.

Further, God promised that starting on that very day, God was going to bless them because of putting one stone on another.  In Haggai 2:19, we read, “From this day on I will bless you.”  Because they were finally putting God first in their lives.

How are things going for you?  Does it seem that you’re working harder and harder, but getting farther and farther behind?  Does it seem like your wages go into purses with holes in them?  Could it be that you have prioritized enjoying the good life for yourself, but haven’t made serving God the priority you should?  Only you can answer these questions.

If this is true for you, I challenge you to rededicate your life to serving God wholeheartedly.  He will certainly bless your commitment to Him.  Maybe even materially.  But ultimately, you will gain a far greater reward – eternal life.

I’m reminded of Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

May we each say that – and live it.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Haggai 1-2 and Revelation 14

Life and Death – and Life Again

Zephaniah 1 – 3 and Revelation 13

Today’s reading contains some disturbing imagery, so readers be warned.

In Revelation 13, we find details of the person we call the antichrist. In Revelation 13:7, we’re told “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them…”  In Revelation 13:9-10 we read, “He who has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.  If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.  This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

In a nutshell, we know that at some point in the future (I believe in the relatively near future), a person we call the antichrist will arise.  He will deceive the nations and will control the economy such that only those who receive the “mark of the beast” will be able to buy or sell.  (We will find out in Revelation 14:10 that those who do receive the mark of the beast will be tormented in the lake of fire.) And he will successfully conquer Christians.

As a Christian, this doesn’t sound very appealing.  If all we’re focusing on is this life, it won’t seem worth maintaining our faithfulness to God.  When that time comes, we’ll need to remember what God has promised for the wicked, as recorded in Zephaniah – also part of today’s reading.

In Zephaniah 1:2-3, we read, “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord.  I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.  The wicked will only have heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth, declares the Lord.”

In Zephaniah 1:18, we read, “…In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”

Zephaniah 3:8 tells us, “…I have decided to assemble the nations to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them – all my fierce anger.  The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.

But then we find hope in Zephaniah 3:12-13, where we read, “But I will leave within you the meek and the humble, who trust in the name of the Lord.  The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down, and no one will make them afraid.”

In short, terrible times are coming for Christians, when the antichrist will try to annihilate us from the earth.  It will be critical to remain faithful to God during those difficult times, even if we lose our lives.  Because ultimately, God will judge the world, and completely destroy the wicked.  Even if we die, we will be resurrected to live in peace forever.  While the wicked will be completely destroyed forever.

I’m reminded of Deuteronomy 30:19 where we read, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Choose to remain faithful to God.  Choose life.  Even if you have to succumb to death.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zephaniah 1-3 and Revelation 13

“Why, God?”

Habakkuk 1 – 3

One widely assumed fallacy about Christianity is that once you choose to follow God, all of your problems will just go away.  Habakkuk wasn’t that kind of believer, and we shouldn’t be either.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah – living at a time when things were really bad for Judah.  He loved the Lord with all his heart, and longed for justice.  But he saw only violence and injustice wherever he turned.  He had some complaints, and took them to the right place – to God.

In Habakkuk 1:2, Habakkuk complained, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “violence!” but you do not save?”

In Habakkuk 1:3, he complained, “Why do you tolerate wrong…?”

Then in Habakkuk 1:13, he complained, “…Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

His basic complaint was, “God, I’m pouring my heart out to you in prayer, why don’t you do something?”  And “Why do you let the wicked persecute those more righteous than themselves?”  As we pointed out yesterday from 2 Peter 3:9, the answer may be that God is just being patient, wanting to give people as much time as possible to repent, before he steps in and judges.  And from Romans 3:10-12, we recognize there is no one that is righteous, no one who does good, not even one.

In God’s response to Habakkuk in 2:2-3, God said, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.  For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end.”  Then God gave a series of 5 “woe”s.  God was reminding Habakkuk that eventually, God will punish the wicked, but until then, Habakkuk needed to be patient and trust God.

I love Habakkuk’s response in Habakkuk 3:17, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”  

This ties into our Revelation 12 reading for today, where we read in Revelation 12:17, “Then the dragon went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”  For the last 3.5 years of this evil age, Satan will try to annihilate the Jews, but God will miraculously protect them.  So Satan will vent his wrath against Christians.

As Christians, there may come a time when we cry out to God, “Why don’t you answer my prayers?  Why do you let the wicked persecute those more righteous than themselves?”  But no matter how bad it gets, we need to have the same response as Habakkuk.  “Even though it appears that there is no hope, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Habakkuk 1-3 and Revelation 12

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