Isaiah was an 8th century B.C. prophet who prophesied about the coming messiah. In chapter 9 he begins by saying, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of nations” (Isaiah 9:1 ESV).
The people were in anguish–being mistreated, suffering, and waiting for God to intervene. He promised there would be no more gloom for those who were in anguish. Then came the great news: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (vs. 6). The Messiah was going to establish the throne of David and uphold it with justice and righteousness forever (vs. 7).
We cannot connect people to God without telling them who the Christ is. In a world full of suffering we should point people to the only One who can give them hope. It’s easy to see Isaiah’s prophesies play out in the life of Christ. Even today we live with incredible hope, knowing that his throne built on justice and righteousness prevails. We have much to be hopeful for!
The apostle Paul was an encourager. He had put Christians through the wringer by persecuting them, even to the point of death. It’s no secret that Paul considered Christians to be blasphemers and he singlehandedly wrecked the lives of many innocent people. As Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, a man named Ananias saw a vision and the Lord told him that he would meet a man named Saul. Terrified, Ananias said that he heard all that Saul had done to the Christians. The Lord replied, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 ESV).
A long time after Paul was converted he began his mission journeys. He was stoned and left for dead at Timothy’s home village of Lystra. But Paul got up and went on to Derbe the next day. What happened next is incredible: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22).
Many people are struggling in life. Like the apostle Paul, many will suffer for the name of Jesus. But we should encourage them to remain in the faith even when our lives are a mess. Paul never gave up. He consistently taught people who God is. He suffered severely yet never gave up treating people with kindness and teaching them who God is. He was always thankful for what God provided and never lost his focus.
Paul wrote to Timothy in his first letter to warn against false teachers and to encourage him to stay the course and do what is right in the eyes of God. Paul was clear: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:14 ESV).
Paul went on to explain the mystery of godliness: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (vs. 16).
Paul continues the letter by saying that some will depart from the faith but Timothy should not let that discourage him. He should command these things that are true to the gospel and should “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15).
Sometimes Christians struggle to believe that God is just. This is, in large part, because we see injustices being done to innocent people all the time. In fact, this was Habakkuk’s complaint to God–that innocent, God-fearing people were suffering in poverty and oppression while the oppressors lived high on the hog. It’s very easy to get discouraged when we see this pattern repeated over and over again.
But Hebrews 6 tells us that it’s impossible for people who have once been enlightened and tasted the goodness of the word of God to come to repentance. The message is clear: “But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:8 ESV). At this point the Christians might be questioning where God’s justice is in all of this.
There is tremendous hope for saints who serve other saints: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (vs. 9, 10). Not only does God care for the saints who serve others, but they “have full assurance of hope until the end” (vs. 11). The people who are patient and serve others will see God’s justice and receive full assurance of hope until the end!
Not long after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea they became hungry and started to complain. The wilderness was quite brutal. They were in one of the most hostile places on the planet, where the daytime temperatures get very brutal. When they complained, God provided bread from heaven. When they moved camp the became thirsty and were angry with Moses. Moses cried to the Lord: “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me” (Exodus 17:4 ESV).
To add injury to insult, when God provided water the Amelekites attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Rephidim was a place that had fertile ground, a rare site in the desert. Here the flocks could find pasture and it seemed like Israel had found a place of peace. But the battle would prove otherwise. Based on Moses’ response with the water situation it appears he was very burned out. Retaliation against him was a reality.
Moses persisted, though: “Tomorrow I will sand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (vs. 9). As long as Moses held up his hand Israel was winning. But when his hands grew weary they would start to lose. Aaron and Hur put a rock under Moses and held his hands up until the sun set. “And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword” (vs. 13). This is a reminder to us to be present for people who are fighting spiritual battles. Moses couldn’t have done this alone even though he possessed the staff of God in his hand. We all need support and this is what helps us make it to the next day!
One day James and John’s mother brought them to Jesus and kneeled before him. It’s not certain that James and John knew what their mother was going to ask for. But ask she did! When Jesus asked her what she wanted, she said, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV).
Jesus told her she didn’t know what she was asking. He then asked the brothers if they could drink the cup he was to drink. He was asking if they were able to suffer like he was about to. They affirmed. Jesus told them that they would drink his cup but that he couldn’t grant who gets to sit as his right or left. Only the Father can deicide that.
What Jesus could decide, however, is that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vs. 26-28). God is not concerned with people climbing their way to the top. Instead, he wants us to serve those in need–to care for the poor, broken, orphans and widows. It is they who will be first in the Kingdom.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The definition of devotion, according to Merriam Webster, is the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal. What is the difference between being dedicated and holding on to something while expecting change? Maybe it’s difficult to tell where the line is between insanity and devotion. But one thing is for sure–the early believers were devoted!
Jesus taught every day in the temple: “And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet” (Luke 21:37 ESV). After Jesus ascended the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (vs. 42, 46).
When Paul was in Ephesus people in the synagogue spoke evil about the Way before the congregation, so Paul “withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). Luke records that this went on for two years so that all the people in Asia heard the word of God. Imagine what an incredible feat that was! If we are going to connect God to others we need to do it every day. It is a discipline. But so is learning. People actually showed up to listen every day. We are more connected today globally than at any other time in history. So how are we using that technology to remain devoted to the Word?