1. Encouragement From The Great Cloud Of Witnesses
I just finished reading the book of Ezra and I was really drawn to his words and prayer. I thought about how relevant they are for us today, even though they were spoken some 2,500 years ago. I thought about others whose words were inspired and recorded in the Bible and have been a help to many down through the years. Chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews gives us examples of faithful men and women and chapter 12 begins, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2) Please join us as we look at this great "cloud of witnesses" and see what they have to say to us.
2. Ezra - Return To The Lord
The book of Ezra is about the remnant of Jews who were allowed to leave their Babylonian captivity and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Cyrus, the king of Persia, sent them with gold and silver and the vessels that had been taken from the temple. They faced several types of opposition from the adversaries around them. What I noticed about Ezra when reading through this little book was the way he trusted in the Lord and gave God the praise for His blessings on them. We meet Ezra in chapter 7. He was ready and prepared. "This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him... "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." (Ezra 7:6 & 10) King Artaxerxes made a decree that any of the Israelites could go to Jerusalem and he gave more silver and gold for the temple and for animal sacrifices. In verses 27 and 28 of chapter 7 we have Ezra's prayer of thanksgiving.
"Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me."
Chapter 8 tells the names of those who went with Ezra and we see his recognition of God's goodness again in verse 18, "And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding,..." Ezra was a man of faith, and he sought God and strengthened his faith when they came to enemy territory.
"21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.
22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.
23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us." (Ezra 8:21-23)
When it was brought to his attention that the people had intermarried with the people of the land he bowed in confession to God.
"5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
6 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
9 For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.
10 And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments," (Ezra 9:5-6 and 9-10)
As our first witness in the great cloud of witnesses, we learn from Ezra to seek the Lord. Strengthen our faith through prayer and fasting. Rebuild the altars that have been torn down. And confess our sins which are "grown up unto the heavens." And just as Ezra did continually, give God praise and thanksgiving for His goodness upon us.
3. Nehemiah - "Why Is The House Of God Forsaken?"
Just as Ezra wept over Jerusalem, Nehemiah also wept when he heard how bad things still were even after the remnant went to rebuild the temple. "And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven," (Nehemiah 1:3-4) The king gave him leave and he returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. Just as in the book of Ezra, the people faced much opposition in their work and had to work with one hand and hold their weapons in the other hand. After the wall was complete the people made a covenant with God which ended... "For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God." Nehemiah had to return to Babylon and later gained leave again of King Artaxerxes. (Nehemiah 13:6) At his return he saw that the Levites, the singers, and the workers of the house of God had been neglected. "Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place." (Nehemiah 13:11) Jerusalem and especially the house of God were important to Nehemiah. We see this again in Nehemiah 13:14, "Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof." I believe that if Nehemiah were to witness to us today his words would be as the last words of their covenant, as a promise to God, to "not forsake the house of our God." I believe that we are living in the last days, and now it is more important than ever to stay faithful to the house of God. Let's stay faithful to God in our tithes and offerings, our support to our pastors and teachers, our fellowship with one another, and in our attendance as we see in Hebrews 10:25. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
4. Enoch - Walk With God By Faith
Today we are looking at the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. Let's begin with Enoch. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:5-6) We have to go all the way back to Genesis to find the story of Enoch.
"21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah:
22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:
23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:
24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." (Genesis 5:21-24)
I believe that the message Enoch would have for us today is "Walk with God by faith." Enoch walked with God and he had a testimony that he pleased God. There are many more examples in the New Testament that tell us how to walk by faith. "(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)" (II Corinthians 5:7)
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16)
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
"And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour." (Ephesians 5:2)
"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;" (Colossians 1:10)
"Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time." (Colossians 4:5)
"That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing." (I Thessalonians 4:12)
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (I John 1:7)
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." (III John 1:4)
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)
Let's strive to be like Enoch and walk with God.
5. Noah - Do What It Takes To Save Your House
As we continue in Hebrews 11, we have one little verse about Noah. "By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." (Hebrews 11:7) Just as his Great Grandfather Enoch walked with God, we read in Genesis 6:9, "... Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God." We read in II Peter 2:5 that Noah was a "preacher of righteousness". So he not only built a huge ark on dry land, and gathered all the animals, but he was a witness to the people of God's coming judgment. First Peter 3:20 reminds us that only eight souls were saved from the flood. Genesis 5:21-31 tells us that Noah's father was Lamech, who lived 777 years and "begat sons and daughters". His grandfather was Methuselah, who lived to be 969 years and "begat sons and daughters". Noah had brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors, but they all rejected his warning from God. Look at the verse in Hebrews again, Noah "moved with fear" and "prepared an ark to the saving of his house". Noah was willing to do what it takes, to save his household. They were in the ark seven days before the flood came. Noah may have continued preaching from the door of the ark, praying that one more soul would be saved. How sad it must have been for Noah and his family to hear the cries of those outside the ark after God shut them in. But it was too late. I believe our message from Noah is to do what it takes to save your household. The little book of Jude tells us "And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." (Jude 22-23) We need to have compassion, and just as Noah, we must move with fear to bring our loved ones to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. One day it will be too late.
6. Abraham - Keep Looking For That City
Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation and there are several important events we can read about his life in Genesis chapters 11 through 25. For our witness from Abraham I am turning again to Hebrews 11.
"8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Hebrews 11:8-9)
From these few verses we can imagine our message from Abraham to be, "Keep looking for the city." The Lord Jesus told us of the heavenly city in John 14:1-3. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." John also paints a beautiful picture of that heavenly city.
"And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:2-4)
John goes on to describe the wall of jasper, the gates of pearl, and streets of pure gold. And just before John closes the book he writes... "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." (Revelation 22:12-14)
Our life on earth is short, and the sinful ways that surround us keep getting worse and worse, but keep seeking after righteousness. Keep looking for that city, "whose builder and maker is God." As Jesus told His followers, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33)
7. Moses - Don't Trade Eternity For The Pleasures Of Sin For A Season
There are so many things we could say about Moses. God used him to bring the great plagues on Egypt; such as turning the water into blood, bringing frogs, flies, and locusts which covered the land, thick darkness for three days, and several more. He established the first Passover when the firstborn of every household died which did not have the blood applied. He led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and through the midst of the Red Sea on dry ground. He received the Ten Commandments written by God on Mount Sinai. One of the most amazing things about Moses is found in Exodus 33:11 "And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend..." How did Moses become such a great man of God? I think we can find the answer in Hebrews 11:24-27.
"24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible."
With Moses as our witness today, we can follow his example and not trade eternity for "the pleasures of sin for a season". The scriptures remind us how short our lives really are. "(For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:)" (Job 8:9) "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." (James 4:14) And again in I Peter 1:24-25. "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." We need to follow the Lord and focus on the things of God which endure forever. It would be so sad to trade all eternity for a such a short life of sinful pleasure.
8. Gideon - The Sword Of The Lord And Of Gideon
After illuminating on the lives of several men and women of faith the writer of Hebrews states, "And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." (Hebrews 11:32-34) So, today I want to look at Gideon.
"11 And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
12 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
13 And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
14 And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
15 And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.
16 And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
17 And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me." (Judges 6:11-17)
We first see Gideon threshing wheat, which should be done out in the open so the wind could carry away the chaff, but he is down in the winepress hiding from the Midianites. I am sure he did not feel like the "mighty man of valour" described by the angel. In answer to his questions, the angel encouraged Gideon and the Lord gave him several signs that he was the one chosen to deliver Israel. We can read of Gideon's fleece in Judges 6:36-40. Gideon built an altar to the Lord and tore down the altar of Baal. He blew a trumpet and 32,000 men came to help him in battle. God told him to tell everyone who was afraid to go back home and all but 10,000 left. God told Gideon he still had too many, and cut his number down to 300. During the night they took their positions around the camp, each with a trumpet, and a torch inside a pitcher.
"18 When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.
19 So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands.
20 And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.
21 And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.
22 And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host:..." (Judges 7:18-22)
The Midianites and Amakelites awoke to the sound of war from the trumpets, the crashing of the pitchers, and the sudden blare of the torches, and began killing each other. My thought from Gideon today comes from his words to the small army, "The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon". Ephesians 6:17 tells us that the sword of the spirit is the Word of God. We also read in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." We can't fight our battles without the Word of God. Notice also, that he said, "...and of Gideon". God is in control and will judge the sin of mankind, but He uses us to send out the warning. We need to be witnesses of His Word.
9. David - Psalm 23
As we continue with our Great Cloud Of Witnesses, we are looking again at Hebrews 11:32 and today I want to talk about David. David was a young shepherd boy who was out watching the sheep one day when the prophet Samuel came to visit and anointed him to be the next king over Israel. The Lord told Samuel that David was "a man after his own heart". He is well known for his victory over the giant Goliath whose height was six cubits and a span, around nine feet tall. David put his trust in God and said to the Philistine, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied... that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel." (I Samuel 17:45-46) As I thought about what David would say to us today, I remembered some of my favorite Psalms, but the one that stood out among all the rest is the 23rd Psalm.
"1 <<A Psalm of David.>> The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."(Psalm 23)
David knew the Lord as his shepherd long before Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" and "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine." (John 10:11 & 14) He depended on the Lord to supply all his needs. "And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:29-32) As a shepherd, David knew the importance of green pastures and still waters for his sheep and trusted in the Lord to refresh and restore his own body and soul. He followed the Lord in paths of righteousness. Verse 4 gives us another picture of the Lord Jesus comparatively with Matthew 14:27, "But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." David knew he could put his trust in the Lord even among his many enemies and his cup ran over with the goodness of God. Again and again in the book of Psalms David wrote of the mercy of God, "his mercy endureth for ever." And as David ended this Psalm, he now lives with the Lord in heaven forever. David has a lot to say in the book of Psalms, and this little Psalm is a great witness of his great faith in God.
10. Samuel - "Speak Lord, For Thy Servant Heareth"
Turning to Hebrews 11:32 one more time we are looking today at Samuel. Samuel was a great prophet and judge over Israel. We see Samuel's love for God and great faith when Israel asked for a king to be like other nations. We also see his love the for Children of Israel in verses 23 and 24.
"16 Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the LORD will do before your eyes.
17 Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the LORD, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king.
18 So Samuel called unto the LORD; and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.
19 And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king....
23 Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:
24 Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you."(I Samuel 12:16-19 and 23-24)
Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel, and then anointed David to be king after the Lord rejected King Saul. What would Samuel say to us today? I think his faith goes back to his childhood days when he was just a small boy serving in the temple.
"1 And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
2 And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
3 And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;
4 That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
5 And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
6 And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.
8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.
9 Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth." (I Samuel 3:1-10)
I believe that Samuel's words of witness can be found in his words to the Lord, "Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth." Samuel listened to what God was saying to him. "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life." (I Samuel 7:15) If we want to be great servants of the Lord, we must begin by calling on Him as Lord, and listening to what He has to say. Have you heard His call? Are you listening to what He is saying to you?
11. Esther - Be Ready "For Such A Time As This"
I enjoy reading the book of Esther and if you have not read it, I highly recommend it. It has all the excitement of a modern day drama. When Queen Vashti is banished from the court by the king, then Mordecai has his uncle's daughter (whom he raised when her parents died) enter into the beauty pageant to choose a new queen. Esther was very beautiful, and it was unknown that she was a Jew, and she became the queen. In the meantime, Hamaan, the king's chamberlain, grew angry at Mordecai because he would not bow to him, and he set out to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. Mordecai told Esther to go before the king and plead for the lives of her people but Esther said it was against the law of the land to go before the king without being summoned.
"13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews.
14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
15 Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish." (Esther 2:13-16)
Read the book of Esther and find out about the plot to kill the king, the gallows that was built 50 cubits (75 feet) tall, and what could be done to a law which could not be changed. Very exciting!
Mordecai told Esther that she was in the kingdom "for such a time as this". I believe that this would be our witness from Queen Esther and Mordecai. I sat in the waiting room at the hospital most of the day Sunday, and there was a young lady there for a long time. She made and received several phone calls through the day, and one was very distressing to her. I felt like I should offer to pray with her, but I stayed in my seat. She had been coughing some and I did not know if she had something contagious, and with my many recent doctor visits for my own cough, I kept my distance. I told myself that she might not be a praying person and it might not mean much to her. I failed. As I look back on it now I realize that God may have had me in the waiting room "for such a time as this". Queen Esther did not let the threat of death keep her from doing the right thing, while I let the threat of a cough keep me in my seat. My heart is now burdened for that young woman as I pray and ask forgiveness of my Lord. The only thing I can do is pray that someone else will answer God's call and be a witness and pray with her. Can I challenge you today to be ready "for such a time as this"? Opportunities often come only once to be a witness for the Lord.
12. Job - Don't "Let It Go"
As my daily Bible reading just carried me through the book of Job, I prayed that God would show me a witness from this suffering man. Job was a very wealthy man and in one day he lost all his wealth and his children. "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." (Job 1:20-22) After this Satan attacked Job's integrity again and Job lost his health. His three friends came to comfort him and with their condemning words, Job said, "I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all." (Job 16:2) Later Job said that he would not even want their fathers to watch over his dogs. (Job 30:1) I remembered the verses, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:" (Job 19:25) and "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10) But I thought there was something more, and God showed it to me in Job 27:2-6.
"2 As God liveth, who hath taken away my judgment; and the Almighty, who hath vexed my soul;
3 All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils;
4 My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.
5 God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.
6 My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live."
Did you see that? Job said, "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go". I watched the Disney movie "Frozen" and it was a cute cartoon, but I was amazed at how many girls, boys, women and even men I saw in videos singing the song, "Let It Go". I wonder how many parents have really listened to the words their little girls are singing. As you read the words to this popular song written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, think about how the message is totally opposite to that of Job. We need to teach our children to keep their integrity, and not "test the limits and break through." There are rules and there is definitely right and wrong. Many see this as just another popular song, but the message can be very damaging to our children.
"The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I'm the Queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn't keep it in; heaven knows I tried
Don't let them in
Don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Don't let them know
Well, now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway
It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong
No rules for me...I'm free
Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You'll never see me cry
Here I stand and here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on
My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back
The past is in the past
Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway"
13. Daniel - Purpose In Your Heart
Today we see another Bible character, that although he was taken captive to a foreign land as a young boy, he held on to his integrity and the righteous behavior he had been taught. The children were described in Daniel 1:3-4, "And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans." Daniel was one of the chosen ones, and given the king's meat and wine. "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself." (Daniel 1:8) He could have made excuses... he was not in Judah anymore... his parents and leaders were no longer there... he was under new authority now... everyone else was doing it... times had changed... he was a long way from home... and who would see anyhow? "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself..." The laws of our land are rapidly changing to go against Christian values, and much of the media is against Christianity. We must keep our integrity and live righteously in the sight of God. It is of vital importance that we purpose in our hearts not to defile ourselves with the sins of the world we live in today. Daniel lived and served God through the reigns of several kings while in Babylon. He was an old man when he was thrown into the den of lions for praying to God. He purposed in his heart as a young boy, and he stuck to it throughout his life. That is a great example and witness for us to follow.
14. Hosea - "Sow To Yourselves In Righteousness"
I read through Hosea and chose verse 12 of chapter 10 for our message from this prophet. "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you." The Children of Israel had turned away from the Lord and were serving other gods, and the prophet Hosea was sent with the message that God loved them and wanted them to return to Him. This scripture teaches us that we reap what we sow. God pleads for us to sow in righteousness and reap in mercy. But they had not done that. Verse 13 begins, "Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity;..." It is much better for us to reap mercy than iniquity. We find further explanation of this in the New Testament. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Galatians 6:7-8) Not only does this apply to the quality of what we sow, but also the quantity as found in II Corinthians 9:6. "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." Next in our message from Hosea we are instructed to "break up your fallow ground". A while back I tilled the ground of my garden spot. Over time the grass began to grow again and I am ready to till it again so I can plant my seeds. This is fallow ground, also found in Jeremiah 4:3, "For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns." The ground had once been plowed and made ready but the seed was not sown and the thorns had grown up. Jesus explained that the seed can't grow among the thorns. "And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it... And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." (Luke 8:7 & 14) Finally, Hosea says, "for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you." Again we can turn to the New Testament with this message. "(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)" (II Corinthians 6:2) The weather is warmer, the ground is right for planting, and I am so excited about sowing the seed for my new garden. I need to be that excited about sowing the precious seed of God's Word, while watching for God to give the increase.
15. Joel - "Multitudes, Multitudes In The Valley Of Decision"
Many times I have read the Old Testament books of prophecy, and because they were to Israel and Judah, I often skimmed through them. In searching for words from our Great Cloud of Witnesses, I am reading them prayerfully, to see what they may have to say to us today. Hundreds, even thousands, of years have passed since they were written, but God still has a message of judgment for sinful man. Yesterday we saw that we reap what we sow. Today we are looking in the little book of Joel, chapter 3, verse 14. "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision." I believe our message from Joel would be to make the right decision before it is too late. Have you made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? The Bible is filled with examples of men, women, and children who followed God, but there are some who neglected to make that decision. "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds." (Acts 26:27-29) "And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" (Acts 24:24-25) Felix trembled. We have no record that he ever made the decision of faith. Just as in Bible days, there are still multitudes in the valley of decision. What many may not understand is that in prolonging, or ignoring the decision, they are really making their decision. They may be able to quote John 3:16, but they need to look ahead a couple of verses. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:16-18) Don't put off this most important decision. Jesus asked, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26) What are you giving in exchange for your soul?
16. Amos - A Famine Of Hearing God's Word
We have come to Amos in our exploration of our Great Cloud Of Witnesses. One verse that I have always liked in the book of Amos is, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3) We can't walk with God unless we are in agreement with God. It is impossible to walk with someone if you are going in opposite directions. To show the prophet just how far His children had strayed, God showed Amos a plumbline. A plumbline held from the top will always fall down into a straight line. All four of the gospels give us the words of John the Baptist, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." These are great verses and they lead up to the verse I think is prevalent for us today. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:" (Amos 8:11) If there ever was a time when people did not want to hear the Word of God, we are definitely there now. The world has tried to take Christ out of Christmas. The Ten Commandments are no longer welcome in public places. There are battles to remove "In God We Trust" from our money and other places. Many people today do not want to hear or see any part of God's Word. Before God delivered His people into the hands of their enemies, He sent them warning through His prophets. "Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the LORD; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear." (II Chronicles 24:19) "Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands." (Nehemiah 9:30) "Howbeit I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense unto other gods. Wherefore my fury and mine anger was poured forth, and was kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as at this day." (Jeremiah 44:4-6) I fear that my own country has turned its back on God, and judgment is coming.
17. Jonah - Salvation Is Of The Lord
In my previous thoughts about Jonah I usually talked about how God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, and preach against the wicked city, but Jonah tried to hide from God. "But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD." (Jonah 13) As I read through Jonah today I tried to see what Jonah would tell us today and I feel there is so much more to the lesson learned than, "You can't hide, or run, from the presence of God." I believe that the theme of Jonah can be found in Jonah 2:9 as he prayed from the belly of the whale, "But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD." After three days and nights in the belly of the whale Jonah realized that God was the only way he could be saved from his awful fate and prayed. His message, "Salvation is of the LORD" goes well beyond his own salvation. After he was spued onto dry land, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached to the people to repent. The entire city heeded the warning and repented. "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:" (Jonah 3:5-7) Jonah grew angry at God for saving his enemies. But Jonah learned that "Salvation is of the LORD" not only in regards to himself, but for "whosoever will". As the book ends we see the love of God extended to this great city. "And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:11)
18. Micah - "What Doth The LORD Require Of Thee?"
Our thoughts today are from Micah 6:8, "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" If I went on a job interview I would be told what was required to get the job. When I was in school I was required to pass certain subjects to graduate. Here in the little book of Micah God tells us what He requires. First, we are required to "do justly." God wants us to do the right thing. The world has become very outspoken against our Christian beliefs, and it is getting harder to do right, but we must stand true to God's Word. Next, God speaks through Micah that we are "to love mercy." On The Sermon On The Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." (Matthew 5:7) I don't want justice, I want God to be merciful to me. In return, we are to show mercy to others. Last of all, we are required "to walk humbly with thy God." We can also find this in the New Testament. James 4:10 tells us, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." Simple truths from Micah 6:8. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
19. Nahum - "The LORD is good,... and he knoweth them that trust in him."
I enjoy singing the song, "God's Been Good", and Michael often says that's his testimony. God has been so good to me. I could never thank Him enough for saving me and giving me the peace, joy, hope, and love that filled my heart once I trusted in Him. He has proven time and time again that He will provide my needs. He has blessed me with a family, a home, food to eat and clothes to wear. He has been so good to me. He has been with me through my troubles and trials and He hears and answers my prayers. It is such a blessing to know the Lord! But, it is an even greater blessing that He knows me! Our verse today is Nahum 1:7, "The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him."
"1 O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee." (Psalm 139:1-6, 14, and 17-18)
20. Habakkuk - A Song In Times Of Trouble
Habakkuk was burdened over the sins of Israel and he cried out to the Lord.
"2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!
3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth." (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
God's answer to Habakkuk begins, "Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you." (Habakkuk 1:5) God tells him that the Chaldeans will march through the land and they are "terrible and dreadful" and "more fierce than the evening wolves." Habakkuk questions how God can watch "the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13) Chapter 2 describes the wickedness of the people and Habakkuk listens. As we watch the wickedness of our own country grow and the disdain and contempt of many against God, we pray that God will turn America back to Him. Christians see and understand that God in His righteousness will judge our nation, just as He judged sin in times past. May we then have the faith to keep our trust in God as Habakkuk did, and keep a song in our heart.
"17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
21. Zechariah - "Not By Might, Nor By Power, But By My Spirit..."
With my prayers for these devotionals from "So Great A Cloud Of Witnesses" I read each of the minor prophets to see what they would say to us today. Now that I have come to Zechariah, I cannot narrow it down to one verse or thought, so I am going to list some of the verses that spoke to me. It may help you to take time to read these verses and let the Lord speak to you, also.
"Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD." (Zechariah 1:3-4)
"And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction." (Zechariah 1:15)
"Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6)
"Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts. Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts:" (Zechariah 7:12-13)
Zechariah also gives us some prophecy that was fulfilled when Christ came to earth.
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9)
"And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD." (Zechariah 11:12-13)
"And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn." (Zechariah 12:9-10)
"And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones." (Zechariah 13:6-7)
Then Zechariah foretells Christ's coming as King, and we can be sure that it will also come to pass.
"And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. ...And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one... In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD;... " (Zechariah 14:4, 9, & 20)
22. Malachi - Turn Back To God
I have two thoughts from the book of Malachi that I think are needed in our day and age. First, we find God's plea to His people in Malachi 3:7. "Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?" I remembered reading a similar verse a day or two before, so I searched and found Zechariah 1:3. "Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts." In my search I found God pleading through the voice of His prophets, calling His children to return to Him.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7)
"I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me." (Jeremiah 35:15)
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23)
"Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." (Joel 2:12-13)
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." (II Chronicles 7:14)
Let's continue with our scriptures in Malachi. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings... Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:8 & 10) Sometimes we hear or see where one person puts up a challenge to others. Well, God gives us a challenge in verse 10. The good thing about this challenge is that it comes with a great promise. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." Our witness from Malachi is simple, turn back to God, and after we return to Him, we are to return a portion of what He has blessed us with, back to Him.
23. Ezekiel - Shall Know That I Am The Lord
We have been listening to our "Great Cloud Of Witnesses" for three weeks now, and we have not even heard from those in the New Testament, so I think we will continue another week. We covered most of the prophets but I think Ezekiel has something important to say to us. In fact, in the 48 chapters, we read one phrase, word for word, over 50 times. One of the recordings is found in Ezekiel 38:23, "Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD." Sometimes it is written, "Ye shall know that I am the Lord" and other times it says, "They shall know that I am the Lord." The truth is, there is coming a day when all will know that Jesus is The Lord. "For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." (Romans 14:11) We live in a world that does not want to even hear the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but the day is coming when they will bow and confess that He is Lord!
"5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:5-11)
24. Jeremiah - Nothing Is Too Hard For God!
Jeremiah has often been called the weeping prophet. His ministry began before the Babylonian captivity and he lamented over his people. "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" (Jeremiah 9:1) One of the most common passages in Jeremiah is where God takes him to the potter's house and asks, "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel." (Jeremiah 18:6) When we are going through our storms and trials there are two verses in this book that can be an encouragement to us. The first is Jeremiah 32:27. "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?" No matter how difficult things are, or how bad our situation may become, we need to remember that there is nothing too hard for God! The next verse that can help us through desperate times is Jeremiah 33:3, "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." In this verse we are reminded that God hears and answers our prayers. These two things work together for our benefit. God hears our prayers, and He has the power and wisdom to answer our prayers according to His will.
25. Solomon - Remember Your Creator While You Are Young
When God asked Solomon what he wanted, Solomon said he would like wisdom to rule the people. God granted his request and also gave him great wealth and peace during his reign.
"29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.
30 And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.
31 For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about.
32 And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.
33 And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.
34 And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom." (I Kings 4:29-34)
With three thousand proverbs and a thousand and five songs, what do you suppose this wise king would tell us today? I believe that we can find the answer if we look to his later years. King Solomon had many wives and he let them turn his heart away from God as he served their gods. I think he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes as he looked back over his life and saw all the wasted years. He opens, "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
"9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11)
When he strayed away from God his life felt worthless, like all was in vain. As we look at the closing chapter of his life we see a message that I think he would send out today. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;" (Ecclesiastes 12:1) Many young people put off salvation because they want to "live" first. Well, King Solomon, the wisest man on earth, would tell you not to waste all those years. Remember God, your Creator, while you are young. Don't come to the end of your life and say like Solomon, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
26. John The Baptist - The Voice Of One Crying In The Wilderness
I want us to move to the New Testament today with our Cloud of Witnesses and I know of no greater place to start than with John The Baptist. Jesus said of John, "For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist..." (Luke 7:28) I see several things this great man said that could help us today. First we are looking at Matthew's gospel, 3:1-2 "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Repent." Oh, how the world needs this message today. "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." I really believe that the Lord is coming back soon. Are you ready? Our next scripture tells us of the meekness of John. He prepared the way of the Lord and did not try to bring glory or honor to himself. "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:" (Matthew 3:11) He pointed others to Christ, as we see in John 1:29, "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." The last message I want to look at tells us how each of us should be in our witnessing, singing, worshipping, and the foundation of everything we do. "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)
27. Mary - Accept The Lord's Will And Magnify The Lord
It is hard to believe that Christmas was four months ago. I told Mom yesterday that I was trying to think of something I could make for this year's Christmas gifts. I like to celebrate the love and joy that Christmas brings all year long. Today we are looking at Mary, when the angel told her she would have a Son and call His name Jesus. Listen to Mary's response.
"34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:34, 35, & 38)
Mary accepted God's will for her life. It would be great if we would accept God's plan and purpose for our lives. Next, we see that Mary magnified the Lord. "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." (Luke 1:46 & 47) Our message from Mary today is simple. Accept the Lord's will and rejoice in the Lord.
28. The Shepherds At Bethlehem - Go And Tell
The shepherds are usually included in our nativity scenes and plays at Christmas, as they stand or kneel around Baby Jesus, often with their sheep. They are greeted by the angels who proclaim that a Saviour, Christ the Lord, has been born and is lying in a manger. We have just a few recorded words by the shepherds, found in Luke 2:15. "And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." That is usually where the part of the shepherds ends, and although we don't have actual words spoken by the shepherds, their message is much greater. Let's continue in Luke...
"16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." (Luke 2:16-20)
We don't know the names of any of these shepherds. We don't really know anything else about them. But we know that they are a part of our "Great Cloud Of Witnesses", in fact they are the first witnesses, and they spread the word that the Saviour had come. "And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds." They went back to their sheep, "glorifying and praising God." We can learn from the shepherds. We need to do more than kneel at the manger around the Baby Jesus at Christmas. We need to let our voices be heard as we tell others that Jesus Christ, the Savior, came to save us from our sin. Then we can give Him all the glory and praise for our great gift of salvation!
29. The Blind Man - "I Was Blind, Now I See"
There are several scriptural references to Jesus healing blinded eyes. I am looking today at John 9:25-38.
"25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?
27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?
28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.
29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.
30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him."
I used this specific story of a blind man who received his sight because it shows that not only did the man receive his physical sight, but his spiritual eyes were also opened. I think his witness for the Lord is found in verse 25, "I was blind, now I see." I praise the Lord that when I was a child God opened my eyes and showed me I was lost, and through the convicting power of the Holy Ghost, I confessed my sin and accepted the Lord's gift of salvation. I can now sing that great old hymn written by John Newton. "Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, But now I'm found, Was blind, But now I see." How sweet is God's amazing grace!
30. Mary Of Bethany - Do What You Can
As we start on our fifth week of "So Great A Cloud Of Witnesses" I can say that my eyes have been enlightened by taking time to listen to what various men and women of the Bible might say to us. Today we see a woman who lived during the time when Jesus walked on this earth. We are not looking at what she said, for in this reference we don't have any spoken words, but we can hear her witness in what Jesus said about her. In John 12:3 we are told that this is Mary of Bethany. Here is the story as told by Mark.
"3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?
5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.
7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.
8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
9 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." (Mark 14:3-9)
Jesus complimented Mary and said "She hath done what she could..." In these few words I believe that we can see a living testimony of Mary which says, "Do what you can." We are not all great preachers of God's Word, but we can all be a faithful witness and do what we can for God's glory. Being a witness is not only in the way we talk, but is also manifested in our daily walk.
31. Paul - Finish Your Course And Keep The Faith
Paul wrote such a large part of the New Testament, that it is difficult to choose what he might say to us today. His letters were to the churches and many of his words are an encouragement to us. There are several short verses in the end of I Thessalonians that we would do well to learn and follow.
"16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil." (I Thessalonians 5:16-22)
I am so glad we have access to so many letters from Paul and we don't have to choose only one message to keep, but for my witness from Paul I have chosen II Timothy 4:7-8. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." If Paul looked down from heaven and saw the sinful condition of the world today, I believe he would encourage Christians to fight a good fight, finish our course and keep the faith. I believe that the Lord will call us home soon and He wants us to finish right and finish strong. Don't give up! It would be a shame to stray from the path of righteousness so close to the finish line.
32. James - Be Doers Of The Word
When I think of the book of James, a few verses come to mind.
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5)
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17)
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded... Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."(James 4:8 & 10)
These are great verses, but I believe the most significant verse is James 1:22. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." James even goes on to explain the verse. "For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." (James 1:23-24) This verse is of most importance because the Bible, God's precious Word, will not help us if we don't put it into practice in our daily lives. It is great to read the Bible, but it is even more important that we obey God's Word.
33. The Rich Man - Don't Come To This Place Of Torment
Pastor Jack Tripp preached a very good sermon last Sunday night on "Things That Hinder People From Being Saved." As I was thinking about writing the last few devotionals from our "Great Cloud Of Witnesses" the Lord reminded me of his sermon. Today we are looking at a very different witness found in Luke 16 where Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man. We have a strong warning from the rich man.
"22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:22-31)
Two factors which may have hindered the rich man from being saved may have been his possessions and his position. In Matthew 19:22 Jesus spoke to a rich man who let his possessions keep him from following Christ. "But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." Our message from the rich man of Luke 16 was a warning meant for his brothers not to join him in that awful place. There are many today who joke about going to hell and being joined by all their friends. If you have never confessed your sin and asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, please hear the pleas of the rich man and turn your life around before it is too late. Don't trust in your possessions or your position to buy your way into heaven. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
34. The Pharisee - Don't Let Pride Keep You From Being Saved
Again we are looking at people who were hindered from being saved.
"9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)
We may think of sports stars as being full of pride, but this was a man with a notable position in the temple. He was proud of his service to God, but his pride kept him from being saved. People with great pride think they are doing well enough on their own and their good works will get them into heaven. They do not realize that they are placing themselves above Christ, and He is the only way to heaven. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;" (Titus 3:5) "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Don't let pride keep you from being saved.
35. Felix - Don't Wait For A Convenient Time
It is hard to read part of a story and never find out how it ends. There are many people mentioned in the Bible that we don't know how their lives ended. In Acts 24:21-25 we see the beginning of the story of Felix and it is sad to think how the outcome may have been.
"21 Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day.
22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.
23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee."
Paul was such a great witness for the Lord Jesus. Look at that last verse again... "And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Paul reasoned with him and Felix trembled. This tells me that the Holy Ghost was working on his heart and calling him to come to Jesus. But Felix put it off. We are not told whether he ever found "a convenient season" to be saved, but I believe his message to us would be to be saved today and not to wait for a convenient time. We have another similar account just a couple of chapters later. Again Paul is witnessing for Jesus Christ. "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." (Acts 26:27-28) King Agrippa's answer was just as disheartening to Paul as that of Felix. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." He procrastanated and we are never told that he ever accepted God's gift of salvation. We are not promised tomorrow. Paul told the Corinthian church, "... behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Corinthians 6:2) Don't wait until it is too late.
36. Jesus - "Ye Must Be Born Again"
I have thoroughly enjoyed praying through and writing these devotionals on "So Great A Cloud Of Witnesses." It was a joy to search out candidates and what they had to say to include in our series. I close today with this message from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:5-7) "Ye must be born again." Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:16-18) For the last three days I used some of the points from Pastor Jack Tripp's sermon on "Things That Hinder People From Being Saved." Today I want to give his outline and the scriptures he included. It is my constant prayer that God will use these devotionals for His glory and honor. If you have never accepted God's gift of salvation, please hear these words of Jesus, "Ye must be born again."
"Things That Hinder People From Being Saved"
1. A Person's Position may keep him or her from coming to the Lord. (John 19:10-13)
2. A Person's Possessions may keep him or her from coming to the Lord. (Luke 12:16-21 & Hebrews 13:5)
3. Popularity can keep people from the Lord. (John 12:42, John 15:18 & II Timothy 3:12)
4. Pride can keep people from coming to the Lord. (Luke 18;9-14 & Matthew 18:3)
5. The Pleasures of Sin may keep people from coming to the Lord. (Hbrews 11:24-25 & John 3:19)
6. Procrastination keeps a lot of people from coming to the Lord. (Acts 24:25)
7. The Poor Testimony of a Christian may keep a person from being saved. (Genesis 19:12-14)
Don't let any of these things keep you from being saved. I close with these two important questions from Jesus. "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36-37)