Author Archives: steve.wagner

Revelation 6-8

Scripture

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes . . . And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9a, 10 NIV)

Observation

In the midst of the darkest period of human history, we see this multitude of believers standing before the throne of the Lamb.  Looking at the passage, we notice several things:  First, they are wearing white robes, a reference to 6:9-11, where those who were martyred “because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” were given white robes.  Second, they came “out of the great tribulation” (7:14), meaning they were killed during this specific period in history, and are now in heaven before the throne of God.  Third, there is an uncountable multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language – the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every people.

These tribulation martyrs give us a glimpse of what eternity with God looks like.  No hunger, no thirst, no scorching heat from the sun, and best of all, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:17b).  The message is clear – the only ones who need to fear the wrath of God laid out in Revelation are the unbelieving enemies of God.  For those that believe, death is a friend that ushers them into a Christ-filled eternity.

Application

I was telling my kids the Christmas story tonight, trying to put Joseph and Mary’s journey and experience long ago into terms my 3-year-old daughter could understand.  She got pieces of it, but when I finished, her response was “Daddy, look how big those lights are on the tree.”  I have to admit, when I try to understand what eternity and heaven will be like, I feel just as dazed by it all as my daughter was tonight.  I take comfort knowing that I can trust the Maker of the universe with my future.  I don’t need to know every detail of the eternal state; I just need to know the One who was born long ago who died for me.

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth and dying for me.  You paid the price for my sin and gave me a hope and a future with you.  I stand in awe of your plans for the future, and I trust in your unfailing love and faithfulness to those that believe.  Help me to share the good news of your grace with others this Christmas day, for your glory and our good.

(wordisalive)

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Titus 1 – Philemon

Scripture

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
(Philemon 17-18 NIV)

Observation

Philemon is a remarkable little letter from Paul to an early Christian slave owner named Philemon.  Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who ran away and probably stole from him as well.  Onesimus fled his master and made his way to Rome, no doubt hoping to lose himself in the crowds there.  When he got to Rome, though, he somehow encountered the imprisoned Paul.  Paul introduced the slave to Jesus, and Onesimus became a believer.

But now Paul is sending Onesimus back to his owner.  In the Roman world, Onesimus deserved death for running away.  However, while Philemon is still his master, he is now also his brother in Christ.  So Paul writes to Philemon personally on behalf of Onesimus, asking him to receive him back – “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (16a).

Application

Paul shows the gospel to be a great equalizer.  He leaves no room for social prejudice – or any prejudice at all – among believers.  Though not explicitly asking for Onesimus’ freedom, Paul makes it clear that the gospel leaves no room for slavery.  He does not overtly fight the establishment, but rather rests in the power of the gospel to change society.

There is also a remarkable parallel between Paul’s intercession for Onesimus and Christ’s intercession for us as sinners.  In justifying the slave before his master, Paul (like Christ) both pays the debt for wrongdoing (“charge it to me”) and imputes his own goodness to the wrongdoer (“welcome him as you would welcome me”).  In doing so, he provides a vivid picture of Christ and His infinite grace in providing salvation for mankind.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you for paying my debt and giving me your righteousness before the Father.  Without you, I was a slave to sin, and I deserved death.  But you died in my place, paying the price for my sin, and now when I stand before God He sees your goodness, not my dirtiness.  All I can say is – thank you.  Thank you for loving me when I was unlovable, for reaching out to me when I had no one, for giving me grace and peace that I did not deserve.  I’m blown away by the magnitude of your love.

(wordisalive)

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1 Corinthians 14-16

Scripture

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14, 20a)

Observation

The importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be underestimated.  It is the foundation of our faith.  As individuals we may be able to deduce through evidence or reason that creation demands the existence of a “first cause,” just as a finely tuned watch implies the existence of a clockmaker.  But reason and deduction do not identify the first cause as a personal God who desires a relationship with us.  The only way for finite humans to learn about that personal God was for Him to step into human history and reveal himself to us.

If indeed Jesus did just that, stepped into our history and revealed himself to us, then we need something outside of Him to validate that claim.  The resurrection is that validation.  Many eyewitnesses saw him die, saw him buried in a sealed tomb, and then saw him alive again 3 days later.  Those eyewitness are credible – they had everything to lose and nothing to gain by telling others what they had seen.  They were consistent – the accounts of the various eyewitnesses were consistent with each other, and they were recorded and transmitted through the centuries.  Those accounts became the New Testament and are central to the historical record of Christ.

Application

We can be confident in the historical fact of the resurrection, and from that, in the deity of Jesus Christ.  And since Jesus Christ is in fact God, we must make a choice:  accept Him or reject Him.  There really is no middle ground with Jesus.  Either he claimed to be God and was not, and thus deserved to die a blasphemer’s death, or he claimed to God and is, and thus deserves our worship.  Pretending that He was just a good man, a prophet, or a great moral teacher passes over His strongest claim:  “I and my Father are one and the same” (John 10:30).

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I fall down and worship you, for you are indeed God.  Thank you for revealing yourself to us and reconciling the world through your death.  In rising from the dead, you conquered death and hell and made possible the ultimate resurrection for those that believe.  I look forward to that day in anticipation and I long to see you face to face.  Help me to live today with eternity in view, for your glory and my good.

(wordisalive)

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Acts 11-13

Scripture

“Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her.  When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”  But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. (Acts 12:14b-16)

Observation

Have you ever been surprised by answered prayer?  These early Christians were.  Times were tough.  Herod was persecuting the church and had already put the disciple James to death.  Peter was arrested and was awaiting his trial and execution, guarded by 16 trained soldiers.  In the midst of these difficulties, the early church prayed.  They met in small groups to lift their difficult situation up to the Lord in prayer and they continued in prayer through the entire night.  But when the answer to their prayers literally knocked on their door, they left him standing there and insisted that it couldn’t be him.

Application

I’m heartened to find that these giants of the early church, men and women who had seen Jesus with their own eyes before and after the resurrection, that even they were surprised by answered prayer.  How often when I pray do I really believe and anticipate that God will answer in a tangible way?  Because of the reality that not all prayers are answered in the way we expect, too often I brace myself for a negative answer by not expecting God to work at all.

I’ve seen God provide amazing answers to prayer, and I’ve seen him appear to remain silent.  He asks us to pray in faith, believing, and he promises to answer, yet the answer often isn’t what we expect.  So how do I respond?  Do I give up on prayer?  Do I give up on expecting God to answer?  I think these early Christians would answer “no” to both.

“Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray . . . the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:13a, 16b).

Prayer

Father God, you’ve asked us to pray and you sent your Son who showed us how to pray.  You want us to know you, and prayer seems to be the primary way in which that occurs.  God, I trust you.  I trust that your plan for me and my family is best.  I trust that you are working your will even in seemingly difficult circumstances.  I ask that you’d give me the grace to accept your will and to proclaim your goodness even when my feelings don’t agree.  Help me to turn to you in prayer with a confident expectation that you will work and will change things, for your glory and my good.

(wordisalive)

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Luke 21-22

Scripture

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box.  He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth.  But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on (21:1-4 NET)

Observation

We don’t know the name of this woman, but her simple act of faith was noticed by Jesus.  She didn’t move a mountain, she didn’t heal the sick – she just gave everything she had.  And seeing that, Jesus teaches us that it’s not how much you give, it’s how much you keep.

Jesus did not disparage the gifts of the rich; he simply pointed out that things were not necessarily as they seemed.  Those who were giving much were giving out of their excess, but the one who gave the least had the least to give.  The lesser gift was the greater, since it was the more costly to the giver.

Application

“Blessed are the poor in spirt,” Jesus said elsewhere, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Apparently, the poor have much to teach us, and not the least of those lessons is one on generosity.  I find I’m only generous when I’m holding onto things loosely; if things start to mean more to me than people or God’s work among us, then I start to hold tightly to the funds that allow me to amass those things.

It’s interesting that those that are not generous are the ones that are most likely to be proud when they do give.  Each of us that falls into that should look back at this poor widow and regain perspective.  “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus said, “so that your gift may be in secret.”

“And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

Prayer

Dear Jesus, give me a generous heart.  Help me to recognize that all I have is from you.  You have given me so much – a hope and a future, a life worth living.  Help me to be a conduit of your grace, and a conduit of your resources, giving as freely as I have received — for your glory and my good.

(wordisalive)

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