How Great (and Gentle) is our God!

As we enter 2018, news headlines warn us about North Korean nuclear missiles, terrorists using drones to launch chemical and biological attacks, artificial intelligence taking over the human race, another housing bubble bursting and the stock-market crashing, and on and on it goes. The dangers are great and our defenses are weak.

So let’s turn from media headlines to biblical headlines in order to correct our worldview and enter 2018 in a more peaceful and trusting spirit. The prophet Isaiah knew that tough times lay ahead for God’s people. He spent 39 chapters warning them about it. But, in chapter 40 of his prophecy, he turned from earth to heaven and called God’s people to “Behold your God!” (v. 9). And what a reassuring sight that is.

Behold God’s Hand
How much water can you hold in the hollow of your hand? Turn the tap on and try it. It’s pitifully small isn’t it. What about God’s hand? Isaiah says God can hold all the water in the world in the hollow of his hand (12). That’s 332,519,000 cubic miles of water. How great is our God!

Behold God’s Ruler
What’s the longest measuring tape in your home? Perhaps 100 feet? Maybe 500 feet at the most. It can’t measure very far before running out. But God measures the heavens with only the span of his hand (12). The distance to the nearest star is 4.5 light years. That means that if light were to leave it now, it would take 4.5 years to reach the earth traveling at 186,000 miles per second. That’s a total of 26 trillion miles….and God can measure it easily with only his hand-span. How great is our God!

Behold God’s Cup
Your kitchen cupboard probably has different cups for measuring out ingredients. The biggest might be two or three cups. Again, even if we fill them to the top, they can’t hold very much. Now look at God’s cup; it can hold all the sand in the world. Go around all the beaches of the world, pour them into God’s cup, and there’s still space (12). How great is our God!

Behold God’s Scales
Staying in the kitchen, take out God’s scales and see if you can break them. He puts all the mountains and hills on his scales and they still don’t break (12). The Rockies are there, so are the Alps, the Himalayas, the Pyrenees, the Andes, and many more. Yet God’s scales aren’t even straining. How great is our God!

Behold God’s Teacher
Eh…he doesn’t have one (13-14). So different to the Babylonian gods that God’s people were about to be surrounded by in exile, all of whom needed outside counsel and help to overcome hostile forces. But our God has never learned anything or taken advice from anyone. He’s never sat down and asked someone, “Well, what do you think?” “Can you help me?” How great is our God!

Behold God’s Bucket
Over the past few weeks we’ve seen lots of activity at the United Nations. Lots of self-important people making self-important speeches. Each nation flexing its muscles and puffing out its chest. But God looks down and sees all the nations of the world as a drop in (or from) a bucket, and as dust on the scales (15). It’s as if he’s carrying a bucket when a little drop spills out. Look closely enough and you’ll see 195 nations in that tiny drop. He sees some dust on his scales and blows it off. Oh, there goes Russia, and there goes North Korea, and that speck is the USA floating to the floor. How great is our God!

Behold God’s Sacrifice
In verse sixteen, Isaiah envisages the biggest sacrifice in the world. There’s a pile of wood reaching to the sky. It’s made up of all the beautiful and valuable cedars of Lebanon. On top of this mountain of wood are all the animals of the world. Everyone looking at this altar says, “It’s too much!” But Isaiah looks at it and says, “It’s too little!” Anyone who knows how great God is, knows how insufficient this sacrifice is (16). How great is our God!

Behold God’s Calculator
Nations love to compare their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to show how successful they are. If we were to add up all the GDP’s in the world, most of our calculators would run out of digits. But on God’s calculator it all comes to zero; in fact less than zero. Just emptiness (17). How great is our God!

Behold God’s Mirror
Soon, Isaiah’s compatriots were going to be surrounded by Babylonian gods all claiming superiority to the God of Israel. But God says, “Don’t even try! Don’t even begin to compare other gods with me. These man-made gods don’t belong in the same frame as the God who made man. I am the incomparable God.” How great is our God!

Behold God’s Seat
It’s far grander than the most impressive royal throne. He sits on the entire horizon (22). Go to the shore or to the desert and look as far east as you can, then look as far west as you can. You’ve only seen a small part of God’s seat. How great is our God!

Behold God’s Grasshoppers
The world’s Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens, and Dictators look so big and powerful to us. So do the business tycoons and media moguls. But God looks down on them all and says, “Oh, there’s little grasshopper Trump, and there’s little grasshopper Clinton. Over there is grasshopper Kim Jong Il. And was that grasshopper Weinstein that just fell of his perch? Grasshopper Zuckerburg and Gates and my playthings (22-25). How great is our God!

Behold God’s Sky
Isaiah then lifts our eyes from earth to the heavens and says, Behold your God in the planets, stars, and galaxies. He created them all, numbers them all, names them all, and supports them all. And do you know how many of them are there? Latest estimates are that the universe contains 10 trillion galaxies each one containing 100 billion stars. How great is our God!

Do we really have any cause to fear and tremble? Do we lack reasons for peace and trust? Behold the awesome greatness of our God. As Isaiah asks us in his challenging summary: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable” (28)

Behold God’s Gentleness
But Isaiah also wants us to think of the awesome gentleness of our God. He frames this survey of God’s awesome greatness (12-28) with two bookends of God’s awesome gentleness (10-11, 29-31). Our great God is also our gentle God who feeds his sheep like a shepherd, gathers his lambs into his arms, carries the weak, and gently leads the vulnerable.

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Enter 2018 beholding the awesome greatness and awesome gentleness of our God. Then feel the strength and courage returning to your weary and fearful soul.


The Glory of Christmas

On the night Jesus was born something spectacular took place. The plains of Bethlehem became the theater for one of the most spectacular sound-and-light shows in human history. All heaven broke loose.

Luke tells us what happened:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)

The angelic visitor was surrounded by the glory of God. The glory was shining. This glory did not belong to the angel himself. It was God’s glory, signifying His divine mode of being. It was the divine splendor that shrouded the heavenly messenger, a visible divine radiance.

When the shepherds of Bethlehem quaked in fear, they were admonished by the angel: “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, NKJV).

Every human being longs for a savior of some type. We look for someone or something that will solve our problems, ease our pain, or grant the most elusive goal of all, happiness. From the pursuit of success in business to the discovery of a perfect mate or friend, we make our search.

Even in the preoccupation with sports we show a hope for a savior. As a sports season ends with far more losers than winners, we hear the cry from cities across the land—“Wait till next year!” Then comes the draft or a new crop of rookies, and the fans pin their hopes and dreams on the new kid who will bring glory to the team. The rookie, the new client, the new machine, the news that will arrive in tomorrow’s mail—all are invested with more hope than any creature can possibly deliver.

The burst of light that flooded the fields of Bethlehem announced the advent of a Savior who was able to do the task.

We note that the newborn Savior is also called “Christ the Lord.” To the astonished shepherds these titles were pregnant with meaning. This Savior is the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. Every Jew remembered the promise of God that someday the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed, would come to deliver Israel. This Messiah-Savior is also Lord. He not only will save His people but He will be their King, their Sovereign.

The angel declares that this Savior-Messiah-Lord is born “unto you.” The divine announcement is not an oracle of judgment but the declaration of a gift. The newborn King is born for us.

  • R.C. Sproul

So Walk Ye in Him

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, – Colossians 2:6

If we have received Christ himself in our inmost hearts, our new life will manifest its intimate acquaintance with him by a walk of faith in him. Walking implies action. Our religion is not to be confined to our closet; we must carry out into practical effect that which we believe. If a man walks in Christ, then he so acts as Christ would act; for Christ being in him, his hope, his love, his joy, his life, he is the reflex of the image of Jesus; and men say of that man, “He is like his Master; he lives like Jesus Christ.” Walking signifies progress. “So walk ye in him”; proceed from grace to grace, run forward until you reach the uttermost degree of knowledge that a man can attain concerning our Beloved. Walking implies continuance. There must be a perpetual abiding in Christ. How many Christians think that in the morning and evening they ought to come into the company of Jesus, and may then give their hearts to the world all the day: but this is poor living; we should always be with him, treading in his steps and doing his will. Walking also implies habit. When we speak of a man’s walk and conversation, we mean his habits, the constant tenor of his life. Now, if we sometimes enjoy Christ, and then forget him; sometimes call him ours, and anon lose our hold, that is not a habit; we do not walk in him. We must keep to him, cling to him, never let him go, but live and have our being in him. “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him”; persevere in the same way in which ye have begun, and, as at the first Christ Jesus was the trust of your faith, the source of your life, the principle of your action, and the joy of your spirit, so let him be the same till life’s end; the same when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and enter into the joy and the rest which remain for the people of God. O Holy Spirit, enable us to obey this heavenly precept.

A Good Ending

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5

As the lights dimmed and we prepared to watch Apollo 13, my friend said under his breath, “Shame they all died.” I watched the movie about the 1970 spaceflight with apprehension, waiting for tragedy to strike, and only near the closing credits did I realize I’d been duped. I hadn’t known or remembered the end of the true story—that although the astronauts faced many hardships, they made it home alive.

In Christ, we can know the end of the story—that we too will make it home alive. By that I mean we will live forever with our heavenly Father, as we see in the book of Revelation. The Lord will create a “new heaven and a new earth” as He makes all things new (21:1, 5). In the new city, the Lord God will welcome His people to live with Him, without fear and without the night. We have hope in knowing the end of the story.

What difference does this make? It can transform times of extreme difficulty, such as when people face the loss of a loved one or even their own death. Though we recoil at the thought of dying, yet we can embrace the joy of the promise of eternity. We long for the city where no longer will there be any curse, where we’ll live forever by God’s light (22:5).

Lord Jesus Christ, give me unfailing hope, that I might rest in Your promises and welcome Your life eternal.

Turn On the Love Light

16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:16-21

KENDALL AITENDS a large Bible study group nearly every week, but most people around him don’t even know he is there. He always sits by himself and heads for the door as soon as everyone says “Amen” to the closing prayer.

One of the group leaders, Dale, noticed Kendall and decided to befriend him. For several weeks, Dale sought out Kendall after Bible study just to say hello. Eventually Dale convinced Kendall to meet him for lunch. After a couple of get-togethers, Kend­all began to open up. “No way can God love me,” Kendall said one day. “He just puts up with me because I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior. But God will never love me as his child. I’m just lucky to be saved.”

Dale wisely didn’t counter Kendall’s confession by ramming Scripture verses about God’s love down his throat. Instead he gently asked about Kendall’s back­ground. He learned that Kendall had grown up in a non-Christian home with a stem father who was quick to discipline him. He couldn’t recall that his father ever hugged him or held him or said, “I love you.”

So why do people like Kendall fail to see themselves as people unconditionally loved by God? Their sense of belonging is diminished when they don’t sense love from God or others. Since they aren’t loved by the people from whom they most need love, they often conclude they are unlovable. It’s difficult to believe that God can love us if our need for human love has gone unmet.

As long as Kendall kept his distance from others, he wasn’t reminded of his unlovableness. Was Kendall unlovable? No way! His inner self-portrait was wrong. He needed more of the light of Christ, God’s Word, and God’s people to begin reveal­ing who he was.

Dale met with Kendall for a few months. Eventually he convinced Kendall to join a small group. In the group Kendall experienced the love and care of eight other students. As his new friends met his long-ignored need for love, Kendall’s idea of his identity was transformed. As he began to experience love through the care of his friends, he began to see his lovableness to God more clearly.

If you shy away from God and people because you can’t believe they could ever love you, you need more light on who you really are. Stop pulling away. Instead, draw close to people who love you and let the light of their love illuminate the true picture of who you are.

REFLECT: Have you made it a habit to hide from people because you can’t trust their Love? How can you let people into your Life?

PRAY: Tell God about the hurts that cause you to block people out at times.

How Not to Pursue God

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

It is possible to pursue God without glorifying God. If we want our quest to honor God, we must pursue him for the joy in fellowship with Him.

Consider the Sabbath as an illustration of this. The Lord rebukes his people for seeking “their own” pleasure on his holy day. But what does he mean? He means they are delighting in their business and not in the beauty of their God.

He does not rebuke their hedonism. He rebukes the weakness of it. They have settled for secular interests and thus honor them above the Lord.

Notice that calling the Sabbath “a delight” is parallel to calling the holy day of the Lord “honorable.” This simply means you honor what you delight in. Or you glorify what you enjoy.

The enjoyment and the glorification of God are one. His eternal purpose and our eternal pleasure unite.

Jesus the Bread of Life

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” – John 6:35-36

The crowd was looking for a meal and focused only on their own temporal needs.  Jesus rebuked them in verse 26 saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  Kostenberger notes, “…Jesus discerns people’s true motives.  This, too, proves he is the Son of God.”[1]

Jesus points men to himself as the ultimate satisfaction of their needs both physical and spiritual.  Jesus is greater than a mere magician able to multiply loaves and fishes.  Jesus is the prophet greater than even Moses (Hebrews 3:3) who the crowds are thinking about regarding the manna in the wilderness (vs. 30).  Jesus then explains that true bread coming down from heaven is one that “gives life to the world” (vs. 33).  The crowd responds enthusiastically, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (vs. 35)  They want the bread, but Jesus gives them something they were not quite expecting.

Jesus declares himself to be the Bread of Life.  Ridderbos notes in response to the questioning he is receiving, he points not to what he can do but to who he is.  Yes, men need bread but need more than physical bread, life-giving bread.  He notes, “He not only grants that bread but is that bread.”[2]  The true bread coming down from heaven having been sent from the Father is Jesus the Son, not manna or physical food.  What mean need is not just fulfillment on physical and spiritual levels, they need Jesus in particular.  They need the one sent down from heaven by the Father to give life to all.  This is John 3:16 in edible form.

Jesus not only declares himself to be the Bread of Life, he then adds, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  The bread this crowd received the previous day had already been digested.  It was gone and more was needed.  The Bread of Life, however, leaves people without the need for more.

The Bread of Life is sufficient, eternally sufficient.  Partakers of this bread, those who come to Jesus in belief, will never be hungry or thirst ever again.  Why?  According to Rogers and Rogers, it is “the bread that give life; that is, everlasting life.”[3]  The life given by this Bread is not because of coming or the believing in and of themselves, but is the result of the power of the Bread.  To put it a different way, the life given by Jesus is everlasting because Jesus is everlasting.  From a human perspective, the act of belief is a necessary component of salvation, but it is not the strength of this belief or the method of one’s coming that results in everlasting life.

The Bread of Life is the satisfaction, thus those who do not taste of this bread cannot benefit from it.   Michaels confirms that these promises “are not to those whom he is speaking.”[4] Verse 36 says, “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”  The crowd is looking at Jesus and asking for bread.  They have not comprehended the fact that he indeed is the bread himself.  They look to Jesus to give them something outside of himself to satisfy their needs.  Based upon the fact that they follow him demonstrates their belief that Jesus can provide physical needs but they have failed to believe that Jesus Himself is their need.  Kruse notes, “Those who come to Jesus, i.e. those who believe in him, are brought into relationship with God…”  So this crowd is seeking for the benefits of a relationship without the relationship.  The conclusion one may draw then is there are some followers of Jesus who are not genuine in their belief and thus have no salvation which can be lost.

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: the Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective (Encountering Biblical Studies), 2 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 1.

[2] Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: a Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 229.

[3] Cleon L. Rogers and Jr. & Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 197.
[4] J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 375.