Tag Archives: God

Prayer For A Nation

God makes a promise about prayer in 2 Chronicles:

. . . and (if) my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I myself will hear from the heavens, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (7:14)

The Lord is speaking to King Solomon. At the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem Solomon prayed publicly and asked God to always answer the prayers offered at the temple.

Thirteen years later God is finally answering Solomon’s request. That’s a long delay but hearing from God is worth the wait!

To understand God’s answer to Solomon we must move back one verse. God tells Solomon, “When I stop the rain or send locusts to devour the land or if I send a pestilence, and my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray” etc.

God’s promise is about those times when he uses natural disasters to soften hard hearts and bend stiff necks. Extreme weather is now blamed on man-made global warming (or “climate change”). Nevertheless, God is still the master of nature and the Bible clearly says that he sometimes employs nature to get our attention (see Exodus 9).

Of course, every bad storm is not a judgment from God. Jesus used a storm on the Sea of Galilee to demonstrate his divine authority by commanding the wind and the waves to stop. He made no mention of any national sin.

The point is this: When God’s people disobey him and deserve his judgment, God offers a pathway to return to his favor.

First, God’s people must humble themselves. Genuine humility starts with attitude and stirs action. The Israelites often humbled themselves by fasting. Skipping meals was a way to demonstrate that they were contrite.

Next, God’s people must pray. When combined, prayer and fasting are powerful. By fasting and praying God’s people demonstrate their desire to connect with God.

In addition, God’s people must seek his face, that is, his personal presence. Seeking requires time and effort. When God’s people gather for combined prayer and fasting the purpose is to experience God’s powerful, personal presence.

Finally, God’s people must turn from their evil ways. No amount of fasting, praying and seeking will solve the problem if God’s people defiantly persist in disobeying his commands.

To simply turn from evil ways without turning to God would also be short of the goal. The objective is always to enjoy God and his favor.

God promises to hear from heaven despite the chasm between him and his people. God will then forgive their sin and heal their land, both spiritual and physical restoration. He is Lord of the visible and the invisible, of individuals and of nations.

As followers of Jesus we are God’s people now and we share in this wonderful promise about prayer. So let’s humbly seek the Lord in prayer, turning from sin to him. God will hear and restore.

May God always hear from heaven and visit us with his healing presence,

Brother Richard

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Christians are Prone to Wander

The Bible often pictures God’s people as a flock of sheep.  Apparently, God sees some things in common between people of faith and small wooly livestock.  How are believers and sheep alike?

One point of comparison is noted by Peter.  He writes to Christians, “For you were like sheep going astray. . .” (1 Peter 2:25).  Sheep tend to stray from the safety of their shepherd and his flock.  On their own, in the open, sheep face a variety of dangers: predators, cliffs, thieves, and so forth.

Christians also tend to stray away from the safety of the Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, and from his flock, the church.  Like straying sheep, straying Christians face various threats.

The New Testament warns believers about 3 spiritual dangers.  First, the devil is like a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour.  Second, this broken world is full of temptations that can entrap believers and shipwreck their faith.  And third, the ‘flesh’ is an inner threat, sinful desires that pull us back to a destructive lifestyle of disobedience to God.

To the believers who had once strayed Peter goes on to say, “but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Of course, the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls is Jesus, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep.

Safety from the devil, the world, and the flesh is found in close communion with Christ.  And Christ gathers his followers into his church like a shepherd gathers his sheep into his flock.  In the flock, under the watchful eye of the shepherd, the sheep find security from every danger.

And more than protection, the sheep find provision when they are in the flock.  The shepherd leads his flock to green pastures and quiet waters, the necessities and joys of a healthy and enriched life.

Our Shepherd Jesus has come so that his flock may have abundant life.  Following Jesus, we find the provisions necessary for a strong faith.  The Shepherd and Overseer of our souls nurtures us so that we can grow in the grace of God and enjoy his blessings to the fullest extent.

Peter’s warning against straying reminds us that a spiritual downfall often begins in subtle ways.  Wandering away from the Lord is a gradual process that may go unnoticed until disaster strikes.  The wandering believer is rarely alarmed and often in denial about potential dangers.

James writes to Christians, “My brothers, if one among you strays from the truth, then someone should bring him back” (James 5:19).  As God’s people our highest goal is to be like Jesus, which includes seeking and restoring those who wander away.  Doing so is one way that we are his hands and feet.

A wonderful old hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  Knowing that God’s people are prone to wander, we should faithfully seek out those who do.  And if you or I happen to be the wanderer, we should be gracious when they come looking for us.

May the Good Shepherd always keep us,

Brother Richard

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Coming Home to God’s Truth About Marriage

Jesus was questioned about marriage and divorce by hostile Jewish religious leaders. They hoped to trick him into saying something that would cause him trouble.

Jesus quoted from Genesis, reminding them that God established a design for marriage when he created Adam and Eve. He made them male and female, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.

Jesus emphasized the permanent nature of marriage by adding these words: “They are no longer two but one flesh, so what God has joined together let no one separate.” God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman freely and fully committed to each other for life.

The religious leaders thought they had trapped Jesus into contradicting Scripture. They said, “Why, then, did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus corrected them. Moses allowed divorce; he did not command it. And he allowed divorce, Jesus said, because of people’s hard hearts. It was not God’s design or desire. In fact, God sees unwarranted divorce and remarriage as adultery.

But God also knows that hearts sometimes become so hard that broken relationships are the inevitable result. So he makes concessions, but he does not change his design. The goal is still a faithful union between one man and one woman. A divorce in the past need not keep us from succeeding at God’s design for marriage now.

Jesus is saying that some parts of the Bible are weightier, or more fundamental, than other parts. God’s original design for marriage is more fundamental than his allowance for failed marriages. The concession does not cancel the design.

Jesus’ disciples were listening carefully to this discussion. They were surprised by Jesus’ strict view of marriage. Perhaps it would be better not to marry at all, they suggested.

Jesus agreed that some people are called to live single, but not so they can engage in open and temporary physical relationships. God’s call to live single is a call to live celibate, and to devote oneself to God’s kingdom work in a special way.

Jesus’ words are helpful for Christians today. Our culture is rejecting God’s design for marriage. As a result, many people have suffered broken homes and strained relationships.

If we reject everyone who has deviated from God’s design for marriage, then we are raising unnecessary barriers to the life-changing experience of God’s transforming grace. On the other hand, if we follow the world in redefining marriage and sexual morals, then we are misrepresenting God and his truth.

We should model our lives after Jesus. He unapologetically exalts God’s unchanging design for marriage, but he also extends God’s mercy and grace for hearts that were once hard but are now open and willing to come home to God’s truth.

May we be faithful agents of God’s holiness and his grace,

Brother Richard Foster

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Called to Greatness

Vacation Bible School is a great opportunity for fruitful gospel ministry. Thanks to everyone who is preparing for VBS 2018! Please pray for God’s Spirit to move in a mighty way in our hearts and in the hearts of kids and their families.

This year’s Bible verse for Lifeway’s VBS is 2 Peter 1:3: His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (CSB)

The Lord provides everything we need for life. He is our Maker and our Sustainer. His power is our source for life, both physical and spiritual. Nothing is missing from what our Lord provides us.

In addition to life, the Lord’s power is our source for godliness. We are created to do more than simply exist. Our lives are meant to have meaning and purpose. Each of us is called to live a godly and devout life, one that reflects all the goodness of our Maker, a life that is blessed by him.

Peter writes that we have this divine power “through the knowledge of him,” of God. This knowledge is more than information, it is relation. Peter is referring to more than simply being acquainted with God. He is addressing those who belong to God.

Vacation Bible School is a great way to help kids know God. God has revealed himself through his written word, the Holy Bible. In VBS we teach kids Scripture so that they will encounter the Living God through his word.

God has also revealed himself in a special way through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In VBS we make sure kids know about all that Jesus said and did so that they can have saving faith in Christ now.

God also reveals himself through the lives of his people, you and me. Notice that the knowledge Peter writes about is “of him who called us.” God has called us first to enjoy the blessings of his salvation and also to share his great salvation with others.

As we interact with kids during VBS we are living examples of salvation. We model for them what it means to be the people of God. Our attention to them is an expression of God’s love for them. We are called by our Lord to be his hands and feet, to be his face and voice, and to help kids know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Vacation Bible School is a high calling! God has been pleased to bless VBS in extraordinary ways for many years. Please pray for that blessing to increase.

May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to know God better and to help others know him,

Brother Richard Foster

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Culture Wars and Prayer

Elijah appears suddenly in the pages of the Bible in 1 Kings 17. He is a prophet, a man of God.

Elijah lives at a time of spiritual decline in Israel. God’s people are being led astray to forget the God of the Bible and to adopt a competing worldview.

The champion of this competing worldview is a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel is a Baal worshiper. Baal is an idol. Baal worshipers give this idol credit for controlling the rain, and thus having the power of life.

Jezebel is married to the king of Israel, a man named Ahab. She uses her political position to promote Baal worship. She also abuses her power to intimidate and persecute those who worship and serve the Lord.

Baal worship threatens to extinguish belief in the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God sends Elijah to confront King Ahab with bad news. Rain in Israel will cease. Why? To prove to the people that Baal does not control the rain, God does.

Eventually Elijah faces a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. This event is one of the most dramatic in all the Bible (see 1 Kings 18). It is a contest to prove who is really God.

The contest was simple. The prophets of Baal would prepare a sacrifice and call on Baal. Elijah would prepare a sacrifice and call on the Lord. The one who answered by fire would be the true God.

The prophets of Baal cried out to the idol but, of course, it failed to answer. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord. In his prayer he called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again, back to the truth, back to the Lord.

Israel was experiencing what some would call a “culture war.” Two competing worldviews were struggling for the hearts of the people: Baal worship versus faithfulness to the God of their forefathers.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today, a time of frustrating spiritual decline. Powerful proponents of secularism are working diligently to erase the God of the Bible from the public square and from the hearts of the citizenry.

Whether we call this struggle a “culture war” or a “spiritual battle,” the stakes are high. Elijah recognized the fundamental issue in his struggle and he expressed it well in his prayer. The basic issue was not the laws of the land or the leaders on the throne. The basic issue was the hearts of the people.

Elijah’s response to the struggle in his time included bold prayer. His prayer called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again. We should follow his example and pray passionately for God to turn the hearts of the people back to the truth, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.

God answered Elijah’s prayer and brought a great victory. But the struggle continued. We can expect the same: great victories and continued struggles. We can be faithful in fighting the good fight, because we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to be faithful,

Brother Richard Foster

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How Can We Be Alert In Prayer?

Does your mind wander when you pray?

Praying alone in a quiet place can be a relaxing activity. In fact, it can be easy to doze off. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane the night before his arrest, he asked his disciples to watch and pray with him.  They fell asleep . . . 3 times.

Being informed can make us alert. What if Jesus’ disciples had known that an angry mob with torches and clubs was coming to take Jesus away by force? I doubt if they would have fallen asleep!

The Bible urges us to be alert in prayer: “With every kind of prayer and petition, pray in the Spirit at all times; and to get this done, be alert by using all perseverance and prayer for all believers, and for me, that a word will be given to me when I open my mouth to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19).

Persistent prayer for all believers is one way to stay alert in prayer.  Pray for all Christians everywhere, those you know and don’t know, those you like and don’t like, those in your local church and not, those in your denomination and not, those in your country or culture and not. That’s a tall order!

There are tens of millions of Christians around the world, we cannot know each one personally. Instead, we must learn what we can about believers in faraway places so that we can pray for them.

God’s Spirit may stir in us a special interest for certain communities or circumstances. For instance, we may have a special compassion for persecuted believers.

Then it says, “and for me,” that is, pray for me. In addition to praying for all believers everywhere, we should also pray for individual believers we know personally.

But what about people who have not yet been saved? Shouldn’t we pray for them?

When Jesus saw crowds of folks looking like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them. He urged his followers to pray to God, not for the lost sheep, but for believers to do the gospel work.

In the instruction above, the writer asks his readers to pray that he will be bold in making known the mystery of the gospel. A mystery in the Bible is not something that is difficult to understand. It’s something impossible to know until it is revealed. The gospel is the revelation about Jesus, that he died and rose again so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

The best prayer for lost people is prayer for saved people to be bold and share the gospel. We need prayer for boldness to witness because our natural disposition is to keep quiet about the gospel. Telling others about Jesus requires the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

Pray for God to give you the same concern for others that Jesus has. Compassion for others will keep you alert in prayer.

May the God’s Spirit inspire us to share in his great harvest,

Brother Richard Foster

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Christmas Bible Reading from The Book of Revelation

Christmas Bible readings from Matthew and Luke are typical, but there are other places in Scripture that speak about Jesus’ birth. The Book of Revelation is a word from God to his people about the realities in heaven that effect and direct human history, things which we cannot see with our natural eyes, spiritual happenings. Chapter 12 uses symbols to describe a cosmic battle that rages between God and Satan. And Jesus’ birth is an important part of this struggle.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman dressed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars and being pregnant, she cries out in labor pains, tormented to give birth.
And another sign appeared in heaven: Look! A great red dragon having 7 heads and 10 horns, and upon his heads 7 diadems, and his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
And the dragon stood before the woman, the one about to give birth, so that when she gives birth he may devour her child.
(Revelation 12:1-4)

If you have not spent time reading the Book of Revelation, it can be a strange experience at first, like stepping into a sort of theological Alice in Wonderland. The Book of Revelation is filled with apocalyptic literature, a style of writing that uses many symbols.

In this section we see several important symbols. The woman who is dressed in the sun is a symbol for God’s chosen people, Israel. God’s people are often spoken of in Scripture as God’s wife or bride. In the Old Testament Israel is God’s wife. In the New Testament the Church is the Bride of Christ.

The woman’s child is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the one he promised to send as savior of his people. He is Jesus.

The dragon is obviously an enemy of the woman and her child, that is, an enemy of Israel and Messiah Jesus. The dragon with his 7 heads and 10 horns and 7 diadems represents political power. The diadems on the dragon’s heads are crowns.

There are 2 kinds of crowns in the Book of Revelation. Stephanos is a crown made of a wreath. It is given to winning athletes and worn at feasts and celebrations. It is usually made of some type of greenery that fades quickly. But the diadem is made of precious metals and stones, jewels. It is worn by kings and queens. It is a symbol of empire, of political and military power. The dragon wields political power.

Nations and their leaders who are enemies of God’s people are often symbolized by giant dangerous creatures, like dragons and leviathans. Pharaoh and Egypt were enemies of God’s people in the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh tried to destroy the Hebrews, God’s people, by throwing all their baby boys in the Nile River. In the Book of Esther, we read about Haman in the ancient kingdom of Babylon. Haman had political power which he tried to use as a tool to destroy the Jews who were in exile in Babylon. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem King Herod tried to destroy him, killing all the babies in that town. So, this red dragon represents political powers and their leaders who try to destroy God’s people so that his chosen Messiah cannot come and carry out his mission. But there is more to it.

And she birthed a son, a boy who is about to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron, and her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.(Revelation 12:5)

This is an apocalyptic version of the Gospel, Jesus’ life and ministry from a heavenly perspective. We are familiar with the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which give us an earthly view of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke is filled with things familiar to us: taxes, a pregnant woman, a long journey, a town packed with travelers, the cradle, the animals, the shepherds. True, we still have the angels, but the earthly focus is unmistakable.

In Revelation 12:5, however, we are given a different perspective. Jesus’ birth, life and ascension back to God in heaven is reduced to one verse. The focus here is on his role as king. He will rule all the nations with a rod of iron. No nation, people or culture will defy the rule of Jesus. Jesus is King of kings. His rule is unbreakable, a rod of iron. His rule is endorsed by God. Jesus is welcomed to God’s throne. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people in the Old Testament. God promised to send his Anointed One as a descendant of Abraham. And God promised that he would be the one to rule forever. Jesus is born to rule.

These verses tell us 2 things. First, Jesus’ birth is one of God’s great goals in history. And second, Jesus’ birth leads to his universal eternal rule.

And the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God so that they might care for her 1,260 days.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels made war against the dragon and the dragon and his angels made war. And he was not able nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven.
And the great dragon was thrown out, the ancient serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan, the one leading astray the whole inhabited earth, he was thrown to earth and his angels were thrown down with him.
(Revelation 12:6-9)

If we have any doubt about the identity of the dragon it is dispelled in this section. The Lord wants to be sure that we know who the red dragon represents. He is more than a symbol for nations and their leaders who are hostile to God and his people. He is a powerful person using those nations and rulers against God and his people. He is the ancient serpent, the one who tempted Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden and so lead all humanity into a fallen state. He is the one called the Devil, which means slanderer. He is the one called Satan, which means adversary. He is the one who leads the whole world astray. Just as he persuaded Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word, so he still persuades people, communities, cultures, societies and nations today. His first recorded words, “Did God really say?” are still his most effective tool.

John’s vision includes a great battle in the heavenly realms between the Angel Michael and all the angels who follow him, fighting against the dragon, Satan, and his angels. Despite Satan’s great power, he loses and is expelled from heaven. All of this is a reminder that what we see in history is driven by forces which are invisible to our natural eyes. Spiritual warfare rages all around us. We see and experience the results. The results are broken lives and families, broken communities and nations. The battle is real and the losses are tragic. But these visions show that there is a victory and it belongs to God.

And I heard a loud voice in the heaven saying, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brothers is thrown out, the one accusing them before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:10)

The scene shifts in verse 10. John hears a loud voice of praise in heaven, God’s dwelling place. What follows in an expression of worship. Songs of worship are found throughout the Bible and they are some of the most inspiring passages of Scripture to read and meditate upon. But many of the worship songs before the Book of Revelation use the form, To God be, To God be the glory, the power, the honor, and so forth. It is an expression of hope and belief about the future: may it be. But the loud voice in heaven affirms that the time of God’s victory is no longer in the future, the kingdom of God is no longer merely potential, Now are the salvation and power and kingdom of God. Jesus began his preaching ministry by proclaiming that the kingdom of God is near. He taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. But John’s vision of the worship in heaven sees the time when God’s kingdom is consummated. Note that God’s kingdom is closely related to the authority of Jesus, the one born to rule.

The consummation of God’s kingdom rule is also important for God’s people. They are the ones who were being harassed by Satan. He accuses them before God night and day. His accusations may include lies, since he is the great deceiver, but they are damaging because they also contain some truth. God’s people have sinned and rebelled against the Lord. Satan knows that for God’s holiness to remain intact, for his righteousness to be unstained, he must exercise justice and punish his people, cut them off from his love and blessing. Satan believes that he has put God in an impossible situation. He must either show himself to be unrighteous by blessing those who do not deserve it, or he must show himself to be unloving by condemning those he created for fellowship. But God is not defeated. Jesus is the answer to the spiritual conundrum. That’s why Satan tries so hard to destroy Jesus. He knows that Jesus can defeat him. Jesus’ rule leads to Satan’s defeat.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

So God’s people have victory over Satan and his accusations. Notice that this victory comes by the blood of the Lamb. “Lamb” is a reference to the Passover feast memorializing God’s rescue of his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. God instructed them to sacrifice a lamb to remember his salvation and to look forward to a much greater salvation. So, Satan is accusing God’s people of sinning, which they have done, forcing God to exercise his justice and deny his love, or exercise his love and deny his justice. But Jesus sacrifices himself at Calvary, giving his life as a sin offering for God’s people, the ultimate Passover Lamb. It is his blood, his life, offered as a sacrifice that enables God to forgive his people. God’s holiness is satisfied because the sin of his people is punished and God’s love is satisfied. This frees God to forgive and bless his people, demonstrating his mercy and grace. Satan is expelled from heaven and his accusations are silenced. God does not simply ignore sin. That would make him unjust. God does not abandon his people. That would make him unloving. His solution is brilliant, a cosmic victory.

We shouldn’t miss something important about this verse. God’s people overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, but also by the word of their testimony. The salvation that comes from Jesus’ sacrifice is not forced on anyone. It must be appropriated by personal faith, by the word of their testimony. Only those willing to testify, to place their faith in Jesus, will enjoy the benefits of his sacrifice. And this testimony is not empty words. Notice what it says: They did not love their lives even to the point of death. In other words, they were willing to die for their testimony. Saving faith inspires meaningful words which are backed up by actions, by sacrifice, even by martyrdom if necessary.

In verse 5 we read that the woman, God’s people, gave birth to her son, Jesus, who will rule the nations with an iron rod, and he was snatched up to God, to his throne. This is a short version of the Gospel, a heavenly perspective that focuses on his birth and ascension (his coming and going, if you will). Now, in verse 11, we get his important sacrificial death, the blood of the Lamb, which is the proper focus of saving faith. Those who overcome the enemy do so by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. The blood of the Lamb does not automatically save all who are born on earth. Each one must decide and be willing to hold that faith as more precious than even life itself. Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection offer us eternal victory.

But the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

Therefore, rejoice O heavens, and those dwelling in them. Woe to the earth and the sea for the Devil has gone down to you, very angry, knowing that he has little time.(Revelation 12:12)

Victory has begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not finished. There is still a battle to be fought. This reminds me of playing ball on the street as a boy. In our neighborhood we usually played baseball or football. We played together so often that we knew once the teams were chosen which team would win. We could tell by who was on each team. If you were chosen by the losing team, well, that was no fun. You just had to go out and do your job of losing and being a good sport. But when you were chosen to play on the winning team, it was great fun to play! The Book of Revelation is telling us that we know who will win. We know by whose team we are on. Jesus is the winner. All who follow him will share in his victory. Anyone following the devil and his team will share in his loss.

And when the dragon saw that he was thrown to the earth, he pursued the woman who gave birth to the boy.(Revelation 12:13)

It may seem strange to read about dragons in the Bible. Is this evidence that the Bible is merely some sort of religious mythology with no basis in fact? It is fashionable in our culture to be skeptical of invisible heavenly happenings. But so-called “consensus science” and its self-imposed Darwinian limitations have failed to explain the richness of the human experience of reality. Darwin leaves too much out. The Bible reveals what naturalistic science cannot see. In symbolic language we are reading about the cosmic struggle between God and his enemy Satan. And the enemy hates all that God is trying to do through and for his people. He works to destroy God’s work, his people.

Notice how God’s people are identified in verse 13. They are the woman who gave birth to the boy, Jesus. Five times in this short chapter the ancient Greek word for giving birth is used (tiktō). That’s why it is appropriate to use this chapter as a Christmas reading. In just 17 short verses the birth of Jesus is mentioned at least 5 times. Why? Because Jesus’ birth is an important part of this cosmic struggle which is raging between God and his enemy, the Devil.

But we hear competing notions about the real meaning of Jesus’ birth. What is the true nature of Christmas? The watered-down version of Christmas asserts merely that people have good hearts and simply need a little inspiration to be generous and loving and kind and do the right thing. Jesus’ birth is sentimental folklore like other religious myths which are designed to appeal to our better nature. This popular presentation of Christmas uses the pictures of Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph and the animals and shepherds, all part of the Bible’s presentation. By using imagery that evokes the Bible’s account, this false version reinterprets the Bible’s message, replacing the truth with a lie.

A much better version of Christmas reminds us that Jesus’ birth is not folklore but history and that he came for more than the cradle. He came to die on the cross. And even more than that, he came to wear the victor’s crown. This biblical version of the cradle, cross and crown reminds us that we need more than someone to appeal to our better natures. In fact, the Bible asserts that we have no better nature, merely a sin nature. Our sin nature will destroy us if left to run its course, and we haven’t the power to stop it. We need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. He offered himself as a sin offering on the cross and God raised him up and received him back to heaven. He is alive and able to live in the hearts of his people through God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, giving us power to overcome our sin nature.

But even this presentation of Christmas leaves out one important aspect. Jesus came to conquer more than just our sin nature. Once we have been forgiven in the eyes of God by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, because of our faith in him, we still have an enemy who is out to destroy us: Satan. The ancient Serpent who persuaded Adam and Even to doubt God and disobey him is still deceiving people, trying to persuade them to reject God and his salvation. The dragon is active in turning nations and empires against God’s people in an effort to destroy them. So Jesus’ birth is certainly about more than sentimentality but it is about more than our personal salvation. Jesus’ birth is an important part of the cosmic battle between God and Satan.

And the 2 wings of the great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly to the wilderness, to her place, where she is nourished a time and times and half a time away from the presence of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14)

The imagery here comes from the Book of Exodus. After God rescued his people from cruel bondage in Egypt he brought them to Mt. Sinai in the desert. He said, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Now we read in the Book of Revelation that God will again bring his persecuted people to a place of safety in the wilderness. When it says “time, times, and half a time,” it is probably a reference to a period which is measured as 1,260 days and as 42 months in other places. It is 3 and a half years. Why any time at all? Why would God allow his people to be pursued and flee into the wilderness?

Before God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt he made them wait while he visited 10 plagues on the land of their oppressors. Why? Why not just come in and destroy Pharaoh’s army and put an immediate end to their cruel bondage? Why make them wait? God was doing more than rescuing his people. He was revealing his power and his redemption in unforgettable ways. More than that, he was refining their faith like gold in a fire. He wanted more than their freedom, he wanted their faith. He wanted them to see his glory in ways that they would talk about for generations.

Here, at the end of the age, we see in the Book of Revelation that God’s tactics are unchanged. He delays victory so that his people can be, not just saved, but strengthened. We can believe that the wilderness times in our lives, the struggles we experience, are allowed by God in order to show us his power, to reveal his work of redemption to us, and to refine our faith like gold in a fire.

And the serpent spewed from his mouth after the woman water like a river so that it might sweep her away. And the earth helped the woman, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon spewed from his mouth. (Revelation 12:15-16)

Notice that God’s enemy keeps changing his name: devil, dragon, serpent. Every time we turn around he is wearing a different mask. That should be no surprise. Satan is a master of disguises and full of deception.

Verses 15 and 16 demonstrate one of the challenges to interpreting the symbols in the Book of Revelation. The idea of a river coming from someone’s mouth would seem to be a symbol for speech. Since it comes from the Devil’s mouth, it would make sense for this river of water to represent an overwhelming barrage of deception. The Devil is full of deceit. But if that is a correct interpretation, then how does the earth open its mouth and swallow words of deception? Mentioning the earth makes the river seem more literal, like a natural disaster. Is it some combination of the two?

While many of the symbols in the Book of Revelation are interpreted by the book itself, and others are fairly easy to interpret without much assistance, some are quite difficult. But we must remember that God sometimes keeps the interpretation a mystery until some future time. In chapter 10 of John’s Apocalypse, the apostle hears 7 thunders. Seven is an important number in the Book of Revelation. It is the number for completion. The thunders apparently say something that is intelligible for John and he is ready to write it down. But a voice from heaven tells him not to write. The 7 thunders are kept from us for now. This is reminder that God has not revealed everything to us. Some things are kept for later.

One thing is clear from these verses: God always provides for his people, even though he allows the battle to be prolonged and even though he sometimes leads his people into wilderness places. God often uses a seemingly impossible avenue of rescue, something that we would never think of. When he brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, God led them up to the Red Sea where they were trapped by Pharaoh’s armies. Disaster seemed imminent. But then the Lord opened the sea and his people crossed through on dry ground. Pharaoh’s armies followed them and were swallowed up by the sea. God provided a way which the Hebrews could not see, until the time came. When the time comes, we will understand these symbols in the Book of Revelation. For now, we know enough to trust God.

And the dragon was enraged at the woman and he went out to make war against the rest of her offspring, those keeping the commands of God and having the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)

Satan keeps failing but he keeps fighting. Verse 12 says that he knows his time is short. This implies that he knows he will ultimately lose but he is hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and unrepentant. He never learns. Every time he tries to destroy God’s people God turns it into a celebration. Pharaoh tried to destroy God’s people in Egypt by throwing all the boy babies into the Nile River. But God saved them and instituted the Passover Feast. In Babylon a man named Haman hated God’s chosen people and tried to use the government to wipe them out. The result? God saved them and since then they have celebrated the feast of Purim to commemorate it. Back in the Promised Land, Antioch IV Epiphanes tried to destroy God’s people, but God saved them and they celebrate Hanukkah to remember it. King Herod tried to murder Jesus in Bethlehem, but he failed and so we celebrate Christmas. Satan used the Pharisees and Pilate to kill Jesus, but God meant it for our good and he raised Jesus up from the tomb and we celebrate Easter.

We have all this evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people, his ability and willingness to turn our defeats into victories. With all these examples of God’s faithfulness we should have great confidence in God. After all these defeats have been turned to victory throughout history there is no reason to think our lives and our place in history will be any different. God will turn our struggles and defeats into triumph!

Notice how God’s people are described in verse 17. They are the ones who keep God’s commands and have the testimony of Jesus, a combination of works and words. To testify without obeying is not enough. To obey without testifying is not enough. Obedience does not mean perfection. We still struggle with sin but we can humble ourselves before the Lord and be forgiven. Nevertheless, if someone has no desire to obey God it is a sign of no salvation from God. We cannot run with the Devil and share the Lamb’s victory. God’s people trust and obey.

President Donald Trump recently announced that the United States of America will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The whole world was stirred up by the announcement. After thousands of years, Israel and Jerusalem are still at the epicenter of history. God promised the land of Israel to his chosen people 4,000 years ago. He chose Jerusalem as the place where his name would dwell with his people. And he promised that even if his chosen people were scattered to all the nations of the world, he would restore them to the Promised Land: Israel. That may seem like ancient history, but God is faithful and his promises are sure.

God continues to prove the skeptics wrong. He does the impossible and he does it in the pages of our newspapers. Until very recently in history it did not seem possible that God’s ancient promise to gather his people and restore them to their land could ever come about. How can a people be scattered to the 4 corners of the earth for almost 2,000 years and even maintain their ethnic identity? Most peoples would intermarry and cease to be distinct. But God’s chosen people, Israel, has not only remained a people after being expelled from their homeland in the first century, but in May 1948 the impossible happened: Israel became a Jewish nation again, just as God promised. He gathered Jews from around the world and restored them to their homeland. And he did so after one of the most brutal attempts to destroy them history has ever seen: the Holocaust. The enemy’s hatred for God’s people is vicious, but he has failed.

God’s promises will all be fulfilled. Satan will lose. Jesus is the victor. We should trust the Lord, obey his commands, and testify to our faith in Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Brother Richard Foster

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