11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11, NKJV)
After Christ defeated sin at the cross, and death by His resurrection, He ascended to heaven, sat down at the right hand of God, and “gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:7-10). These gifts are enumerated for us in verse 11. These gifts, both inspired (apostles and prophet) and uninspired (evangelists, pastors, teachers), constitute 1) the revelation of the gospel of Christ from heaven to earth, and 2) its proclamation to the whole world. Inspired men received revelation from God, and with confirming miracles, by inspiration they “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:3-4; 2 Peter 1:21). Evangelists preach the same word of God (2 Timothy 4:2-5). Pastors “tend the flock” among them, feeding the local church the same word (1 Peter 5:1-2; Acts 14:23; 20:28). Faithful teachers teach the same word to others (2 Timothy 2:2). If we fail to value Bible teaching and learning, we fail to honor and benefit from these gifts Christ which Christ gave the world; gifts that are for our salvation, our spiritual strength, our service and our unity as we grow in Christ. Tomorrow, we will explore the reasons for these gifts, as we consider Ephesians 4:12-13.
9 The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. 10 And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. (Psalm 9:9–10, NKJV)
Shelter from the storm. A haven of rest for the weary. The Lord gives sanctuary to those who put their trust in Him, for they rely upon His great power to preserve and to protect them. His trustworthiness is unwavering; His relief is complete. Whatever storm of life you are facing today, make the Lord your refuge. Seek the Lord when the storm of sin roars against you; He will save you (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 19:10). Seek His protection when you are oppressed by unrighteous people; He will help you endure (Hebrews 13:5-6). Seek His comfort when enemies of the faith harass you for the sake of righteousness; He will give you reason to rejoice (Matthew 5:10-12). The Lord does not abandon His people. He rewards those who “diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” (Lamentations 3:22–24, NKJV)
The army of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem with horrific proficiency (1 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Lamentations 2). By this drastic action, God punished His rebellious people. Yet, He did not completely destroy the nation (Jeremiah 5:18). He remained true to His justice, mercy and faithfulness. After seventy years of exile, a remnant of Israel returned to their land (Jeremiah 29:10-14; Ezra 1). As Jeremiah lamented over Jerusalem, his hope was renewed as he remembered the great faithfulness of the Lord. Instead of pridefully trusting in the power of a nation, the pleasures of sin and the wisdom of oneself, our hope must be set on God. He is the Giver and Sustainer of life, and our only hope of salvation. Even in the darkest hour, our faith is secure in Him. He comforts the faithful with these words: “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). God accomplishes His word; Great is His faithfulness! Remain faithful to Him today, and every day.
24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:24–26, NKJV)
Jesus announced denunciations upon those who are carnal, who live for themselves instead of God. Wealth is not evil – it is the love of money that brings sin and sorrow (1 Tim. 6:9-10). When your goal is wealth, the fleeting comfort it gives is your reward. Material possessions may satisfy you for a while, but physical fullness does not enrich your soul. Although laughter is good medicine, one cannot build a life upon frivolity. Sorrow and sadness will occur when one refuses to be sober-minded. Yearning for the praise of men leads to compromise for the sake of popularity. The false prophets of the Old Testament were popular among men, but, they were not popular with God. He rejected them. Each of these denunciations have something in common: They result when one loves this world rather than the will of God. Carnality brings destruction, while a life of faith assures God’s spiritual blessings. The beatitudes (which appear just before these pronouncements of woe) affirm this to be so (Luke 6:20-23). Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all you need in life will be provided. Furthermore, you will be laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:33, 19-21).
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11–12, NKJV)
John explained the Messiah’s work as he prepared the way before Him (Matthew 3:3). In a scathing condemnation of the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, John warned them that Christ would execute judgment against sinners. They needed true repentance to flee the approaching wrath, not reliance on their physical heritage (Matthew 3:7-10). The Christ would bring a baptism of fire upon sinners. This fire burns the “trees” that bear evil fruit (Matthew 3:10). It is the “unquenchable fire” of Matthew 3:12, that overwhelms the wicked. Jesus promised, and baptized His apostles with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8. 2:1-4). He has promised an overwhelming, eternal destruction upon the wicked (Mark 9:43-48). Judgment Day is real, and eternity is forever. Therefore, “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 9:27). You do not want to experience the Lord’s baptism of fire!
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29, NKJV)
The Bible says, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Yet, the Scriptures identify many people as righteous (Abel, Noah, Job, Daniel, Joseph, etc.). How is the possible? Nobody is righteous through law-keeping; that requires sinless perfection (and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23). The harmony is that these righteous ones were people of faith, and their faith was counted to them for righteousness (Romans 4:3, 5; Philippians 3:9). Note please, the Scripture does not say Christ’s righteousness was imputed to them. Scripture says the sinner’s “faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). We cannot earn righteousness through law-keeping – we are sinners (law breakers)! But, we can “hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be filled (Matthew 5:6). By faith, we can practice righteousness (1 John 2:29). We practice righteousness as we live by faith, following the teachings of the Righteous One. The sinner who is born of God is counted righteous by faith (Romans 1:17). To practice righteousness, be upright in heart and faithful to Jesus, and your faith will be counted for righteousness.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (James 5:13, NKJV)
Prayer and song. This couplet proves comforting and invigorating as we go through life’s storms and life’s calm. Suffering comes in many forms; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Prayer is a balm for the weary, an assuring strength during times of tumult and uncertainty. And so, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Even as suffering leads to earnest prayer, happy times evoke praise of the Almighty. The Lord is the source of joy that no one can take from us – the joy of victory over sin and death (John 16:20-22, 33). When life brings good fortune, Christians raise up songs of praise to God. We remember that God is the Giver of every good blessing; we did not create our happiness without His good providence. And so, James gives us sound instruction for difficult and happy times. He reminds us to look to God through all of life’s joys and sorrows. The Lord “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He will see you through.
“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places if you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth, and I will pardon her.” (Jeremiah 5:1, NKJV)
The Lord God sent Jeremiah into the streets of Jerusalem to look for a righteous man; a man of justice (“judgment”), and one who seeks the truth. Such a discovery would prevent God’s punishment upon the rebellious, obstinate, sinful city (Jeremiah 5:3, 7-9). But, what Jeremiah found were lies instead of the truth (Jeremiah 5:2). None were found among the poor; they did not know the way of the Lord (Jeremiah 5:4). None were found among her “great men;” they had burst the bonds of divine rule in favor of destructive, sinful pleasures (Jeremiah 5:5-9). Does God find you to be a person who is just toward others? Do you seek truth, and pursue it? Or, have sin’s allurements enticed you away from Him, hardening your heart toward His will? Jerusalem reached a point of no return, and she was destroyed for her sins (Jeremiah 52:3-30). But, it is not too late for you to return to the Lord. His longsuffering continues to this moment, longing for sinners to repent (2 Peter 3:9). If you will heed His call and repent, He will pardon your sins, and you will escape His wrath (Romans 2:1-11).
“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22, NKJV)
At first glance, it seems counterintuitive that the wicked have no peace. On the surface, it often appears not to be so. But, what appears to be so is not always the truth of the matter. The psalmist began to envy the wicked when he saw their prosperity. It appeared to him that they live and die in abundance, without experiencing life’s pain or suffering (Psalm 73:4-9). It appeared the wicked were at ease, while the righteous struggled to survive (Psalm 73:10-14). But, looks can be deceiving. When he contemplated their end, his eyes opened to see their demise (Psalm 73:15-20). He remembered the Lord was His comfort, strength, and counsel (Psalm 73:25-26). And so, he resolved to continue to put his trust in the Lord God, and declare all His great works (Psalm 73:28). He rightly judged that “those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert you for harlotry” (Psalm 73:27). Truly, there is no peace for the wicked. Living in the selfishness of sin leads to eternal agony. Come to Jesus, and have rest for your soul (Matt. 11:29).
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3–5, NKJV)
The new birth is a spiritual birth, not a physical one: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which his born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). There is one new birth, with two parts (water and the Spirit). To be “born again” one must be “born of water and the Spirit.” What is the “water” of the new birth? It is not the water of physical birth, but the water of spiritual birth. It is the “washing of water” that happens when sin is washed away by the blood of Christ. It is the cleansing that occurs in water baptism (read Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3; Acts 8:35-39). The Bible says, “baptism doth also now save us” (1 Peter 3:21, KJV). What is “the Spirit” of the new birth? It is the Spirit of God, whose seed (the word of the kingdom) is planted into the heart of the sinner (Matt. 13:19, 23; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 1:22-23). The Spirit of God acts upon the heart by His word, producing faith, convicting the sinner, and persuading him to obey Jesus to be saved (Acts 2:37-38, 39-41). The new birth is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Have you been born of water and the Spirit? Only then can you enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).