Our Blessed Hope

Titus 213–14 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 (ESV)

1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Celebrating the advent of Jesus should focus our hopes on the future. Jesus came into the world as a child, lived a sinless life, gave himself as a sacrifice for sinful mankind, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. However, that is not the end of Jesus’ work. He has promised to come again. When he returns, he has promised to gather his people to be with him forever in a place without sin and its consequences of pain, suffering, and death. Paul reminds us in our passage for today that we currently wait for that day and that, even now, Jesus is at work in our lives to make sure his people make it to the finish line.

The Bible never promises that life in this world will be easy, not even for the people of God. In fact, it will likely be hard for two reasons: We live in a fallen world where everything is impacted by sin. And we live in a fallen world that is opposed to the things of God. We will face the same difficulties as everyone else and the added difficulty of persecution for belonging to Jesus. However, unlike the world, we have the blessed hope of Jesus’ return and an eternal home with him. That is enough for today and every day!

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There Are Two Types of People

Matthew 2534 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 25:31–46 (ESV)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

After teaching his disciples that they must always be prepared for his return, Jesus describes what will take place at the end. He uses the illustration of a shepherd who separates his sheep from his goats. In the same way, Jesus will separate all people into two groups: those who belong to him and those who do not. Those who belong to Jesus will enter into the kingdom for eternity. Those who do not will be left out of the kingdom and face eternal condemnation.

We live in a world that has a hard time accepting responsibility. We want to believe that no one has the right to judge our thoughts or actions as right or wrong. We believe those things are only for us to decide. However, the Bible says that we are all sinners. We have all disobeyed the word of God in thought and deed and we all stand condemned as a result. The holy Creator has every right to judge us and he will.

When we realize that we are sinners and stand condemned, there is hope. God has done something truly amazing and unexpected. The One who is Creator and Judge has extended grace to all who will receive it. He has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitute for sinners. Christ suffered and died in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, so we can have life. Those who turn from their sins and trust in the work of Christ for salvation will be saved. Those who place their faith in Jesus become his sheep and belong to him forever. There are only two types of people in the world: those who belong to Jesus and those who do not.

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Ready to Wait

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Reading the Word

Matthew 25:1–13 (ESV)

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus spoke a second parable to his disciples concerning his return. In the first, which we read yesterday (cf. Matthew 24:45-51), Jesus emphasized that he could return sooner than expected so they must be prepared and not assume there is a long wait ahead. In today’s passage, Jesus teaches the opposite message. Jesus uses the story of a wedding to teach that his followers must be prepared if he delays longer than expected.

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, there are ten young women, who we would label bridesmaids today, that are a part of the wedding party. They were to greet the bridegroom when he came and accompany him to the wedding feast and celebrate with him. Five of the virgins were prepared to wait late into the night. They brought extra oil for their lamps. Five of the virgins were unprepared for such a long wait. They only brought what was in their lamps and no extra. When the bridegroom came, the five who were prepared lit their lamps and accompanied him while the five who were unprepared went to seek oil to purchase. As a result, they were late to the party and unable to enter.

As we await our Lord’s return, we must be prepared to remain and serve even if Jesus does not return in our lifetimes, or in many lifetimes. We must be ready for him to come soon, but we must also be prepared for the long haul. We do this through faithful service every day and by teaching the next generation how to do the same. Are you prepared to serve Christ even if his return is far in the future?

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An Hour You Do Not Expect

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Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along every day. We are currently reading through the life of Christ as recorded in the four Gospels.

Reading the Word

Matthew 24:37–44 (ESV)

37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Parallel Text: Luke 17:26-36

What Are You Living For?

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Reading the Word

Luke 21:34–36 (ESV)

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In yesterday’s reading, we looked at Mark 13:33-37 where Jesus told his disciples to “stay awake.” In today’s reading from Luke, the message is the same. Jesus’ followers are to stay awake. In Mark, the emphasis was on fulfilling the tasks that the Lord has given, which include holy living and preaching the gospel. The emphasis in Luke is different. Now Jesus teaches that disciples must not become weighed down with the cares of the life. We must seek first the kingdom of God before everything else.

Reading these words of Jesus, one might come to the conclusion that Christians should only concern themselves with prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. While these are all good things, and even essential things, we must admit that it is impossible to spend every minute of every day doing only these tasks. We also have to eat, sleep, clean, work, take care of our children, and mow our lawns. The list goes on and on. In fact, the list of other things that we must do probably takes up the majority of our time. So what is it that Jesus wants from us? What are the cares of this life that we are to avoid?

Jesus’ instruction in this passage is very similar to yesterday’s. It is about setting proper priorities. Christians should have priorities that are different from the world. Our highest goals and desires should not be materialistic or based on a short-sighted view of life that ends at the grave. We must realize that there are greater things to live our lives for. There is an eternal world for those who believe. It should be our priority to live in light of this truth and spread the news of the kingdom of God to all who will receive it. We must not become so bogged down in the everyday tasks and pursuits of this world that we forget the world to come and fail to tell others. One day, Jesus will return and he will want to know what we have done with all of our time.

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Stay Awake

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Reading the Word

Mark 13:33–37 (ESV)

33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In the previous passages, Jesus told his disciples that he would return. He did not tell them when this would take place, but assured them that his word was certain. He will return, gather his people, and judge evil. Knowing this, in today’s passage, we read Jesus tell his followers to “[B]e on guard” and “keep awake.”

Jesus uses the illustration of a master who leaves his servants to do the work while he is away. One servant is commanded to be doorkeeper. As such, the doorkeeper must stay awake to accomplish his job. The master could return at any time of the day or night. What if he were to return and find the doorkeeper sleeping?

It is easy to see why the doorkeeper must stay awake and we understand what that means. However, we must know what it means for us today. How do we stay awake and on guard? The servants in Jesus’ illustration had been given certain duties. When their master returned, he expected to find them carrying out his instructions. Jesus also left his servants with instructions on what to do until his return. We must be busy with living holy lives and proclaiming the gospel to the world. To neglect these things is to not be on our guard. To neglect these things is to forget that our Lord could return at any moment and find us asleep and failing to do what he has commanded.

Jesus’ teaching on the end times was not to present us with a timeline, but to encourage us to live with the right priorities. When we truly understand that we could be standing in the presence of our Lord at any moment, it should change how we live. If you knew that Jesus was coming tonight, what would you do?

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A Lesson from a Tree

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:32–36 (ESV)

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33

Understanding and Applying the Word

I live in the Michigan, where we love the change of the seasons. In our area of the country, we experience all four seasons in full force, from the hot and humid days of summer to the frigid cold of winter. With each change in season, there are telltale signs that a change is in process. My personal favorite takes place in the fall when the air becomes cooler and the leaves on our beautiful hardwood trees display an array of colors before dropping. It is easy to know that summer is over and winter is coming soon.

Jesus used the example of a fig tree to teach his followers about preparing for his return. When a fig tree puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. Just like reading the signs of the changing seasons, we can read the signs of the times to know that Jesus is coming soon. Jesus said, “When you see all of these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The things Jesus referred to are the ones listed in the previous verses (vv. 4-25).

We must be careful in how we read these words of Jesus. It was not his intention tell us to watch for signs and create charts and calendars to figure out the timing of his return. He explicitly stated that no one knows the time, but the Father. Jesus’ purpose was to reassure his disciples that they could trust that he would return. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he said. We can count on Jesus’ promise to return. His word stands forever. Let us be ready and let us serve him in confidence while we wait!

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Stay Ready

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:37–40 (ESV)

37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

We must be ready at all times. Our Lord will return one day and we must not be caught unprepared. When he comes, those who have remained awake (i.e. those who are ready) will be rewarded for their service. He may come later than we expect, but we must remain diligent. We must be like a homeowner who is aware of a thief coming to break into his house. The homeowner would be ready when the thief came. So, we too know that the Lord will return and we must be ready.

Being ready is not a call for us to try to figure out the timing of Jesus’ return. It is a call for us to spend our lives in service to our Lord. Jesus began this chapter speaking about possessions and coveting. It is no accident that we are now reading about Jesus’ return. The two topics go hand-in-hand. When we have a proper understanding of the Lord’s return and when we focus our lives on what is truly important, coveting becomes less of an issue for us. Earthly possessions become less important when we consider them in the light of eternity. Our focus must always be on Jesus’ return and our service to him until that day. When our focus is on Christ our hearts turn to what truly matters.

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Ready for Christ’s Return

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Reading the Word

Luke 12:35–36 (ESV)

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus followed his teaching on possessions by telling his disciples that they must “stay dressed for action” and “keep your lamps burning.” Christ’s followers understand that there will be a day when he returns and mankind will be judged. Knowing this should affect how we live our lives today. We must live in such a way that we are ready to stand before the Lord when he returns.

The phrase “stay dressed for action” is literally “let your loins stay girded.” The imagery is of a man who has his long robe tucked into his belt so he is able to run. We must be ready at a moment’s notice. Jesus compares our readiness to that of servants waiting for their king to return from a wedding feast. The servants must be ready to serve with lamps burning to light the way no matter what time of the day or night the king returns. Servants who prove to be unready and unprepared are of no service to their king.

Scripture tells us that our Lord will one day return. We are not told when, but we are told to be ready. Being ready does not mean we should be trying to figure out when Jesus will return. It means that we live each day for Christ and place his plans and purposes as the priorities of our lives. Would you be found ready if Jesus came today? If not, what needs to change?

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Jesus Is Coming Again

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Reading the Word

Revelation 1:4–8 (ESV)

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Understanding the Word

John writes his letter to the seven churches in Asia, which we will learn more about shortly. He greets them with a Trinitarian formula making mention of the Father (the one who is and was and is to come), the Spirit (the seven spirits who are before his throne), and the Son (Jesus Christ the faithful witness).

John tells us that Jesus, who saves from sin, is going to return and all people will see him.

Applying the Word

Jesus is coming again! How should that make us feel? For some it should be an encouragement. It means that serving Christ is not in vain. Some days the difficulty of being a follower of Jesus can wear a person down, but do not give up. Jesus is coming again soon and you will see him!

For others, the thought of Jesus coming again serves as a warning. What are you spending your time and resources on? Will you be ashamed or embarrassed when he returns? You too will see him.

Let us prepare for the Lord’s return by submitting ourselves to his will today.

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