9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9–11, NKJV)
The souls of martyred saints cried out to the Lord for righteous judgment against those who drew their blood and took their lives because of their faith. His promise to execute His vengeance against evil would prevail (cf. Rom. 12:17-19). But other Christians would face distress and death before God judged and removed the persecutors. With elaborate imagery, The Revelation tells of Rome’s defeat and the victory of the faithful (cf. Rev. 17:14). We must patiently endure and remain faithful to Christ when we face pressure and persecutions “for the word of God and for the testimony” we hold (Heb. 10:32-39). God will reward our patience (1 Pet. 4:12-13; Rev. 14:12-13). The Lord will defeat evil, just as He did in the days of Rome (which was “Babylon, the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth,” Rev. 14:6-11; 17:5-6, 14, 18; 19:1-6, 11-21). When our faith is tested, let us be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods” ’? 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:34–38, NKJV)
“It is written” is used over 300 times in the Bible. It usually calls attention to the recorded law of God, including prophetic writings applied to people and events (Josh. 8:31; Psa. 40:7). When “it is written” in God’s word, it is accomplished (fulfilled). Jesus said in verse 35 that people do not deprive Scripture of its binding authority; it “cannot be broken” by people. Jesus argued from the lesser to the greater, using a statement from Psalm 82:6 that describes human judges as “gods” (since they have power to adjudicate disputes and apply justice). They accepted what was written about men who held authority as “gods” among men. But, when Jesus said, “I am the Son of God,” they tried to kill Him (Jno. 10:30-33). His words and His works amply testified to the truth they resisted (Jno. 10:37-39). Here’s the point for us; We can violate God’s word, but it remains true, valid, and authoritative. The wise course is to accept what is written and follow Jesus instead of fighting against Him.
17 Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. 18 And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” 20 And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” (Mark 5:17–20, NKJV)
Jesus had just healed a man possessed by Legion (many demons, Mk. 5:1-13). Instead of rejoicing, in fear, the people pleaded with Jesus to leave (Mk. 5:14-16, 17). So, Jesus went away (v. 18, 20). Jesus will not stay where He is not welcomed and wanted. Like that day on the seashore, Jesus does not abide with us when we choose unbelief and sinful disregard of Him and His will (Jno. 14:21, 23-24). Conversely, the healed man begged Jesus to allow him to travel with Him (v. 18). But Jesus urged him to stay and tell his friends about the compassion he had received from the Lord. Without resistance, he announced to the region’s ten cities all Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. Like him, we have received God’s compassionate mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-10). May we, in turn, proclaim the good news of salvation to others, that they too may be saved (Acts 8:4).
33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. (Mark 4:33–34, NKJV)
Jesus was the Master Teacher. He used parables to teach the gospel of the kingdom to the multitudes that gathered to Him in Galilee (Mk. 4:1-2). Then, away from the crowds, He explained the parables to His disciples (Mk. 4:10-12). Jesus knew His audience. He spoke the word “as they were able to hear it” to the crowd (v. 33). He did not impress them with scholarship or eloquence (a healthy reminder to preachers and teachers today, 1 Cor. 2:1). He was not condescending toward His audience. His goal was to teach them by planting the seed of God’s word into their hearts (Matt. 13:34-35). A godly woman once told young preachers, “Put the hay down where the calves can reach it, and the cows will have no trouble getting their fill.” Good advice. The parables challenged the crowd to ponder and prioritize God’s will. How people responded to Christ’s teachings exposed their hearts, and it still does (Mk. 4:11-12, 13-20). Away from the crowd, Jesus also took the time to explain the parables to His disciples (v. 34). He unraveled the parables’ meanings to them as He prepared them to take the gospel to the world (Mk. 16:15-16). We benefit from Jesus’ teaching style as we listen to His words and the explanations of truth His apostles, in turn, gave to the world (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:8-13).
21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, NKJV)
Evil comes in different forms, and we must not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11). False prophets come in sheep’s clothing but are devouring wolves (Matt. 7:15). False apostles and deceitful workers appear as “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Worldly wisdom is an imposter posing as truth (1 Cor. 3:18-20). Immorality presents itself as the answer to our longings but delivers death (Prov. 6:24-29; Gal. 5:19-21). False teachers bring in “destructive heresies” while endearing themselves to the naïve (2 Pet. 2:1-3; Rom. 16:17-18). We must test (examine) everything to approve what is excellent and abstain from evil in every form it takes (Phil. 1:9-11). That requires a standard by which to test all things. The “word of the truth of the gospel” is the only objective and verifiable standard of divine teaching and holiness that impartially judges right and wrong (Jno. 12:48; 17:17). Inspired Scripture must have the final say in “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). Learn God’s word and examine “all things” by its truth (2 Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11-12). Then, confidently cling to “what is good” and refuse “every form of evil.”
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. 10 He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 John 9–11, NKJV)
From pulpits and pews, people speak of “salvation issues.” True, there are issues of personal conscience and choice (on which God has not given a divine pronouncement) that qualify as non-salvation issues (Rom. 14:1-5). But today’s passage is not of that sort. The doctrine of Christ has been revealed and recorded in the Scriptures. We are called to abide in His doctrine (the truth, Jno. 8:31-32). The Scriptures reveal issues that affect salvation. Here are some: 1) Sin is a salvation issue (Rom. 6:23). Violating God’s will (and tolerating its transgression) brings eternal death. 2) Worship is a salvation issue (Jno. 4:22-24). We cannot offer God vain worship (void of “spirit and truth”) and be saved despite sinful worship (Matt. 15:7-9). 3) False doctrine is a salvation issue (2 Tim. 2:16-19). Men strayed from the truth and overthrew people’s faith with their iniquity when they taught error about the resurrection. For this reason, John warned us not to have fellowship with those who teach error (2 Jno. 10-11). 4) Spiritual neglect is a salvation issue (Heb. 2:1-4). Failure to grow in Christ is a sin that brings punishment (v. 3). Simply put, when God speaks His will, it becomes a salvation issue (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. (Acts 9:26–28, NKJV)
Joseph was named “Barnabas” (son of encouragement) by the apostles for a reason (Acts 4:36). With entreaties and exhortations, he gave solace, comfort, and consolation to fellow Christians. We see this son of encouragement in action in today’s passage. The persecutor Saul was now a Christian, but the Jerusalem disciples only knew of the havoc he had made of the church three years earlier (Acts 8:3; 9:13-16). So, they were fearful when Saul “tried to join the disciples” (v. 26). With complete information in hand, Barnabas vouched for Saul, telling of his encounter with the Lord on the road that led to his conversion and bold gospel preaching in Damascus (Acts 9:17-22; 22:17-21). There are several worthy lessons in our text, but today let us focus on Barnabas. His fearless defense of Saul assured the apostles, comforted the frightened church, and (no doubt) consoled Saul as it led to the brethren receiving him in the Lord (vv. 27-28). Barnabas seized opportunities to stand for the truth, encourage his brethren, and strengthen souls (Acts 4:36-37; 11:22-24). Can you imagine what could have happened if Barnabas had not spoken up for the truth on Saul’s behalf? Be a Barnabas. Seize your opportunities to console, comfort, and encourage the truth, trust, and triumph over fear and doubt.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)
Anyone. What a comfort beyond measure to know that regardless of the depth of our past sins and the eternal death they cause, God in Christ will forgive us (Rom. 6:23). Unquestionably, redemption from sin’s death is “in Christ” – it is not in the world, in ourselves, or anyone else. It is not found in Church traditions, creeds, confessions, and catechisms (Acts 4:12). God forms a new creation (new creature, NASB) when the sinner enters a relationship with Christ. Fresh and free from sin, washed in the blood of the Lamb (1 Pet. 1:18-19). By entering Christ through water baptism, the sinner’s sin is cut away (“old things have passed away”), and “all things have become new” (Gal. 3:27). This is the operation of God, not any meritorious by the sinner (Col. 2:11-13). Freedom from sin’s guilt, burden, and death is “in Christ.” When you stop waiting, but “arise and be baptized,” your sins will be washed away in Christ. In Christ, you can then truly live with and for Jesus, since Christians “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). The question is not whether God can or will save you; it is will you believe and obey Jesus to be a new creation in Him?
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2, NKJV)
The effectiveness of prayer was not an afterthought to Christians of the New Testament age (Jas. 5:16). The apostle Paul often asked brethren to pray for him, and he repeatedly prayed for his fellow Christians (1 Thess. 3:10; Eph. 6:18-19; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:3, 9; 4:3). In today’s passage, Paul asked for specific prayers, something we ought to do, too. First, he asked for prayers that God’s word would triumph in its purposes (saving the lost and strengthening the saved, v. 1). The gospel was achieving these purposes in their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-9; 2 Thess. 1:3-4). We are confident they joined Paul in praying the gospel would win the race and be honored as other souls believed and obeyed Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17). Second, Paul asked them to pray for mutual deliverance from faithless, unreasonable, and wicked people (v. 2). Like the currents of a flowing river, forces of evil try to sweep us away and drown us in error and sin’s corruption. The Lord is active and faithful to rescue us and guard us against the evil one and his cohorts as we do what His apostles command (2 Thess. 3:3-4). May we offer such prayers daily.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, NKJV)
Beginnings. Every New Year’s Day, people worldwide reflect on the previous year and resolve what they will do during our next 365-circuit around the sun. It is a perfect moment to remember who created the heavens and the earth and, therefore, time itself. With the precision that defies random chance, the earth sits on its tilted axis, rotating to produce night and day (not to mention gravity). This well-arranged order also gives the earth its seasons, protecting us from the sun’s otherwise harmful and deadly effects while sustaining plant, animal, and human life. God did that (Gen. 1; Psa. 33:6-9; Jer. 51:15-16). The hubris of humanity dares to think humans control this globe. God said to Job, “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place” (Job 38:12)? We neither control the morning light nor the dark of night; God does. How foolish it is to think humans control the heavens and the earth! “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:4-7)? Pause as another year begins to give thanks to God, our Creator, and Sustainer. Thank God for your life, and especially for the life He gives you in Christ (Rom. 6:23). There is no better beginning to your new year.