It Is Finished—Part III

Essential 100—Read:
Revelation 21:1-22:21

“It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21:6)

The Great Finisher—that’s who God is. What he begins, he finishes, and what he finishes he finishes well.

It Is Finished—Part I: In Genesis 2:2 we read that “on the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” For six days, God had created the universe, and after he had finished each day’s work, he pronounced, “It is good.”

Especially good was God’s divine artistry with the earth itself. It was the perfect environment for the highest of his creation, man. It was a place so amazing that God himself physically strolled with man and woman every day in the wonder and beauty of the divine creation. But then the human couple messed it up by rebelling against God, choosing to sin instead of trusting their Creator.

It Is Finished—Part II: Fast-forward thousands of years to Christ, when in the fullness of time, God stepped back into his creation to recreate what man had corrupted. The Bible calls Jesus “the second Adam.” The second member of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, became a man, lived a sinless life, and died the perfect sacrifice to redeem what man had lost in Eden—a right relationship with Creator God.

When Jesus hung on the cross, paying the awful price for the sin of the world, he breathed his last breath and said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) He had fully transacted the work of redemption, and as indescribably painful, physically, emotionally and spiritually as that was, it, too, was good. Isaiah 53:10 describes the goodness of Christ’s death this way:

“But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.”

It Is Finished—Part III: But that’s not all—fast-forward at least two thousand years into the future to a date not yet set but quickly drawing near.

After Christ’s sacrifice, there was still a world with whom this Good News needed to be shared. Opportunity still had to be given for sinful man to repent, experience redemption and be brought back into that perfect place God had originally intended in the Garden. Sadly, much of the world would stubbornly reject this great redemptive “do-over”. Satan, the god of this world, had blinded the eyes of sinful man.

So after the appropriate time had been given for repentance, God brought judgment upon sin, Satan, and stubborn humanity. Everything that had stood in rebellion against this gracious, patient God was cast into eternal punishment. And the sin-corrupted earth—what was once God’s most perfect creation—was destroyed by God’s holy fire.

Then the God, who always finishes what he begins, said once again, “it is finished.” (Revelation 21:6) And what is revealed next is so good that it defies description: a new earth. Read John’s description slowly, and as best you can, picture in your mind what God has in store for his redeemed—which includes you and me:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’” (Revelation 21:1-3)

Best of all, once again, you and I will walk personally and physically with God himself. As Adam and Eve once enjoyed unhindered, uninterrupted fellowship with their Father Creator, so shall we. And if you have any doubts about the truth of this promise, hear the words of the Great Finisher himself,

“And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’” (Revelation 21:5)

Blessed is the one who hears God say, “it is finished” for the third time, for it too, will be ‘good!’”

“If our Creator has so bountifully provided for our existence here, which is but momentary, and for our temporal wants, which will soon be forgotten, how much more must He have done for our enjoyment in the everlasting world!” ~Hosea Ballou

Reflect and Apply: Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “One should go to sleep as homesick passengers do, saying, ‘Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.’” As you lay your head on the pillow tonight, say along with the Apostle John, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 21:20)

Jesus, Risen and Exalted One

Essential 100—Read:
Revelation 19:1-20:15

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself…” (Revelation 19:11-12)

It is only right that all of creation will look upon Jesus Christ as the risen and exalted One. God’s justice demands that those who killed him, literally and figuratively, should one day see him, as verse 16 describes, as “The King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.”

The last time the world had looked upon Jesus, he was hanging on a cross. He had suffered the humiliation of death by crucifixion. He had been whipped, beaten, pierced, and nailed naked to a tree like a common criminal. His executioners mocked him, the crowds jeered him, the religious leaders clucked their self-righteous tongues at him, and Satan laughed at him. He died alone, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and in the eyes of the world, that was the end of the story.

Of course, what the world saw as the humiliation of the Son of God, believers see as God’s perfect plan of redemption: The sacrifice of the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. We love him for willingly enduring the pain, shame and sorrow of the cross. We worship him as the crucified but resurrected Lord. We know that death could not contain him; that he rose victorious over sin and Satan. We know that he is the Master and Ruler of all.

But the world rejects what we know. They still reject Jesus as the Son of God and rightful ruler over all creation, and will continue to do so right up to the end of time as we know it. So God’s justice demands that they see Jesus as the great Spoiler of Satan’s plans, the great Judge of sin, the great Redeemer of those who put their hope in him, the great God and King of all the universe.

And on the day John describes in this chapter, the One riding the white horse whose name is Faithful and True will make a grand entrance onto the great universal stage, and everyone—saints and sinners, demons and the devil, himself—will know Who is really in charge. The saints will be vindicated, sinners will be judged, the beast and the false prophet will be sent packing for all eternity, and Satan will be quaking in his boots—because he knows what is next.

Aren’t you glad you worship Jesus, the risen and exalted One!

“The Lord Jesus Christ would have the whole world to know that though He pardons sin, He will not protect it.”  ~Joseph Alleine

Reflect and Apply: In light of what you’ve just read, offer these words to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, you are King and Lord of my heart, and one day you will literally rule and reign as King and Lord of all. I worship you now in anticipation of the day when the entire universe will bow its knee and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”


What Happens To Your Prayers?

Essential 100—Read:
Revelation 4:1-7:17

“And when he took the scroll, the four living beings fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelation 5:8)

It is not uncommon for us to feel as if prayer is an exercise in futility; that either our payers are unheard, or if they are heard, that they don’t really matter. We don’t always feel this way, or else we would never pray. But sometimes we do sense that the heavens are brass and our prayers simply disappear like a puff of smoke into the atmosphere.

According to this verse, however, all of our prayers matter to God. They rise up to heaven and are offered as precious and pleasing incense before his very throne. God will not answer every prayer according to our desires—thankfully. I share this observation with Jean Ingelow: “I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered.” As Mother Teresa rightfully observed, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” Yes, thankfully not all of our prayers are answered in the way we want, but each prayer is an act of worship offered in faith that blesses the very heart of God.

Now there is nothing wrong in hoping for the answer to your prayer. God’s Word is clear in that our Father desires to give us those things we ask for in prayer. So don’t quit expecting your answer. But pray with this added dimension: The greatest answer to prayer is the act of prayer itself.

You see, prayer is practicing the presence of God. It is entering his very throne room in the great court of heaven. It is exercising faith in the One who rewards those who believe that he exists and diligently seek him. It is placing your needs, concerns and hopes into the hands of a loving Father who delights in your dependence and is pleased to provide for your needs according to his gracious will.

Hopefully, the answer you are expecting will be in line with his will to act. But if not, your act of prayer does far more in the unseen realm that you will ever realize this side of eternity.

So keep praying!

“If Jesus Christ is bringing you into the understanding that prayer is for the glorifying of His Father, He will give you the first sign of His intimacy—silence.” ~Oswald Chambers

Reflect and Apply: Offer this prayer today: “Father, I lift my prayer to you simply as an act of worship. May I, and this prayer, please and glorify you. You know my heart, you know my needs, you know your will for my life. Fulfill your perfect plan for me—whether it come in the form of some great and miraculous intervention, or simply through the intimacy of your silent presence.”


A Tale of Two Churches

Essential 100—Read:
Revelation 2:1-3:22

“To the church in Philadelphia…To the church in Laodicea…” (Revelation 3:7 & 14)

To paraphrase the unforgettable opening line of Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of churches, it was the worst of churches.”

Throughout the centuries, Biblical scholars have interpreted the letters to the seven churches in Revelation in a variety of ways.  Some have suggested that these letters are written literally to seven contemporary churches throughout Asia Minor during the time of John’s imprisonment, describing real conditions that existed in those churches. Others suggest that these seven churches represent eras of church history, with the last two, Philadelphia and Laodicea, concurrently representing the condition of the church at the end of time.

I lean heavily toward the latter, but however you wish to interpret, the message to these last two churches is clear, and quite applicable to the church in our day:

One, God assesses the condition of his church far differently than we do. What we consider weak, ineffective and unattractive in a church God treasures because of that church’s fidelity to his Word. Size, slickness and sizzle do not impress God if his Word is not being honored above all else.

On the other hand, what we might consider attractive, powerful, and impacting in a church because of its bigness, buildings and budget, God may assess as way off the mark because Biblical truth has been neglected or compromised, all in the name of cultural relevance and church growth.

That leads to the second thought: Beware of all the bells and whistles when evaluating the church. If these last two churches do represent the condition of the church in the last days, it is rather obvious that many of today’s churches are indeed the church at Laodicea. Don’t get caught up in the personality cult and celebrity worship of TV preachers or the hype of the mega-church.

Ask yourself: Does my church honor God’s Word above all else?  Is my pastor and are my spiritual leaders truly people of God—full of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and passionate about fulfilling the purposes of God for the church without compromise? Is this a church with whom God is well pleased?

If so, then you’ve got a great church. If not, start praying!

“God evaluates by character not charisma.”

Reflect and Apply: Spend some time praying for your church today.

Double Blessing

Essential 100—Read:
Revelation 1:1-20

“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

John promised God’s blessings upon those who read and acted upon the words of his prophetic revelation. The same double blessing applies to all of God’s Word—both Old and New Testaments alike.

Today, when you read the Bible, there is a blessing that will be upon you.  You are not just reading another book, you are reading God’s Book. You hold in your hand the very revelation of God himself, inspired by God, revealing God’s nature, God’s will for all of mankind—which includes you—and God’s plan for the ages.

To all who read with an open heart and a humble spirit, God’s favor will rest.  But there is another, even greater blessing: It is for those who not only read the Word of God; it is for those who act upon it. Divine blessing awaits those who translate their belief into behavior.

As you read this portion of Scripture, the Revelation of John, what behavior is required of you? Simply this: Since this prophecy concerns God’s plan for the end of days, you must seek to apply it in readying yourself for Christ’s return.

So then, how do you actually live such a ready life? First, you must live with an end-time perspective. Verse 7 says, “Look, he is coming with the clouds…”  Jesus is coming soon, and everything you think, say or do ought to be lived in the light of his return.

Second, you must realize that you have been redeemed to be both a king and a priest in God’s eternal reign. Verses 5-6 remind us, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priest to serve his God and Father…” You are going to rule and reign with Jesus in the eternal kingdom soon, so you ought to act like a king and priest now!

And third, until then, you must patiently endure trial and tribulation. In verse 9, John reveals himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus…” John was able to endure great hardship—harder than you will ever face, most likely, because he knew what was coming. When you know the end of the story—that you win—you can put up with anything in your present circumstances.

Reading and receiving the blessing promised in this book requires you to adjust your beliefs and your behaviors to it. So develop an eternal perspective, act like the priest of God’s kingdom that you are, and patiently endure difficulty, and you will be handsomely rewarded for it!

“Looking forward to the eternal world is not…a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.”  ~C.S. Lewis

Reflect and Apply: What adjustments do you need to make in your life to be ready for Christ’s return? Write down five things you would stop doing and five things you would start doing if you knew Jesus would return a week from now.

God On Display

Essential 100—Read:
I John 3:11-24 & 4:1-21

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (I John 4:12)

Ask a thousand different people for their concept of God and you will most likely get a thousand different depictions. But the Bible makes it plain that the chief expression of God is love. What does God look like? He looks like love.

Not the sloppy, squishy, anything goes kind of love our world knows. Not the ever-changing love that rises and falls with one’s current emotional state that far too many people today understand love to be. Not the selfish kind of love that loves to the degree that love is requited.

No—real love is an unconditional love; it is a sacrificial love; it is a proactive love; it is a love that seeks out unworthy objects. It is a holy and righteous love; it is a tough love; it is an unchanging love. It is that kind of love that is at the core of God’s nature. It is this love that is the essence of his being.

And though no one has ever seen God, he has made himself visible by the evidence of his love in this world. Wherever you see this kind of love, there, in a very real sense, you see evidence of God. Whether you see evidence of love in the wonder and majesty of nature or in the selflessness and sacrifice of humanity, there God has left his fingerprint of love.

But God is best seen in the lives of his redeemed ones as they live in loving community within the family of God. Whenever you see authentic fellowship, spiritual unity, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, serving—you are seeing love in action; you are seeing God.

When you see God’s people reaching out to a lost world, loving the unlovely, serving the poor, preaching the Good News to the lost, laying down their lives so that hostile people can see the Father, there you have God’s love on display; there you see God.

And God is especially visible when his love is on display in you. When you love with no thought of love in return; when you go out of your way to love; when you love in response to hurtful and hateful actions; when you suffer, but patiently love; when everyone else has given up but you stubbornly love anyway…

When that kind of love in action is displayed in you, there God is seen.

“Our love to Him is the proof and measure of what we know of His love to us.” ~John Newton

Reflect and Apply: Think of practical ways that you can demonstrate the love of God through your life today

Dead Sea Saints

Essential 100—Read:
James 1:1-2:26

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  … Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14,17)

Let me offer my translation what James is saying:  “Prove your faith by living it out, because faith without action is no faith at all!”

Church-goers in our culture really need to listen up to James’ words, because there’s a great deal of belief that’s not matched by behavior these days. Our talk is not commensurate with our walk. As James would say, there’s an unfortunate disconnect between faith and action. And this disconnect is the source of much unhappiness, frustration, and even stress for believers.

For instance, we value generosity, but hoard our wealth. We believe in God, but decreasingly participate in worship. We tout the sanctity of marriage and family values, yet the divorce rate among believers has skyrocketed. We sing of peace on earth, yet there’s more hostility in our homes than ever.

Sociologists refer to this disconnect between what we say we believe and how we actually live as incongruent values. In chapter 1, James spelled out the sad consequences of living with these incongruent values:

  • Self-deception“…and so deceive yourselves.”  (James 2:22)
  • Dissatisfaction“…like the man who looks at his face in the mirror…and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 2:23)
  • Bondage“…the law that gives freedom…”  (James 2:25)
  • Spiritual Poverty:  He won’t be “blessed in what he does.” (James 2:25)
  • Irrelevance“…his religion is worthless.” (James 2:26)

What James is describing is a pointless faith; a lot of knowledge but little implementation.  That’s a big problem in the church today.  We’re like Dead Sea saints: A lot of inflow but no outflow. And like the real Dead Sea, the result is a stagnant, stinky body of water. Nothing is more disgusting to God and dissatisfying to people who live it than dead faith…an inflow of God’s riches with little or no outflow.

Authentic, saving, God-pleasing faith is not just something you say or feel or believe, it is something you do! Now just to be clear, our faith is not determined by what we do. But it is demonstrated by what we do. Faith is taking what you know to be true, what is of utmost and eternal value to you, and living it out in every fiber of your existence.

God’s invitation to you, wherever you are on the faith continuum, is to move from knowledge to a day-by-day, moment-by-moment personal relationship with him.

In the 1850’s, a famous tightrope walker named George Blondin, for a publicity stunt, decided he would walk across Niagara Falls on a rope that had been stretched from one side of the falls to the other. Crowds lined up on both the Canadian and American side to watch this unbelievable feat. Blondin began to walk across—inch-by-inch, step-by-step and everybody knew that if he’d make one mistake he was a goner. He got to the other side and the crowd went wild.  Blondin said, “I’m going to do it again.”  And to the crowds delight, he did. Then, to everybody’s amazement, he crossed again, this time pushing a wheel-barrow full of dirt. He actually did this several times, and as he started to go across one last time, someone in the crowd said, “I believe you could do that all day.” 

Blondin dumped out the dirt and said, “Get into the wheelbarrow.” 

In a very real sense that’s what God is saying to you today.  Talk is cheap.  Get in the wheelbarrow of faith…And “you will be accepted and pleasing to me…and I will bless your life!” (James 1:25-27)

“Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” ~Martin Luther

Reflect and Apply: What can you do today to put your faith into action?