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God preserves His people

Esther 9:1-17

I have to admit, the book of Esther really confuses me. Even though Esther and Mordecai were clearly passionate about the Jewish people, and showed great courage in many ways, it’s hard to know whether they were truly devoted to God.

But God is clearly at work behind the scenes, and I think this is where the story of Esther has most value for us as Christians today. It shows us plainly what God is like. It demonstrates that he is a God who preserves his people.

This is what we see in chapter 9. Here we have an incredible turning of the tables:

“Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1).

On what was supposed to be the day that the Jews were destroyed (see 3:13), the Jews themselves overcame all “who sought their harm” (9:2). The king had sent forth a new edict (in 8:10-12) in light of Esther’s pleas (8:3), and this meant that the Jews were saved!

This is our God. He preserved the Jewish people then, and he preserves believers now. He is a God who “providentially watches over his own, and… no power levelled against them can ultimately prevail (Rom 8:28)” [ESV Study Bible, p. 851). For the NT believer, Jesus has promised that “they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand“ (John 10:28)

May this truth bring you great joy today, and stir you to live for His glory.

Daniel Budd

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Rest

Hebrews 4:1-13; 2 Samuel 14

This passage from the book of Hebrews helps us to see that rest is at the very heart of our Christian hope. Rest now, that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (v2), and rest in the future, the final Sabbath rest for the people of God in eternity (v1, 9, 11).

Yet this rest needs to be “entered” into (v6). The author, fearful of the spiritual state of his hearers (v1), warns them by pointing to the exodus generation, who failed to respond in faith to the promises of God. Because of their unbelief and disobedience, God’s wrath was kindled against them (v3). The lesson for the Hebrews? They’ve received good news just like the Israelites, but this good news is even better news, it is the good news about Jesus Christ.  So respond to this gospel with faith and repentance!

That’s where we need to start too. Are we clinging to Jesus by faith? There is true, glorious rest to be had for those who do (Matt 11:28).

But we also must be wary that we don’t grow complacent. While salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the author suggests that it’s only those who persevere in the faith to the end who will be saved (v11; see also 2:1, 3:14, 4:14). We are to strive to enter that rest, to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). As we persevere, the Bible tells us the amazing truth that our very perseverance, like our faith, is a gift from God, as he works in us what is pleasing to him (Heb 13:20-21). And what incredible rest awaits those who do indeed persevere until the very end (see Rev 21:1-4)!

Father, help us to cling to Jesus by faith today, and to press on towards the goal with fear and trembling. Please stir in us an increasing passion and fervour for our Lord Jesus, and keep us safely in your hands until you call us home. Amen.

Daniel Budd

Fellowship with God

Psalm 15

 “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (Ps 15:1)

These opening questions that David asks in Psalm 15 point us to the heart and goal of human existence, the very reason why we were made – and that is to dwell with and have fellowship with God himself. What an incredible goal! But if we know anything about God’s holiness (see Hab 1:13), and our unrighteousness (Rom 3:10-12), the prospect of dwelling with him should actually leave us trembling with fear.

“Where angels bow with veiled faces, how shall man be able to worship at all?” (C. H. Spurgeon)

Some people think it’s a very easy thing to approach God in worship. But this Psalm helps us to see that not everyone can do so. In fact, for the Israelites, only the righteous person, the one who walked “blamelessly”, was fit to worship God in the tabernacle. And it’s the same today, only the righteous person is fit to come before God in worship.

This poses a huge problem for us though, because all of us, without exception, are unrighteous sinners. How can we approach the throne of our supremely holy God?

“There are only two ways that God’s justice can be satisfied with respect to your sin. Either you satisfy it or Christ satisfies it. You can satisfy it by being banished from God’s presence forever. Or you can accept the satisfaction that Jesus Christ has made.” (R. C. Sproul)

For the Israelites and for us today, it’s ultimately Jesus’ righteousness that makes us worthy to come and sojourn in the tent of God. Jesus has made it possible for us to commune with God now, if we trust in his saving work on our behalf. And one day we will have the unbelievable privilege and unimaginable joy of fellowship with God face to face (Rev 22:4)!

As we gather to worship today, we should remember the work of Jesus, and delight in him who has cleansed us from our sin, and so freed us to sojourn in the tent of God.

Daniel

The Rich Young Ruler

Luke 18:15-30; 1 Thess 5:23-28

When you read the story of the rich young ruler this morning, stop and wonder at the marvellous work God has done in your own heart. For apart from God’s grace we are all like this man – hearts of stone, running after idols, trusting in our own worthless deeds – without a hope in the world of entering the kingdom of God, “but when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4). Oh what a Saviour!

Notice the question the ruler asks Jesus: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”? Well, if anyone wants to be saved by doing, he has to keep all of God’s law (Gal 3:12).  So Jesus lists commandments 6-10 of the Ten Commandments. The young man responds – “All these I have kept from my youth”.

Really?

“An answer more full of darkness and self-ignorance it is impossible to conceive! He who made it could have known nothing rightly, either about himself, or God, or God’s law” (J. C. Ryle)

The rich young man did not know what he was saying, for “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless” (Rom 3:10). He also seemed not to understand that God’s law required more from him than mere outward conformity – (See Matt 5:21-30). If he knew the reality of his sin, he would have trembled before the God whose “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Hab 1:13). He would have done well, when confronted with the law, to cry out like the tax collector “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

But he does not, and Jesus exposes his idolatry in vv 22-23. His love of money demonstrates that he has not really kept the commandments. His greatest treasure is not God, and therefore his heart is far from him (Matt 6:21). It would take a miraculous transformation in his inner being to bring this man, and people like him, into the Kingdom. And that doesn’t happen in this instance, so he goes on his way.

Jesus’ disciples and others who had gathered recognise the impossibility of it all and exclaim “then who can be saved”?! (18:26)

Jesus answered “What is impossible with man is possible with God”.

Oh what a glorious truth! God, through the preaching of his word, and the regenerating work of his Spirit, brings people out of darkness and into his marvellous light. He doesn’t rely on our efforts. In fact, we have nothing to bring to him but our need and our thirst. Which means not one iota of salvation is our work, it’s all of grace. Revel in this truth this morning, and pray for unbelievers you know, asking God to give them new hearts, that they might here the good news and respond like the tax collector, not the rich young man – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.

Living faithfully in light of the gospel

Luke 10:38-42; 1 Thess 1:8-9

I’m really enjoying working through the Gospel Transformation Bible with Lily at the moment. It’s a wonderful tool that is helping us to see Christ in all of Scripture. Here’s a sample of the notes. I hope they help you to marvel at the gospel this morning, and live passionately and faithfully today in light of this glorious news.

Luke 10:38-42

“This short story reveals the ever-present temptation, even among believers, of substituting religion for the gospel. We could define religion as human activity pursued in an attempt to please God. The gospel, however, is the message of God’s gracious love toward us and the invitation to orient our lives toward him. Rather than focusing on doing—even doing good things such as serving—the one thing that is “necessary” and the “good portion” (v. 42) is to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to him. We can in fact be “distracted with much serving” (v. 40). Before the gospel is a call to doing it is an invitation to the presence of the Lord. To follow Jesus as a disciple means to be with him and listen to him. This abiding with and depending on the Lord alone enables us to take up our cross daily and follow him (9:23).”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-10

Having received the gospel of Jesus Christ by the calling of the Holy Spirit in accord with the Father’s sovereign plan, the Thessalonians became imitators of the apostles and of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 6). Our imitation of Christ is a natural consequence of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration. We seek, trust, pursue, and imitate Christ because Christ sought, found, pursued, and rescued us. Thus Paul rejoices in the Thessalonians’ faithfulness as they serve as an example to believers (v. 7), sound forth the word of the Lord, possess a faith that goes forth everywhere as a shining light to a dark world (v. 8), show generous hospitality, and serve the living and true God, having repented and turned from serving idols (v. 9).

The Thessalonians know the gospel and live faithfully in light of it to such a degree that Paul admits that he and his companions “need not say anything” (v. 8). The Thessalonians’ faith shines so brightly that people everywhere know who they are and the truth of the word they proclaim. From the very beginning, even amid much affliction, the Thessalonian church has been a gospel-centered church, reflecting the light of Christ and the gospel with the joy of the Holy Spirit (v.6) and awaiting the return of the risen Christ who “delivers us from the wrath to come” (v. 10). The gospel story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection culminates in our final deliverance from the wrath of God (5:9). First Thessalonians is a message of good news from start to finish.”

Daniel Budd

“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27)

Oh this is huge! Spend some time this morning meditating on this command.

We find it in a number of other places in Scripture:

“I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”. (Eph 4:1)

“Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10)

“We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess 2:12)

It’s important we don’t get the wrong idea here. What these passages aren’t saying is that we can act in such a way as to merit or deserve God’s favour. Remember it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8, 9). The focus in these texts is rather the worth and the value of the gospel of Christ. The point is that “God is worthy of our complete and unqualified dedication and devotion”. Sam Storms helpfully explains:

“Our great Triune God and the marvellous and undeserved kindness that is ours in the gospel are of such infinite value, so exalted and beautiful and full of glory, that we should always live in such a way that it be known. Our lives, by his grace, should reflect positively on God. People should walk away from having observed us saying, “My goodness, what an incredible God he/she believes in!” Our aim isn’t to evoke from them praise and admiration of who we are, but praise and admiration of who he is! Jesus, the cross, the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, are worthy of lives that reflect on their value, not ours.”

Wow. The challenge for us then is this: How will we display the infinite value of God and his gospel in the way we act and speak and think and consume and relate to others today?

Daniel Budd

The greatest gift of the gospel

Deuteronomy 23; Mark 12:28-34

The first half of Deuteronomy 23 talks about those who are to be excluded from the assembly (that is, the gathering of Israel for worship). Some people, based on their pagan heritage, or uncleanness, are excluded from Israel’s worship gathering (and even the military camp). What a reminder of the absolute holiness of God.

Doesn’t this point us to the incredible nature of our salvation as well? It truly is a marvel that we, who were once dead in our sin, pagan and unclean, can approach the throne of God boldly in worship because of Christ’s atoning work. This is awe-inspiring stuff.

There are hints of the extravagant grace to come in Christ threaded throughout the Old Testament. In this passage, while the Moabites are excluded from the assembly “to the tenth generation” (an idiom for forever perhaps? [ESV study Bible]) there seem to be some exceptions to the rule… Ruth for example (Ruth 1:4?). What mercy God shows to not only include her among His people, but for her to be the ancestress of David, and ultimately Jesus himself!

We have likewise been included in the family of God purely by grace.

Are you blown away by it? More than that, are you growing in your affection for God daily? Because ultimately it is God himself who is the final and greatest gift of the gospel – knowing him, loving him, delighting in him.

“The supreme demonstration of God’s love was the sending of his Son to die for our sins and to rise again so that sinners might have the right to approach God and might have the pleasure of his presence forever”. (John Piper)

Unlike the Moabites, who were excluded from the assembly, we have the freedom to approach, to know and to worship God! This is mind-blowing truth.

In Mark 12, Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

How is it possible to do what Jesus has commanded here? Only when, by the power of the Spirit, our hearts are fired with affection for God.

Oh God, thank you for the gospel that frees us to come and worship and delight in you. May our strongest desire be to know and enjoy you more and more every day. And may that desire, as it grows, enable us to live holy and godly lives for your glory.

Daniel Budd