As we read through the Gospels, we come to this statement by Jesus—a statement that may at first sound discordant to many ears: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
“Unworthy!” What does Jesus mean?
Unworthy does not mean worthless. Jesus did not die for junk. He died to redeem the diamonds that were covered in the mud of sin. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.
What was that joy? The joy was us, His children—enjoying us for all eternity.
Are we unworthy? Yes. Do we deserve redemption? No. Are we good enough—apart from Jesus—to be admitted into heaven? No.
But Jesus found us in our unworthiness and saw beyond what we can see. He looked into the far reaches of eternity and said, “I will give My Life for you.” He looked ahead. He saw you. And, in seeing you, He saw joy, value and worth.
Imagine a world without God, and you get the picture of the world described in much of the book of Revelation. As John tells this story, we read about two witnesses—two prophets—speaking out for God in a world gone crazy. To say they’re unpopular would be an understatement. Nearly everyone hates them, but nobody can touch them. Anyone who tries to arrest them or kill them ends up destroyed.
Enter the beast—a world ruler possessed with evil. He manages to do what no one else could do. The #1 evil man on earth kills God’s two witnesses and refuses them burial. The whole world celebrates, but nobody counts on the power of God.
We pick up the story in Revelation 11:11: “But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them [the two witnesses], and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.”
God makes it abundantly clear that life and death belong to God, not to the beast.
God could have let them lie and resurrected them along with everyone else later on. But He doesn’t. He sends a clear message: Even though the world has gone mad, God is still in control.
Sometimes nothing in our world makes sense, and it seems that evil really has triumphed. But God still knows how to bring life where it is needed, hope where it is lacking, and power to those who have no strength.
The deeper you get into situations you don’t like, the more you discover that Jesus is already there. Where did I find joy? When I was grieving the death of someone I loved. Where did I find peace? At the center of my anxieties. Where do I find contentment? As things I want are taken away from me.
Richard Wurmbrand who wrote Tortured for Christ speaks of his solitary prison cell walls turning into a million glittering diamonds. He speaks of leaping for joy in prison. How did he get to that point? He found Jesus in the place where he didn’t want to go.
I have no advice for those of you who are going through trouble. What good is my advice? But I know that Jesus really is our Savior. That means He shows up when we need Him. I don’t know how He turns grief into joy, suffering into triumph, poverty into wealth.
I just know that our life is defined not by our circumstances, but by our Savior.
From the Bible: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13 NIV
John, standing in heaven, sees a scroll—an ancient book. Somehow he knows that everything that matters is wrapped up in this scroll. But the scroll is sealed, and nobody knows how to break the seals. It’s locked—and nobody has the key, nobody has the password.
Father God Himself doesn’t choose to open the scroll. No angel can do it. No human can do it. All John can do is weep. But then one of the elders seated next to God’s throne speaks. “Don’t cry,” he says. “There is someone who earned the right to open the scroll. That someone is Jesus.” (Revelation 5:5)
What happens when you open the scroll? Judgment comes. History ends. Eternity begins.
Why can’t anybody open the scroll? Because too much is at stake. Every precious person that God loves has no defense against judgment until he or she is hidden in Christ.
What is the message? God is protecting His children from judgment. We may have troubles, but the judgment of God does not fall on us. There is a very important difference. In judgment, God is letting the wicked humanity know what He thinks of sin. In our troubles, God removes impurities so He can reveal what is beautiful inside us and inside God.
Do you have troubles? If you are a believer, your troubles are not a report card on your performance. Your troubles are an opportunity for God.
In the Biblical book of Revelation, John the author describes a visit to heaven. He writes these words, “There before me was a throne in heaven with Someone sitting on it…” (Revelation 4:2)
Why doesn’t the apostle John fill in the blanks? Why does he not name the Person on heaven’s throne?
The Bible says we shall become like Jesus when we see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2) Encountering the Living God is so life changing, that we don’t even have words to describe it.
It needs to be that way. We have, all of us, been deeply touched by the pain and corruption of the fall. But now God is pulling us out of this world and doing a deeper work in us than the work of sin and destruction.
Right now we encounter God selectively, a little bit at a time. Here in our world, God gives us the right to say “yes” to Him in increments. We invite Him into the secret places of our hearts one door at a time.
But on that great day, all the doors fly open. All the secrets are laid bare. This is more than any of us can contain as we are. The result is transformation for eternity.
Today I want to take on the myth that if you do God’s will, everything will go smoothly. Sorry, folks, it just doesn’t always happen that way.
Judges 19-21 tells the sad story of a violent crime and a quest for justice. Evil men were shielded by the tribe of Benjamin, and the rest of the Israelis went to war with them.
Is this a good time to seek the Lord? You bet. Why do you inquire of God before a battle? Because you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing. Because you don’t want to fight if you don’t need to. Because you don’t want to get killed or wounded. Because, if you must fight, you want to win.
Those seeking justice inquired of God. God said go for it. They went for it and lost. So they inquired of God again. Again God said, “Go up against them.” (Pretty clear answer if you ask me.) Again they lost.
Now 40,000 men are dead. And the men still alive and gloating over their victory are the very men who committed the crime.
I bring this up because some of you may have inquired of God, got His direction, ran with it, and now everything is going wrong. Those around you are saying, “See, there’s something wrong with you. You didn’t get it right.” And inside there are voices that say, “I must be a fool. I must have thought I heard from God, but I didn’t.”
Not necessarily. David followed God and went from the frying pan into the fire. Moses did what God told him to do and things only got worse for the people of God.
We all want the will of God to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. But sometimes it doesn’t, at least not at first. Sometimes the will of God takes us on difficult paths that we would not choose for ourselves.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we see people in trouble and assume that they’ve missed God. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes they are in the exact center of God’s will.
God does straighten it all out in the end. The Israelis triumphed on the third try. David became king. Moses brought his people out of Egypt. Jesus rose from the dead. And so will you.
If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in… Revelation 3:20
We human beings really have only one power: to say “yes” or “no” to God. If we are righteous, why are we righteous? Not because we did righteous things, but because we said “yes” to God. If we are unrighteous, look around inside. Somewhere we closed the door in God’s face. Somewhere we said “no.”
We like to use Revelation 3:20 as a verse for entering the Christian faith. Open the door of your heart and let Jesus in. But it is also an every day life verse. Once Jesus comes in the front door, He starts knocking at the other doors inside our hearts. There are many closets in our hearts that Jesus wants to clean out. Either we say “yes” or we say “no.”
It’s very important to understand that we don’t clean out the closet first and then open the door. Many sad and discouraged people are trying to do this. We can’t do this. We don’t have the power to do this. All we have the power to do is to say “yes” or “no” to God.
This is bad news for the self righteous, but it is wonderful news for the desperate among us who realize that we have no hope unless God comes in and cleans us up. And that is exactly what He will do, one “yes” at a time.
I have a little rhyme I used to say to my children when they were young:
“Two plus two equals four—
seldom less, sometimes more.”
But here is a situation where addition doesn’t work: You can’t add to God and get more. You only get less.
When we add our efforts to God’s, we don’t end up ahead, we end up behind. God quietly steps out of the way until our own efforts run their doomed course.
A good example of this is found in Genesis 31. Just before running away with her husband, Rachel, the wife of Jacob, stole her father’s household gods while her dad was out working on his ranch. (verse 19)
Sometimes you just wonder. What was Rachel thinking? I guess she thought she needed all the luck she could get. When Abraham stepped out into the unknown, God stepped out with him. He wanted to do the same for Rachel, and He wants to do the same for us. Whatever “rabbit’s foot” we bring along for extra security only puts a hole in our defenses.
The Bible doesn’t say, but it may be that Rachel clung to these gods for another ten to fifteen years until something happened that threatened to wipe out Jacob’s entire family. (See Genesis 34-35.) There, with danger all around, she may have finally learned that security only comes from the one true God.
Probably the strangest encounter with God recorded in the entire Bible is found in Genesis 32:24. Here’s the setting. Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of everything that mattered. Then Jacob left town to wait for Esau to cool off. Twenty years later he comes back. On his way, he gets the news. Esau was coming to meet him all right—along with 400 men. This could only mean one thing: Jacob was in great danger. At best, everything he had worked for in the last twenty years would probably be gone in a few hours. His wives and children could be taken from him, and he would be powerless to prevent it. He would be lucky to escape with his life.
As the sun set, Jacob knew that tomorrow could easily be the last day of his life. If ever Jacob needed a word of encouragement from God, now was the time.
And here God meets with Jacob, but he doesn’t say a word. All He does is wrestle with him until daybreak. What must have been going through Jacob’s mind? Everything Jacob had was on the line—his own survival was a major question mark. And now this.
One day when my two boys were 8 and 11, they got into a fight. (One of many, of course.) There were angry words and tears and more angry words. I suppose I could have sat them down and said, “Now, boys, this is how you should be nice to each other.” But, somehow, I didn’t think that would work.
So I told them both to come here, that I was going to beat some sense into them. (I didn’t actually beat them of course, but I wrestled with them a bit.) Then the three of us sat down on the couch—one on each side of me—and we looked at a book I got from the library on military aircraft. There we sat for fifteen minutes or so looking at Tomcats and Harriers and cargo planes. At first they were both pretty sullen, but it wasn’t long before all three of us got lost in figuring out how big these planes were, how fast they flew, what they carried, and who flew them.
After fifteen (or was it twenty-five?) minutes, I looked at them and asked, “If I let you guys go, do you think you can figure out how to get along with each other?”
The younger one got up and hugged the older one. Then the older one stood up and hugged the younger one. Then they both walked back into their world.
I honestly don’t know if that’s good parenting or not. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
In Jacob’s case, he wrestled with God. Barely a word was exchanged. Yet, at the end of the night, something had changed. Jacob discovered something about God he could find out no other way. God gave Jacob a new name (Israel) to show him that you can wrestle with God and with men and prevail.
By the way, the meeting with Esau went quite differently than Jacob expected. You can read all about it in Genesis 32 and 33.