Devotional thoughts (Monday through Thursday mornings) from the pastor of Exeter Presbyterian Church in Exeter, NH // Sunday Worship 10:30am // 73 Winter Street

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Zephaniah 2

Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation.” The Lord intended to discipline His own people because of their violations of His commandments. If they would not hear His final warnings, they would suffer the fate of the surrounding nations who worshiped idols. What was God's instruction to the Jews in this hour of decision? “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do His just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.”
All the neighboring countries would be cut off from their property. Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites would all feel the consequences of their pride. They had “taunted and boasted” against the worshipers of God, but they would soon be destroyed. Even more distant empires like Cush and Assyria would become a “desolation.” Wealthy cities that were centers of imperial authority would now be populated by “all kinds of beasts.”
The men and women who lived in luxury imagined that they were far above the God of Israel. Zephaniah quoted their absurd motto: “I am, and there is no one else.” Did they have any awareness of their blasphemy as they took Jehovah's own Name as their own? Were they claiming that they were the unstoppable I-AM? In due time the meek remnant of the Lord's chosen assembly would inherit everything that had once belonged to their enemies. The lifeless pagan “gods” of the world would be “famished” since no supplicants would bring them food offerings any longer.
The hope of the few faithful could never be assured through their own keeping of God's law. The Lord has always demanded perfect and perpetual obedience, and they could not even remotely satisfy His exacting requirements. Nonetheless their sinless Redeemer would meet all of God's holy demands and die for the sins of His beloved sons and daughters. A foolish man might presume that he is supreme without even bothering to acknowledge Yahweh. The godly will be content to find their worth in the refuge of the Almighty who made the heavens and the earth.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Sovereign Lord, we are ashamed of our sin. We should seek You and obey Your commandments. We pray that You would grant to us both righteousness and humility. Father, please make a distinction between Your people and their enemies, for You love Your church. Your Son gave His blood for us, but You will bring a devastating judgment upon the world. We must be found by You in mercy, and kept by Your faithfulness, or we will be destroyed with the wicked.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Zephaniah 1

God spoke through Zephaniah to give an oracle of worldwide judgment that has yet to be fulfilled. The Lord has not been slow in keeping His promises, but has been accomplishing His will in the years that have passed since those days. He said, “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” and He surely will do just that.
Before the Old Covenant era was over, Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonians. Zephaniah pointed to the faithlessness of religious leaders who worshiped not only Yahweh but also “Milcom,” an Ammonite deity. Others kept the form of sacred tradition, but they did not really believe in the sovereign power of the I-AM. They said, “The Lord will not do good, nor will He do ill.” These rulers and the nation at large had become worldly, taking on “foreign” ways of life and ignoring the commandments of God.
Destruction would soon come upon the Jews, but in the distant future a final calamity will overwhelm the entire globe with “distress and anguish.” Before that frightening cataclysm, all the people groups of the earth will hear the gospel of hope in Christ. Nonetheless, many human beings will lose everything in the wrath of God. They will remain in their sin “against the Lord” because of their continued unbelief and idolatry.
The loss of our current global society will be “full and sudden.” We have been warned by Christ and His apostles that Jesus will arrive like “a thief in the night” (Matthew 24:43 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Until the final trumpet sounds, we have been told to remain at our posts, waiting, watching, and working in the service of the King of kings. His victory over death for sinners was certainly the complete answer for our right standing with God. At the Lord's predestined time we will see Jesus coming on clouds of glory, and every knee in heaven and on earth shall bow before Him. (Philippians 2:10-11)

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Lord of Hosts, a great Day of Destruction is coming against the world. You have warned us that judgment begins with Your household, and that You will purify Your church. How will we stand when You bring distress upon mankind? Forgive us, for we have violated Your commandments. Will we be safe if we worship You and also bow down before false gods? Our money will not deliver us from Your hand. Your Son is our only hope. Please have mercy upon us.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Habakkuk 3

The prophet Habakkuk sought and received two explanations from the Lord regarding the consequences of sin. Would the Lord ignore evil among His covenant community? No, God would use the Babylonians to punish His children. Would the Almighty allow a pagan people to destroy His beloved nation and face no sanctions for their brutality and idolatry? No, there would be a reckoning for Jerusalem's foes, but the righteous would need to wait upon the Lord, trusting that God would do what was right at the proper time.
When Jehovah revealed His will to Habakkuk, He also granted vivid images of a future judgment. What was His servant's response to these frightening visions? He authored a song to the Lord in which he offered this humble petition: “In wrath remember mercy.”
Habakkuk saw more clearly than ever the greatness of God's being and works. The Lord's “splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise.” God would touch land, sea, and sky in order to defeat His enemies and bring “salvation” to all who called upon His Name. In these fearful deeds of divine warfare, Yahweh would make a distinction between the “house of the wicked” and the lives of His “anointed.”
Habakkuk had learned how to “quietly wait” for the “day of trouble” to come upon those who hated the Jews. The righteous would “rejoice in the Lord” as they lived by faith. Even though the circumstances of life might be very dangerous and unpleasant, Habakkuk would “take joy” in the Holy One of Israel and in His glorious victory. The Lord would give His worshipers strength as they lifted up their voices to Him. If honoring God made sense in the days of the Old Testament, the church should surely praise Him today since we know that the Son of God has secured our eternal happiness through His own death and resurrection.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Father God, we humbly ask that You would remember mercy in Your wrath. We plead the blood of Christ Your Son because You sent Him to be a Substitute for sinners. Your justice already came upon Him centuries ago. There was nothing missing in His atoning sacrifice. Surely our wickedness has been utterly crushed through His death for Your people. We tremble at the truth of Your holiness and Your costly love. The wicked who hate You will not prosper without end. Though we seem empty now, we are full of the joy of Your glory, and we will worship You in the splendor of Your majesty forever.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk had asked the Lord an important question regarding His plans for the Jews and for the Babylonians. Would the empire to the east be allowed to destroy God's city?
God told Habakkuk to write down the following answer for future generations: “The righteous shall live by his faith.” (See Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38.) The Lord would establish His final purposes at “the appointed time,” but until then, the people of God had to “wait” for their vindication. Though it might seem as if events were moving too slowly, the Lord's perfect day of joy “hastens to the end.” God's assembly needed to trust Him that His kingdom would “surely come.”
Though in both Jerusalem and Babylon there was much stealing, violence, sexual impropriety, and idolatry, these worldly troubles would not ultimately prevail. Eventually, “the earth” would be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
God's great victory will be comprehensive. The Lord's children will dwell in a new resurrection environment where His holiness will reign supreme. Believing this promise, we can join those throughout the centuries who have found their peace in the Lord. Our God is “in His Holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
We do not deny that the life of godliness can be very challenging in a world of sin. Our best strategy for survival will not be through the escape of drunkenness, since Habakkuk warns us that “wine is a traitor.” Nothing under the sun has the power to bring heaven to earth. It is far better for us to remember that the Prince of Peace was obedient to the end for us. The Lord is God and He is good. He will defeat every overwhelming adversary. Our coming King will judge the wicked and save the righteous.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Sovereign Lord, we wait for Your Word. There is much that we do not understand. Your Son will finally come with power. Until that day Your people will live by faith. Though the wicked man will gather up what is not his own, he cannot take it with him beyond this life. There will be surprising witnesses that will rise against him in the day of resurrection that he does not expect. There are many things that we do not understand now, but we know that the earth shall be covered with the knowledge of Your greatness and Your glory. All idols will be exposed as nothing. You are in Your holy temple. We worship You with awe and reverence, and trust You in everything.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Habakkuk 1

The prophet Habakkuk questioned the Almighty. He had requested “help” from God regarding the “iniquity” that was all around him among the Lord's own people. Jehovah was allowing “violence” and “strife” to continue in direct violation of divine statutes without any apparent consequences.
God's reply was quite distressing: “I am raising up the Chaldeans” as agents of discipline against the Lord's own covenant community. Brutal soldiers on “horses swifter than leopards” would one day “gather captives like sand.” These foes were not chosen by God because of their goodness. The Babylonian warriors themselves were “guilty men, whose own might” was their “god.”
Habakkuk was alarmed by this frightening pronouncement which provoked within him a second question. Would the unchanging Yahweh, who had made precious promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, use a nation less righteous than the Jews to bring complete destruction upon the chosen ones of the Lord? Would God “idly look at traitors and remain silent” while ungodly pagans swallowed up God's worshipers? Would the Lord do nothing as these foreign armies were “mercilessly killing” not only the elect, but also many other nations?
The response to this second query would come in Habakkuk 2:4, and it would inform not only the Old Testament saints, but also the entire New Testament church, since it would be quoted in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. More on that in our next devotion, but until then, what can we conclude from Habakkuk 1? Our God permits us to ask Him about very troubling issues, though we may be surprised by the way that He responds to us in His Word.
The ultimate answer for our beleaguered hearts can only be found in Jesus, the Son of God. Through His cross and resurrection we have become convinced that the Lord did not ignore our evil, but has atoned for our sins with His own blood. The wicked will not be able to abuse the Lord's children forever. The Messiah who died for us will rescue us from His and our enemies.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Lord God, You love justice. We are amazed at Your patience, for there is still evil all around us. We see perversions of every kind, yet we trust that Your ways are perfect. You have a plan involving even powerful and wicked nations. You work out Your holy goodness using people groups who are swift to kill their adversaries. Even rebellious angels fit into Your glorious decrees somehow. You are the everlasting God. You have ordained judgments upon the earth. Will You use an oppressive army to discipline Your church? Surely we are brought to wonder about the unfolding of events even in our time, but it is well beyond us to guess the details of what will come to pass. We do receive what You have revealed in Your Word, and we know You, O mighty and majestic God.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Nahum 3

Nineveh was a force to be reckoned with in ancient days, but God called her “the bloody city” that was “full of lies and plunder.” The capital of the great Assyrian Empire was used to telling other people what they must do if they wanted to live, but soon the streets of Nineveh would have “dead bodies without end.” God called this formidable seat of worldly power a “prostitute.” She looked “graceful” to the casual observer, but her “charms” were “deadly” to all who fell under her seductions.
Though Nineveh would be overcome by the Babylonians, it was God Himself who said, “I am against you.” The Lord would turn the ruling families of the Assyrians into a “spectacle.” Those who had been accustomed to the greatest accolades among men would now face the worst public humiliation.
Was such a fall possible? History assured any honest observer that other honored places of human authority had faced similarly swift destruction. All of them had eventually been scattered by a greater military force. Nineveh would be sent into exile. Like a hoard of “locusts,” the Assyrian soldiers might seem to cover the face of the earth, yet they would all “fly away” and be forgotten by future generations. Even their “nobles” would be “scattered on the mountains with none to gather them.”
Why would the Assyrian Empire be destroyed? Why would their neighbors celebrate the report of Nineveh's humiliation? The Assyrians leaders had ruled with “unceasing evil” and every nation around them had fallen victim to their brutality.
The story of international history is full of similar despotic groups that loved to lie, steal, and murder other weaker countries. It is good news that the kingdom of God will eventually have victory over all such tyrants. In the course of many centuries whenever a Nineveh is crushed by foreign warriors, we are given a taste of a far greater judgment that will one day come upon all the lawless powers of this fading cosmos. With the second coming of our Messiah, God's eternal kingdom will be fully glorified. The justice of the Almighty will be entirely in the hands of One who was pierced for our transgressions. The supreme Potentate over the resurrection world will be the Lord Jesus Christ who loves His church with a steadfast commitment that shall never fail.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Glorious God, the age of violence will soon be over. We do not know the day or the hour, but we do confess that our lives here below will not last forever. When our mortal bodies fail, we will still rejoice in You. No longer will we fear enemies from without or within. We do not know the one who knocks at the door with an evil heart, but we can trust You, even in this present age. Give us a mind for the life to come. Help us to meditate on the reality of heavenly habitations. Did not Jesus have a resurrection body? Did He not ascend in clouds of glory? Can any evil empire hurt Him? Have not Your beloved children found their safety in Him? The day of wickedness will soon be gone, and we will worship You forever.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Nahum 2

The scatterer has come up against you.” God would remove the Assyrians from their seat of power by using the Babylonians and others to achieve His purposes. Just as in the days of the Tower of Babel, the Almighty was directing the events of world history.
What was the Lord doing in the fall of Nineveh? He was “restoring the majesty of Jacob.” His great love for His own children had led Him to use the nations to their east as agents of His discipline. Now those larger powers would be punished for their own offenses against God.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the great capital of Assyria would face devastating turmoil. A “siege tower” would be built at Nineveh's wall, and “river gates” would be opened, releasing floods of water. “Chariots” driven by foreign soldiers would race through their streets, and the palace itself would be under attack. The leading women in the royal family would be carried off naked, their “slave girls lamenting” and “beating their breasts.”
The silver and gold of the Assyrians would be plundered by the invaders, and the entire metropolis would be well described as only “desolation and ruin.” Those who had been the reigning “lion” and “lioness” would be in no better position than the lower orders of society. They had once “filled” their “caves with prey,” but now Jehovah Himself had come against them. Their time of supremacy would soon be over forever.
Why would Yahweh cause these words to be recorded for posterity? Like Israel and Judah of old, we need to know that the King of kings does all that He desires among the nations of the world. We are thankful to hear that He not only scatters the proud, but that He also gathers the humble through the blood of the Lamb and makes them to be members of His beloved family.
This detailed musing of the demolition of a privileged society has at least two holy purposes. First, it serves as a warning to those who are in charge that they will one day be called to account for their abuse of those who needed them to lead in love. Second, it is a comfort to the weak to remember that we are not being foolish when we wait upon the Lord. Authorities that appear unstoppable at the present moment will themselves be brought low at the proper time. The end of all things will come when the Lord has safely assembled all of His sons and daughters. We will then know what it feels like to be included in a victory that is far greater than anything we could ask for or even imagine.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Father God, if men and nations had their way with Your church we would have been overcome long ago. Violent abusers want to kill and destroy the weak. They would carry away people and possessions as though they were in the right. You know the desires of every heart and the actions of every life. Powerful leaders and empires may enjoy decades of privilege, but there is a day of reckoning coming for every person on this earth. Even the strongest people groups that once seemed perfectly secure can be swept aside in a moment. Keep us in Your kingdom, for in You alone we have safety.