Pastor Keith's devotional goes through the books of the Bible a chapter at a time. Each day he shares thoughts and insights from a pastor’s perspective that are intended to be encouraging, challenging, and life changing. Here’s how Pastor Keith's daily devotional works best:
Really, it’s as simple as that. Okay, here we go…
Do we take it figuratively or literally? That’s really the question of the day. As one reads through the book of Revelation, there are plenty of scenes that look like they can and should be taken literally, but upon closer examination, and maybe with some prayer and greater reflection, well, it might be better to take them figuratively. One such case is the sealing of the 144,000 “servants of our God” from the tribes of the sons of Israel. Oh my, the possibilities on this one are all over the place. The 144,000 could be an exact and literal number…or it could represent all those Christians living on the earth before (or during) the Great Tribulation. How about “the servants of God?” That term could be literally interpreted as a select and specific number of Jews…or it could stand for all those in the church who have placed their faith in Jesus throughout history. Ha, you’re right; the book of Revelation is somewhat of a mystery, isn’t it?
“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. (vs.3-4)
If you're determined to track down the 144,000, you’ll eventually find yourself seven chapters forward from where we are today (Rev 14:1-5). Once there, you’ll find that they’re described as the redeemed from mankind, the first-fruits for God and the Lamb. You’ll also discover that they’re all virgins, having "not defiled themselves with women” (hmm, does that mean they’re all male?), no lies are found in their mouths, and they are otherwise blameless. Okay, given that description, it seems pretty fair to say that these 144,000 are not the Christians who are going into, experiencing, or coming out of the great tribulation in the final days.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (Eph 1:13)
All right, you may not be one of the sealed 144,000 spoken about in the book of Revelation, but if you’ve repented of your sins and placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you can totally include yourself in the count of millions who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). You may not have the name of our Heavenly Father written on your forehead (Rev 14:1), but you have been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11). I encourage you today to consider yourself special in the eyes of God, for you have been once-and-for-all-time sealed by the Holy Spirit to gain an inheritance in heaven to the praise of his glory.
The promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13b-14)
When the Lamb in the heavenly throne room of God broke open the first four seals on the scroll he had been given, the Apostle John saw what amounted to a stampede. Well, okay, since there were only four horses unleashed, maybe it wasn’t quite a full-fledged stampede, but it was the first time anyone had ever seen four mounted horses come galloping out of heaven to wreck havoc upon the earth. In his book, Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the late great evangelist Billy Graham wrote that those four horsemen “come as a warning, and grow louder by the day.”
And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. (v.2)
Here’s how the traditional view of the four horsemen of the apocalypse works out: The first rider on the white horse represents conquest, the second rider on the red horse speaks of war, the third rider on the black horse points to famine, and the fourth and final rider on the pale horse denotes death. Now of course, throughout history, the world has experienced a great number of conquests, a fair share of terrible wars, heartbreaking and far reaching famines, and death, well, that’s happens in such large numbers, it’s hard to even start counting the causes or dead bodies. But keep this in mind; the overall opinion of Bible scholars and theologians is that the four horses of the apocalypse haven’t yet been released, which means if you think it’s bad now, just wait for the fulfillment of this prophecy – the worst is still to come (Mk 13:7).
And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (v.8)
At last [Google] check, the world’s population was 7.6 billion people, which means that if the fourth horseman was released today, 1.9 billion people would die in one fell swoop. That’s more than all the people in North America, South America, and Europe combined – wow, that’s a lot of people! If, like me, you lived in Rhode Island, which has a population of roughly 1 million people, then 250,000 people (more than the entire capital city of Providence) would die when that black horse crossed our border. Through the destructive havoc of four horsemen of the apocalypse, as well as the ravages due to a gigantic earthquake and intense fear that will come about due to monumental cosmic disturbances, kings and generals, slave and free, will try to hide themselves in caves in a last-ditch effort to avoid “the wrath of the Lamb” (vs.15-17). The question today is this: Will you be one shaking and freaking out in a cave or will you be confidently holding fast to your confession of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thess 5:9-10)
As John was scoping out God’s heavenly throne room (being blown-away by the beauty of the rainbow, the awesomeness of the peals of thunder and lighting, and the highlight of the very presence of God), he noticed something quite out of the ordinary; he saw a lamb. Now, this lamb wasn’t your run on the mill lamb; it looked as though it had been slain and had seven horns and seven eyes. The elders in heaven identified this Lamb as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David.” They also told John that this Lamb had conquered (something) as well as mentioned he was the only one who could open a certain mysterious scroll. That’s right; the Lamb John saw was none other than Jesus Christ.
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (v.9-10)
What makes Jesus worthy of a praise song continuously sung by the elite twenty-four elder choir in heaven? Well, let’s count the ways. First, he lovingly, willingly, and sacrificially went to the cross to shed his blood as the perfect and acceptable offering for the sins of the world. Second, by that sacrifice, he ransomed people who were being held captive by the deceitful and destructive wiles of Satan as well as their own personal foolish and futile ways (1 Pt 1:18). Third, he didn’t just rescue and set free a select few, but rather people from all over the world, regardless of their ethnicity, country of origin, or spoken language. Fourth and finally, he went above and beyond by not just setting people free to live their lives out to go about their business with no plan or purpose, but gave them the privilege of being a kingdom of priests to God who would reign on the earth (Jn 8:36).
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (v.11b)
Did you notice that not only do the twenty-four elders and the four [funky and mind-boggling] living creatures praise and worship God, but also the entire host of heaven (of which there seem to be uncountable gazillions of angels in number). Aha, but that’s not everybody. John also tells us that every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and in the sea is also praising Jesus. Oh, but hang on, there’s more! Ponder this: with over two billion Christians in the world, surely there are great numbers of ransomed born-again believers in churches, homes, cars, boats, and fields who are singing the worthiness of Jesus right this very second. The only question is, will you be one to lend your voice to the song of that choir today?
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (v.13b)
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! (v.1)
The story goes that while the Apostle John was in exile on an island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, he basically woke up one Sunday morning, found himself standing before a glorified Jesus, and was told to play secretary by writing some pretty scorching letters to seven churches on the mainland of Turkey. You would have to think that experience would have been totally overwhelming for him. Really, after that unexpected encounter, he was probably drained and ready to sit down and call it a day. But then he looked and saw something completely out of the blue; well actually, it was smack in the middle of the blue...sky. To his surprise, he saw a door standing open in heaven and someone calling him to walk though it. Okay, so it seems John’s day wasn’t quite over yet.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (v.2)
Wow, John could just not have seen it coming; he not only got to enter heaven, but he had the high privilege of finding himself in the very throne room of God. The scene he described is mind-blowing. Around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald, in front of it was a sea of glass like crystal, from the throne came flashes of lightening, rumblings, and peals of thunder, and surrounding the throne were twenty-four elders sitting on their [much lesser] thrones. But let’s not forget the one who owned the royal throne in the center; God himself, with the beautiful appearance of jasper and carnelian, was sitting upon it. Well, though John might have found himself at a loss for words, the four seraphim around the throne most definitely did not.
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (v.8b)
Those four heavenly seraphim that John saw almost two-thousand years ago really act as amazing role models for those of us who have come to know Jesus today. If you noticed, they didn’t just sing praise songs to God on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights), but rather every day and every night; in fact, it’s said they never ceased worshipping and declaring the glories of God. How about you? Do you ever break out into a worship song that praises God during the week? Today, I encourage you to get out of your routine and comfort zone and join in the worship of God that’s going on in heaven around the throne of God right now – even though you’re not in church.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (v.11)
In case you somehow missed it along the way, the seven churches to which John wrote were all located in the western part of modern day Turkey. Interestingly, Jesus called out each of these churches (except one) for totally messing up on their obedience to the Word of God, their sexual purity, their actual love for God, or their passion for serving their Risen Savior. Now here’s the amazing thing: we’re talking about first century churches here. How did they manage to go bumbling off the rails and incur biting prophecies in less than fifty or so years?
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (v.1b)
Apparently, the church in Sardis had the reputation in the surrounding area of being a really great church. Perhaps they had been running evangelistic crusades and seen many people come to Christ, or maybe they had done outstanding service projects in their local community to the benefit of believers and non-believers alike. Either way, the bottom line was that they had the reputation of being a church on fire for God – and sadly, they let it get to their heads. It seems the problem that developed was they started to rest on their laurels and forgot to keep pressing forward for Christ. In a sense, this church was living in the “good old days.” Sound familiar? If we're honest, how many of us like to tell others about how we led someone to faith in Jesus…thirty years ago, about how we served as a Sunday School teacher…twenty years ago, and all the remarkable stuff that happened on a mission’s trip that we took...ten years ago. Ah, but what have you done lately?
"Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God." (v.2)
When the pastor of the church in Sardis read the letter John had addressed to his church, it must have sounded to his congregation as if a crazy loud alarm clock had just gone off. Up to that point, most of them probably didn’t even know that they had been lulled to sleep. But then they heard the clear voice of Jesus telling them to wake up, strengthen themselves, and finish all that God had prepared for them to do (Eph 2:10). Wow, I’m guessing that was a serious shock to their system. Well, how about you? Have you been sleeping on your laurels? I encourage you today to remember the spiritual gifts that God has given you to use as well as to look around and try to figure out what ministry or good work God wants you to start, get involved with, or bring to completion. Remember, it may be the fourth quarter, but there’s still time on the game clock; your Christian service isn’t over until the fat lady sings…or the last trumpet is sounded.
"The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels." (v.5)
NOTE: I must have had a great two-week vacation; I can't seem to remember what day it is. Sorry, there was no devotional yesterday (Friday). Hopefully, I'll find my rhythm this coming week.
What would it be like for your pastor to stand up this Sunday morning and tell the congregation that he had just received a high-priority letter about seven churches in your local area from…Jesus? I have a feeling that as he opened the letter to your church and began to read it, every single person in your church would be leaning forward in rapt attention. The first thing you would hear is something about Jesus, like he was the one who walks among the seven lampstands (lampstands = churches), had died and come to life, had a sharp two-edged sword, or that his eyes were like a flame of fire (vs.1,8,12,18). After that, you just know something crazy big about your church is going to be revealed. So you hold your breath and hope it’s good news. Oh oh, what if it isn't?
“‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first." (v.19)
What a relief; you hear your pastor read something that your church is going good. Aha, this is going to be a great Sunday morning. You’ll leave church encouraged that you’ve chosen a great place to worship. Perhaps you’ll hear that your church is working hard, is patient, hasn’t denied the faith, and won’t put up with any sort of evil. Yes! You’re church is a model church! Everyone in church stands up and starts shouting and clapping…until the pastor says, “Hold, on, let’s not celebrate just yet; there’s a whole lot more, and I don't think you’re going to like it.”
"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." (v.4)
All of a sudden, everyone’s looking down. You hear stuff like there’s wanton sexual immorality being encouraged and practiced among you, that some in the church have comprised on the principles of God for their own gain, or that though your church had been busy doing good things in the community, it’s guilty of having left its first love – Jesus. Oh, boy, this isn’t good at all. But then you hear that if you all repent Jesus will forgive and, even better, reward you with all sorts of cool stuff in the end. A letter like that is serious wake-up call, don’t you think? Let’s forget about churches for a second, and ponder what sort of a letter Jesus would send to each of us. I encourage you today to take stock of your own Christian life. What are you doing well (of which Jesus is pleased) and what are you not (of which needs repenting)? Oh, and don't get discouraged; just like the seven churches of Revelation, we’re all works in progress.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (v.7)
Did you know that the only apostle of Jesus who didn’t die a martyr’s death (the traitor Judas Iscariot hung himself, so of course he doesn’t count in this tally) was “the disciple, whom Jesus loved,” that being the one and only Apostle John? Now, the [traditional] truth of the matter, at least according to Tertullian, a second century theologian (as well as recorded in John Foxes’ 1583 edition of his Book of Martyrs), is that during the Roman Emperor Domitian’s A.D. 81 persecution of Christians, John was purportedly brought to Rome to suffer a painful death for not recanting his faith in Jesus Christ. The only problem was that when they threw him into a vat of boiling oil to make him suffer a grisly death…he didn’t die. Not knowing what to do with him, they fished the completely unharmed John out of the vat and banished him to a tiny Greek island off the coast of Turkey called Patmos (v.9). And that’s where our story begins…
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet. (v.10)
Can you imagine going to church this Sunday morning – just like you’ve done for hundreds of Sundays before – and while the pastor is giving his sermon, you hear a loud voice like a trumpet behind you? Thinking it’s some sort of acoustic malfunction that just can’t be ignored, you turn to check it out and WHOA! You can’t believe your eyes; it’s Jesus in all his brilliance. He’s wearing a long robe with a golden sash; his hair is bright white, his eyes a flame of fire, and his feet are like burnished bronze. You notice that he’s holding seven stars in his right hand (what?), there’s a two-edged sword coming from his mouth (okay, this is getting weird), and his face is shining so brightly, it’s like looking into the sun (better not look too long or you’ll go blind). What do you do? Well, it you’re like John, you fall at his feet like a dead man (v.17)
But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (vs.17-18)
I love that Jesus touched John, told him not to be afraid, coolly yet cryptically identified himself, and then gave him the assignment of a lifetime; he was tasked to write down everything about the past, present and future (the end times) that anyone would ever need to know (v.19). Now here’s a pretty neat thing; we’re told that we’ll be blessed if we read aloud the book of Revelation, if we hear it, and if we keep what is written in it (v.3). Hmm, did you know that of all sixty-six books of the Bible, Revelation is the only book that makes that claim? I encourage you today to literally do one of the three things John said it takes to receive a blessing and go back and read aloud the first chapter (at least) of the book of Revelation.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (vs.5-6)
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (v.3)
Okay people, I hope you realize you’re in a fight for “the faith.” Seriously, I'm not kidding. That’s right, since day one of Christianity there have been plenty of grumblers, malcontents, and loud mouth boasters who are intent on battering, twisting, counterfeiting, and if they were to have their way, totally wiping out the faith in Jesus that we hold so dear (v.16). Now of course, sometimes it’s pretty easy to identify these pawns and puppets of Satan who are attempting to discredit and destroy our precious faith, but did you know that some of them [may] have infiltrated and embedded themselves in our churches? Oh my, could that really be?
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (v.4)
I know what you’re thinking; “There’s no way anyone in my local church is like that.” Well, don’t be too quick to make that assessment. The reality is that it’s often times hard to detect (at least at first place) those whom Jude described as hidden reefs, waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves, and wandering stars, those who dare to show up at our Sunday morning services, pot luck dinners, and Life Groups (vs.12-13). Relying on dreams, defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious ones, they notice that our guard is down and, before we know it, our church can begin to falter, split in two, or end up closing its doors. Whoa, is there anything we can do to win this fight?
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (v.20-21)
Sadly, people who are scoffers, those who are following ungodly passions, causing divisions, and living their lives totally devoid of the Spirit will always be knocking at and going through our church doors (vs.18-19). We can’t stop them from trying to take us down, but we can fight back in at least four practical ways. Today, I encourage you to 1. Build yourself up in the Word so that you’ll know the truth, 2. Pray that God would expose and root out any and all ungodly people who may be among us, 3. Make sure your heart and mind are always guided by the love of God, and 4. Patiently wait for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (vs.24-25)
Pastor Keith is currently on vacation. So far, he has written daily Bible chapter devotionals for 64 of the 66 books of the Bible. If you’re counting, that’s 1,166 of 1,189 chapters. The final books to be covered will be Jude and Revelation. The next scheduled posted devotional (from Jude) will be on Wednesday, May 16.
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land (v.1)
It must have been heartbreaking for Moses be on top of a mountain and look out on the Promised Land knowing that he would never set a foot in it. God showed him the entire country of Israel; in a moment of time, he was able to see the valleys, the plains, the western sea, and even the palm trees. It was indeed a land of milk and honey, just as God had promised, but he was never going experience it. Which should make us all think; what would our future look like if, in the course of our lives, we had never disobeyed God, never put our will above his, and never treated him as unholy in any way?
And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” (v.4)
You have to think that tears were in his eyes as Moses stood on that mountain; after all, it was his own fault that he couldn’t enter the land. He had let the rebellious and disgruntled Israelites get under his skin, lost the handle on his temper, and treated God as unholy by disobeying his clear command to speak to a rock to get water rather than bashing it twice with his staff (Num 20:10-13). Now he had to pay the stiff price of his disobedience. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it; how many potential (and extremely rich) blessings of God do we (have we) miss(ed) out on due to our sins? Though we can always find forgiveness for our offenses through Jesus, we need to realize that the sins we have sown bear [future] consequences. Could it be that, due to our disobedience to the Word and will of God, we can lose out on the intended blessing God has in store for us?
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. (vs.5-6)
Do we remember Moses as a man who had his faults, who sinned (and paid the consequences), or as a man of God, a mighty prophet, who did great signs and wonders on behalf of the Almighty God? Will he go down as the one who stood up to the Pharaoh of Egypt and said, “Let my people go?” Will we ever forget he was the one who pronounced the Ten Plagues upon Egypt, raised his staff and parted the Red Sea, received the Ten Commandments, and then led an entire nation on a forty-year exodus through the desert wilderness of Sinai before bringing them safely to the border of the Promised Land? Really, what do we write as an epitaph on Moses’s tombstone?
And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended. (v.8)