“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7
The final chapter of the Bible – the epilogue of the Revelation received by John and the epilogue to the entire inspired word of God to us. God’s story – our story – that ends in redemption and restoration for those who trust in God and His gift of salvation. The Bible from start to finish tells this unified story…the story that takes place between two perfect gardens.
In Genesis, heaven and earth are created. Revelation ends with a new heaven and new earth.
In Genesis, God created the sun, stars, moon. Revelation ends with God Himself as our sole light source.
In Genesis, man is created and sees God face to face, walking in His presence. Revelation ends with man again seeing God face to face and dwelling with Him.
In Genesis, sin and death entered the world. Revelation ends with sin and death defeated forever.
In Genesis, man is banished from paradise and the tree of life. In Revelation, man is with God in paradise eating from the tree of life.
In Genesis, God promised One who would come to restore everything. Revelation ends with these last recorded words of the promised One who came, died, and rose from the dead for all who would believe and put their hope in Him, “Surely I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20)
So, here we are. We await the final battle and victory in the second coming of Jesus. Final and ultimate victory is coming. However, while we wait, there is still work for us as followers and believers to do here on earth. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom come, His will be done, on EARTH as in heaven. We work with our hands, our feet, our voice while we wait and we enthusiastically join John in His last words – the last words of God’s Word to us – “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Question: What kingdom work can you be a part of while you wait for the return of Jesus?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4
Satan destroyed. Death defeated. The old has passed away.
A new heaven and a new earth. No more deception, manipulation or temptation from Satan, for he is defeated for all time. God Himself with us for eternity.
An angel takes John to see the glorious paradise. Radiance like jewels. Twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve foundations with the twelve names of the twelve apostles of Jesus. It all comes full circle. It all had meaning. It all matters.
Walls of stunning, colorful jewels. The city pure gold, like clear glass. Even streets of gold. No temple, sun, or moon because GOD. IS. THERE. Flowing from the throne through the middle of the street of the city is the river of the water of life. Bright as crystal. One either side of the river, the tree of life, yielding twelve kinds of fruit each month. Here we will reign forever and ever. Paradise. No tears. No pain. No suffering. No addictions. No disease. No depression. No envy. No striving. No death. Only life.
In the Old Testament, Daniel also sees a vision of what is to come, but he is told to shut up the words and seal the book. It wasn’t yet time to be fully revealed. But here at the end of the revelation to John, Jesus says, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” (Revelation 22:10).
Friends, it is trustworthy and true. All things will be made new. You in?
Question: What is your favorite part of the idea of heaven?
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. Revelation 20:12
For a thousand years, the dragon (Satan) is bound in the bottomless pit. The once powerful and destructive father of lies now shut and sealed, unable to deceive the nations until the thousand years ends.
For those thousand years, the martyrs, along with those who did not worship the beast or receive its mark, come to life and reign with Jesus. Peace on earth for a thousand years. The Millennium; the first resurrection.
At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released from his prison and given authority to yet again deceive the nations. He gathers the multitudes in rebellion against God for battle. They march up over the plain of the earth and surround the camp of team Jesus. But instead of a battle, fire rains from heaven and consumes them. God is done with them! At long last, the devil is thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet lie in perpetual agony. Here they will remain and be tormented night and day. Forever and ever.
John then sees a great white throne with the dead standing before it as books are opened. This is no trial, but instead a sentencing. The book of life – those who put their faith in Jesus - is also opened and the dead are judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. For believers, the debt was paid by Jesus when He took the wrath of our sin and gave us His righteousness…our name secured in the book of life. But of unbelievers, David Guzik summarizes, “Those who refuse to come to God by faith will, by default, be judged (and condemned) by their works.” No works can match up to a standard of perfection. Death and Hades – the last remnants of sin – are thrown into the lake of fire, along with anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life.
Challenge: Hell is real and hell is eternal. Fervently pray for those you know and love who haven’t yet put their faith in Jesus.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Revelation 19:9
John sees a beast with seven heads and ten horns. He is told they represent kings and kingdoms…some that have come to pass and some that are yet to come. There is an eighth beast that is part of the seven, but separate. And there is a great prostitute arrayed in purple and scarlet and adorned in gold, jewels and pearls. On her forehead was written a name: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.” She is drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. (Revelation 17:5-6). Though equally vile and partners in sexual immorality and luxury, the beasts hate the prostitute and destroy her. “For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” (Revelation 17:17). Never doubt who is truly and always in control.
More rejoicing is heard…the marriage of the Lamb has come. Suddenly John sees heaven open and a white horse appear. The rider called Faithful and True. In His righteousness He judges and makes war. His robe is dipped in blood and His name is THE WORD OF GOD. On His robe and thigh a name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.
The beast and the kings of the earth gather to make war against the One on the horse and His army. But the beast is no match for the Word of God. He is captured, along with the false prophet who performed signs and deceived those who received the mark of the beast – 666 – and worshiped his image. The beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire; the rest with them are slain by the sword from the mouth of the One on the horse.
There is only one Victor. Only one worthy of worship. He is the Word, and from His mouth came creation and from His mouth will come destruction for those who rebel against Him.
Question: What do you think about Jesus’s weapon in this battle being a sword from His mouth?
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” Revelation 6:1
John gets a front-row seat for a peek into the future…into our future. There are thrones, crowns, flashes of lighting, torches of fire, a sea of glass, living creatures like none other…worshiping; praising God. John is in for a wild ride and he takes us along with him.
Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, begins to break the seals. Seven of them…one by one. With each broken seal, an often catastrophic event on earth is triggered. Slaying of one another, earthquakes, blackened sun, full moon like blood, stars falling from the sky …the great day of the wrath of the Lamb upon them.
John sees 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. And then great multitude – too numerous to count – from every tribe, nation, people, language clothed in white, washed by the blood of the Lamb, crying out in worship…a glimpse of those on Team Jesus coming out of the great tribulation.
The seventh and final seal ushers in seven angels with seven trumpets, each sounding additional judgments on earth. Though a third of the earth and its inhabitants are killed, those remaining refuse to repent. Seven new angels appear each carrying seven bowls of wrath to be poured out on the earth. A series of sevens – the number representing completeness. The end is near and the taste of utter destruction pungent, but still those remaining refuse to repent.
As the stirring and desire for a Messiah was seen in the Old Testament, more and more we will be stirred for the return of the Messiah to complete the restoration of all things. As told by Jesus while He walked the earth the first time, things will get worse before they get better. But He is coming back and day will come when all will be judged with Him or against Him, and for those with Him, all will be made right again. We longingly wait for His glorious return.
Challenge: Earnestly pray for those with hardened hearts to follow Jesus while there is still time.
And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”… And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:2,5-10
Fresh off of dictating letters to seven churches, Jesus invites John up to heaven to see more of what is to come. It is beautiful and royal. But then John sees weeping in his unfolding vision. Seals must be broken and a scroll opened, but they find no one worthy to open it.
We were made for another world. We were made for perfection and communion with God. We groan in the waiting. The heavens groan as well. It feels so impossible. Who is worthy? Who will save us? Who will defeat Satan for good?
The lamb who was slain. From the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David. The one whose blood ransomed people for God from EVERY tribe and language and people and nation. JESUS IS WORTHY.
On the outside, circumstances can look impossible. It can feel so heavy as if no one is worthy or capable of fixing things. But there is ONE who is both worthy and capable. The lamb who was slain. He is returning and all things will be made right.
Questions: Do you ever look at circumstances or challenges and feel like things are impossible? How can impossible situations draw us even close to Jesus?
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write… 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. Revelation 3:14-16
Of all the letters to the churches, the one to Laodicea often seems to hit closest to home in our culture today. There is no middle ground in God’s Kingdom…no fence-straddling is permitted. Jesus isn’t just disappointed with our lack of wholeheartedness, He says He will reject it.
In his book, Crazy Love, Francis Chan says too many of us are “lukewarm and loving it.” He summarizes the lukewarm Christian today as having the following traits:
• Attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go.
• Give money to charity and to the church… as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living
• Desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.
• Don’t really want to turn away from or be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin.
• Are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ – things Jesus calls His followers to do – yet they do not act.
• Rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends.
• Gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the world around them. They feel satisfied that they are nowhere as horrible as the guy down the street.
• Do not live by faith, instead structure their lives so they don’t have to. They give God a section of their time, money, thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.
• Love God and others, but neither as much as they love themselves.
Question: Which lukewarm traits resonate most with you? What changes can you make today?
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write…Revelation 2:1a
Jesus dictates letters to seven churches in Asia Minor for John to write and deliver. The letters each contain the Lord’s title (how Jesus refers to Himself), a statement on what the Lord is pleased with (two of the churches don’t have this), a condemnation with what the Lord is upset about (two of the churches don’t have this and one of the churches has two of them), advice on how to get back on track (one church doesn’t have this), and a promised reward for overcoming.
We would be wise to hear what Jesus has to say to these churches – and to us – on areas they (we) might be nailing it and areas they (we) might be missing the mark…
Question: Where do you see yourself in any of these church messages?
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. Revelation 1:7
So here we are. We are living after the first coming, where Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets. In His sacrificial death, we not only got something taken from us (punishment for our sins), we got something added to us (His righteousness). We are between this time in the past and His second coming in the future, where death will be defeated once and for all. All people will be on one side or the other: Satan’s earthly ways leading to eternal death, or Jesus’s holy ways leading to eternal life.
John, widely believed to be the apostle John, is exiled on the lonely, desolate isle of Patmos for “bearing witness of Jesus” (Rev 1:9). Though old, alone and enslaved, John “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” However, this one Sabbath day was about to rock his world. He hears a loud voice behind him. It is his friend, Jesus, and He has a message for John. He tells John to write “the things that you have seen, that are and those that are to take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19)
This Revelation to John is also from Jesus to us. It is full of symbolism and just as full of disparate interpretations. But the end is clear. The victory belongs to Jesus and those of us who follow Him.
The work of Jesus to fulfill the law and prophets and to atone for our sins has been completed, but sin still lurks on the earth in our present time. The devil still prowls. His ultimate defeat has not yet taken place. We are still tempted by his playbook…doubting God’s goodness, lured by earthly pleasures, desiring power and a name for ourselves. We eagerly await the second coming of Jesus. Revelation gives us a picture of what is yet to come… both for those who decide to take things into their own hands and for those of us who put our hope in Jesus.
Challenge: Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Commit to reading the entire book of Revelation over the next few days or weeks.
They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:18-19
One short chapter tucked in God’s story to us closing out the letters to individuals and churches before the revelation received by John. Jude is widely believed to be the brother of James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the early church in Jerusalem, making Jude also the half-brother of Jesus.
Jude is primarily concerned with false teachers. Like Satan, the Father of Lies himself, these false teachers are good at what they do. They are manipulative and often charismatic, using smooth words, impressive speech, with a commanding presence, and some truth sprinkled in to throw us off.
They creep in unnoticed. The ones we need to worry about aren’t the loud antagonist shouting from the outside in obvious opposition, but instead the deceitful ones from the inside. They pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus as Master and Lord. They indulge in sexual immorality, defile the flesh, and reject authority. They blaspheme what they don’t understand, relying on their instincts. They are in our Christian community, but they are wandering with the waves of the day. They are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters. They show favoritism to gain advantage, full of smooth and flattering words. They deny Jesus as Christ – God in the flesh -- crucified for our salvation.
Let us not be deceived...there is only ONE Gospel; only One path to salvation. So, what do we do? According to Jude our response should be to continue building our faith, to pray, to keep in the love of God, to have mercy on those who are doubting. We dig in deep to what we know is true, being alert and aware. It is a posture of surrender and humility, working on ourselves, loving our neighbors, and trusting God is in control.
Question: How can you be on alert for false prophets and teachers?
If we say we have fellowship with him [God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 1 John 1:6
John’s letters (1, 2 & 3 John) have a lot to say about what it looks like to truly be sold out for Jesus…
If we truly know Jesus, we will obey His commandments. We will do what He says. We won’t just read about it and study it and write about it…we will DO IT.
If we are in Jesus, we will walk in the same way in which He walked. We will want to live our life as He did. In obedience, submission, humility, with peace and love, staying on task instead of arguing with every naysayer and antagonist.
If we love Jesus, we will love other people. John says if we hate a brother, we aren’t in the light...we are still in darkness
If we love the world more than Jesus, the love of the Father is not in us. John goes on to describe what the “love of the world” is…desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, pride of life. When we want things because they look good, make us feel good, or elevate us personally, we are probably on the wrong track.
John tells us love looks a lot like laying down our lives for our brothers. And if we have the world’s goods and see a brother in need, but close our heart against him, God’s love does not abide in us. Those things Jesus said about loving others...He meant it! We are to love not only in word or talk, but in deed and truth.
None of these things save us...only the blood of Jesus does that. But these things do demonstrate our love and commitment to follow Him. They are an outward sign that we are His.
Questions: Does your outward way of living express your love of God? Do your actions match your desire to follow Him?
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:12
The Bible tells us over and over again that Christians should expect hostility from the world. Too often we respond with hostility in return. What if we did things differently, more like Jesus? Imagine the impact if our collective and consistent response to persecution is to love even more. To serve even more. To count others more important than ourselves. To give sacrificially. To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. What if this is what we did instead of firing back in angry defense on social media?
Jesus was regularly attacked, lied about, marginalized, and misunderstood. However, instead of fighting back, He kept living the life on earth He was called to, completely focused on His purpose and letting His life be the response. Peter reminds us of Jesus, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:22-23)
Peter expects those on the outside will speak harshly against Christians. But the response according to Peter, and modeled by Jesus, should be to conduct ourselves honorably in return. SO THAT, they will see our good deeds and glorify God.
Our ultimate aim is to point people to Jesus. Our right jabs and contempt do nothing to bring people closer to their Savior. We most effectively do this by living honorable lives...lives that make the outside world pause and want to learn more. It is hard to take the often unfair and unjust criticism and condemnation. But if we are honest, wanting to fight back is rooted more in pride than love. Peter reminds us that we can have far more influence through love and honorable living.
Questions: Do you tend to want to fight back against attacks? How can Jesus serve as an example of how to respond instead?
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20
Imagine your young child has wandered from the safety and security of home. You would stop at nothing to find them. You would search night and day. You would liquidate everything for a ransom. You would hang up posters and boldly bang on doors. You wouldn’t stop until they were safe in your arms.
James closes his letter with the wanderer. The wanderer is the heartbeat of James. It is the culmination of all the practical advice packed into his letter thus far, pointing to true and genuine faith; what it looks like when we aren’t lost and wandering. Perhaps he is reflecting on his personal experience as a wanderer, remembering his mocking and unbelief when Jesus, his half-brother, was walking the earth. The risen Jesus appeared to James personally and his wandering ceased. He believed and his life was changed. His Savior pursued him. He didn’t leave him in the dark.
We are part of God’s search and rescue team. Why don’t we pursue our lost brothers and sisters like we would a wandering child? Armed with excuses, why are we so quick to leave them in the dark?
The truth is, it is hard. Because unlike a physically lost child who wandered off into the woods, our spiritually lost friends don’t always want to be found and rescued. They don’t realize they are lost. They don’t know they need to be rescued. We have to trust the Spirit to lead us to those we should go after and pray that the Spirit opens their eyes to the fact that they are indeed lost. God will join us on this mission near and dear to His heart.
May we have the kind of urgency toward wandering and lost souls that we do for a physically lost child. God, soften our hearts and open our eyes to chase after who and what you are chasing.
Challenge: Write in your journal a wanderer or two you are praying for. Commit to praying for them fervently, asking God to open their hearts.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:7-8
We don’t know much about the early life of Jesus. I often wonder what it would have been like to be his sibling or best friend growing up…to watch how he played, learned, and interacted with family and friends. I think James, as His half-brother, would have such a unique perspective on the Gospel and Christian living. So when James teaches things like joy in trials, living humbly, not just hearing the word but LIVING it, having compassion toward those in need, showing no partiality, backing up faith with good works, being aware of the power of our words…when James teaches these things, I imagine him going back in time and remembering what it was like to be with Jesus and the way Jesus naturally lived life. Not just when crowds were around, but always…in the mundane daily chores and tasks and downtime…in the everyday relationships.
James, armed with this knowledge and perspective, doesn’t hold back either. He says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) Pretty intense, right? But it echoes things that Jesus said about not being able to serve two masters and watching out for the little leaven that seems small and insignificant, but slowly and severely changes the composition of the thing it enters. We think we can handle a little of what the world has to offer; that we can manage the worldly ways and things and not be changed by them…but this is a mistake.
To think we can straddle the fence of the world and God’s kingdom is to remain double-minded. David Guzik says, “Our problem is we often want a middle road; a little popularity, a little reputation, but still the anointing from God. We want the power without the cost.” God doesn’t share His throne. We are either with Him or we are against Him.
Questions: Do you tend to want a little bit of the world mixed in with God? In what ways is friendship with the world being an enemy with God?
Who is wise and understanding among you? James 3:1a
Wisdom is more than knowledge and accumulation of information. In Proverbs, we learn that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In the teachings of Jesus, we learn that the wise person is rooted in God’s truth and character. They hate injustice and evil. They love righteousness. They are alert and ready for His return. Wisdom is a manifestation of faith and spiritual living.
So, how do we know if we have wisdom that is from God and not from the world? James offers a series of tests by which we can verify the genuineness of our faith, because when we are truly saved and genuinely know God, we display wisdom that looks and acts like it is of God. The wisdom we display is a reflection of our heart condition.
James tells us that ungodly wisdom looks like BITTER JEALOUSLY and SELFISH AMBITION. It is a life of self-focus, protecting our turf and wanting more for ourselves.
Wisdom from the world looks like attitude and action based on self...comparison, tension, competition. It looks like drifting with the tides of culture and ego, rather than an anchoring in God’s ways. It looks like personal gratification...no humility, no love, no seeking the interest of others. James further gives us a picture of the consequences of earthly wisdom in action, “there will be disorder and every vile practice.” It wreaks havoc on us and those around us.
Wisdom from God looks vastly different. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) Pure motives. Love of peace. Humble. Patient. Forgiving. Yielding. Merciful. Compassionate. Reasonable. No partiality. No hypocrisy or hidden motives.
God, please fill us not with simply more knowledge, but with YOUR love and wisdom. Let our life be a reflection of You.
Questions: How does the wisdom you display look? Does it look more like wisdom from God or the world?
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22
Let’s say you really want to get in better shape. You go to a wellness seminar, you buy a handful of healthy cookbooks, you join a gym, you research and download the highest-rated fitness apps, you talk for hours with your best friend about your plans, you even make a calendar with a workout schedule and meal plan. But you never go to the gym or change your bad eating habits. The scale doesn’t budge.
Or what if you tell your teenager to clean their room. You smile as they happily head upstairs. A few hours later you peek in to check on them. They are sitting on their bed in their even messier room with a laptop in one hand, phone in the other, and sketchbook by their side. Shocked you angrily ask what they are doing. “Looking up videos on room cleaning, texting my friends for advice, and jotting down some plans. I’m all in and so inspired,” they tell you. But their room is still a mess!
Or you have this dream inside you. A gift from God. Something He has given you to do. You think about it constantly, you pray about it and journal about it in great detail. But you never take that step toward it.
Or in a hurry to meet your dinner date, you quickly glance in a mirror. You notice your hair is a mess, your mascara smeared, and your shirt inside out. You tilt your head in concern, then proceed to walk out the door. Though you no longer see it, you are still a walking disaster.
Or you go to church, consistently have quiet time, and wouldn’t think of missing your small group. But you never put what you hear, read, discuss into practice. It never transforms you. Your heart is still hard and your life outside of church activities hasn’t changed at all.
Let us not be deceived, just going through the motions. May our desire to do what God says be as strong as our desire to hear what He says. God, transform us into who You know we can be; who You created us to be.
Questions: Do any of these scenarios resonate with you? How can you make sure to be a do-er and not merely a hear-er?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
What is holding you down? Keeping your feet from moving forward? Pulling you under? Is it comparison, sin, pride, control, insecurity, fear, doubt? Whatever it is, take it off. TAKE IT OFF! And if you have tried and tried and can’t seem to pull it off and lay it aside, spend today again in prayer. God WILL help you.
KEEP RUNNING YOUR RACE…not your neighbor’s race, not the race of that person you follow on social media, not the race of your mentor or your best friend…YOUR race. The race set before YOU. Run hard, friend; run with endurance.
Don’t look to the side, don’t look to self-help books or podcasts, don’t look to others…they don’t know your race; they don’t know the path set before you….LOOK TO JESUS. The ultimate example of faith and a long, eternal view, rather than a quest for human comfort and accolades. The perfect example of living fully in God’s plans for Him. The greatest example of eyes focused on the true prize.
Do not grow weary. You can do this hard thing. You can get through these hard times. He has been there…all the way to death. He won’t leave you.
Keep adjusting; keep an eye on your path; keep running.
This life is HARD. In it, we will be lovingly disciplined by God, and we will also be hit from all sides by things not condoned by Him. But He is in it all and will use it all. Don’t let the lies of the world shake your faith and alter your course. Don’t let culture tell you following it will be better than following God. Keep the faith. Look to Jesus. Get rid of all that is holding you down and holding you back. Keep running YOUR race.
Questions: Are there things in your life hindering your “race”? Are you stuck trying to run someone else’s race? Look to Jesus as your example.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
THIS is faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us. Believing without seeing. Assurance and conviction. Strong words.
“And through this faith, the people of old received their commendation,” the writer continues, followed by example after example of faith in the Old Testament. Their faith was in something beyond the now or short term. Their faith was not in their current circumstances or immediate outcomes. Their faith was rooted in obedience and Heavenly, not earthly, rewards from seeking God.
They believed what they could not see. They went not knowing where they were going. They kept building when there was no rain in sight. They were willing to sacrifice when it made no sense. They hid their child without knowing what would happen. They chose God’s people. They stepped into the water. They marched around the city walls. They welcomed enemy spies. They conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became mighty in war… And….
…they didn’t receive the things promised in their lifetime, but greeted them from afar. But…they are now in a better place; a city prepared for them…the thing hoped for that they held onto with assurance and conviction, despite not being able to see it at the time.
Faith isn’t faith if it is only in seeking comfort, security, and earthly rewards. Faith is far-looking and future-oriented. It is in something bigger than we can see here. Faith overcomes fear because faith believes God is truthful, trustworthy, powerful, and good. We won’t be as scared of obedience and short-term outcomes if we have assurance and conviction about who God is, what He can do, and the future He has prepared for us.
Question: Do you have full assurance God is who He says He is and can do what He says He will do?
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25
We are sold out for Jesus. We genuinely believe that He is the answer to everything. We believe He came, died, rose from the dead, and will come again to bring us all home. We believe He is good; that He sees us and loves us. But, right now…
Things are so stinking hard. There is still so much suffering. People are so difficult. We still don’t have that thing we have been faithfully working toward and praying over for years. Watching disease and death and depression envelop loved ones we are earnestly and steadfastly praying for is so painful. The liars, cheaters, persecutors seem to be thriving.
As a result, we become discouraged in the watching and waiting, and we tend to withdraw. But the withdrawing does far more harm than help. We need each other. Real-life each other too. In our withdrawn state we can scroll through social media to feel connected, but it is actually often pulling us further away. In fact, many studies have been published showing a link between time spent on social media and increased depression and loneliness.
The writer of Hebrews has something beautiful to say about what we should do instead…
Hold fast. Don’t let discouragement cause you to withdraw or wander. Stick to, and with, your people. Don’t neglect time together. Stir one another up in love and good works. Set your eyes above and on others. It is an antidote to loneliness and discouragement. Encourage one another, and then encourage each other more. Remind yourself and each other of this truth: HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL!
Question: How do you find hope when you are discouraged and everything seems to be falling apart around you?
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. Hebrews 8:5a
What if all you ever saw of a human was a shadow? You would have some idea of what a person was like; the shape of their body, how they move, things they do. But it wouldn’t at all give you a true picture of the fullness of a person. Once you finally met a real person, the shadow wouldn’t be of value to you in your understanding of a person. You would want to engage with the real person to learn more about people. You realize there is so much more to a human than what you gathered by just looking at the shadow.
The writer of Hebrews is painting the picture of the signs, rituals, high priests, sacrifices, temple worship, etc. the Jewish people are clinging to as being the shadow of the real thing.
The old things are not unimportant, but they are a mere shadow of the actual substance, which is Jesus. Once reality is realized, the shadow is no longer the thing. The shadow gives us clues about the real thing, but it isn’t the thing. Jesus is the thing, and He has come.
So, what does this mean to us in our lives today? We also have a shadow in a sense. We have ways we should live, love, serve, behave, etc. The problem is when we make these the thing, we miss THE thing, a relationship with God through Jesus. How we live is intended to be a reflection of the main point, not the main point.
Following rules and obeying God’s commandments are good things no doubt, but we must always be careful that we are chasing after the REAL THING (Jesus), rather than the shadows that only point to or reflect the real thing.
God, help us to seek you FIRST and always remember that YOU ALONE are THE point. You alone are the way, truth, and life.
Question: In what ways do you see the law and prophets and history up until Jesus came as the shadow of what was to come?
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” Hebrews 5:5
In the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter the holy of hollies, and only once a year. On the Day of Atonement (or “Yom Kippur”), the high priest, following very specific instructions, went in and made a sacrifice offering on behalf of all the people. He stepped into the tabernacle beyond the curtain and approached the mercy seat, sprinkling sacrificial blood over it. Blood was shed for forgiveness of sins. Fitting that it was shed over the ark of the covenant, the place where the law was kept. The law that no one could ever keep.
This was a day to acknowledge the sins of the people and make a sacrifice to be temporarily reconciled to God. It was temporary because it has to be repeated every single year.
Much was required to approach a holy God. It was not to be taken lightly. The priest was to bring two young goats and a bull. At God’s direction, one goat would be sacrificed with the bull, and the other one set free.
The blood from the sacrificed goat and bull was sprinkled on God’s mercy seat; on the Ark of the Covenant. The priest then put his hands on the other goat and confessed the sins of the nation, transferring them onto the goat. The goat was brought deep into the wilderness and released with the sins of the people.
Two goats – payment for sin and removal of sin. Bloodshed and freedom. It was a shadow of the sacrifice Jesus came to offer. Hebrews shows Jesus as the great high priest…both sacrificer and sacrifice. Not only did Jesus come to die on the cross to shed blood in payment for our sins, but He also transferred His righteousness to us. He took our punishment AND set us free. Free from guilt and condemnation. Free to approach a holy God. One sacrifice for all time. Only Jesus…the great high priest and spotless lamb.
Question: How was Jesus both the sacrifice and the offering priest?
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
The Bible – the inspired word of God – was written over a 1,600-year period by more than 40 authors … royalty, farmers, fishermen, a tentmaker, homeless prophets, a doctor, a professional scribe, vocational musicians, pastors … in three continents (Asia, Africa & Europe).
The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In the original languages, the Bible has about 611,000 words.
The full Bible has been translated into over 500 languages, and partially translated into over 2,800 languages
It is the most owned item in the world.
The Bible is the best-selling book in history, with total sales exceeding 5 billion copies.
Discoveries regularly come to light that support the historical accuracy of the Bible.
An edifying word can encourage you.
A smart word can enlighten you.
A motivating word can inspire you.
A witty word can improve your mood.
But only God’s Word can change you; transform you; save you.
What other book of words could be read, re-read, and studied for thousands of years and still not fully understood? Indeed, the Bible is LIVING and ACTIVE. So much more than mere words. Life.
Challenge: Spend time meditating on the power of God’s word. Pray that God never lets you lose the awe and wonder of this gift to us.
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. Hebrews 2:8
You know what everything means? It means EVERY THING. All. Things. And the writer of Hebrews tells us that EVERYTHING was put in subjection to Jesus. NOTHING was left outside of His control.
That addicted loved one? Part of everything. That wandering child? Yep, part of everything too. That chronic illness? Still everything. That financial burden? Everything. That bully and abuser? Every. Thing. That missed opportunity and broken relationship? Also in the everything category.
Like me, you might be asking, “If Jesus is in control of everything, why can’t He just fix this situation? Why do bad things happen? Why is there so much pain and suffering? Why is life so hard? Why does it sometimes feel like Jesus isn’t in control of everything?”
The author answers these questions in the next statement. “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.” God’s story is unfolding, but it has not yet been fully revealed or executed. We are further along than our biblical ancestors, but we are not yet at the end. We live in a fallen world, so suffering and pain and death are still part of our lives. However, the Bible tells us that one day God will fulfill all of His promises. His story will be complete and those who have put their faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross will spend eternity with Him. There will be no more tears, no more suffering, and no more pain.
The writer of Hebrews tells us we must pay close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. We must be anchored in God’s truth or slowly and steadily – perhaps without even noticing – the tides and currents of culture will have us drifting away. To do nothing is to drift.
Though we do not yet see or understand many things in our world, it is still absolutely true that EVERYTHING is under the control of Jesus. HE’S GOT THIS! Our job is to remain anchored in His truth; His word.
Question: What are you struggling with believing God’s got in your life?
For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother. Philemon 1:15-16a
Onesimus, a bondservant in the house of Philemon, who had since escaped with stolen goods, is set to head back from where he came.
He fled over 1,000 miles, ultimately landing in Rome. Here he met Paul. Here he met Jesus. Here the running stopped. Here he became truly free.
And instead of continuing to run, Paul is sending Onesimus on a mission, letter in hand, back to Philemon. This letter is personal…believer to believer. A plea to Philemon to see Onesimus with new eyes; to see him as he is…a child of God sold out for Jesus. No longer a bondservant, but a beloved brother in Christ.
Paul pleads to a friend on behalf of a friend, desiring reconciliation and restoration. Paul offers to personally right any wrongs; to pay anything owed on Onesimus’s behalf for what he had taken. Paul is careful to not order or command it, but to appeal on behalf of Christian love and compassion. Because it is a heart change that transforms, not another dictate to follow.
As Onesimus makes his way to Colossae, I wonder what is going through his mind. Is he terrified? Is he hopeful? I wonder if he is making connections to the freedom the One he put his hope and faith in brought about on his behalf…not the freedom from a bondservant-owner relationship, but the freedom from condemnation and eternal death.
Bravely Onesimus goes, no doubt clinging to and safely guarding Paul’s letter. No longer a slave; no longer in hiding. Onesimus is returning repentant and free.
Scholars believe that the Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus was THIS Onesimus. Perhaps he played a part in preserving this letter – his story – in God’s story to us. Freedom is contagious. And when we are truly free, there is no stopping us.
Question: Is there something you have been running from?